Posts Tagged With: Iceland

A Bespoke Christmas

Once upon a time, all my kid sister wanted for Christmas was “world peace.” (I’m sure this is still true.) However, she was also quite thrilled to get a Cabbage Patch Doll and the latest Babysitter Club books for her collection, in addition to world peace.

Our family has definitely shifted to the “experiential gifts” because we are truly want for nothing. That is, except for the circa 1860 Stockdale Feed Mill on Cold Creek in Frankford that just came on the real estate market today. We wouldn’t mind the keys to that place for Christmas. And some world peace. And a dozen of my mom’s butter-bomb shortbread.

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Photo credit: realtor.ca

Admittedly, I do love looking at the extreme and unnecessary like the excess of the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Line or Nordstrom’s Dream Big Gift Guide suggestions. I love the Williams-Sonoma catalogs even more. But when I look at the Kitchen Aid Copper stand mixer for $959.00 I think of Africa and rationalize that I barely mix anything beyond cocktails anyway.

I think back to childhood, when we used to make stuff for gifts from “found objects.” It’s funny that it’s ‘trending’ now—this movement of ‘repurposing’ and ‘reloving’ when we really did it all along, especially way back when. As a kid with $9.82 in the piggy bank (or reasonable facsimile) shopping wasn’t a consideration. You could SAVE that $9.82 and make things out of teasels and dry milkweed pods and pinecones. Add silver sparkles, googly eyes and voila. (As I look at a few walnuts that the squirrels have yet to warehouse in our backyard I consider the Pinterest crafting possibilities by default. Hmm, grown- up craft: pressing some black walnut oil as used in a fancy cocktail with bourbon in a swishy place our friend Heidi took us to in Nashville). Maybe next year. I’m sure there’s a youtube video on it.

Or, I could just buy into the online “Orphan Barrel Project” that Neiman Marcus has on offer. For a paltry $125,000 “You and five bourbon-curious friends will visit the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, to go barrel hunting, taste recently discovered bourbons, and create two completely unique Orphan Barrel variants to be hand-bottled with labels designed exclusively for you. You’ll then receive 24 bottles each of the remaining stocks of eight different Orphan Barrel bourbons—including the variants created by you—along with a bespoke whiskey cabinet crafted in Kentucky to house the collection, barware, and a leather-bound book about your whiskey.”

Luckily we still have some Maker’s Mark in the cupboard.

Kim and I aren’t even exchanging gifts (well, we deemed our equatorial plane tickets to Las Terranas and Las Galleras in the Samana peninsula for the first two weeks of January “Christmas”).

If we really had to buy stuff (and we don’t because we both naturally avoid eye contact when “Secret Santa” is brought up in the workplace), we wouldn’t have to look too far. Our circle of friends are oozing talent and make stuff that’s awesome, and there’s a different kind of peace felt when you are contributing to an artist and making their life and creative path a little less overgrown.

Here are five sure-fire ways to light up a room though, from Iceland to a night in a frontier tent to adopting a donkey.

A Ticket to Iceland, With Two Precocious Cats

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Our family friend (a friend of my sister first, but, we all liked her instantly and took shares), Jocey Asnong, recently published another children’s book called Nuptse and Lhotse Go to Iceland. When I first met Jocey, her Banff apartment was a spider web of clotheslines and clothes pegs—the humble beginnings of her first book’s illustrations, all hanging in sequence. Everything was colourful in her home, right down to the painted furniture that she also sold. It was like standing inside a kaleidoscope. By day, Jocey indulges her bookworm matrix at Café Books in Canmore, Alberta—but at night, her cat characters Nuptse and Lhotse take flight. They’ve already travelled around Nepal, and Iceland just made sense. Jocey seems to fly there whenever a seat sale is on, or when the glaciers move just so. Visit the land of ice and fire and see how a landscape can consume an artist and writer so innocently. If you have munchkins in your life or Iceland devotees, this gift just makes sense.

A blurb: “While digging in their garden, Nuptse and Lhotse uncover an ancient Viking helmet. Excited by their discovery, the two cats make their way to Iceland to find out more about the Vikings. Throughout their epic journey, the cats learn all sorts of new things related to Iceland: longboats, sweaters, horses, volcanoes, geysers, even local cuisine!  Nuptse & Lhotse Go to Iceland is a colourful, illustrated story for adventurers of all ages who long to travel to faraway places.”

Be Bound by the Beauty

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I met Alistair MacLellan on assignment. I had read about his new biz venture in the Waterloo Record and was instantly intrigued. I pitched a storyline to the editor of Grand magazine and she bit. Alistair was making hand-bound, hand-sewn books in his garage. Well, his parents’ garage—but, nonetheless, the journalism grad was kicking it old school and making money, making stuff. I liked the simplicity and possibility of his product. Like Steamwhistle—they make just one product, and they make it well. Alistair even sold his beloved (but never running) 1977 Honda CB550 motorcycle to help finance his business (temporarily setting his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ambitions aside). His story was not unlike Olympian Clara Hughes–she sold her crappy car (a Pinto I think) for $700 to buy her first pair of speed skates.

Alistair is all passion, the kind of guy who would try to roast his own coffee beans, learn the art of beekeeping and/or soap making, and make his own jeans if he had time. He’s the real deal and his books are nifty. At MacLellan & Baetz Publishing House, “Making notebooks in a garage in Waterloo, Ontario is our life’s work. You can fill them with yours.”

Tune up Their iTunes With Madison Violet

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Madison Violet has been the soundtrack of our love life—and they could be yours too. We became groupies early on (in the late 1990s even, back when they were Mad Violet and playing at bookstores in the likes of Dunnville, Ontario). Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are a Juno-nominated powerhouse duo that have moved smooth as pudding from folk and fiddle to Euro pop and a distinct David Byrne meets Kate Bush meets Duran Duran electro feel. Not to be superficial, but, it also helps that they are foxy and girl-next-door-ish.

We routinely recruit cult members to their sound and concerts—some of which we’ve carried their precious cargo (guitars!) back from (i.e. Grenada to YYZ). I check out their tour schedule and send demanding emails to friends in Prince Edward Island and Tennessee and Vancouver Island to make the pilgrimage. We love them so much we flew to Le Petit Phare Bleu in Grenada to see them perform on a barge with dozens of fan-loaded dinghies lashed together at 12 degrees north latitude. Don’t miss them this April back in the Spice Island. Until then, check out their latest CD release, These Ships.

Intelligent Camping for the Lumbersexuals in Your Life

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One of our favourite sleeps this year was at the Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery in Prince Edward County. The founders, Jens and Inge, are like shook-up champagne. They’re all energy, vision and the kind of people who convince you to chase down your own dreams and make them real. Their passport stamps are enviable, and it was the Four Rivers Floating Lodge in Koh Kong, Cambodia that really put the spell on them. They knew they could create something gobsmacking too—and they chose the County and a return to the frontier life.

Before you bark about the price, how much would you pay for solitude? What’s your price tag for an original experience, frying just-laid eggs in a cast iron pan, tending to the embers of a fire that unleashed so much conversation that life had been just too busy to share? Did I mention the intensely hot open-sky shower and King bed? If you’ve grown tired of the stiff back and soggy sleeping bags of traditional camping—this is the intelligent upgrade. Jens and Inge have also planted a massive garden where you are welcome to pluck some cilantro, red leaf lettuce, veg, dill—whatever is at the ready. North Beach Provincial Park is an easy stroll away if you dare leave the fairy-tale woods. In the very near future, the hops Jens has planted will be the source of the on-site brewery the couple has planned. Be part of the dream early-on. Just pack your marshmallows and daydreams and romance 101 is waiting for you. If you want to give a true “experience” gift, this is it. A night in the woods at Fronterra.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a donkey?

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Nothing says I love you like a donkey. Since 1992, the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada has been a refuge for neglected and abandoned donkeys, mules and hinnies. To visit the 100 acre sanctuary is like putting your heart in a fondue pot. Which donkey you fall in love with is personal—you can read their profiles on line (each a heart crunching story) or actually visit the Guelph location and give them a good groom and nuzzle before deciding. For $50 you can become a guardian for a year. You can donate money towards specific needed products like fly masks, herbal supplements or pitchforks. Kim and I had a crush on Peter (his bangs!) and Sadie and became guardians. My mom swooned for Trooper and adopted him in a heartbeat. Which donkey will you give some festive love to? Find your donkey sweetheart now!

Make your gift-giving thoughtful, intelligent, creative and supportive this year.

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If all else fails blend a dozen egg yolks, a carton of cream and a cup of sugar in your non-$959.00, non-copper, non-Kitchen Aid mixer. Add Mount Gay rum as family drama or (hopefully) merriment requires. Play A Jann Arden Christmas. Repeat both.

Best prescription: Watch Love Actually. Love the one you’re with.

Falalalala, heehaw, Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa to you and yours and theirs.

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Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Seven Wonders of the World

At some point all of us have fallen into the quicksand powers of distractify.com. Who doesn’t want to put off _____________________(insert any task of importance) in favour of scrolling through gauzy photos of the world’s best beaches or caves you can sleep in? I’m a sucker for all those treehouse and igloo hotels. I can’t get enough of the sunsetty images that channel humidity and kick up that inner well of travel-induced adrenalin. It’s nice to put our brains on slide show mode and dream from the comfort of our home and pajamas.

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Every time I distractify I’m eager to see how many of the coveted places I’ve been to. It’s like a scavenger hunt I didn’t even know I was actively a part of. On a recent post of 41 Secretly Incredible Travel Destinations I felt an inner glow to see the Ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt included. Ohhh, and Giant’s Causeway in Ireland! Been there! And Grindavik, Iceland. But having scored only 3 out of 41 destinations I thought I should create my own list. Because what’s secretly incredible to me didn’t make that list and wherever we choose to travel, it’s like love and our devotion to certain coffee beans or dog breeds or Sons of Anarchy. It’s deeply personal but the neat part is in the sharing and finding overlaps with each other. Surprisingly, album-creeping on Facebook has presented unexpected travel ideas and networking—from lattes at D’Espresso in New York to a $100-a-plate fish and chip joint in the Yukon to the merits of running a marathon in France.

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In no particular order, I’ve flushed out my personal seven wonders of the world. With time, I’m sure this list will be revised again and replaced with more marvelous encounters, but at this very moment—these places are deeply embedded in my mind. Come see why.

1. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

I’ve always been enamoured with Dian Fossey’s brave and brazen attempt to protect the mountain gorillas of the Virungas from poachers. I have the January 1979 issue of National Geographic that refers to her as “Miss Fossey” throughout. In tandem, Miss Fossey and Jane Goodall brought Africa to my bedroom in Brantford, Ontario. Of course, just as every 10-year-old envisions a fancy marine biologist or vet career, I thought I might be a primatologist and observe gorillas eating bamboo all day long. Somehow I became a massage therapist instead (and sometimes massage backs as hairy as gorillas I suppose), but, for one surreal moment, I slept in those verdant mountains of Fossey’s tuned into the echoes of life and death.

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Only 32 $500 US permits are issued per day at Bwindi. Our permits were included in a package with G Adventures—otherwise, they are issued on a lottery basis. The encounters with the gorillas are strictly timed to ensure that they are not inundated with human distraction. The hour begins upon the first sighting and armed rangers are quick to get the group moving out of the area immediately. You can’t help but feel Dian Fossey’s presence, struggle and the patience in her passion.
But that hour? That musky smell of gorilla deep in your nose? The wet jungle, hot piss and humidity stays with you. Being spitting-distance away from a docile silverback and youngsters somersaulting about is a pure wonder. Have you ever held your breath for an hour? Have you ever been so transfixed by your surroundings that the trance feels like a super drug you might not be able to shake? This is Bwindi.

2. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

The guide book warned us that sometimes startled drivers slam on brakes or skid off the road when they come over the rise and see the lagoon for the first time. Despite expecting it, and realizing that we were nearing the lagoon, the sudden appearance of sheer dream-like icebergs bobbing along stops everything dead in its tracks. Your conversation, your mind, the rental vehicle. Wow.

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On the edge of Vatnajokull National Park in southeast Iceland the 18 square kilometre lagoon is full of calved icebergs making a silent procession towards the Atlantic. The layers of sky blue and black ice make for a photo frenzy. Unfortunately, we had 160km an hour winds whipping off the lagoon and threatening to blow us into the Atlantic as well.
The lagoon has been a Hollywood star, providing the setting for James Bond, Batman and Tomb Raider flicks. On a side note, in the wind shelter of the nearby cafe, we sucked back perhaps the best latte on the island. Though, the view over the latte froth might have greatly influenced us.
Even with gale force winds and bare skin pelted with fine gravel and debris, the magic of that lagoon still shakes my marvel meter.

3. The White Desert, Egypt

We were already high on life after staying at a Shali fortress in the Siwa Oasis. We’d spent days traveling around by donkey, watched the sunrise over the salt flats, drank hibiscus tea and smoked the sheesha pipe by a fire after being buried in a traditional sand sauna. We had eaten camel stew on the rooftop of the fortress under a bazillion stars, soaked in cold springs and discovered a thermal lake. Yes, we were fully spoiled by the makings of a very dreamy time in Egypt already.

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Of course, we already had knotted stomachs and daily blasts of diarrhea, but, travel can’t be 100% sunshine and lollipops. Oh wait, we did have 100% sunshine and 100 degree days. It was the desert after all. After barreling along unmarked ‘roads’ ( I use the term as loosely as our bowels), we entered the White Desert. The alien landscape is 200 square kilometers of bone-white natural sculptures that resemble hawks, hearts, mushrooms and pythons. Without a guide, you would never find your way out. The silence here is almost overwhelming. Far from any source of light or noise pollution, the White Desert is a retreat for all your senses.

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After hours of being awe-struck, the pink and tangerine hues that dusk brings upon the stone and sand makes way for an incredible cosmic show. Here, you sleep under the stars and remember how tiny and insignificant your presence is.

4. Bartolome Island, The Galapagos

I had five solid Jeopardy categories that dominated my childhood. Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Birds of North America, Pop Tarts and The Galapagos. I made sure my dreams came true the year I turned 30. I was headstrong about seeing the blue-footed boobies, frigates and tortoises that I had become consumed with.

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When I arrived in Quito, Ecuador (flights depart from Quito to Puerto Ayora—a 1,000km flight west to the Pacific isles), I met a charming Aussie who insisted we drink pisco sours and try guinea pig. Something went sour in my gut and I’m not sure who or what to blame. The following morning I had a bowl of entirely raw eggs, so, whether it was the pig, the pisco, the Aussie or the eggs, I’ll never know. Add a huge, rolling Pacific to that mix and I was throwing up most days of the nine day trip. But, despite heaving overboard, I was stunned for nine days straight.
The boobies and the frigates performed and displayed. The animals and birds of the Galapagos have no predators, and, incredibly there is no fear of humans. You can be mere feet from sea lions and iguanas. I was in birding la-la land.

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Bartolome was probably the island that struck me with the biggest wow wave. Like Neil Armstrong said, it’s the closest landscape to the moon that you’ll find on earth. The hardened lava tubes and windswept harshness is nearly unsettling. Barren and beautiful—a sharp contrast to the chain of islands that are alive and vibrating with bird life.

5. Michamvi Peninsula, East Zanzibar

Have you ever felt like you’ve walked into a postcard? The beaches are icing sugar white. The water is so many shades of blue that a paint company could find a whole new line of Indian Ocean tints.
It’s breezy and soupy with African heat. The sky is an opposing mix of brilliant blues and sometimes it’s difficult to determine the ocean from the sky. Sunrises here made me want to write poetry and smoke long menthol cigarettes (not really Mom).

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The tide tables were erratic and amazing to witness. At night, the ghostly roar of the waves pushing back in woke Kim up, even with ear plugs. Watching the tide pull out was like listening to the ocean funnel down a far away drain. It was a torrent of water rushing reverse through the tidal beds.
We spent hours squatting by the pools, looking at the black urchins and tiny starfish. Some of the pools were hot tub hot by noon. The water was as clear as the Perrier I’m drinking—no guff.
Here, life revolves around the tides and the flux of fisherman and women collecting seaweed were indicators of this balance. After heading to the Rock for a beer, we learned quite quickly of the speed and power of the ocean as we high-stepped it back to our lodge. The coral cliffs and coral underfooting made for a nervous and grateful walk back. Inlet to inlet the level of water pushing into shore proved that Mother Nature is boss.
Whether you find yourself on a dhow at a distance, on the balcony of the Rock, having a blue marlin burger at Ras Mchamvi or distracted from your book at Kichanga Lodge, the Indian Ocean and its ever-changing “oh-my-god-look-at-it-now” beauty has established the benchmark for all oceans.

6. Masai Mara National Park, Kenya

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It’s Out of Africa in 3D. It’s blonde savannah, blurs of zebras, trumpeting elephants and sun-bathing lions. I had binoculars fixed to my eyes until dark. And at night? Falling asleep in a tent with Masaai keeping watch by a snapping fire and hearing a cheetah in the distance (think of a log being sawn in half—that’s how they sound). This is the good Green Hills of Africa-esque Hemingway life. In the morning the flies are incessant jerks though, swarming your milky tea and dive-bombing the surface until you have a pool of 30 flies in your mug. Oh, and their fly friends are buzzing in your ears and hanging off your eyelashes.

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But, if you can surrender to the fly annoyance and forget about all the red dirt up your nose (where the flies are sometimes too), a safari in Kenya is a bonanza of animals. It’s a full time job to take in all the meerkats and water buffalo and dik diks and impala without rest. Because you don’t see just one—you are bombarded with fauna.

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Before VCRs were invented (or, maybe they were and we were just unaware, content with the old TV aerial and snowy five channels in the country), I used to record Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness on my tape deck. I’d listen to old episodes about this very view in my lower bunkbed. The real thing will make you want to return—physically and mentally whenever you close your eyes.
I can’t tell you how many about-Africa books I’ve read since I’ve been to Uganda, Kenya and the Congo. But, to get in the groove—shortlist these:

The Poisonwood Bible—Barbara Kingsolver
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight—Alexandra Fuller
West With the Night—Beryl Markham
Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda—Rosamond Halsey Carr

7. Caye Caulker, Belize

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There are no cars here and this is so refreshing. And, the fact that there is ‘nothing’ to do (hurray!). Kim and I get so lusty thinking about a Belizean retirement. The beach shacks are simple, life is simple and the curries are outstanding. Every single thing we ate on Caulker was instagram-worthy. I’m talking tangy shrimp ceviche, ham and Cheese Whiz waffles, perfect fried chicken and fire-breathing curry from Fran’s. Oh, and then there are the panty-ripper rum drinks to enhance the sunsets where everyone gathers for an applause-worthy show.

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We spent time on the mainland (Placencia, Cahal Pech and Hopkins Village) and zoomed out on a choppy ride to see the Blue Lagoon and the red-footed booby colony on Lighthouse Caye, but memories of the coral island just 8km by 1.6km wide resonate bigger and brighter.
If you want a break from the wi-fi and masses of people, you can truly live here barefoot. No shirt, no shoes is really no problem. Ever.

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Okay, so now I get why those distractify lists are always 40+ destinations long. At seven wonders, I’m cutting myself short. My best advice? Travel with someone you adore and can’t get enough of. And, advice to myself? Buy a new hoodie and hat already!

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Categories: Passport Please | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Best Places We Slept in 2013

I can’t help myself—it’s almost a reflex for me to be combing booking.com when our temperatures slide under the zero mark. When the windchill eats at your face and makes your eyes seem to bleed from the extreme Arctic blasts, Turks and Caicos for $340 return sounds increasingly better.
I should be a little more resilient, having just returned from sun-baked, rum-immersed Grenada just weeks ago. But, that was December—and this is January 2014 already! But, before I begin scheming for our travels this year, I always like to reflect back on the best places we’ve slept in the previous year.
In no particular order, with varying definitions of what ‘best’ entails.
1. Our Suzuki Jimny 4×4, Skaftafell National Park, Iceland

Not our Suzuki Jimny, but, the exact same model that didn't weather the weather as successfully as ours did.

Not our Suzuki Jimny, but, the exact same model that didn’t weather the weather as successfully as ours did.

In plotting our farmhouse and B&B stays in Iceland, we didn’t anticipate on encountering a sandstorm, 160km/hour winds or a September blizzard as we cut through the mountain pass to Egilstaddir. Luckily we were travelling with our sub-zero sleeping bags and had enough duty free booze to hold a frat party in Skaftafell National Park. After a very spoiled stay in Vik at the recently renovated Hotel Edda (with it’s super sexy masculine walk-in glass shower), we were storm stayed at the park. In the moment that we were nearly blown off the top of a cliff to view the Skaftafell Falls, we should have known that things were about to abruptly change. Roads were closed, angsty Europeans were demanding an evacuation—and they got one. A military tank rolled up to the park resource centre where we were all holed up, eating the last of the white loaf smoked lamb and mayo sandwiches (with smear of green peas of all things) and skyr on offer.
We decided not throw caution to the 160km/hour wind and ride out the storm in our vehicle. Besides, two sturdy Germans and a Mexican were doing the same—and they were parked opposite us behind the dodgy windbreak of the ‘tree line’ (read: shrubs).
Our posh accommodations that night were in the driver’s and passenger’s seat of our Suzuki Jimny 4×4, zipped up in our North Face and Whiskey Jack bags. We fashioned an ambient night light out of a reuseable cup and our trusty headlamp. We had 1.4 kilos of trail mix, several bottles of red, hot cocoa and Kahlua and beer. We’d survive the dip in temp to -3 that night, though sleep was another matter. Kim sat rigid and wide-eyed for most of the night, waiting for our Suzuki to blow over. Our wheels were definitely lifting with each blast of wind. It was terrifying and exhausting listening to such a ferocious wind. In the morning, bleary-eyed and still a little shaky from the Drama in Real Life that just occurred, we awoke to find the abandoned trailer parked behind us, blown over. Not to mention finding several vehicles in the parking lot with blown –out windows and one missing a driver’s side door.
Was it the best sleep? Not necessarily—but, if you ask Kim or I about Iceland, that is the first visual in our minds.

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2. Vogafjos Guesthouse, Lake Myvatn, Iceland

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Sleeping with the cows. My grandfather would scoff at this notion—really? You paid $150 to sleep with cows and have breakfast with them? We did—and, it was a perfectly designed birthday, in my mind. My sister had been to Lake Myvatn just a month before and had raved about the brunch at Vogafjos Guesthouse, an active dairy farm. They didn’t stay the night as they were pushing on to the east, but, we made sure we carved a good chunk of time to recoup in this area (sandstorm, wind storms and blizzards behind us). Having already been on the Ring Road and all its elements for five days or so, we were in need of a good geothermal soak and a private display of the aurora borealis.
The guesthouse was a promising venue with zero light pollution and a severe stillness that made the stars in the sky seem to vibrate. Loons called from the nearby lake, adding a haunting element to the silence and serenity. Our cabin space was smartly designed with a rugged (but rugged designed for royalty) feel. The surrounding lava rock made us feel like we’d been transported to the moon. Add a night time blanket of snow, the heady smell of cow manure (a welcome smell to me, having grown up in the country) and a cozy retreat after a feed of Arctic char and geothermal-baked rye bread.
Just before we were about to close our map and guide books for the night and fall into bed, I checked the window and mad-dashed to the door, “Get your shoes on! The Northern Lights!” We stood outside, shivering under the pale wave of lime aurora sweeping across the lower sky. We slept in fits, each of us checking the window periodically for another glimpse of the aurora.

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And my sister was bang-on with her brunch review. The spread at Vogafoss is worthy of Vikings returning from battle. Several hunks of decadent cheese, endless wheels of brie, hearty granola, preserves, hard-boiled eggs, smoked lamb and char, moist wild blueberry cornmeal muffins, sweet and fruit-studded rye bread and kicker coffee. The best part is that you have breakfast with the cows—the milking parlour is on full display to entertain while slurping a second cup of coffee. Happy birthday indeed.

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3. Le Phare Bleu Marina and Boutique Hotel, Calivigny Bay, Grenada
We earned our band groupie badge by travelling to Grenada primarily to see our favourite folky Canadian rockers, Madison Violet perform. The VIP stay included luxe accommodations in a massive and masterfully-designed beach villa, breakfast (picture piled pancakes and sausage here, swimming in sweet and citrusy nutmeg syrup), a boat tour of Hog Island, a dinghy concert with the girls, a behind-the-scenes rehearsal with a local steel pan band, The Wizzards (with a generous cooler of Prosecco and chardonnay to accompany), and another show at The Deck (Le Phare’s resto).

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This boutique hotel has really ruined us for future stays in the Caribbean. Situated in a quiet bay on a property that sees more hummingbird traffic than vehicles, Le Phare is a grand escape. Poolside we assumed a very sloth-like existence of Carib beers, cat naps and distracted reading. From the pool you can watch the glide of mooring yachts and catamarans on truly azure waters. There’s no photoshopping here.
The dinghy concert was a unique opportunity to see the band in a playful, casual bill. Bobbing on a ship in the sea, sandwiched by a barge, yacht and over thirty dinghies, the Sunday afternoon sun was blistering hot. Rum was chugged, songs were belted out and the marina hosted a post-concert barbeque that wooed guests with the likes of whiskey burgers and frothy coconut-milk and rum pain killers.

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All of Grenada smells like a walk through a busy kitchen—the air is perfumed with cilantro, nutmeg and wafts of oregano. The stars are unreal and when the frogs take over at night, it’s the best way to fall to sleep under the mosquito net canopy.
The staff are over-the-top gracious while the owners are sure to swoop in and out to ensure that your experience exceeds expectation. Thanks Jana, Dieter, Lisa and Brenley!
4. The Sohotel, New York

Okay, maybe 2013 was Year of the Destination Concert. In November I surprised Kim with tickets to see Alison Moyet at the Manhattan Centre in New York. Kim’s sister joined in on the secrecy and soon we were both creeping through booking.com and tripadvisor places for a hotel that was more than 15 square feet, less than $400 a night and not bordering New Jersey.
Situated between the Bowery District, Little Italy and Chinatown, the Sohotel sold us with its praising reviews and art deco-heritage mash-up. The online pics showcased zebra print wingbacks, exposed brick, a slick industrial look with fun, quirky furnishings.

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The attention to detail is seen in the flashy bellhops uniform. The staff wear low-rise purple Converse, cardigans and purple and white checked buttondowns.
We went in with the notion that it is New York (cue up sirens), the hotel is in a heritage building (cue up clanging rads and drafty windows) and that space is at a premium. Sure, the hotel room and bathroom required agile, cat-like balance to manoeuvre, but, reception was eager to please and upgrade us to a larger room when our online booking was ‘miscommunicated.’ We ended up with a triple room which allowed for one bed to be used as an open wardrobe. Perfect.

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Despite having no in-room coffee makers, the most-awake one in our lot (usually Kim) was sent downstairs to the lobby to grab caffeine for us. Close to the subway line (for the urban brave—as Kim says, “the subway lines in NY are like spaghetti.”), close to dozens of reflexology businesses, and a brisk walk to John’s on Bleeker for sensational pizza, Sohotel was tops.

5. HOME
If you’ve been reading my blog for a year, you’ll know that Kim and I turned looking for a home into a part-time job. We began our search in April of 2012 and were ready to go on a sabbatical when the market thinned out in September. We put Iceland on hold that fall, thinking we’d been buying a house and it wasn’t until a last-ditch effort just before Halloween that we fell in love with the 150-year-old stone cottage that I’m sitting in right now.

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December snowstorm & new locker 001
We looked at mls.ca until we were as cross-eyed as Siamese cats. We trudged through so many houses, disenchanted. Our hopes were dashed on more than one occasion by potential junker neighbours, a bowing exterior wall, dodgy dirt basement with a possible crypt in the corner, sagging roofs and spaces that were really smashing—but had no place for snow tires, Kim’s chop saw and tools, hockey equipment, let alone car.
Having only lived in brand new builds, Kim was convinced on my push for a home with character, history and personality. We never dreamed we’d be living in Galt, but, in our early wanderings we found a microbrewery across the river, a cheese shop, impressive library, a coffee roaster and a riverside path that winds through Paris and beyond, to Brantford. Galt had good bones—and I could work at the top hotel in Canada, Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa.
We fell for the house instantly, despite the wet dog smell and clutter that clogged the rooms. We could see beyond it all and loved the old pine floors, the exposed stone, the wide baseboards, the crown molding and ceiling medallions. The carriage house with the Murphy bed ignited our pursuit. This house would be ours! The backyard promised full sun, a cute Bunkie—space for a cedar deck to be built to entertain, towering black walnut trees and privacy. Our search was over.
On January 17th, 2013 we found our home, and it really is the best place in the world to sleep.

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If you missed the best places we slept in 2012, from Texas to the Belize Zoo, they’re here: https://julestorti.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/the-best-places-we-slept-in-2012/

And 2011? From the Ice Hotel, Honduras to the Egyptian desert: https://julestorti.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/the-best-places-i-slept-this-year/

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Random Reykjavik: Where to Eat, Drink & Crash

It was a sharp scenery contrast as we moved on from our fishing lodge cum guest house to the urban thickness of Reykjavik.

Ensku Husin (‘old English lodge’) was like stepping into a time machine—70s furnishings, prerequisite wood panelling, beat-up armchairs, trophy fish mounts, vintage pics of men grinning with monster fish and a pot belly stove. It was a fab crash pad with serene views of River Langa. And, like much of the real estate in Iceland, the property came with its own personal waterfalls.

ICELAND 2013 415Fast forward 100km from the idyllic countryside to the end of the Ring Road. From 70s kitsch to the modern spoils of Radisson Blu 1919 in downtown Reykjavik. We happily exhausted our RBC Visa Rewards points account for two nights at the boutique hotel (room rates from 110 euros!). The studio-concept room was a welcomed contrast. Unlike Ensku Husin, we probably wouldn’t hear our neighbour’s snoring. Or, dishes being washed or the ruckus of the innkeepers’ children below.

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In Reykjavik, we had to part ways with our reliable steed, the Jimny 4×4. We were sad to see her being driven away—no doubt re-assigned to a brand new, fresh-faced couple about to tackle our same route. The Jimny must have been thinking, “What? Again? I just did the Ring Road.” However, Kim was now footloose and fancy-free from chief driver responsibilities. We were ready to be pedestrians again, stretch our Ring Road legs and partake in Reykjavik’s happy hour scene.

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To commemorate reaching the end of the Ring Road (sigh), we mixed “Ring Worms” and “Reyk-ed” cocktails in our tony room while watching an old Ellen Burstyn flick. Our duty free Icelandic vodka had to be drank! I’d read about the Nordic love of malt extract and Appelsin (akin to orange soda) as a nourishing winter warmer/yuletide favourite. Adding vodka upped the yuletide and we created variations while waiting for the drizzly skies to take a rain intermission so we could explore.

We eventually did the “Rodeo Drive” stroll—popping in and out of shops along Laugavegur and arty Skolavordustigur. The window shopping extremes ranged from bric-a-brac at Frida Fraenka on Vesturgata (two storeys rammed with peculiar antiques—an inventory nightmare!) to fawning over the flashy outdoor gear of 66 Degrees North. If you are a licorice fan there’s a sugar epicentre on Laugevegur with licorice dipped in every sort of imagined confection. Get your hands on a “Dramur” (‘dream’  in Icelandic)—it’s black licorice whips dunked in chocolate in a bar form.

Happy Hour Chronicles (in no particular order):

Skipbarrin: It’s slick and smartly designed with salvaged wood, industrial flare and cow hide stools. Part of the Icelandic Air Marina hotel, it’s a lively and vibrant pit stop—though the marina view is lacking. Here, outside of happy hour you can expect to pay almost $22 CAD for a mixed drink. We heard rumours of this, and the outrageous price of booze in Iceland—and it’s true. Just a basic rum and Coke or gin and tonic is prohibitively priced. Safer choices are the pints of Viking or Gull which are universally 900isk ($8 CAD). Happy hour deals = 2 for 1 beers.

Dillon Whiskey Bar: Though Lonely Planet described this whiskey hole as a place where you might encounter “beer, beards and the odd flying bottle,” we witnessed only beer during the 4-6 happy hour time frame. It’s a little rougher around the edges, darker, but authentic. Make note of the “Mind Eraser”– Vodka + Kahlua with a lime wedge dipped in coffee and sugar.

kim at whiskey bar

Olsmidjan Bar–Kaffi & Vin: We hadn’t seen Polar Beer on the menu anywhere but here. I imagine it’s a budget lager brewed by the larger conglomerates. But, we were okay with this—for 900isk you could get a pint of Polar and a shot. We decided to upgrade our shot option (licorice schnapps or a gimmicky, syrupy “Northern Lights” shot with floating green and blue liqueurs) to try the premium priced Brennivin. It’s the local hooch derived from fermented potato mash and caraway seeds. We found it rather palatable. Please note: Signs of maturity were witnessed as Kim and I actually purchased a Polar pint glass from the bartender instead of stealing it.

Bunk Bar: Adjacent to the Reykjavik Backpackers Hostel on Laugavegur, the salvaged wood doors of the Bunk Bar easily lured us in. Inside we found a very hip and inviting chill zone with a gently thumping electronic soundtrack. This place oozed cool! Renovated in May of this year, the combo of iron and wood textures, repurposed tractor seat bar stools and black and white photos make the bar a stand-out. Go here! It’s not the scrubby hostel type-bar you remember!

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Post Happy Hour Eats (in no particular order, and not all in one day):

My sister and her fiancee had been in Iceland just weeks before us and we were armed with a list of cafes and fish n’ chip joints that couldn’t be missed.

Cafe Babalu: The decor of this cafe made for one trippy latte. It was like stepping into Quirk Central: pink flamingoes, Smurf figurines, cuckoo clocks, needlepoints, random 60s lighting, vintage board games—with an Ella Fitzgerald soundtrack.  It’s  well-worth the time out—and be sure to head upstairs, to get fully immersed in the rug hooking groove. Don’t miss the Star Wars themed restroom either. It’s part of the Babalu experience.

Prikid:  On Bankastraeti, we found the best burgers since our reindeer burg experience in Hofn. Kim opted for a hefty Blue Moon topped with guacamole and blue cheese. I went for the sweet and savoury twist of the Jam burger loaded with camembert, blue cheese, brie, parmesan and raspberry jam. We’d recommend a table upstairs so you can have a fine perch for people-watching while pint drinking. And, if you’re really ambitious, Prikid is one of the later-closing bars: at 5:30am. Don’t miss the men’s washroom (really, take a peek) and the graffiti in the smoking area on the way upstairs.

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I was nervous we wouldn’t be able to cram in all the lattes, battered cod and hot dogs that we needed to eat before flying home.

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Baejarins Beztu: Right across from the Radisson Blu we watched the congestion around the Baejarins Beztu hot dog joint. Famous for Bill Clinton’s drop-in and some other Hollywood hot doggers, the stand has been in operation since 1939. For 330isk ($2.50CAD), a hotdog with ‘everything’ is handed to you loaded with remoulade, crunchy fried onions, ketchup and a sweet brown sauce akin to honey mustard. After eating hot dogs around the Ring Road, we nodded that yes, it was one of the best and that we needed to take home some fried dried onions in our cargo.

Icelandic Fish & Chips: Located on Tryggvagata, you gotta go here for the tempting line-up of ‘skyronnaises.’ Skyr is a thick, Balkan-style yogurt and Icelandic staple–flaky plaice and tusk (1,480isk per main) dipped in coriander and lime skyronnaise (280isk), is really the only way fish should be eaten. Add a side of rosemary and Saltverk potatoes (490isk), a pint and you’ll wonder why you didn’t eat here everyday for every meal.

Koffinn: We had our last minute fill of Icelandic fare here before catching the bus to the airport. Known for a riveting list of paninis, the Indian Hut is where it’s at. Fiery red curry and chicken in a Panini with perfect grill lines? This was the best send-off. Deep, jazzy soundtrack and piles of old magazines to flip through.

Of course, we accomplished more than happy houring and filling our faces in Reykjavik. There were tranquil morning runs along the sea wall, keeping pace with seabirds skating along the water’s surface. Glimpses of distant glaciers and boats chugging along towards the futuristic glass Rubik’s cube-looking opera house.

After 800+ miles of driving headlong into a postcard on the Ring Road we were really craving that soul-nourishing stillness that we had become accustomed to. You can find it in Reykjavik! At the Holavallagardur Cemetary (off Ljosvallagata street), this graveyard is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, smack dab in a city centre. Laden with verdant moss, elaborately carved headstones and gnarly trees, its well-worth a wander through.

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Also, be sure to walk around the pond by City Hall. Dotted with grey legs and bossy swans and several unusual sculptures, it’s like an open air gallery and bird sanctuary. There are also several dream homes to be pointed at near the pond. The simplistic and colourful corrugated iron construction set behind dwarf birch trees with leaves begging to turn orange made for a sweet stroll.

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The cosmo city, endless walls of graffiti and top notch pubs and eats instantly put Reykjavik on our return list. The laughing, flush-cheeked, straw blonde kids in babushka buffs are poster children for purity, wool sweaters and fresh air. With few visible minorities, Reykjavik is a non-stop parade of Nordic beauty, furs and a catwalk for 66 North fashions.

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Iceland gets under your skin in a very good way. You’ll see. And be sure to tell me all about it!

Categories: Eat This, Sip That, Iceland 101, Passport Please | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shark Bites, Love Balls and Spelunking in Iceland

Kim has become quite accustomed to my elusive food foraging quests. She has been game for the likes of camel stew, fig moonshine, frog legs, some unfortunate thing in Belize that tasted and looked like cat barf in a pastry shell, tongue on rye and even braved a blizzard for the promise of caribou burgers in Quebec City.

“Will you try the putrid shark though?” I asked as we headed towards the shark museum near Berserkjahraun.

“Of course.”

That’s my girl.

Fermented hakarl (shark) can be found in most grocery stores in Iceland, however, I wasn’t convinced that we’d love it enough to buy a pre-packaged pound’s worth for upwards of $20. A free sample would satisfy, and because the Foss Hotel was shuttered in Dalvik, the shark museum was our only probable tasting station.

For 1,800isk ($8 CAD), our admission to the Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum also included a tasting. I had remembered the boys on Departures grimacing and near-hurling hakarl over the experience—though they had Brennivin chasers to cleanse their palates (a local hooch of fermented potato mash and caraway, known better as “Black Death” or by its English translation, “burning wine”).

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The museum itself was a marvel—a hodge podge of massive whale vertebraes, sheep bones, seal skins, old harpoons, ancient navigational equipment (hello GPS!) and the family fishing boat, circa 1870. Before a motor was tacked on the back, the vessel was rowed by six men which must have been a parallel feat to the pyramids being built.

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There were the prerequisite taxidermied birds and decrepit foxes, shark heads and fins. Really, it was the best touch-me, feel-me display of curios. I was especially drawn to the exhibit that displayed things found inside one shark’s gut—polar bear skin and bones!

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The doting curator hovered around us, at the ready for questions and then reeled us in for the real attraction—shark snacks. After drying in a shed for five months, the otherwise toxic Greenland shark becomes edible with the fermentation process. The species has no kidneys which results in an elevated ammonia level–survival adaptations for a shark that lives almost 2km below the surface.

Cocktail party convo starter: Did you know that sharks have no bones and just a ‘spine’ of cartilage? I love these Jeopardy contestant tidbits.

Gearing up for what everyone had said was a revolting mouthful akin to an ammonia-soaked sponge, rancid blue cheese and feet, Kim and I were both pleasantly surprised. Now, I wouldn’t choose to sit down to an entree of putrid shark, but, it was essentially like a cube of raw fish. Roll it in sticky rice, wrap it in nori, add a dot of wasabi and it would be a hit in Toronto’s Koreatown with a Sapporo.

What next? After visiting the farm’s drying rack with shark bits in various stages of aging, finding some warm love balls seemed appropriate.

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Stykkisholmur was the only place I was able to sniff out the traditional love balls—and indeed, they are full of love. Deep fried tennis ball-sized glories for 340isk ($3 CAD) a pop. The Nesbrud Bakery in Stykkisholmur is a pastry wonderland with several varieties of twists and sugared rolls dunked in severe amounts of icing, and, astarpungar. The dense doughnut balls are a sweet and mildly tart hit of lemon and cardamom. Totally worth the pit stop and shark breath. And if you climb to the old lighthouse overlooking the darling little marina, love ball eating can be justified.

ICELAND 2013 458Now well-fuelled we were ready to climb into Iceland’s underbelly at the Vatnshellir (‘Water Cave’) Caverns in Snaefellsjokull National Park. Who doesn’t want to poke around lava tubes 12 storeys below?

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The spiral staircase painstakingly erected by volunteers and cave enthusiasts takes spelunky-types 130 feet deep. The cave had been closed for several years due to geological ransacking by visitors. In May of 2013, it was privately contracted out to a former mountain rescue guide with 25 years experience. I smiled at his transition—all those years at such elevations, and now, his pursuit in the opposite direction!

At six degrees, you’ll be glad to zip on a fleece and pull on a toque, however, there’s no need to worry about getting slimy, stalactitey, soaked or shat upon by bats. There are no bats in Iceland, and the terrain is solidified lava (which makes for some wobbly ankle terrain en route to Jules Verne’s Centre of the Earth).

The tour is a little bit schmaltzy—Kim was hoping for some fox hole belly slithering routes  or a fear-factor-esue squeeze like our Belize experience, but, it’s rather tame. Regardless, even if you’ve been in dozens of caves, there is no getting used to the unsettling feeling of 100% darkness. Our natural desire ‘to see’ causes such strain and mild panic in that minute of headlamps being turned off.

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Above ground an hour later, we returned to our now-familiar inundation of natural phenomena. Rounding the coast, the Malariff sea stacks instill another 3D postcard. And Anarstapi? Step aside love balls, this 2.5km cliff walk from Hellnar along the stone arches and basalt escarpment is visual balm after being in the dark and damp Vatnshellir caves.

The turbulent coastal waters and frozen lava flows is a surreal sight. Next to the sea stacks of Dyrholaey and the black sand beaches of the south, I really swooned over Anarstapi.

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Rounding out the day of sharks, caves and love balls, we shared a cauldron (really) of lamb soup at The Settlement Centre in Bogarnes after we found accommodations at Ensku Husin, an old fishing lodge.

Iceland was getting seriously deep into our bones. Could we somehow rewind the Ring Road?

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Categories: Eat This, Sip That, Iceland 101, Passport Please | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dalvik, Iceland. Population: 1,400

Destination Dalvik. Population: 1,400 (Sheep population? Double that figure.)

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I’m almost disappointed to report that our northwesterly loop of Iceland (after leaving Lake Myvatn) was void of obsessive-compulsive road closure checks, manic meteorological banter with fellow travelers, snowstorms or impromptu sandstorms for that matter. By the time we reached sleepy Dalvik, the wind speed was nearly zero and the sun bathed Eyjafjordur and Svarfadardalur in buttery, hopeful light.

After being immersed in the serenity of Lake Myvatn’s isolation we couldn’t bring ourselves to find a hotel in Akureyi (pop. 17,500 by contrast).  Though, had we been drifting through during the summer, I’m certain Kim would have been keen on a round at Jadarsvollur. With the solstice you can play golf around the clock in perpetual daylight—and, golfer or not—there has to be a thrill in booking a midnight tee-off and playing in broad daylight. (In late June the 36-hole Arctic Open is played here).

There was also the Lonely Planet promise of curry huts and Thai noodles and a trendy joint called Rub 23 that my sister was seduced by. Diners get to create their own custom rubs (marinades) for their fish or lamb. As tempting as a fiery feed of butter chicken was, or spice-massaging some mutton, we pressed on to Dalvik. I had been convinced by a thumbnail photo of the Vegamot cottages in my glossy brochure stash that we should stay there. The Lithuanian kit houses looked like cutesy red Lego cabins at the foot of the mountains.

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When we arrived, a note on the door of Vegamot suggested crossing the road and asking one of the gas station attendants where the innkeepers might be at. They would know, and/or, phone Heida. Which they did. Our other option, the Foss Hotel, had simply closed up shop altogether due to the predictable plummet in tourists, so, we were really putting all our chips on Vegamot.

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GisuEirikurhelgi Kaffihaus

Heida was an Icelandic Meryl Streep doppelganger. It was her 49th birthday that day, and, she insisted that we pop in to her cafe at the end of the street (in pointing distance) for happy hour—which would be hours long, until close. We concluded later that Heida was the Trump of Dalvik with a cafe, Vegamot cabins and the downtown hostel under her reign.

There was room at the inn. Did we want to go whale-watching? Her husband led tours—we could go that very afternoon.

Kim and I skipped the whale watching offer. I’m not saying every whale tour is the same, but, I had seen them in Kennebunkport and Kim had been whaling in Provincetown. Also, we had both been whale watching in classic summer temps. The rough sea and cheek-chilling single-digit forecast was not putting whales at the forefront.

We also skipped the Byggdasafnid Hvoll museum—though I was naturally fascinated by the lure of visiting the Johan Petursson room. Petursson was a local giant (7’7), and the museum housed artifacts from his days as a circus act and (drum roll here) taxidermy. Every museum, bar and restaurant in Iceland has some mangy sinister-looking stuffed thing. Arctic foxes that look rabid. Wilting ptarmigans. Fish with globby eyes and stiff fins.

Kim thought the hike around the Svarfadardalsa lake across from our cabin would be more rewarding in the end. And after circling the mirror-surface of the lake with binoculars trained on whooper swans and godwits, she was right. We didn’t see a single person—we had the lake and most of Dalvik to ourselves.

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After the 8K slog we exhausted our cracker and cheese supply and heated up tomato soup in our kitchenette (that was not built for the likes of Johan Petursson). Our ‘en suite’ was very functional in that you could sit on the toilet and brush your teeth at the same time as the sink was within spitting distance.

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And, from the toilet, the hot plate and boiling soup was also within sight.

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The shower, in the adjacent rental loft (Heida’s great-grandmother’s home), was an instant lesson in human origami. At a generous one metre squared, if you dropped the bar of soap while showering, there was no bend-over space to retrieve it.

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Regardless of bending design glitches, Heida’s strong design chops were a nice change from the somewhat sterile Scandinavian-take many Icelandic hotels adopt. Poking around great-grandma’s (a space available for 4-6 people) was like snooping, even though it is a rental unit. Grandma’s vintage hair rollers are above the sink, her dressing gown hangs on the door. The stacks of mid-1800 books, bibles, tin cups, iron crosses, reindeer hides and milking stools were a far cry from any Ikea showroom.

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Heida’s Great Grandma’s House

Showered, souped and crackered we walked down the main drag to Heida’s kaffihus (slowed only by head-butting cat traffic on the sidewalk).

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Happy hour was happy indeed. We met Heida’s football-mad husband, Bjarni, whose mop of hair deserved a museum of its own. The cafe was the kind of space I wish we had in Galt. The ambitious couple (though Bjarni would say it’s all Heida’s insistence) plan to re-open the abandoned live theatre that is part of the building. We pulled up vintage tractor seats and slugged the local craft brew—Kaldi. Adding to the small town embrace—the Kaldi brewmaster arrived to much fanfare and found a stool at the bar next to us.

Bjarni  gave us a crash course on whales (many of the whale watchers had barfed the day before due to the choppy waters confirming our wise decision to opt out), hot dogs and Icelandic real estate.  We were staying at “Vegamot” which translates to ‘crossroads.’ All houses in Iceland have a family ‘house name.’ If we were to send a letter to Bjarni, there would be no house number or street name. The letter would be posted to Heida and Bjarni at Vegamot, Dalvik, Iceland. Which means the letter carrier would have to be the town’s nosey parker or a real Rainman with names.

Our happy hour performance wasn’t at its optimum. After one Kaldi we felt like we needed toothpicks to keep our eyelids pried open. We were sacked and back home to our red lego hut by nine.

Besides, we had shark to eat the next day and caves to climb into the dark belly of!

*Additional tidbit: Every August Dalvik hosts The Great Fish Day. Locals and travelers alike are invited to rub elbows and gills with the fisherman and fishmongers that make the daily catch a reality. Tables and grills down at the marina groan with the FREE all-you-can-eat buffet of catfish, herring, redfish, salmon and shrimp.

Shark!

Shark!

Categories: Iceland 101, Passport Please | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Partying Until the Cows Came Home in Lake Myvatn, Iceland

“Party until the cows come home” is not just an expression—you can actually do it in Lake Myvatn, in northern Iceland. In fact, you can have breakfast with the cows too.

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But first, Kim and I had to grind our molars through a sandstorm warning in the east fjords. A cheery cherub of a woman at the Hofn tourist info centre suggested, “If you see the sandstorm coming, just stop and wait before you continue driving.” Right, because sandstorms conveniently give you that kind of head’s up. This particular section of the Ring Road had been closed the day before, due to “sandfoki.” We were reassured that the worst stretch was only 0.2 to 1.4km long.

A few other windstorm-haggard travellers found their way into the tourist centre while we were there. Collectively, talk was about turning around and heading back along the south coast to Reykjavik. Our eavesdropping tourist info lady piped up: “The roads are closed in that direction as well. Oh, and if you are heading to Egilstaddir, the shortcut on 92 is closed as well…due to snowstorms.”

Fast forward through sheer cliffs, falling rock warning signs and HOT PRICKLES from a sudden blast of gravel as we entered the sandfoki zone (but managed to roar through, unscathed–muttering a few fokis en route). Enter BLINDING snowstorm, complete white-out conditions and fish-tailing with tractor-trailers.

The only blizzard shot I took. Mostly because I spent the next two hours holding on to the  passenger door so it didn't blow off.

The only blizzard shot I took. Mostly because I spent the next two hours holding on to the passenger door so it didn’t blow off.

By the time we reached Egilstaddir with hot dog and vodka gut rot, the Vinland Guesthouse in Fellabaer was like an oasis: non-stop hot water and a respite from shallow breathing for four hours. Though the shower was heavy on the sulphur (I swear all of Iceland was built upon a giant egg salad sandwich), the good and starchy towels and highly efficient thermostat in our room were welcome. It was still spitting snow outside when our guesthouse host, coincidentally an air traffic controller at Egilstaddir, informed us that the road ahead of us was closed and impassable due to snow.

While mixing numbing vodka concoctions to quell our nerves, we heard a tentative knock on our door. Two ‘representatives’ from the girl pack staying next to us had come to ask for help. From Mekong, Hong Kong, nobody in the group had ever driven in snow—did we have any tips? Kim gave a spontaneous and colourful lesson half in charades to the reps—and to the rest of the women who poked curious heads out of the door adjacent to us. It was a SNL sketch—questions coming at all angles in rapid Chinese, Kim driving an imaginary 4×4 to demo, pumping an equally imaginary brake pedal.

On our left, we had two jovial Brits—accustomed to Iceland’s unpredictable weather as they had been to the area over a dozen times. Every hour or so, with a ciggie in hand, the Brit wife would pad over with her iPad and a weather report that we would extend to the Hong Kong girls. They had already been storm-stayed two nights, and we resigned ourselves to the same fate. We tried deciphering the local news on TV—we could only guess whether the Icelandic words were indicating Mon-Tues-Wed or wind-temp-snow.  What we were able to translate regarded the sheep. They were already being herded down from the mountains to avoid last year’s disaster when an early blizzard left 12,000 sheep trapped.

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We slept like the dead after a very fancy dinner of canned tuna, butter crackers and a wheel of gouda in bed. By the time I had come back from a crisp suburban run through Egilstaddir in the morning, the Hong Kong convoy had left. Our air traffic controller and the smoking Brit meteorologist said the roads west of us would be clear by noon. Besides, Kim grew up driving up and down the Hamilton mountain—surely this northern pass would be a cinch!

Scene: ochre dirt, bleached grasses, neon green and scarlet lichens

Scene 2: Ansel Adams territory, reindeer tracks in virgin snow, snow-saddled summits reminiscent of our mighty Rockies

Scene 3: snaking gorges, cantering  peg-legged sheep, an impossibly blue sky, Icelandic horses en  masse

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It was my birthday. 39. I’ve been privy to some exceptional far-flung birthdays (Galapagos–Uganda–Alexandria, Egypt)…but spending it in Lake Myvatn? I couldn’t design a better birthday—we found a top-notch bird museum (where you can rent duck blinds for serious duck observation), tromped through the spooky lava fields at Dimmuborgir, poked around bubbling mud pots and smokin’ fumaroles in Hverir (scratch and sniff scent here: egg salad sandwiches), had a solid feed of smoked arctic char on dense rye bread and pints of Kaldi at cozy Gaemil Baernin (the loaves of rye are baked in the geothermal ovens of the ground!), hiked a crater rim that made us both pant from the elevation and capped it off with a geothermal soak just 100km south of the Arctic circle. Oh, and throw in some Northern Lights for good measure.

The lava fields of Dimmuborgir ('the Dark Castles')

The lava fields of Dimmuborgir (‘the Dark Castles’)

Hverfell tephra ring--463m from the ground, 1040m across

Hverfell tephra ring–463m from the ground, 1040m across

Hverir mud cauldrons and steaming geothermals

Hverir mud cauldrons and steaming geothermals

Kim and I made an executive decision to skip the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik—the epicentre of most travellers’ Iceland itineraries. But, take away the obnoxious crowds, visualize a killer sunset and an infinity hot pool overlooking Lake Myvatn and the Hverfjall crater– and you can nod in agreement as to why.

Steam billowed off the surface of the 104 degree waters at Myvatn Nature Baths (geothermal water is pumped from 2,500m below). The steam clouds were so thick that we felt alone—despite the hushed German, Spanish and Chinese conversations surrounding us. We retraced our day with laughter and watched the dropping sun catch the sky on fire.

Home base was with the cows at Vogafjos Guesthouse. Owned by the same family since 1890, the manure-heady air reminded me of childhood. The guesthouse opened in 2005, after the new ‘Cowshed Cafe’ and its picture-window dairy shed received unexpected fanfare in 1999. With over a hundred sheep and 40 cattle, we were truly partying until the cows came home.

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Inside our swank guesthouse I unfolded and highlighted maps. I read bits about the whale museum in Husavik and lake trails in Dalvik aloud to Kim while she rinsed and hung our wet swimsuits. As the sky grew darker I continued to hop up and peer out our window, feeling certain that we’d witness the aurora borealis that night. Amongst the lava on the Vogar farm, there was a desert-like stillness at night. Cue up a solitary loon on Myvatn and that was the only noise pollution to be had.

“COME! LOOK!” I unexpectedly hollered.

Kim followed my lead, both of us stuffing shoes on and running out the door. We had seats to the best drive-in theater going. Milky bands and waves of white and soft emerald rolled across the sky. For fifteen solid minutes we refused to leave our post. Shivering and thrilled, we held strong to watch the Northern Lights as we knew the show would soon be washed out by the rising moon.

But of course, it’s like finding money on the sidewalk. You get obsessive! I couldn’t stop looking out the window, waiting for an encore.

The rest of the night was spent with window-checks. Both of us agreeing that if another show took to the sky during the night that we’d wake the other.

Happy birthday indeed. Round that out with breakfast with the cows. Watching them be milked as we shared plates of skyr (like a thick Balkan yogurt), figs, dates, cashews, big hunks of edam, brie and gouda, smoked lamb and char, split hard-boiled eggs and rye bread studded with dried fruit.

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Oh yeah, a bespoke kick-off to 39.

*Extra tidbit: The bird museum in Lake Myvatn is a lovely tribute to Sigurgeir Stefansson who drowned in the lake at the age of 37. The museum (housed in a traditional turf home with a modern uptake) is Stefannson’s private taxidermy and outstanding egg collection.

Wanna sleep with the cows? Check out Vogafjos www.vogafjos.net ($130/night includes breakfast and sometimes, the Northern Lights)

 

 

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Being Swept Off Our Feet in Iceland. Literally.

“Cover your head!”

Kim’s voice was swallowed by the wind as I had a momentary glimpse of what was coming. It appeared like a fast-moving cloud of dust. Much like the “dirt devils” I’d seen in Africa– a tornado-like funnel of dirt debris was whipping towards us.

The “dust” cloud was full of fine bits of gravel—and then progressively larger rocks, pelting us like shrapnel. I think Kim said to get on the ground, or, maybe that’s just where we ended up. The wind blasted with a fierce intensity off the Vatnajokull glacier—so powerfully that we were blown off our feet and actually dragged along the path.

My jacket rode up on my back as I skidded along and I could feel the raw rash inching higher the further we were dragged. My mouth was full of grainy dirt—and my muddy teeth suggested I greeted the eye of the storm smiling.

“RUN!”

In a momentary lapse from being stuck in the wind tunnel (I thought we’d been witness to a volcanic blast with all the crap that pelted us), we ran like fools from the face of the glacier to the safety of our vehicle.

It all seemed so innocent. We figured that it was a good opportunity to see the glacier tongue up close and personal before moving on from Skaftafell National Park to the glacier lagoon. Interest was completely lost though after the angry cloud of high-speed stones came raining down on us.

Back in the Jimny, we found laughter after inspecting our war wounds. Kim had an instant goose egg climbing out of her shin, Fred Flinstone-style. My teeth were still coated with glacier guts.

“Jesus C*****.” We were panting. Kim shook gravel out of her head (and it takes a lot for anything to penetrate her wall of hair product!). I had stones in my pockets and a dent in my ribs from falling directly on my camera.

“I’m so glad we did the glacier walk.”

The trip was becoming akin to a gong show.  “Remember the time we almost blew off the Svartifoss waterfall edge but were saved by the Russian? Remember the night we slept in our 4×4 while everyone else was evacuated by a tank? Oh, and remember the time we wanted to go take a picture of the glacier and were blown down the path on our backs?”

I thought about the scar on my tailbone from riding a camel to the pyramids in the soupy humidity of Cairo. Who else has camel riding and glacier wind gust injuries?

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We pressed on to the glacier lagoon after sitting idle at the nearest gas station watching for cars. Kim was hoping for a convoy but the Ring Road was still impassable from Skaftafell to Vik. There was no traffic, just a group of anxious men trying to secure the blades of a helicopter in front of the Foss Hotel. Wind speeds were still clocking at 23 metres per second according to the road conditions sign.

Is this where I mention that we were now driving with our arms covering our heads? Kim was driving one-handed, wincing as we roared across the open stretches of black desert. We pulled over once for a wind time-out, tucking our 4×4 in front of a boulder, hoping to find a brave pace car to tag along with, but, everyone was travelling in the opposite direction. Icelandic radio stations were of little aid. The only Icelandic I had learned so far was bjor (beer), pylsur (hot dog) and tak (thank you). Not useful on the meteorological front.

We found a half dozen harried travelers at the Jokulsarlon lagoon. (Tamer, hurricane-windless views of the lagoon can be seen in the James Bond flick Die Another Day and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider).

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Part of Vatnajokul National Park, the lake is evidence of glacier recession. Lonely Planet had warned “Even when you’re expecting this surreal scene, it’s still a mighty surprise—just count how many shocked drivers slam on the brakes and skid across the road and make sure you don’t do the same thing yourself.”

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No kidding. The lagoon is just over 75 years old. Drifting, calved icebergs from Breidamerkurjokull cruise along the 17-square-km lagoon, sometimes spending five years in transit before bobbing along out to the ocean.

Some of the icebergs are impossibly blue with black stripes. Others are like refined translucent sculptures. If this was your backyard view, I’d hazard that you wouldn’t accomplish a thing, ever. Staring at the stunning lagoon is mandatory.  Jaw-drops are encouraged.

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Taking refuge inside the Jokulsarlon Cafe (next pit stop 100km), we found the best lattes on earth. Perched by the cafe window with the serene glacier backdrop, it killed any memory of a better latte for me.

There was active chatter among Germans, a rosy-cheeked Swiss couple and a gay couple running on a near-empty tank of gas. Everyone was obsessed over the weather reports and affixed to various iPads and iPhones. We all paused when the lone Austrian on a supped-up motocross bike strode into the cafe, stiff from exertion. We’d seen him in Dyrholaey and admired his ambition to throw caution (and a motorbike) to the wind.

Still desperate for a convoy Kim sought out our German buds who had arrived from Skaftafell. The boys had already slept in their vehicle for three nights, after being storm-stayed in the highlands by blizzard conditions. They were happy to have us follow them to Hofn (another two hour haul). There was safety in numbers as hours could pass on the Ring Road without passing a soul.

***

Hofn (‘harbour’ in Icelandic, population 1,640) was our safe harbour. We found cutesy cabins for $80 and made use of our sleeping bags again. (‘Sleeping bag accommodations’ are an economical option when visiting Iceland. Many guesthouses and farmhouses offer rooms with private or shared bath for a discount if you have a sleeping bag. This means no towels, linens or pillows are provided—but you can save upwards of $25 per person which can be blown on $25 reindeer burgers instead!)

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Reindeer and refuge at Kaffi Hornid was welcome. The hip resto-cafe is housed inside an impressive log cabin, better suited for the alps versus ‘downtown’ Hofn. An adjoining room was vibrating with locals watching European football. Though the specialty in these parts is langoustine, I had to do the burger. Kim chose the paprika soup, desperate to take the chill out of her core.

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Topped with a record amount of blue cheese, the reindeer burg took my coveted burger of the year prize. (That is, until I had the Jam and Camembert burger in Reykjavik at Prikid, but, that’s another story.)

Satiated with a thick soup and a fat burger, we nursed glasses of wine back in our cabin bunk bed recounting the day and mapping our upcoming travels across the east fjords. And yes, the winds were still howling across the tundra and giving our tiny one-bedroom cabin a good shake.

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What next? A mountain pass blizzard? But of course!

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Kim & Jules: Iceland Storm Chasers

Arriving in Iceland was seamless. We had a tailwind that pushed us into duty free an hour early. Our car rental dude was waiting with a “Kenny” sign in the wings and handed over the keys to our mighty Suzuki Jimny 4×4 as promised. The air had that crisp clarity that shakes the jet lag out of your brains. The Ring Road and its 800-plus miles of unknown opened up before us. We found palatable coffee at the first gas station and settled in to the immediate sensory assault of South Iceland. Our itinerary was loose but semi-rigid. The Ring Road circumnavigates Iceland—and, at some point, in two weeks time, we would also have to circumnavigate back towards Reykjavik for our September 25th return flight to Toronto. We decided to be semi-footloose and not book any hotels prior to leaving. We tried this in Egypt, and sometimes the elements have other ideas for you. The barometer was hovering around a fresh eight degrees—we were ready in our rain repellant wear and attitude. There was relief in travelling to Iceland versus a sunny hot spot. When you book a beach vacation, your mood becomes inherently attached to the temperature and high expectations of the sun. For me, Iceland was like visiting Costa Rica or Ireland. I fully expected rain and battleship grey skies—it would make the experience even more authentic. What we didn’t expect were the gale force winds that blew out the windows of over a dozen cars. But first— ICELAND 2013 933 It’s difficult to condition your eyes to such immediate hyper stimulation. Iceland is a land of severe contrasts—it’s like driving head-long into 800 miles of postcard. Stretches of desolate black sand beaches give way to glaciers and sheer basalt cliffs. Waterfalls pummel into snaking rivers, sea stacks tower out of white-capped oceans. ICELAND 2013 787 Our jet-lag jitters were soothed by a rejuvenating huff of a climb up the stairs to view Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. We were like bobbleheads back in the Jimny trying to take in the whirling terns riding thermals and the lunar landscape. Geothermals spewed out of steam vents in the verdant hills, Icelandic horses ambled about—yes, cue up a non-stop pastoral scene of chubby sheep and darling horses. Our saving grace came in the form of pizza from Halldorskaffe in Vik. The tall boys of Viking and Gull beer were well-chilled just from being in the back of the Jimny. Not feeling brave enough for the neglected pastel quarters of the Puffin Hostel or the equally frightening 70s throwback with panelling that smelled like last week’s composting fish and chips, we bargained with Hotel Edda. The cute cabins I had spied on booking.com for $140 were fully booked and a double room in the hotel was $175. A special off-season price, just for us. ICELAND 2013 868 ICELAND 2013 832 The former Hotel Vik I Myrdal had been recently snapped up by the Hotel Edda chain. The lower, original level was sterile and pastel. Even at $75 we weren’t interested. However, the new addition—which was available at the same price tag was full-on modern, masculine and Scandinavian stylish. I sweet-talked us into a room for $140 because we had really (originally) wanted to sleep in the private cabins. We had a view of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks and were minutes from the black sand beaches that put Vik on the map. ICELAND 2013 867 But, after being wired from 24 hours of non-stop (moving my parents that morning, cutting grass, painting the front door, anxiously sitting in stopped traffic on the 401 and an overnight flight with zero sleep), we could barely stay awake in our posh room. We swallowed the salami pizza slices whole and chugged Viking, bleary-eyed as we struggled to enjoy our sea stack view. ICELAND 2013 810 By 8:30pm Kim and I were both cross-eyed with elation and exhaustion. Tomorrow we’d get an early start and tackle the trails at Skaftafell National Park—a solid two hour drive from Vik. I hadn’t driven standard in a few years and offered to take the helm. I felt like I was leaning left the entire time, fighting off the wind. After maybe 45 minutes I asked Kim if she wanted to take over—maybe it was just me, but, I felt like I was being pushed off the road by the wind. Kim is hands-down the more experienced driver out of the two of us-she’s been driving since I was six. I wimped out early—the wind had upped its ante as soon as we switched hot seats. The Jimny felt like it was travelling on two wheels—it was the kind of cartoon tin can vehicle that would be prone to being blown over completely. Sheep hunkered down in the ditches, their wool looked teased-up and back-combed with the wind. We passed Foss a Siou—the waterfall chute was being carried away by the wind before it could even reach the ground. Arriving at Skaftafell still eager to do a glacier walk with a guide we were told the tours had been cancelled due to the weather. We watched a group of women take pictures of the car in front of us—a Suzuki as well. We later realized that the Suzuki no longer had a passenger door—a victim to the wind! We sat in our Jimny silently eating the unusual sandwiches we’d bought at the gas station. I had a curious blend of smoked lamb with peas, carrots and mayo. Kim wasn’t even sure what was inside hers, but the mayo quotient made her happy. Mine tasted like swallowing campfire—the lamb was that smoky. It looked atrocious—like a barf after Thanksgiving dinner. Finishing our beers and remarking how much we lived up to the Bob and Doug stereotype, drinkin’ beer in our toques, we decided to brave the wilds and hike up to the Svartifoss falls. Lonely Planet said it was an hour and a half, return. And, Lonely Planet is gospel! Okay, add 160km wind gusts to that hour and a half. (*According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, this wind speed is indicative of a Category 2 hurricane. By the time we reached the east fjords, the winds were at 180km/hour–or, Category 3.) And by gusts, I mean like a huge slap from Mother Nature across your body that pulls your feet from underneath you. I couldn’t even see the falls because my eyes were tearing so much from the wind. Sand whipped off the rocks as well, and, add some dodgy footing, a massive basalt cliff, and a good gust in there. It was harrowing at the top—the gales pushed Kim and I along the path towards the edge so unexpectedly that we grabbed on to a human anchor to save ourselves from going over the edge. Really, if it weren’t for that Russian climber acting as a blockade… We had deadly grips on his mighty windbreaker-clad arms and legs—all of us crouched low to ride out the gust. Yes, Jesus! Kim and I praised the lord and the Russian and decided to get the hell off the postcard-famous cliff to the safety of flat ground. When we blew into the visitor’s centre to use the washroom facilities and look at postcards of the falls that we could barely see with our own eyes at that elevation we learned that the Ring Road had been closed. Impassable due to the winds.The Skaftafell Parks employee told us the winds were at 40 meters per second—which we had to have translated from European-speak. 160km/hour indeed! A motley crew of European travellers had banded together and refused to leave the visitor’s centre which closed at 7. The staff called the rescue team and the group was notified that a TANK would evacuate and transport them to a local school for the night. ICELAND 2013 945 We were not part of the motley crew. It wasn’t that bad out, right? Two Suzuki Jimny’s sat in the parking lot with windows blown-out from the wind and ensuing sandstorm. Hmmm, maybe. ICELAND 2013 959 Eager to get on with our travels in the south the next morning, Kim and I decided we would ride it out and sleep in the Jimny—surely the winds would die in the night and we’d take off at first light. We had sleeping bags, hot cocoa, Kahula, Icelandic vodka, four bottles of wine, trail mix, starry-eyed love and hearty Canadiana coursing through our veins! Steely nerves or stubbornness, call it as you will. We joked about the money we were saving by bunking in our 4×4—money that we had already spent on parking at the Toronto airport instead! (Please refer to previous post: Iceland–Against All Odds). The tank rolled up and half the disgruntled group disappeared—I had a rush of goosebumps. Had we made the right decision? Should we be overreacting too? We bought extra sandwiches from the cafe and banded together with two German pals and a brazen Mexican who called his car rental company to add on extra insurance. They were going to sleep in their vehicles too. We had our United Nations coalition. But, did we have coverage for weather-induced blown-out windows? The tank had to make two trips—which allowed us to stay holed up and warm in the center for another hour while it went to and fro. The centre itself seemed like it was ready to pick up and fly off into the horizon like Dorothy and Toto. Kim parked the Jimny behind a weenie treeline (dwarf birch trees are as tall as it gets in these parts) in the campground area of the park. We filled our mugs with hot water before the centre was locked for the night. And what a night it was. We slept with our hands covering our heads in case the windows suddenly shattered. There was not enough Kahlua to put us in a boozy coma to sleep through the howling—and our vehicle actually lifting with the gusts. I nervously wrote postcards to those at home by the ambient light of a trusty headlamp—spinning out the thin humour in our predicament. From our posh sleep at Hotel Edda to being folded up in sleeping bags nursing Kahlua in the wind storm of the century. I found sleep eventually, but Kim was wide-eyed all night. The trailer parked behind us had flipped over at some point, but the winds were so deafening we didn’t even notice. ICELAND 2013 958 Obviously we survived the night and carried on only to face bigger winds. Oh, and a “sandfoki” (sandstorm) on the east fjords. And how ‘bout that blizzard that shut down the #92 shortcut to Egilstaddir after we fish-tailed through it? Again, stay tuned. Also, please note that Kim and I are not professional or interested storm-chasers. Do not try this at home, or abroad. ICELAND 2013 819

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Iceland: Against All Odds

Do you ever feel like the gods are working against you? Not in a “I’m supposed to make guacamole for the party but the avocadoes at Sobey’s are like grenades” kinda way. More like in a series of cataclysmic events that leave you slightly unsettled. What could possibly happen next?

A week before leaving for Iceland it started. I dropped my beloved Canon SX120 PowerShot from waist-level. It was still plugged in to my laptop—and subsequently dropped and smashed as I absently picked up said laptop to show Kim a goofball picture I had downloaded of myself wearing my Vanilla Ice concert t-shirt from grade 9 era. The sickening thud was followed by a panicked turning-on of the camera. The sound of the lens opening was like that of a cat being sat on. It made the same guttural sound as it closed. Uh-oh.

At least it wasn’t the laptop. Replacing a camera would be cheaper. But, a week before the trip? All for a stupid candid Vanilla Ice throwback photo? Ugh to Ice Ice Baby.

The next morning our state-of-the-art stainless steel Cuisinart coffee maker showed no signs of life. Nothing. Coffee grounds sat unfiltered, nestled in their paper basket. There were no last throes of life, no indication that this was the end. Just me, standing, staring, slightly exasperated, contemplating the wrath of the instant coffee granules that we had left over from camping versus a dumpy cup of Earl Grey tea.

The morning after that, somewhere around 5am, Kim ran smack into a westbound raccoon en route to work. This was no ordinary collision—normally a run-in with a raccoon would simply result in a lot of guilt for killing such an innocent creature making its way to greener pastures. No, this raccoon was a linebacker—its hefty body was like smacking into a mini Smart car. The Saab needed immediate repair—the oil pan guard thingie and side light panel took the brunt—to the tune of $350.

Then, Friday the 13th, happy to have an evening flight to Reykjavik, Kim and I were anticipating an indulgent sleep-in, lazy coffee in bed from the new Cuisinart, maybe pancakes somewhere around noon. Except…those gods that were against us had a plan B. For anyone following my Facebook feed, you’ll know that my parents were moving to Walkerton. We helped them load two trucks on the Monday and on Wednesday, they had pro movers taking the last of the heavy stuff. I think this was truck load #7 for them. (And I’m not talking pick-up loads—these are 24-footers). Thursday I received a sheepish call from my folks. “Well, looks like we need to get one more truck—there was stuff that didn’t fit. Do you think you guys could help us out Friday morning around 8:30?”

Scratch sleep-in, pancakes and an idle day before flying to Iceland. However, score immense points as daughter of the year for helping with four of the truckloads. And, my mom sent us home with a care package: Montreal smoked meat piled high in croissants.

We spent the dwindling hours before our flight cutting the grass one last time. Kim put another coat of paint on the front door—we were ahead of schedule and leaving four hours before our flight.

But, this would be all too simple. Even though we live a casual 45-minute drive from the airport, on Friday the 13th it would take over three hours. A 4pm collision in the eastbound lanes of the 401, east of Mavis brought traffic to a dead stop.

After a lot of preliminary swearing our minds went in two different directions. I could see planes descending into the airport. Surely we could just ditch the car and run across the sun-bleached fields to the airstrip. If we missed our flight we could be spontaneous and crazy and jump on a flight to Alaska or the Yukon. Maybe Portland, Oregon—I’ve always wanted to go. Our bags were full of fleece, Gore-tex, binoculars, hiking gear and Clif Bars. A sunny, beachy locale would entail a lot of duty free shopping.

Kim was convinced we were going to miss the flight entirely. We’d just get ourselves on the next flight, hopefully the following day, and just drive back home. She resigned herself to the worst case scenario as I balanced our yin and yang with the best case scenario.

As a painful optimist with equal parts realist, I knew we couldn’t miss the flight. It was not how our story was supposed to go—we had booked the flights on March 22nd. We had been dog-earing our Iceland Lonely Planet since August of 2012 when we were first looking at flights (but when Iceland Air fares jumped from $550 to $1,200 each, we decided to buy a house instead).

As we inched past the twisted vehicle and jackknifed tractor trailer, our shallow thoughts of missing out on our flights were surpassed by gratefulness to be alive—and not part of the wreckage. (We later learned that the driver of the truck was airlifted from the collision site).

However, now that we were in the clear and resuming normal highway speeds after traveling just 8km in an hour, we didn’t have the time or guts to try and park at our usual cheapie Park n’ Fly. Waiting for a shuttle would have left us behind closed gates, for sure.

So, Kim pulled into a tight spot on P2 at the Toronto Airport parking lot. What’s another $297.00? My optimistic arithmetic resolved that, really, if we just divided the $297 by two, and added that to the $600 flights we nabbed in March, we were still flying to Iceland for $750—which was way cheaper than what we considered spending the previous fall.

We made the flight—with enough time to chug two airport pints (add another $20 to that $750 arithmetic). As I bit into a stiff airline baguette with ham and cheese I felt the bonding on my retainer lift and the wire jump out of alignment. Did this not already happen to me in Egypt?

Little did we know our greatest drama was about to unfold once we arrived in Iceland.

Stay tuned…
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