Last Day in Iceland and First Day in AMERICA

Today was my last day in Iceland. I had a blast. Nicole and I got up and had some coffee at a little shop down the road. Supposedly it’s the best coffee in Iceland, and it was pretty delicious, but I honestly preferred the place we went on our first day. We packed our bags and set them by the door. We bought a few knickknacks for family members at a shop up the road and we went to a $40 volcano documentary.

$40 Volcano Movie?!

Why did we spend so much? A simple conversion error. When I bought our tickets at the downtown…..volcano store? I thought we were getting a heck of a deal, especially by Icelandic standards, two movies for $4? What a steal. It wasn’t until we sat down in the small 15 person theater that I realized we’d spent $40 on a 45 minute movie about volcanoes.

Touching all the rocks at the volcano museum
Touching all the rocks at the volcano museum

The volcano documentary wasn’t even that great. It was basically 3 different volcano videos edited together one after the other. I made a note to myself to one day retire and open a volcano documentary theater. After the documentary, Nicole and I walked around the small display cases of volcanic rocks and touched all of them, that’s right, all the rocks. By god, we were going to get our $40 worth. I also sent several photos of the museum to my sister, further enhancing the volcano experience for myself.

Lunch

After our volcanic mismanagement of vacation funds we got some delicious fish and chips, as we are wont to do. It was much less than the volcano movie and it came with a delicious IPA. The little fish and chips shop is right next to the volcano museum and located a mere block from the harbor. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Icelandic Fish and Chips
Icelandic Fish and Chips

The breading was light and flaky while the fish was fresh and flavorful. If you find yourself in Reykjavik and you’re hankering for some fish and chips, I highly recommend Icelandic Fish and Chips.

Coming to America…TODAY

Welcome to America
Welcome to America

Our three weeks of adventures through Iceland, Germany, and India were finally coming to an end. We’d had a blast, but we were ready to return to America and see our families. Nicole and I returned to our AirBnB and loaded our bags onto the shuttle bus to the airport. The flight was that evening and because of the time change we arrived in Boston, our first city in America, around the same time we left Iceland. My friend Adam picked Nicole and I up from the airport and we met up with his girlfriend for some delicious giant pizza in Somerville, MA.

[divider_flat]

First meal in America, a giant pizza
First meal in America, a giant pizza

Second Day in Iceland – Caves and Volcanoes

Our second day in Iceland we had less of a structure to our day. We knew we wanted to see caves and volcanoes so we hopped in our rental car for the last day we had it and set a course for the nearest caves we could find, which turned out to be quite good. The caves were about a 30 minute drive away from out Airbnb, but first we needed to stock up for the day and that required snacks. Iceland was quickly becoming one of my favorite places and the supermarket was yet another reason why. The supermarket we stopped at was excellently stocked with a variety of health foods, protein, and various juices. It was so fantastic I didn’t even mind the arm and the leg I was charged for it.

Icelandic Caves

From the supermarket we drove through a series of random back roads thanks to our GPS and eventually found our way to a neat group of caves on the side of the road. If our GPS hadn’t told us about the caves, we might have driven past. The caves were submerged into the ground so on a drive past, they didn’t look like anything at all.

Volcanoes

After our cave exploring adventures Nicole and I went in search of volcanoes. We found one on our GPS in the middle of nowhere, and only a 30 minute drive from where we were caving because unless you’re in Reykjavik, you’re in the middle of nowhere. The drive leading up to the volcanoes was completely devoid of any sort of vegetation aside from this thick green moss that seemed to cover every exposed surface in all directions for miles. The view was incredible. It felt like being on an alien planet. Just mountains, volcanoes, and this green moss. We made it to the volcanic craters just before a massive storm started pouring on us so we didn’t stay for too long.

Failed adventures in Thermal Spas

Nicole and I had big thermal spring spa plans for today. We found some neat hot springs in a valley high up between two mountains. They looked fantastic and according to the blog that recommended them, they were only a 45 minute hike away. We parked at the base of the mountain and packed a little bag with snacks and bathing suits and towels and started our hike up the mountain. As we hiked the mountain, we slowly began to realize we were incredibly under prepared for the hike at hand. People were regularly passing us on their way down with jackets, hiking boots, hiking poles, and some people even had horses. We had none of those things, just a plastic bag full of bathing suits and our determination to make it to the hot springs. The hike was beautiful though and the views were breath taking. We could see some hot springs and waterfalls along the hike but the ones we came across were only 1 or two feet deep and literally boiling.

After maybe an hour or so of hiking we could see that there were no hot springs in sight. The blog we found could very well be right about the location, but their time estimate was way off and the storm we just drove away from near the volcanoes was approaching our mythical hot springs. We decided to call the hike off and return to the car since we were going to the Blue Lagoon hot springs tomorrow anyways.

Returning the Rental Car

After our hike we drove back into town to return our rental car. We shared so many memories with that little silver car.  We took it to hell and back driving over really bumpy gravel roads and through deep potholes. It held up the whole time and we would miss it, but like the rest of Iceland, the rental car cost a small fortune and we had plans in Reykjavik for the next day.

We dropped our rental car off near the Reyjkavik airport and got a free ride back to our AirBnB thanks to the good people at Hertz Iceland.

First Day in Iceland – The Golden Circle

We woke about four hours after we fell asleep from the night before. As expected, the sun was out and shining brightly. While we were in Iceland, the sun set around 11pm and rose again around 3am. Because the sun set so late and rose so early, there were only a few hours of darkness and it never truly got dark. There were several hours of dusk and that was about it.

Expensive Breakfast

So back to my main point, we woke up, it was bright. We walked down the quaint little streets of downtown Reykjavik. Across the street we stopped in to a little bakery and got some pastries and coffee for breakfast. The meal was absurdly expensive, like $30 for two croissants and two coffees. Everything in Iceland was expensive as we soon learned. However, the taste almost justified the cost. The cup of coffee was one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. The pastries were light and fluffy and delicious. I certainly got the value of a $10 pastry, although I would have been happy with the value and flavor of a $5 pastry instead.

Getting Lost and GPS

After breakfast we hopped in our rental car and began our drive along the Golden Circle. Not ten minutes into our trip though, we got lost, horribly lost. I stopped and asked for directions to the nearest phone store and bought a SIM card. It was the greatest investment I made while in Iceland. We used the GPS to navigate all over country, starting with Þingvellir, the first stop on the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle

A field of Cairns
A field of Cairns

The Golden Circle is a famous route through southern Iceland that passes by some of Iceland’s most famous natural wonders including Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall, and Þingvellir. [divider_flat]

Þingvellir

Þingvellir is the oldest parliament in the world. It was founded in 930AD and originally it was just a rock in the middle of nowhere, literally. There was a Lögberg, or law rock, where the lawspeaker presided over during his 3 year term. Þingvellir was founded at its location because of its central location for most of Iceland’s first inhabitants. I read a lot of the signage around Þingvellir. It was really impressive. For example, before the laws were written down, the lawspeaker had to recite all the laws from memory as part of his job. Þingvellir is also home to an impressive waterfall, quaint brook, and some scare ducks (pictures below).

Next Stop Geysir and Strokkur

From Þingvellir we drove another 40 minutes to Geysir hot spring area. Geysir is the name of a famous geyser. In fact, the name geyser is derived from Geysir. Geysir began erupting as early as 10,000 years ago. However, it has all but stopped now. Occasionally earthquakes reawaken it but usually only for a few days before it falls dormant again. Strokkur, another geyser nearby, erupts every few minutes to a height of 30m.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Our third stop of the day was at Gullfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s a giant waterfall on the river Hvítá. The river flows over a 3 step staircase formation and then down two separate drops. We parked and walked down a wooden boardwalk to the waterfall. You can get pretty close to the actual waterfall and the closer you get the wetter you get. Standing at the end of the boardwalk is like standing in perpetual rain.

Kerið

Kerið, an extinct volcano, was our last stop for the day. We’d spent the day seeing all manner of wondrous sights. In fact, we never even planned on visiting Kerið. It wasn’t on our list of things to see, but rather it just popped up on the roadside on our ride back to Reykjavik. It was also the only attraction we had to pay for. Literally everything else we saw today was free. Our only expenses so far were our breakfast and the gas to drive our rental car around. That being said, Kerið was only about $3. From the road Kerið looked like a modest hill with a small white shack in front. When we paid we were really taking a gamble since we couldn’t really see anything from the little shack where we paid. However, once we walked up the edge of Kerið and looked down inside of it and realized our money was well spent. The volcano is impressively deep as well as colorful. Just like in India, so many of the attractions we visited were completely open for the public to explore every inch of. Nicole and I walked down inside of the volcano and I got some incredible pics from the experience.

Whale Steaks for Dinner

Salmon, Mackerel, and Lamb in Jars
Salmon, Mackerel, and Lamb in Jars

Nicole and I headed back to Reykjavik after our day of sightseeing. We had a short rest in the AirBnB before heading out to dinner and the part of this paragraph that you’re probably most interested in, eating whale steak. We dressed for dinner and walked down the same quaint Icelandic street in search of some sort of delicious meal. I found a little place off the main road on the first floor. It looked like a little tavern complete with squat little windows and tiny curtains. Inside it was dimly lit and there was an old man playing piano. It was straight out of a movie. The restaurant offered appetizers of various meat mixed with berries and or vegestables served in small jars. We ordered a round of three jars and a minke whale steak to split. The jars were fantastic. We had pickled mackerel, smoked salmon, and lamb. The whale steak was even better. It was a dark purple and similar to steak in flavor, but quite different in texture. The meat was a bit chewier and didn’t quite have that red meat texture, despite having a similar flavor.

The Day in a Nutshell

What a day. Iceland is incredible. After being here only a day I already love it and would love to move here. The people are incredibly friendly. The food is unbelievable. The scenery looks like its straight out of a painting. I don’t think I could take a bad picture if I tried. Looking forward to what tomorrow brings!

Third Day in Berlin – Street Art

We went on an alternative Berlin street art tour that involved some graphic images. There aren’t many, but there are a few graphic images in the gallery towards the middle of the page. Just a heads up. Now, on with the blog…

We woke a bit later than usual the day after the world cup. I know we weren’t the only ones waking up late. The streets of Berlin were eerily quiet leading all the way up to about noon. I think the World Cup victory from the night before kept most people in bed nursing their post-celebration hang overs. However, that was not the case for us. Nicole booked an alternative Berlin street art tour for us.

Street Art Walking Tour…because I’m edgy

The tour met below the Berlin TV Tower around 11. Our guide and the rest of our ragtag group introduced ourselves and we started our trek. The tour was really informative and I’ll do my best to explain the pieces as I remember them in the gallery below.

Lunch with the Germany National Soccer Team

Germany World Cup Van
Germany World Cup Van

That would be cool right? I wish. After the walking tour and getting incredibly lost in a hospital turned art school, Nicole and I found ourselves almost right back where we started, near the Berlin TV Tower. We stopped for a bite to eat. I got some sausages and Nicole got some currywurst. She loves currywurst. In the middle of our meal, this Mercedes van pulls up and a handful of guys in Germany jerseys get out. A few people in the area turn their heads and I notice that some of the people at our outdoor cafe are turning around. There’s some curiosity about this van but not the sort of full-on pandemonium you would expect for a World Cup champion team to be just 30 feet from you. Either way I snapped a photo. Later I saw an article on CNN about the world cup and the same van was in the article picking up players from the airport.

Museum Island

Nicole and I stopped by Museum Island for a quick walk around. Most of the museums were closing in less than an hour so we made plans to come back tomorrow. More on that tomorrow…

Dinner and a Movie

Movie in the park
Movie in the park

Nicole and I learned that Berlin is well known for its outdoor movies in the park.  Lucky for us there was a park
showing Nebraska, in English, right across from our apartment. I don’t mean that figuratively either. The park was literally across the street from us. We packed a small dinner of wine, cheese, hummus, olives, and french bread (German bread?) and enjoyed our meal. It started to rain about halfway through the movie so we sought shelter one of the large umbrellas in the back of the park with a bunch of other Germans. The movie was only a few euros each and the outdoor park/amphitheater was almost empty. It was a great experience.

 

Second Day in Berlin – Brunch, Beer Gardens, and the World Cup

On our second day in Berlin, we actually woke up at a reasonable time. The jet lag from all of our travels was beginning to pass and it was getting to be easier and easier to sleep in the morning. We had a small breakfast/snack of croissants and coffee while we got ready and then headed out to Prenzlauer Berg. Prenzlauer Berg is a hub of bohemian culture in Berlin although it had recently become more gentrified. It’s home to some amazing brunch places, markets, cafes, parks, and beer gardens. Nicole and I went for Brunch.

Brunch in Prenzlauer Berg

A few short tram stops away we arrived in scenic Prenzlauer Berg and walked to a brunch place I’d found online. It was situated right beside a park in a quiet plaza away from traffic and the main roads. We enjoyed a leisurely meal and listened to this kid play saxophone. He looked like he was in middle school or early high school, but he was a very impressive musician. At the end of his set, he walked around and collected some money before heading to another venue.

Mauerpark

After breakfast we walked to Mauerpark, a park not too far away. The park holds a Sunday flea market that had a lot of really cool antiques, clothes, crafts, and live music. I bought some soap for our new apartment this coming year. I wanted to buy more things, but we had limited space and a trip to Iceland ahead of us so I refrained. We saw a band performing at the entrance to the park as well as several other performers, including a man wearing a horse mask playing guitar in his underwear. It was bizarre.

Prater Biergarten

From the flea market we walked over to the Prater Biergarten, a local biergarten in a courtyard. The garden holds several hundred people and they were expecting at least that many for the world cup game against Argentina that night. We saw them setting up more benches and chairs. While we were there, the place was almost entirely empty. There were a handful of Germans and tourists sitting at various tables enjoying the afternoon. It was nice to visit and get a feel for the place before it became so packed that no one could sit down.

The Calm During the Storm

Dark clouds started to roll in while we were at the beer garden so we packed up our things and headed back for the afternoon. That night we went to a brewery turned nightclub and watched the final world cup game: Argentina vs. Germany.

Pizza before the World Cup
Pizza before the World Cup

The dance floor was lined with row after row of benches and packed with people. In the courtyard outside there were dozens of people shoulder to shoulder watching the game as well. All along the street, everyone was tuned in to the game. Streetside cafes set up TVs on spare tables and everyone was watching intently. After the game, fireworks were going off everywhere. The LCD screens at every bus stop were broadcasting the news and the score. Germany won the world cup.