Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Ever onward

June 15, 2014

On our last day in New York City, we packed our bags in the morning and took ourselves down to Penn Station where we left them with Amtrak while we went wandering until our mid-afternoon train.

A short time after that, The Dad suddenly asked, “Fainjin, where are your glasses?”

Da-da-da-DUM.

Fainjin is not very good at wearing his glasses, and is forever leaving them at home.  “I don’t know,” he replied.  We sent a text to our accommodation, asking them to look out for a child’s glasses.  They replied that they had found his swimming bag & goggles (facepalm!) but no glasses.  I have been scouring our photos of NYC since, trying to figure out the last time we had them for certain.  I now have a terrible feeling that he put them in his raincoat pocket on the Highline, and they fell out somewhere after that.

It is possible that the glasses are lurking in one of the bigger backpacks (we’ve thoroughly searched the smaller ones), so we will have to sort through them carefully.

Meanwhile, Fainjin tends to fall up stairs and bump into things every so often.  We have a spare pair of glasses back in NZ so he can have those to go back to school when we get home.

We walked around the Empire State Building area for a while, its top as ever lost in the mist, so we didn’t go up.  Eventually we got sick of touts asking whether we wanted to go up, so we moved further away and went souvenir shopping.  We found an actual coffee shop and had refreshments – The Dad was so grateful to have a non-burned, non-overheated, non-watery latte that he went up and thanked the barista afterward. But the place was no refuge from the noise and bustle outside, with loud music blaring and people rushing in and out relentlessly.  We ended up out on the street again before we got to discuss what to do next.

What to do next turned out to be “explore the area some more while looking for lunch”.  We found ourselves in Greeley Square, which has lots of food stalls which looked very interesting to the grownups but not so much to the kids.  Then The Dad had an idea that he might remember a place in 34th Street, so we headed along there.  The place he was thinking of was no longer there (or perhaps it was somewhere else to begin with), but it was fortuitous because we wound up outside Mendy’s Deli, which was an excellent place to stop for lunch.  I tried Matzoh Ball Soup for the first time in my life, and it was delicious.

From there it was back to Penn Station to wait for our train, then a couple of hours or so to Baltimore to pick up a rental car.  We were incredibly glad and relieved to arrive at our friends’ house, be fed, and crawl into our beds!

We'll take home misty memories of skyscrapers

We’ll take home misty memories of skyscrapers

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

 

MoMA Mia!

June 14, 2014

The weather in New York wasn’t great during our stay. We didn’t go up the Empire State Building because whenever we looked up at it with the idea we might, we saw this:

Still there were touts at the bottom asking "You going to go up today?"

Still there were touts at the bottom asking “You going to go up today?”

So when an indoor day was called for, we decided to head for MoMA.

You can get a free audio guide from a desk at the museum, and it’s like a mini iPad. You can dial up the artwork you’re looking at (they have numbers next to them for reference) and hear about its history – many of them have special audio for kids as well.  You can take photos, and you can search for particular artworks and find them on a museum map. Then at the end of your visit it can email you all your photographs and a summary of your visit – which galleries you visited, what you saw and so on.  It’s great!

Of course, the children were far more interested in having an audio guide than in actually looking up to see the art on the walls.  I kept begging them to “just look!”.  There are also Art Cards you can collect from the Family Desk which highlight a single piece of art each, with an activity to do either at the museum or at home.  This is great for a big museum; it’s much easier to have a purpose and things to do, than just to walk around aimlessly trying to soak in everything.

We spent a long time on the 5th floor looking at the classics – van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rousseau…

Babess absorbed in Rousseau's "The Dream"

Babess absorbed in Rousseau’s “The Dream”

… a woman stopped and spoke to me about how amazing it was to see a young child so absorbed in the art, as Babess listened to the kids’ audio.  Then Babess finished listening and carefully explained the artwork to me.  Even more adorable.

Fainjin & Babess work on an Art Card activity & look at the audio guide in MoMA

Fainjin & Babess work on an Art Card activity & look at the audio guide in MoMA

The kids weren’t so interested in the 4th floor of American art, although Fainjin thought the Jackson Pollock works were pretty cool.  We saw the Bell Helicopter on the third floor, then the kids discovered a display on Minecraft and we nearly lost them altogether despite us pointing out that they can watch Minecraft almost anywhere.

So we headed down to the Art Lab, next to the Sculpture Garden.  I would happily pay admission to the museum in future just to go to the Art Lab. It is a bright, welcoming space full of amazing things to do, with quiet places to sit and read and loads of opportunity for creative endeavour. I said, “I’m so glad we have kids with us so we can come here!” and the assistant laughed and assured me there’s no age limit – you don’t need a child with you to go into the Art Lab (although it is very well set up for children).

Pearl spent her whole time making a stop-motion film, which we were then able to share on YouTube (if you know us in real life & want to see, let me know – it’s under her real name).  Fainjin & Babess enjoyed making films too but also explored the rest of the lab, reading books, making mini-sculptures and playing with the toys and activities.  We were in the lab for over an hour and would have stayed longer except it was after 3pm and we hadn’t had lunch!

Babess works on a movie

Babess works on a movie

Film-maker Fainjin

Film-maker Fainjin

Pearl hard at work animating

Pearl hard at work animating

From there it was a short walk to Times Square where we secured tickets to Matilda The Musical for that night.  Then we went for an early dinner at a nearby restaurant and wandered for bit before the show. We ended up having a great chat with a mounted officer of the NYPD, who was very friendly.  He and his partner were clearly on PR duty, chatting with tourists and posing for photos.

Our NYPD friends

Our NYPD friends

The show was great, a very enjoyable performance from a mostly very-young cast.  Babess appears to have learned a couple of the songs just from watching the show, so we have been listening to them over and over…

It was a very late night, but on the way home, we saw not one but two Empire State Buildings…

Empire State Building & reflected glory

Empire State Building & reflected glory

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

Dinosaurs to butterflies

June 11, 2014

Today we spent most of our time at the American Museum of Natural History.

To me, it’s the museum where Ross from Friends worked. My children gave me blank stares when I said that, though – to them, it’s the museum which comes alives in Night At The Museum.  Either way, it’s an exciting place to visit.

First, of course, you have to get there…

We are staying near the UN, and were awake reasonably early so wandered over to Rockefeller Plaza to see the Today Show being filmed. It seemed like they had finished all the outdoor segments when we got there, so there wasn’t all that much to see.  We found the metro station and hopped on a train going towards the museum. It promptly sped right past the museum and another 40-odd blocks! A kind New Yorker sitting across from us laughed and said “You need a local train! Everybody does this – it’s a New York ritual.” He helped us find a local train going back in the other direction, and so finally we found the museum.

We decided to get some morning tea before going in, and found some nice cafes in Amsterdam Ave a little north of the museum, before wandering back.

We were exceedingly fortunate to be gifted passes to the museum which allowed us into the exhibitions as well.  We had a very full day indeed!

Look at all those teeth!

Look at all those teeth!

First stop had to be the Dinosaur halls.  It was very exciting to see all the dinosaur bones, but the halls were very very noisy and Babess began to get quite upset.  Fortunately, it was soon time for us to see the Pterosaurs exhibition, which was much quieter.  This was a fascinating exhibition for all ages.  The children particularly enjoyed the interactive stations where they could “fly like a pterosaur”.

Pearl glides like a pterosaur over rivers looking for fish

Pearl glides like a pterosaur over rivers looking for fish.

Fainjin did very well, even managing to catch a fish!

Fainjin did very well, even managing to catch a fish!

 

 

 

 

We had lunch in the museum foodcourt, which we won’t say too much about.  Then we had tickets to the IMAX show, “Mysteries of the Unseen World“.  It was my first ever IMAX show, and I really enjoyed it, although I had my usual trouble with 3D films and occasionally had to look away or take off the glasses to rest my eyes.  The kids were fascinated and repulsed by turns.  We all agreed the scene where the owl approaches on the hunt was one of the best – we all leaned back in our seats to avoid its talons!  Pearl was especially disgusted to learn of all the “things” floating about in the air we breathe, though – particularly “insect parts” which were graphically illustrated and massively magnified.

In between exhibitions we enjoyed viewing some of the museum’s permanent displays, particularly the dioramas of the larger mammals.

We also went to the planetarium show, but by this stage Babess & Fainjin were tired and they didn’t like the dark theatre and the scary noises & music as the narrator talked about dark energy & dark matter.

For “something completely different” we went to the Butterfly Conservatory and watched beautiful creatures flit around (and on) us.

This one picked The Dad's orange shirt as camouflage!

This one picked The Dad’s orange shirt as camouflage!

Immediately outside the butterfly enclosure, we spotted some familiar shapes… a moa! and a kiwi! and tui! kereru! ruru! piwakawaka! It was a diorama of NZ birds including all our favourites and several we see at home (although not the moa so much, of course).  It was quite cheering to see a piece of home represented in this huge museum nearly halfway across the world.

After a compulsory stop at the museum shop (I think the children believe the sole purpose of this whole trip is for them to buy soft toys, and that my sole job is to thwart them in their desire to bring back several cubic metres each of plush), we headed out into the warm New York afternoon and made our way south through Central Park.

We paused at Strawberry Fields, which is always busy and always has buskers playing Beatles songs.  I tried to get a photo of the kids all together, but Fainjin has decided that he won’t be in any family photos and that he will scowl in any photos I do get of him (unless he forgets, which fortunately is fairly often).  It is most frustrating and disappointing, and I think he will regret it in years to come.  Any time I get a shot lined up, he runs out of it.

Fainjin & Babess run for joy in Central Park

Fainjin & Babess run for joy in Central Park

Another pause came a little later, this one accompanied by icecreams and the chance to watch a man make GIANT bubbles.  When we reached the end of the park, we went into FAO Schwarz (of course) – just looking, you understand… and it was really so overwhelming that the children just wanted everything they could see and decided on nothing, which was fine.

We had considered going to a Broadway show tonight, but we were all worn out from our big day, so we walked down 5th Avenue instead, goggling at Tiffany & Co, Trump Tower et al, and came home for dinner, baths and bed.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

New York, New York

June 10, 2014

We left Iceland sadly yesterday, determined to return.  We arrived in New York as dark fell – something we hadn’t seen for a week! – tired and hungry.  We were grateful to be in a city that famously never sleeps, as it made getting dinner for the family at 10pm very easy – there’s a 24-hour supermarket just around the corner.

Our apartment here is teeny-tiny.  The children are all sleeping on two fold-out couches which take up the entire “lounge”, and front door opens right into our “bedroom”, which isn’t really a room so much as an alcove.  But it sleeps 5 and is in a good area and there’s enough kitchen to make cups of tea and breakfast and heat up supermarket dinners, so it will do.

This morning it was pouring with rain.  The Dad and I thanked our lucky stars it hadn’t been like that last night when we were carrying our heavy backpacks through the city, and also that the weather would be cooler than the 31ºC earlier predicted!

The children, spoilt by a few wonderful Icelandic summer days, were very reluctant to budge from the apartment.  We dragged them out anyway.

It’s an easy walk to Times Square, and the big Toys R Us store was a dry refuge from the storm.  Of course the ferris wheel inside (!) was a must-do, and we had great fun exploring everything else in there too.

On the ferris wheel!

On the ferris wheel!

We had an early lunch at a nearby deli, then went to M&Ms world (against The Dad’s better judgement).  I let the kids spend some of their pocket money on the “candy wall” – a rather expensive way to buy M&Ms but they loved being able to choose their own flavour & colour combinations.

Next stop was the Discovery Museum‘s exhibition “The Art of the Brick”, which was amazing.  We hadn’t known about it until we saw a flyer at the information centre in the morning.  Fainjin particularly liked the full-sized dinosaur skeleton, and I suspect he’s itching to get home to his big box of bricks!

Lego sculpture

Lego sculpture

Flash photography was not allowed, so this is blurry

Flash photography was not allowed, so this is blurry

lego mosaic of The Great Wave off Kanagawa

lego mosaic of The Great Wave off Kanagawa

From there we wandered down to the Highline, which was a little further than we had thought but we found it nonetheless.  We climbed up the stairs and ended up walking about half the length of this charming park.  What an inspiration, to take an old elevated railway and turn it into park space!

The Highline

The Highline

We took the subway back up to 42nd St, and walked to Grand Central Station to admire its sheer grandiosity and gorgeous ceiling.  Then we headed to the Rockefeller Center and Fainjin had his first Lego Store experience.  It was very very busy, but we still had fun.  There’s a big Lego model of the Rockefeller Plaza right in the window, and next to it there are about 10 questions – if you can answer them all you can claim a prize, it says.  So we spent quite a long time counting various things and looking for features and hidden items.  Eventually we thought between us we had got them all – some were pretty tricky! – so we summoned a staff member and gave our answers.  He was very generous and told us we didn’t need all the answers, and gave us a “close enough!” on some of them anyway.  Then he said for our prize we could each make a free minifigure!  So of course we spent even longer searching out just the right head, torso, legs, hair/hat and accessory each.  It was great fun.

Checking out the mini-scene in the Lego Store window

Checking out the mini-scene in the Lego Store window

And then it was time to come home for dinner & bed.  The children admitted that it might have been worth leaving the apartment in the morning, after all.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

On holiday

June 8, 2014

Another wonderful weather day today, warm and sunny.  We enjoyed a morning in our rented cabin/house, the children played and read while The Dad and I prepared for tomorrow’s departure – the terms of the rental mean we must clean the house thoroughly before we go.  It was spotless when we arrived and we intend to leave it that way too.  We did some this morning and more this evening after dinner, leaving minimal chores for tomorrow morning.

In late morning we headed back to Reykjavik.  We had wanted to buy some quilting fabric – the kids are planning to make memory quilts of the trip when we get home – but the fabric shop (at least the only one I knew about) was closed for the weekend.  So we went on into the centre of town, and got fabric patches to sew onto horse- or volcano-themed fabric from elsewhere as a compromise.  We also got some t-shirts and some little souvenirs to take home with us.  Fainjin has been thwarted in his desire for “a remote-controlled flying puffin”, thank goodness, and has asked repeatedly for a helmet with horns on instead.  We’ve had to point out that it really wouldn’t fit into his backpack, and the airline probably wouldn’t be keen on him wearing it on the plane.

We had lunch in town.  Nice food but the service was a bit of a disaster, they served Babess an adult-sized meal when we’d ordered a children’s one, and Pearl’s meal never arrived at all, even after we’d reminded them.  But Fainjin couldn’t finish his, and of course Babess had far too much, so Pearl ate theirs and assured us she was quite satisfied.

Then we went to Laugurdalslaug, a very large public swimming pool complex.  We didn’t go in all the pools, just the recreation pool – a large pool about 1m deep and kept at around 28ºC – and the warmer family pool at 38ºC.  There is a big lane pool as well, and hotter hotpots, and some indoor pools too!  I really like the system at the pool – you take your shoes off before entering the change rooms.  Once inside, you store your clothes in a locker (included in your entrance fee, which is not terribly expensive).  Then you take your togs/swimsuit and towel into the wet area, where you shower thoroughly before putting your togs on – soap is provided, as is a diagram showing you what bits to wash extra-well(!).  You can leave your towel in a rack there, or take it with you to the pool.

When you come out, you can shower again if you choose, and there is a spin-dryer for the togs (brilliant idea!).  You get dry before going back to the locker area to get dressed, and there are hair-dryers available as well.  Finally you leave the locker area and put your shoes back on.  Everything (and everyone) is very clean.

Photography is forbidden in the pool complex, and even if it wasn’t it would probably not be a good idea to take the camera into such a wet steamy environment, so no photos of us in the pools!  But we had a great time.  Fainjin found a floating foam “race car” and had a great time scooting around the 1m pool in that with The Dad; Pearl went down the 86m-long waterslide several times; Babess & I sat and chatted in the warmer pool.

On the way home we took a scenic detour down the west side of Þingvallavatn (the lake at Þingvellir).  It was a slow but beautiful trip, mostly gravel roads around cliffs, bays and rolling countryside.

We do finally feel that we really are on holiday… and we leave tomorrow for New York.  I’ve resolved that future trips to Iceland (ha!) should be for a minimum of two weeks (and preferably much longer).

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

The big smoke

June 7, 2014

Yesterday was a very long day.

We headed into Reykjavik for some city action.  Reyk is the Icelandic word for smoke, so Reykjavik really is the Big Smoke!

We wandered around some souvenir shops, had lunch in a cafe, then visited Hallgrímskirkja.  This spectacular Lutheran cathedral is a major landmark in Reykjavik, very visible on top of a hill.

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja

Inside it is beautifully light, simple and elegant, with an amazing 5,275-pipe organ.

light and beauty

light and simplicity

organ

organ

 

We wandered back through town, and found a very nice coffee shop for afternoon tea.  There we discussed our next move: the big swimming pool with hot pools, water slides, etc; or a late-afternoon whale-watching tour.  A consensus was reached in favour of whale-watching. We’ll go swimming another day.

The day had been very changeable, sunny one minute and torrential rain the next, but the evening was spectacular.  The sea was flat and calm and the weather was perfect.  We were glad we’d chosen to cruise the bay.  There weren’t many people on the tour, so it felt very relaxed and personal.  We saw three or four minke whales, some porpoises and a pod of 8 white-beaked dolphins.

The Dad & Pearl get up close with dolphins

The Dad & Pearl get up close(ish) with dolphins

 

The dolphins were closer than they look in the photo!  At one point they were within 10m of the boat.

We also saw POOOFFINS!  The puffins were swimming about in the bay, and often tried to fly away when the boat got near.  They’re not very good at taking off from the water though.  As the guide said, “They make pretty good rowboats!” They were adorably cute while flapping along the surface of the water.

Fainjin & Babess on spotting duty

Fainjin & Babess on spotting duty

The crew were very welcoming to the children, sitting them up in the captain’s chair and giving them crew hats to wear, explaining the course computer and talking about whales with them.  Apart from the kids spotting the snacks for sale and pleading starvation from then on, we all had a fantastic time.  Even if we hadn’t seen any wildlife, it was a lovely evening to be out cruising in Faxafloi bay.

But… it was a 5pm cruise, so we got back at 8:30ish, and it was an hour’s drive home again… and we got a bit lost in the Reykjavik traffic system… so we didn’t get home until 10pm.  By which stage Babess was asleep in the back seat, and Fainjin very nearly so.  Fainjin woke up for some dinner, but Babess just went to bed.  (Perhaps we should have fed them snacks on the boat after all…).

The Dad and I took a while to wind down, and soon found ourselves watching the sun set.  It was a beautiful calm evening.  The Dad went outside just after midnight and took these photos.

a neighbour's place in the midnight dusk

a neighbour’s place in the midnight dusk

looking towards the just-set sun

looking towards the just-set sun

This morning was, not unexpectedly, a slow start.  The weather was… perfect. Fine, sunny, warm – about 19’C, much warmer than previous days, and calm.  We fluffed around the cabin for most of the morning, reading, playing chess, doing not much, then decided to head back to Þingvellír to see it properly.

But first the kids went up to investigate these potential trolls behind our house. This is the view from our bedroom window!

But first the kids went up to investigate these potential trolls behind our house. This is the view from our bedroom window!

Since we were last here, a visitors’ centre has been built at Þingvellír, and new walkways over the rocks.  It’s all very swish and nice, although we somewhat regret that the pressure of tourist numbers (to which we are contributing) has made this kind of development necessary.  It’s still a very beautiful place.

view of the lake at Thingvellir

view of the lake at Thingvellir

The water in the rivers and lake is incredibly clear, you can see right to the bottom of very deep pools, and often can’t quite judge where the surface of the water is.  It’s a shame to see lots of coins have been thrown into nearly every pool though, despite signs asking people not to do this.

one decent earthquake and this will fall...

one decent earthquake and this will fall…

pretty church at Thingvellir

pretty church at Thingvellir

inside the church

inside the church

our silhouettes on a river bridge - we'd just seen a trout swimming past!

our silhouettes on a river bridge – we’d just seen a trout swimming past!

It was so tempting to linger, but we had an appointment, so we headed home for a very quick lunch, then straight out again to a horse-riding centre.

Pearl & I signed up for a one-hour ride on Icelandic horses.  I was a bit nervous – I haven’t ridden for years and never very well – but these horses were steady and well-behaved and a delight to ride.  We just walked along the track; perhaps next time I will summon up the courage to attempt the famous tölt which is a unique Icelandic gait.  Again, the scenery was spectacular.

Pearl & I and our two guides ride along the base of a local mountain

Pearl & I and our two guides ride along the base of a local mountain

After our ride, our lovely guides suggested that they could give Fainjin and Babess little rides as well – just in the driveway.  Of course they jumped at the chance! I thought Babess’ face might split, she was grinning so much.

Fainjin has a ride in front of our lovely guide

Fainjin has a ride in front of our guide

The afternoon was wonderfully relaxed – there was tea & coffee available, a sunny deck to sit on and chat, some other people but not too many, a friendly dog and a pet lamb called Hercules.  We were there for two hours doing our one-hour ride!  The sun was so warm and there was no wind… I felt a small regret that we hadn’t signed up for the 3-hour ride instead. Until I hopped off my horse, that is, and tried to walk!  Luckily we have a spa back at the cabin for soaking tired muscles.

So that’s what we did – we came home, had a leisurely dinner, had a soak, then sat eating ice-cream until after bedtime.

Anyone would think we were on holiday.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

Southern Iceland

June 5, 2014

Today was meant to be waterfalls and puffins.  “Pooooffins!” we promised, evoking Happy Feet 2.

The first bit went according to plan, anyway.

We stopped for a quick peek at Kerið, a 6,500-year-old volcanic crater just a few kilometers from our accommodation.  Like several things, it has been developed a bit since our last visit 8 years ago, and now has roped-off paths and even an entrance booth – including an entrance charge.  Last time we were amazed that you could just walk right up to the crater’s edge, no warning signs or anything.  Now you can’t do that (probably a good thing).

From there we headed across the farmland of south-west Iceland, which seems to be mostly inhabited by horses and sheep – more horses, I would say.  Our second stop was The Dad’s favourite waterfall, Seljalandsfoss.  You can see it from quite a way off, approaching from the west.

Seljalandsfoss from quite a way away

Seljalandsfoss from quite a way away

The Dad and Fainjin took up the challenge and walked behind the falls; the womenfolk stayed out of the spray and waved happily to them on the other side of the water.

Fainjin in his red raincoat behind the water at Seljalandsfoss

Fainjin in his red raincoat behind the water at Seljalandsfoss

Next stop was further east, at Skogafoss.  I like this one better than Seljalandsfoss, myself.  The kids took off running for the sheer joy of it.

Pearl in the blue on the left, Babess in pink, The Dad in green, and the red dot is Fainjin

Pearl in the blue on the left, Babess in pink, The Dad in green, and the red dot is Fainjin

When you get up really close and in the spray at the bottom of the waterfall, if the sun shines, magic happens.

I'm quite proud of this shot

I’m quite proud of this shot

The Dad took the kids up loads of steps to the top.  He was tempted to keep going – there’s a walkway up there which he reckons leads up to the ice-cap, but he knew we had to keep going eastwards and southwards.

We stopped in Vik for lunch, found a nice little cafe in some sunshine and enjoyed a break.  Then we turned back westward again and turned off at Dyrhólaey where we expected to see…. POOOFFINS!

On past visits we’ve seen lots of puffins there.  This time… nope.  Lots of skuas, and artic terns, and shags.  Lots and lots of very cold wind – especially on the clifftop where we have previously seen puffins.  Eventually The Dad and Babess, on a final foray to the clifftop (holding hands the whole way, thank you very much) saw a puffin being harrassed by a skua, but that was the only puffin our family saw today.

On the other hand, Dyrhólaey is an interesting place to visit anyway.  The rock formations are fascinating, and the view is amazing.

rock formations

rock formations

Some of the rocks are climbable (carefully!):

King of the castle!

King of the castle!

puffin-less cliff-face

puffin-less cliff-face

And on the way back we saw a pretty white house with a turf-house next to it, and artic terns swooping in the field in front:

070

See the turf-house on the left?

And of course, more horses. I don’t remember seeing so many on our previous visits.

Icelandic horses have 5 gaits: walk, trot, canter/gallop, and two uniquely Icelandic ones: tolt and skeid

Icelandic horses have 5 gaits: walk, trot, canter/gallop, and two uniquely Icelandic ones: tolt and skeid

On the way home we entertained ourselves by looking for (and finding!) troll faces in the cliff formations we passed, and elf-houses (doors into turf-covered hillsides).

Once home, it was soon time for dinner, spa and bed – a very nice routine to be falling into!

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

 

 

Golden Circle

June 4, 2014

Today we hit the “big three” tourist attractions in Iceland’s Golden Circle: Geysir, Gullfoss and Þingvellir.

First stop was the thermal area of Haukadalur, where the geyser Strokkur erupts every 10 minutes or so.  The children were most impressed.  I have tried to upload a video here with no success.  However, I also got a half-way decent still shot, including The Dad taking a photo of me taking a photo, and Fainjin looking on:

You can see the bubbles (light blue) rising below the surface of the water. This is a split-second before the geyser erupts.

You can see the bubbles (light blue) rising below the surface of the water. This is a split-second before the geyser erupts.

And thar she blows! You can see the spray from a big eruption still falling as a smaller one goes. This taken from further away than the first photo.

And thar she blows! You can see the spray from a big eruption still falling as a smaller one goes. This taken from further away than the first photo.

Geysir, the geyser that all others are named after, doesn’t erupt much any more, but was steaming away merrily and looking quite full.

Gullfoss, the golden falls, was the next stop for us.  Last time we were here, there was no safety rope along the walkway and I didn’t go very close because it was wet and windy and scary.  This time it was sunny and not quite as windy and the psychological effect of the safety rope was very reassuring.

The size & power of the falls are astonishing.

The size & power of the falls are astonishing.

This time I walked all the way to the top of that rocky bit sticking out into the falls.

This time I walked all the way to the top of that rocky bit sticking out into the falls.

The children promptly terrified me by jumping gleefully over the slippery wet rocks, mere metres from certain death.  It is very hard to see the bottom of the falls, there is so much spray thrown up in the chasm.  Fainjin was a bit miffed that the spray made his glasses wet.

A restorative snack in the cafe later, we were on the road again towards Þingvellir. On the way we tried to give the children an appreciation for the historical significance of the site – the world’s first parliament meeting in 930AD, the reading of the laws, the declaration 70 years ago of Iceland as an independent republic… the kids were more interested in the geology, quite frankly.  I suppose that is a lot more visible.  Babess was particularly taken by the idea of the tectonic plates moving slowly apart and being able to “see the edges” in the cliffs.

It was raining quite hard though, so we didn’t linger.  We’re staying not far away, and we’ll probably go through the valley again, so if it’s fine we’ll stop for a longer look.

Babess said, "Take a photo of the tectonic plate, Mummy, so I can send it to my class at school!"

Babess said, “Take a photo of the tectonic plate, Mummy, so I can send it to my class at school!”

Meanwhile, the children have been enchanted by the number of Icelandic horses we have seen already on our travels – they are everywhere – and Fainjin is keeping a sharp eye out for trolls.  He tells me they are very clever at disguising themselves as rocks, and their green hair looks just like moss.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

 

Contrast

June 3, 2014

This morning we packed up in our apartment in Paris (with workmen banging on the outside walls – we’re SO glad they weren’t working over the holiday weekend!) and battled our way through the metro and RER systems to the airport.  Then we queued for over an hour to check in, trudged to our overcrowded gate, and had to sit on the floor to eat some hastily-gathered late lunch.

When we arrived in Iceland, we picked up our car and drove through a magical, deserted landscape – in 90 minutes we passed through volcanic wasteland, green farm fields and wetlands, and hardly saw any traffic.

For a family fatigued by the great crowds in London and Paris, this place is a tonic indeed.

Our accommodation is amazing, a cabin all to ourselves with fantastic views and all the amenities we could want. It’s a 15 minute drive back to the supermarket where we accidentally bought yogurt instead of milk (not great for tea or coffee!), but the only sounds we can hear are the birds and we can see for miles.  It’s not completely isolated – we can see other houses and even a restaurant – but it’s peaceful and beautiful and we might have trouble leaving the house to do the tourism we want to do!

There will be photos, tomorrow.  For now my body is still on Paris time (2 hours difference), it has been a long day, and there’s no milk for my tea.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

Patience…

June 1, 2014

We spent most of today walking around Paris again.

We are lucky enough to be staying almost next door to the Marche des Enfants Rouges, so we started our day by having a good look around there.  Our appetite for food-tourism piqued, we then walked over to Rue Montorgeuil, another foodie paradise.  As well as patisseries, fromageries, charcuteries etc, we found a little book-and-puzzle shop, where the children each chose a book – Babess found a version of Little Red Riding Hood in French, Pearl found a translation of Guess How Much I Love You, and Fainjin, ever the rebel, found a big Where’s Wally book – in English.

It was a fair bit more walking to the Louvre, where we found the glass pyramid bathed in warm sunshine and surrounded by throngs of people.  Already tired from the morning’s walking, the children were most dismayed at the sight of the queue to enter.  It wasn’t all that bad for the time of day and year, and was moving reasonably quickly, but we decided not to push the issue (after all, there would just be more walking and probably more whining inside the museum) so we returned to our home quartier and the Marche des Enfants Rouges to pick up a lunch to eat in our apartment.

After a substantial meal of smoked salmon, brie, chevre, salad and fresh bread, followed by a range of delights from the local patisserie, we had a bit of a break before heading out to walk it all off again.

This time we went back to our friend at the souvenir shop near Notre Dame, and as promised the other day he gave us prices less than marked for our t-shirts and the kids’ choices of souvenirs.  Onward and southward, over the Seine again and into the Latin Quarter, we ran the gauntlet of restaurant owners trying to entice us in for a 4pm dinner, and eventually washed up at the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Babess loved the statues of queens past and ran around finding out their names.  We found the playground… and the queue of families waiting for admission… and turned to the merry-go-round for entertainment instead.  Pearl was too big for it, but Babess & Fainjin enjoyed their ride.

After a wander in the shade and some people-watching, it was time to hop on the Metro and head home again.  Babess has been singing and talking non-stop all day long.  I can’t believe she isn’t absolutely worn out – I am! It is now 9:15pm and she is still talking.  At this rate she will send both of her parents stark raving mad.

In other news, Fainjin’s tooth fell out during dinner.  We shall have to see whether the tooth fairy includes France on her regular route.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.


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