A Travellerspoint blog

Golden Circle... and snow

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An early start today, up for breakfast at 07:00 and off on my Golden Circle day tour at 08:30.

It was raining when we left on the tour and the weather sadly didn't improve throughout the day. During our drive out we could see nothing on the sides of the road. Our first stop was quick at an indoor tomato farm. Then we moved on to the geyser, where we spent 90 minutes. The geyser fields were beautiful: pools of geothermal water with steam rising from them; the geyser erupting every 4-8 minutes. The rain had picked up by this point; I spent a few minutes walking around the rest of the hot pools before heading into the gift shop to get out of the rain. By the time we left for our next stop, the rain had turned into snow!

Next up was a waterfall, where I descended down a long staircase to get a closer look. The snow and rain mix turned the ground into a muddy mess and made the patches of ice very slick. It was difficult to see the waterfall very clearly as the rain and wind made it miserable to be wandering around. I managed to get several good pictures and then I went right back to the bus.

Our final stop was in a national park where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet; this is the only place on the planet where this can be seen above water. The plates are moving apart at a rate of around 1cm per year; in between the two ridges, the ground dips down and a lake has been forming. We were able to get out and walk up the ride of the North American plate. The weather was nice when we started out, but the wind quickly returned with the snow. Happily it cleared up briefly when we reached the top of the path and the view was stunning! Lakes and mountains surrounded the area, with snow covering everything.

After returning to town I returned to my room, where I met my new roommate named Oliver. He had just gotten in and went straight to bed. I decided to go out for dinner; a girl at the hostel named Stephanie (from Australia, living in London now) suggested a tapas restaurant down the road. The restaurant, aptly named Tapas, was a small place, but it had a lot of charm. The staff was extremely friendly and outgoing, making suggestions on food and drinks, as well as making sure that everything was acceptable. I had two local Icelandic beers: Viking Classic and

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

Relaxing at the Blue Lagoon

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Time to fly to Iceland!

I had to get up at 03:30 for my flight at 06:00... so I had about three hours of sleep. I had a two hour layover in Oslo, where I had a bite to eat and watched the series finale of Downton Abbey. I slept during the flight to Reykjavik and when we arrived at 11:30 I felt more energetic.

I went directly from the hotel to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, which will go down as one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. It was a cloudy, chilly day, which was perfect for this type of activity. It was on the middle of nowhere; quiet and peaceful. After checking in, where I was issued an electronic bracelet that granted access and acted as payment for services at the spa, it was off to the locker room to change. Lockers were free of charge and keyed to the bracelet. I stored my bags and headed off to the shower....

I knew about this before booking this trip, which may have helped removed any nerves I may have had. Everyone is required to shower - without swimsuit - prior to entering the Lagoon. The locker room attendants make sure of this (and even thank you for showering). The private showers were occupied, so I went for it and used the group showers. Happily I didn't feel uncomfortable. Afterwards, it was off to relax and enjoy...

I entered through the inside pool, which led outside through an in-pool door. It was freeing outside and I immediately dropped under the water to stay warm. The depth is quite shallow, requiring me to initially walk about on my knees. Eventually it got deeper so I could stand with my legs slights bent and still be underwater up to my neck.

The Lagoon was very steamy and I couldn't see very well, but it helped make it more magical. I couldn't see people more than 15 feet in front of me; at times I felt as though I was alone in a sea of steamy fog. Moving around the Lagoon the temperature would change dramatically; I finally located the warmest areas and spent most of my time there: floating around, enjoying the sheer peaceful nature of the environment.

My first stop was the mud hut, where I was able to try two different facial masks. First was a white mud/clay which was left on for 15 minutes; next was a green facial mask for another 15 minutes; finally I was given a lip balm that was incredible. I'm not sure what was in it, but it smelled, tasted and felt great.

After floating around I discovered the waterfall and took a few moments to stand underneath the water. It wasn't too forceful; just strong enough to really massage my neck and shoulders. Afterwards I floated around relaxing. I eventually made way to the in water bar, where I received my complimentary drink; I decided on an Icelandic beer and retired to a nearby sitting area in the water to enjoy it. The water in that area was quite warm, adding to my relaxation.

After finishing my beer, I journeyed around the entire lagoon before finally deciding to get out. By this point I'd been in for over two hours and needed to get some lunch. I dried off, changed and had a quick sandwich in the cafe.

I caught the shuttle into town at 18:15 and arrived at my hostel around 19:00. I booked a bed in a 4 person dormitory, which I was quite nervous about. I'd only done this style of lodging once before. To my great luck I only had one roommate for the night, who was friendly and respectful.

The downstairs common room sitting area was large and very nice; I returned there to do some homework and actual work later (I spent several hours there before I realized it was near midnight!). I finally went up to bed and slept quite well after a very long and enjoyable day.

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

Farewell to Greenland

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Departure day from Greenland and I'm rather sad to leave. The past few days have been so incredible that I wish they could never end.

Check out was quite early at 9am. I took my bags over to the airport and checked in for my flight at 13:00. Then I met up with Gavin, Alison, and Petr. We went shopping at the various gift shops in town; there are but four, so it didn't take us very long. They bought several items; I bought a Christmas decoration and a patch of the Greenland flag.

Having several hours left to spare, we went back to Gavin and Allison9's room to relax (they were in the airport hotel with a late checkout). They had a suite, with a large sitting area; the couple from Estonia joined us as well. We spent a couple of hours chatting before heading down to go through airport security.

We all sat at the upstairs cafe until it was time to board. The flight was delayed 45 minutes to wait on two domestic flight arrivals that had transfers onto our flight to Copenhagen. There are only two flights out per week, on Tuesday and Friday. If flights arriving IN TOWN are delayed, the Copenhagen flight is held as long as necessary; if there are too many canceled flights, the Copenhagen flight may get delayed until the following day! We were quite lucky.

The flight back was uneventful; we received a decent meal and I watched the rather horrible movie PAN. We arrived in Copenhagen around 22:15; after saying goodbye to my new found friends, I headed off to my hotel, which was one stop away by train.

The hotel was quite nice and the reception staff was friendly. I immediately took a shower and then went to bed just after midnight. I was exhausted and I had an early morning coming up...

Posted by Glichez 17:00 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Northern Lights Magic

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Today was the final full day in Greenland and it was every bit as magical as the previous days.

Our excursion for the day didn’t start until 13:00, so I decided to walk to the old military base side of town, which is on the other side of the airstrip. It was frigid this morning and was lightly snowing; there was a gentle breeze which made it feel even colder. Nevertheless, the walk was quite pleasant and I enjoyed the quiet solitude as I encountered only a very few people. I took several pictures of the old barracks buildings, which now serve as hotels, a school, an air force headquarters, among other things. While walking towards the church, I discovered a reindeer skull and antlers laying on the ground next to a building! Finally I turned around and headed back to the hotel; by this time I felt nearly frozen.

Today’s excursion took us to the Russel Glacier, which is part of the ice cap we walked on yesterday; the glacier part is where it ends and breaks apart. On the way we made a stop at a lake which was frozen solid to the very bottom; we were able to walk out on the lake for several minutes, sliding around and taking many great photos.

When we reached the glacier, we had to hike a bit and ended up reaching the very edge of the glacier. It was too dangerous to walk right up to the edge of most of it, but there was a smaller section that we could go up and touch. Several of us took pictures hugging the ice boulders, hoping it would bring us luck later with our hunt for the Northern Lights. I teamed up with the Aussies, Aby and Gavin, and with Peter from Mexico. We climbed all around the boulders, taking photos; Peter and I were able to trade camera lenses as he has a Nikon as well. He had a “fish eye” lens, which takes circular panoramic type photos. They are stunning!

Heading back to town, we saw several reindeer and artic hares. Twice we saw groups of three arctic hares, which is apparently quite rare. We also made a stop next to two old Eskimo graves, which had been there for a century or more.

Dinner was once again at the same restaurant and I joined the Danish family for our last meal. Tonight’s dish was reindeer stew and it was by far my favorite dish of the trip. It was served with rice and carrots; the meat was tender and the sauce with it was delicious!! I had several helpings and they kept bringing more out for us to eat.

During dinner the Northern Lights started and everyone rushed outside to see them. Tonight’s show was even more impressive than the previous night! With just the naked eye one could see more vivid greens all around the sky. Last night the bands had been at a distance, but tonight they were right over our heads. Looking up I could see the bands swaying, twisting and turning, rapidly changing shape and color intensity. As soon as one band had faded, another would flare up and take its place. The photos that the Aussies and Peter took were, once again, breathtaking (later they let me copy them onto my computer; I still haven’t learned how to setup my camera to take such pictures).

The light show lasted for about 45 minutes before we had to head back to the hotel and prepare for our trip to the hill top to see more of the Northern Lights. I just had time to put on another pair of socks before we were off again. While driving out, I began speaking with two girls who had been on our tour. They were from Copenhagen, but one girl spoke with a strong Aussie accent. Surprisingly she currently lived in Chicago on the north side, almost exactly where I plan on moving to later this year! She is married to an Aussie and lived in Australia for nearly 10 years before he was transferred to Chicago. It is very strange to run into someone like that in Greenland, in the middle of nowhere!!

Upon reaching the top of the hill we ran into two Americans who were also watching the sky. Once we had the camera setup, the truck’s lights were turned off and we were treated to an hour of spectacular viewing.

The Northern Lights filled the night sky, stretching from one horizon to the next. Bands would pass overhead with such bright intensity that they would light up the ground, almost like the moon. One particular band looked like a Phoenix, flapping its wings as it flew across the sky. The photos all showed the lights in brilliant greens tonight, with only faint hints of red or orange; nothing compared to the second part of last night’s show. Seeing the Northern Lights two nights in a row, which such incredible intensity and variety was truly magical and breathtaking. I was filled with such joy as I watched them, forgetting about how incredibly cold it was.

Speaking of the temperatures, it was reach nearly -20 degrees Celsius this evening, which has been the regular temperature while I have been in Greenland. I have worn thermal underwear, two pairs of pants, two warm shirts, two pairs of gloves, a warm hoodie, a wool hat, four pairs of socks, a scarf, and my large warm overcoat… and I was still freezing! My toes felt the cold more than anything else, probably because we were standing in the snow most of the time. The snow is permanently on the ground here in Greenland during the winter; they don’t bother to plow or shovel as more just keeps coming; they just clear enough so they can walk and drive, but it is always on packed snow.

We drove back to town and stopped at the local museum for a brief lecture on the Northern Lights. It was in Danish with brief English translation, though I don’t think I could accurately explain what causes the Northern Lights. Then came the final treat: we all received a Greenlandic coffee! It was very, very strong! The mixture of the three different liquors and the coffee made for an interesting taste; it wasn’t unpleasant, but not something that I would drink often. I think perhaps it was the whiskey that I didn’t enjoy as much. Nonetheless, it was a great way to warm up after a night out in the cold.

Now I’m getting my gear together for departure tomorrow. We have half a day left in town, which I plan to spend shopping and then reading. There isn’t much else left to do in town; I want to relax before flying back to Copenhagen, where I’ll be spending one (brief) night before flying on to Iceland on Wednesday morning (I arrive in Copenhagen at 21:30; I depart the next morning at 06:00… I’ll have to be up at 03:45 to get to the airport!).

Posted by Glichez 17:00 Archived in Greenland Comments (0)

Hiking the Ice Cap

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Another fun and eventful day – and the best day of the trip thus far!

After breakfast I spent some time relaxing and reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman before we ventured out on our excursion. Today’s agenda had us going to the polar ice cap, which sits on top of a glacier. The road to the ice cap is the longest in Greenland at around 40km; the first section of which was built by the American military, while the longest portion was built by VW so they could test drive their cars on the ice cap to see how they handled the cold (VM only used this for four years before abandoning the project as too expensive). The road was merely a gravel pathway, nothing was paved.

En route we made two photo stops as well. The first was the remains of an American military airplane crash. Several T33 jets had been planning to land at the military base here, but a whiteout caused their landing to be delayed. As the planes circled in the air, they ran out of fuel; the pilots ejected and were safely rescued, but the planes themselves crashed. There was not much left of the plan, but it was fascinating to get to see; we were able to walk right up and touch it as well!

The second stop was at an overlook of the Russell Glacier (which we are visiting tomorrow). It was very windy and bitingly cold, but the view was incredible! The glacier was so massive. After about 10 minutes we continued on to the ice cap…

We parked the truck several hundred meters from the actual ice cap and hiked our way there. We came upon an immense wall of pure ice, which was strikingly blue. We had a brief stop for photos. The top of the wall was covered with rocks and boulders; there was a large boulder at the top of the ice wall that we needed to keep an eye on as it could easily have rolled off and stuck someone.

We hiked out onto the ice cap itself, where the wind picked up and the temperature dropped; it was freezing!! We had to stick together as we hiked out as the snow had covered any potential crevasses; should someone step in the wrong place, they would have fallen into the crevasse. The view was incredible: snow and ice as far as the eye could see. Outcroppings of solid blue ice appeared like waves breaking over the sea of snow. Several areas were covered with rocks, which turned out to merely be covering the solid ice below. We made several stops along our path for photos, including one area that had several demolished igloos. They were impressively still quite solid and we couldn’t knock them down (yes, the kids tried…).

Our final stop on the ice cap was a massive sheet of pure ice with no snow covering it at all. We carefully walked out onto it for some great photo opportunities. By this time clouds had begun to roll in and snow was starting to fall, which unfortunately prevented my pictures from fully capturing how crystal clear and blue the ice was, but this did not prevent me from taking numerous pictures of the landscape. It was a barren wasteland, both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. This rivaled anything that I had seen during my time in Svalbard in 2014.

There was a couple from Sydney, Australia on the tour and we three began to chat and took turns taking photos of one another. I had seen them several times since arriving, but had not had the opportunity to speak with them. While walking back to the truck, we stopped and broke off part of the ice cap ice; a few of us (myself included) ate some of the ice. It was nothing particularly unique about the ice, but now I can say that I’ve had ice cap ice! (Similarly, the glacial ice that I had in Svalbard – which the tour guide fished from the sea in front of the glacier and served to us with whiskey – was nothing special to taste, but both that ice and the ice cap ice were crystal clear.)

On the drive to and from the ice cap we saw several reindeer, including what appeared to be a small family of three reindeer together. They were all quite close to the road, giving us a chance to see them quite well. I was amazed at how well they blend in with the landscape; their fur colorings and patterns make for excellent camouflage.

After returning to town, we met for our drive to dinner at 19:00; back to the same restaurant for the Greenlandic buffet. During the drive there, our driver pointed out that the Northern Lights were beginning directly in front of us. Thankfully the restaurant was so far from the city that we were able to see the Northern Lights incredible well.

They were dawning over a large hill in front of us: first just a large cloud of greenish haze, then brighter streaks of light would appear as the Lights moved around. I had assumed that the Northern Lights were quite bright and vivid, as is usually seen in pictures and videos; in reality, they look like hazy green clouds dancing in the sky. You can clearly see the bands moving and the light columns, but the bright and vivid colors only show up in photographs. By bad luck I had decided to leave my camera at the hotel, but luckily the Australian couple and a guy from Mexico had brought theirs, along with tripods. The photos they took before dinner are stunning, showing the full green color and bright intensity of the Lights, which is impossible to see with the naked eye.

After watching the Lights for a while, they began to fade and we headed in to have dinner. Again I sat with the Danish couple; the young son delighted in speaking English with me, telling me about how much he is enjoying Greenland. The mother very kindly bought me a small Greenlandic beer made with local berries in the area; it was a sweeter beer, but quite good!

The food was again quite delicious; there were three courses: a cold dish setting, a warm dish setting, and dessert. The cold food selection consisted of smoked salmon, muskox fillet, halibut fillet, reindeer jerky, shrimp, salad, and whale skin. I tried everything except the halibut. The salmon was alright (thankfully there was a sauce that helped cover the taste); the reindeer jerky tasted like any typical jerky; the whale skin was like chewing rubber (it reminded me of when I ate the raw octopus in Tokyo). The warm selection was smaller, but equally good; I failed to realize the second course had been laid out until the food was nearly gone, so I simply got a tasting. There was fried halibut with pasta, reindeer meat, muskox and steaks. The reindeer was my favorite part of the dinner and reminded me of the reindeer stew I had in Nordkapp. Dessert was a blackberry pie, which I did not eat.

During dessert the servers made several Greenlandic coffees, which is a mixture of whiskey, Kahlua, coffee, whipped cream, and Grand Marnier. The spectacular part is when the Grand Marnier is added to the drink; all other ingredients have been added, the cream being on top to represent snow. Then they pour the Grand Marnier into a ladle and light it on fire; ever so slowly, this is then poured into the coffee glass and the fire streams down as it is poured, making it look like they are pouring liquid fire. As the server pours this, she is raising the ladle higher and higher, making the stream of fire longer and longer. This is to represent the Northern Lights.

After dinner I rejoined the Australians and the guy from Mexico, Peter, to watch the Northern Lights, which had returned. Again, to the naked eye it appeared as greenish clouds moving around the sky, though now that it was considerably darker outside, the Lights were much brighter. They began to take more photographs and we were stunned by what they revealed: the lights were now a bright orange and red! Picture after picture revealed these stunning colors, which were impossible to see with the naked eye. Standing there looking at the lights I was amazed at their beauty, dancing around the heavens; they would fade and return with more intensity. Peter said it was light watching a symphony of lights in the sky, which is perhaps the best way to describe the Northern Lights.

The truck picked us up after about 45 minutes of watching the Lights; when we returned to town we were amazed that the Lights were no longer visible (the small amount of light pollution in the town was enough to hide them). I grabbed by computer and followed the Aussies back to their hotel room (they were staying at the airport hotel); they let me copy over the photographs that they had taken during the evening. Peter let me copy his pictures as well. We are all looking forward to our hunt for the Northern Lights tomorrow night, but we’re quite pleased that we were able to see them tonight as well.

Posted by Glichez 17:00 Archived in Greenland Comments (0)

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