From a humble grape comes a legacy.

Ramblings from the Alps

Allô mes amis, we are now almost into our third full month of travelling and it has been amazing so far! We have driven across Canada (a post that still needs to be written!), visited Iceland, did a quick stop by in Switzerland (which I will get to later!) and are now (still) in France. So, being in France I thought I would open up this post with the first things you need to do when in France … of course they are clichés, but they are so for a reason! Of course you need to eat cheese and bread, drink wine, ride your bike under the Eiffel Tower whilst wearing a white/blue striped shirt and a beret with a baguette in the front basket, and do generally what Parisians do – sit at one of the thousands of local cafés and enjoy the day; but not to be forgotten, as Paris has such a rich history in art and culture, is just wandering the confusing streets of Paris staring aimlessly at the almost infinite amount of statues and historic sites and soaking it in. Visiting the Louvre should also be on the list, if you can dedicate at least 3/4 of a day to wandering those hallowed halls, as even the most uncultured can’t possibly remain unmoved or uninspired by the remarkable selection of some of the most amazing art and artifacts in human history. Be warned however, that the place is huge, and somewhat confusing to navigate at first, so plan well!

Well, we have already mentioned the Parisian experience, but of course the last blog left out a few things. One thing that we have experienced a few times now in Europe, is being excluded from restaurants because of our kids. I thought that it was a bit strange the first time, as we approached a completely empty restaurant, save for 1-2 tables, but then the “maitre’d” saw us and our kids, and suddenly the restaurant was full. Ok, I guess that could be reservations that haven’t shown up yet – so we moved on. The next place was a bit less subtle. It was around 8:00 pm on a Wednesday or Thursday, so I understand that it is prime time, but when we got to the next place, the owner was pleasant and started chatting to us about a table, then she saw the kids come in right behind me, and all of sudden the restaurant was full (although it was almost empty). Nothing she could do. Oh, but if we wanted to sit all four of us at a tiny table outside on the 50 cm wide sidewalk next to the extremely narrow, yet active street, on two chairs, away from the rest of the customers (or lack there of) then maybe they could accommodate us. Yeah, nice try… no thanks. By this point the kids were pretty hungry, so sushi to go was the easiest solution to this issue. Yep, strange, but sushi is our kids go-to fast food! Definitely could be worse, so no complaints there – just not necessarily the most economical everywhere! This also happened to us in Switzerland for lunch… albeit in a busier restaurant, but the look from the owner was the same – sees the kids… oh, we are busy, too busy for you.

Anyway, we are over that… so back to our adventures in France! We have (with the exception for Marianne) been trying to be more open to speaking french; Marianne is holding out! She refuses to speak french… kidding, of course! Even Maëlle has been doing her best to make an effort to speak a bit more in french. It isn’t every time, but she is making more efforts than ever before. She is doing well… she has ‘Est-que je peux’ (Can I?) down pat …  and is expanding her dialogue everyday!

Ok, so we have learned the keys to speaking french in France (from a barely mono-lingual neanderthal as myself) are:

  1. On your first attempt at saying something hard, just say it low and mumbly….
  2. After that doesn’t work, on your second attempt to get someone to understand what you said, say it quickly with a more nasally sound and make sure you end your sentence with a rising inflection… so that you are almost asking them something.
  3. Now, while they look at you deciding if you have mental issues, the third attempt to get someone to understand your strange accent should be said higher pitched than the previous attempts and with more attitude. Make it seem like they have the issue with understanding, not that you have no idea what you are saying.
  4. When all of that fails, and it will, point at something random and run away quickly or… ask someone who speaks french to say it exactly how you said it and watch the other person miraculously understand what you wanted.

Actually, I have found that my very moderate french skills have helped tremendously in France. I haven’t had too many instances where I was completely lost. There are a few individuals that I have met that speak faster than others – but the majority speak clearly enough for me to understand what they are saying and or why I need to move le car out of the &%$@#$% way. But yes it has been okay… so thank you grade school french, because of you I can find out the time, determine if something is too expensive or not, and ask for the toilette! But really, my time in Quebec and with the extended family has helped the most!

So, what else have we been up to here? We have been in France for about three weeks now and have gone from Paris, to the wine producing regions of Bourgogne, to the foothills of the Alps in Chartreuse, in the eastern part of France, to the Alps near Switzerland.

All has been different, but not drastically so from Canada, in that I mean, all of the areas, with the obvious exception of the old towns and cities, are things that we have in Canada. Mountains, check! Farms, check! Highways with crazy drivers, check! Vineyards, check! But the scale of the vineyards and the amount of history from before 1800 here is incredible. I’m not sure anything in Paris was built since the 1800s – and some of the towns we have driven through were likely hundreds of years older than that! I don’t think I would want to live in a 500 or 800 year old building in Canada – winters might be a bit, well, chilly!

Two of the most interesting stops on our journey from Paris to where we are now, were the Château du Clos de Vougeot and the wine caves in the town of Beaune. Pronouced like Boney. Actually, I have no idea how it supposed to be pronounced, but that works. The Château du Clos de Vougeot was a fascinating look back into the history of wine making in France.

The fall colours descending rapidly around the chateau
Chateau du Clos de Vougeot

The traditions and history surrounding this estate and its wine are etched in France’s history and wine lore. We did the prerequisite visit, and even tried to snag a geocache there (to no avail!), leaning about the history of wine, the role of this estate in wine production for the wars, and its current role. All intricately detailed through the full estate museum. Too bad no wine samples were on hand! But fear not, we were able to right that wrong at the next stop. The next day, in the town of Beaune, we toured the wine caves under the town, and as part of that luxurious tour of the dank caves, were unlimited wine! I mean samples of wine! We were handed a small metallic saucer and told the caves would be found by following the informational path! So off we trudged, through the barrels and buildings until we met the narrow entrance to the wine caves. Apparently this place stores wine – aging it until it is perfect! We saw thousands of bottles! The oldest they are allowed to sell is a 1936 Pinot Noir, for a reasonable €450 (Euros), although they have older. It was quite interesting, and liquidacious! We tried at least 10 different wines (although I may have had thirds on some of them, and pulled a couple of open ones off the shelf and re-opened them… SHHHHH!!!). It was definitely an interesting visit, but of course, the girls were less impressed about wandering in dark, underground tunnels full of spiders and dust… that is until they met a woman with a dog, and then they were happy as clams. So, wine drinking done, we headed for the Alps!

And that brings us to now. Right now we are in a small town in northeast France, not too far from Switzerland, called Saint Jean d’Aulps. No idea how to pronounce that last bit correctly. Oh-pas? Oh-l-ps? Owl-ps? Oh-pehs? Oprah? No idea. It is near Morzine, which is easier to say. It is a small, hamlet in the Alps that becomes a hot bed of skiing activity in the winter. If you like to strap long planks of waxed wood to your feet and hurl yourself down a mountain at ludicrous speeds, then apparently this is a good place to be.

Normally, back in Canada, I would expect a place like this to be prohibitively expensive to enjoy, and maybe the accommodations and food in the winter is inflated to meet the demand, but the cost of the actual skiing appears to be incredibly inexpensive in comparison. I saw full winter passes going for around €300 (Euros) with daily rates starting around €20-25 / day. Crazy talk! Sure, there are fewer runs than Whistler’s 200-ish runs, but guess what, almost everywhere else in the world has fewer runs than that! Plus, can you actually ski 200 runs in a day? Unlikely, I mean I can only hit so many trees a day before I am done! So the 50 or so runs these hills appear to have are more than enough for many people. Plus, I have heard the snow here is pretty good! It’s too bad we won’t still be here during the ski season! Ok, if you are now asking why we are in a ski town in the off season, we have a good reason. After we left the Airbnb in St-Pierre d’Entremont, in the Chartreuse area, a chalet owned and run by Marianne’s old neighbour (a story I will leave for our head of small human creation to expand upon), we left for Morzine to pet sit! Yes, we are house/pet sitting! Yes, that is a thing, and no, we didn’t know these people before! We arranged it through a great online site that allows people to go on vacation and have someone come to their home, stay for free, and look after their pets. Win-win. Free place to stay, someone to look after the house, and no dead pets! (Maybe I should talk to their marketing department, see if they have an opening, I feel I could help them out with gems like that!)

We are pet sitting a grand old lady, a beautiful golden retriever that is getting up there in years. She is around 11 years old, but still has some energy when the kids are around. We are also looking after a 1 year old black cat. It’s a cat, but is actually friendly. Maxine keeps trying to pick her up and carry her around like a baby – and so far, no scratches! I know, wow! The owners are away for 2 weeks, so we get to chill out here, relax, take in the local scene and look after some furry creatures. The girls really want to get a pet after travelling, so this is a great way to determine if they have any ability to look after one! or two! So far, so good! Maëlle has been great at taking the dog for walks so the dog can do her business! We are proud with how she has taken responsibility for looking after the dog.

The girls taking the dog for a walk in the woods!

While we have tucked our weary bones away in this little village for the past couple of weeks we have had the chance to explore a bit and take advantage of the last great weather of the fall. It has been glorious here, up until the last few days (rain!), with the amazing colours of the changing leaves, and the mountain peaks encircling us like pillars in a magnificent open air theatre. We have reveled in hiking and biking in the sun, been contented to bask on the back deck reading and having a glass of tasty beverage, and even have bounced like kangaroos on crack on the trampoline (mainly the girls… mainly…), because, why not?! Also, while the sun was out we explored the area and went to a couple of interesting local markets, historic sites, and seasonal events where we blended and mingled as if we weren’t from here.

The first weekend we ended up at a wine/beer/food event, eating local, drinking local, and enjoying something that should probably be more prevalent in our life than it is. Connecting with friends and neighbours over food and drink harkening back to times when it was more important to make acquaintances and to share, than to get likes or views on your opinions or photos from anonymous strangers online. And just this past weekend we stumbled upon a little market with goods from monasteries from all over France. Handmade, hand crafted, hand brewed, all made by monks who apparently have a lot of time on their hands! But they do make good stuff! We learnt a bit about the local abbey and that monks make a lot of good things! No idle hands there!

So here we are, out in the wilds of the Alps, keeping some very friendly animals fed, learning a bit about our surroundings, including how to drive in the Alps on some crazy twisty roads, and taking in the relaxation that we have been sorely lacking over the past years.

But, we are getting itchy to keep moving, as has been our M.O. for the last 3 months or so. Oh, and while something have changed, somethings have remained the same. The youngest of our brood decided, yesterday, that shoving something up her nose would be fun! Yay! You know the little baby bel cheese? The wax covered ones? Yes, she told us that she rolled up the wax and put in her nose. Why? I HAVE NO IDEA! Anyway, it was stuck so far up we couldn’t see it and of course it was causing her discomfort. She whined and whined and we tried to get her to blow it out, sneeze it out after sniffing pepper, and even pick it out – but nope! It was stuck fast! We gave up, hoping she would just get it out naturally. But after a while, no chance – so Marianne went in. She grabbed the tweezers and gently dug through the mini gold mine to find the red ball of treasure! Success, she seized it with her expert grasp and pulled forth, with a triumphant sigh of relief, the offender stuck deep in the nostril… and guess what? It wasn’t actually the little wax wrapper, it was the WHOLE PLASTIC WRAPPER on the outside of the wax. Like, what, are you kidding me? How the?? Anyway, our smallest, and well, strange little one was free of her plastic plug, free to breathe again! Oh, the joys of children sometimes! I’m not sure this will be the last time we have to do this.

When the next week comes we will be off! Off to different pastures and different mountains, exploring Europe from our little 4-wheeled oil burner. We shall update more later!

M (Undersecretary to the head of lodging, germ removal, and child bearing)

Paris: the Mandatory and the Different

We knew little about what we were going to do in France when we left Iceland on October 8th. All we knew was that some guy we’d never met said he would let us stay in his apartment right in the heart of Paris for three nights… and not just that, for free! Sounds dubious? Yeah, maybe. But let’s back track and let me explain. Long before we left Canada, I (Marianne) started looking into house and pet sitting abroad. With young kids and on a longer trip, we simply can’t realistically move every other night and, you know, staying in Airbnbs or hotels every night in Europe really adds up. I’m not sure how I came across the TrustedHousesitters website but it intrigued me. I also learned that there are several of these websites out there whose sole purpose is to hook up people in need of care for their home or pets while away and people willing to travel and care for them. Our girls are slightly obsessed with animals in case this was not apparent in previous posts, so I thought, perfect! I set-up a couple of accounts and started looking for the right sit(s) for us.

One of our goals in France besides visiting Paris is to stay long enough somewhere that the girls have a chance to make friends and get more comfortable speaking French (and where they do not have a choice!!!). With very little other requirements, it left us pretty open to explore sits in a variety of locations. One of the first ad I came across seemed too perfect! A place right in Paris with 2 cats for 4 nights starting on the day we landed in Paris! The ad, being in a very desirable location, had already had a bunch of applicants so with our lack of previous sits/reviews, I doubted we’d get it but I applied anyway. To our surprise, we were offered the sit after a chat on Skype with the owner and his fiancee! The only thing was that the cats would be at the fiancee’s apartment in St-Cloud, just outside the Paris centre and it would be for 3 nights only. Still sounded good to us so we accepted. Couple days later, the owner contacts us to tell us one of the cats is sick and would need to be given a pill daily during our sit and that, to let the cat have his own space to recover, his new roomate cat would be sent to a catery. Giving pills to a cat sounds like “good family fun” as the owner (Andrew) said. We figured we were 4 so we should be able to handle one cat.  No problem! The day before our departure: more news… The trip of the owners to Italy was cancelled last minute due to a health issue. But “not to worry” he said. “you can have my apartment in the centre of Paris and you don’t even have to cat sit anymore”! Say what??? Wow! That almost did sound suspiciously too good to be true but we had a good feeling about this and, with less than 24 hours before landing in Paris, well, that was our only plan! So off we went to meet Andrew at his apartment and we were amazed to find someone at the door waiting for us with keys in hand and beds ready for us in a wonderful renovated “appartement parisien” a few steps from Oberkampf metro station! Unbelievable hospitality! We had a great time in his place as it made for a perfect location from which to explore Paris.


The mandatory attractions

Of course we did the usual things people do in Paris:

  1. The Louvre: We went to the Louvre Museum and walked around the gigantic place for nearly 6 hours with the girls and heard nearly no complaints!!! I KNOW!!! That shocked even them! Saw all the big attractions and the less famous ones. We spent quite a while in the Egyptian section. I think Maxine’s favourite was the section that had the 16th – 18th century castle furniture that Maelle and I had to zoom past to find a bathroom. Maxine loved it so much she wanted to live there!
  1. Tour Eiffel: So the day we arrived, we thought we’d check to see if we could get tickets to go up the tower a couple of days later. Nope! Friendly tip: if you plan on going up the tower, book weeks ahead! There was no way we could get advance tickets… so we thought we’d check to see if we could get a ticket at the tower for that day or even just to walk up to the first level. Yikes! Ticket booths for the elevators were closed and a line about 400 m long stretched underneath the tower full of people with tickets! Even the line to get tickets to climb the nearly 400 steps to the first level was fairly long and, even though Maxine was willing to do it, we decided to continue contemplating it from below. We were warned that lots of pick-pockets work around the city and that if someone approached you to sign a petition, to closely watch your wallet. We did see several people with such “petitions” around the tower. We also saw what happens to the guys selling little Eiffel towers off blankets when the “gendarmes” (French police) on bikes come by. They disappear!
  2. Arc de Triomphe: we did a quick Metro stop by the Arc to go ooh and aah!
  3. Sainte-Chapelle: we decided on a guide’s recommendation to check it out. It is an example of Gothic church which were apparently built to let in a lot of light and the chapelle apparently has one of the largest Rose windows in the world (after Notre-Dame the Paris which we only looked at from the outside). The line to get in late afternoon was not very long, and from the outside, the church does not look that special. When we first got in I was disappointed… Ok, cool arches but where is the light and the glass stained windows? Oh wait, there is another level… Then we went up the tiny, twisting stairs and… Woah!!! There were giant windows lining the walls of the entire room and all of them had intricate stain glass in perfect condition of all colours possible letting the light in. Worth seeing.
  4. Eat crepes: Lots of places make crepes and they are fairly inexpensive. We stopped at a random convenience store that made them and they were yummy! We were not as lucky with our dining out experiences but perhaps Mike will elaborate on that some other time. A combination of poor timing of our meals, no reservations and too much choice resulted in cranky people and some disappointing meals.279

The different stuff

I had been to Paris by myself a couple times before, so I had seen some of the sights. With more time, we tried a few different and perhaps unusual things:

  1. Sandeman’s tours: Ever heard of Sandeman’s? We had not. We’re not usually big on tours. An Australian tourist we met in Iceland mentioned that Sandeman’s offers free tours in a lot of cities in Europe. The guides essentially volunteer and design their own tour and you just tip them what you want at the end if you’re happy with the tour. Sounded like a fun thing to do to learn a bit more while still being a low enough commitment that we could bail out early if the girls did not make it through the 2.5 hours. Well, our guide was very interesting and the girls managed to stay entertained through the whole thing! So definitely something I’d recommend.
  2. Staying just outside Paris: After our 3 days at Andrew’s, we thanked our amazing host and said farewell but were also looking forward to our Airbnb. We’d booked a little place in a house right on the Marne River. Why stay there you’d ask? Well, the reviews were great and the owners had kids and a yard that the kids could play in. Our daughters were craving having kid-friendly stuff (after 3 days of no-touching anything at Andrew’s place – as it was too nice!) and other kids around by that point so it seemed like a good idea and it was. The area was super cute and quaint but yet, just 12 minutes to a train station and only about 30 minutes from key attractions. It was nice to take a slower pace and see a different side of Paris. The east side to be exact!677
  3. Scooter around Parc du bois de Vincennes: Our Airbnb hosts were kind enough to let us use their “trotinettes”. So we took them out on an outing and headed towards the parc du bois de Vincennes. We thought “cool, there are gardens, a castle and even a zoo”! Sounded perfect! until we hit bumpy/gravelly sidewalks and trails… Not as fun on scooters. And not as fast. So Mike said “Let’s ride on this street” that has limited traffic and was only one-way. Hmmm, weird, there were lots of white vans parked on the side with people inside, oh actually it was just women inside…. ooohhhh! Mike clued in what was going on by about van #2 and I must say we picked up the pace on the scooters considerably! Seems like the proverbial street walkers had stepped it up a notch. Despite our accelerated pace we didn’t get to see the Chateau de Vincennes, nor the nearby zoo (too far) but we had a great time scootering around for a couple of hours. Even Maxine rode for a while by herself but ended up riding with Mike for most of it.
  4. Go salsa dancing! Ok, this one is not a family friendly activity but, for those who know me, it had to be done! So I did a bit of research and asked around and decided on two events: Agua and Latinbox Party. The details will be left for another post on salsa around the world. Stay tuned salsa fanatics!

So that pretty much sums up Paris. We left it on Sunday headed to the parc naturel regional de Chartreuse to visit a friend but not without a pit stop on yet another famous wine road. More on that in our next blog!



Slides are fun!

The Pools of Iceland

Ah, yes, back to Iceland for another post. We haven’t adequately described the pool situation there, so we thought it needed its own post. I’ll try to adequately describe both the use and the condition of the pools there. I’m referring to the municipal pools, not the big fancy touristy soaks – The Blue Lagoon and such.

Myvatn Nature Baths

It seems that almost every town in Iceland has a geothermally heated outdoor pool. They are open year round, so you can have a nice warm bottom with a frosty head. Reykjavik must have had at least 6 or 7 of these exterior facilities. Some have awesome slides, most have a selection of tubs on the side of different temperatures to soak your weary bones. Typically they are 36-37 C (just enough so you feel warm, but not roasting), 38-40 C  (definitely gets the skin a nice rouge), and 40-42 C (slow lobster boil). I am not sure if they have a higher pool than 42 C, but the saunas definitely are above that. Oh, and they also have a cool down pool that is about 6-7 C (to try to cool down after one of their steam roasting boxes, aka saunas). Pretty sure we tried them all, even if only for a few seconds in some!

This is an amazing photo of a slide, and a half built fence.
More slides!

Here is a little about the pools themselves and how to use them. Shockingly, they are simple. You show up, you pay the cashier a reasonable amount of money (for Iceland anyway, around 980 kr for adults, 160 kr for our 7 year old, and free for our 4 year old ) and you go to the change room. The pools are often open early (but not always on weekends) at 06:30 and stay open late 22:00 or later; but check the website, and don’t rely on Google to get the information correct – we arrived at a pool expecting it to be open, but the weekend hours were different than on Google. Also smaller towns may have limited hours for their pools.

Our first experience was at probably the one of the nicest pools in Reykjavik (Laugardalslaug). Here we were each given a bracelet to wear; similar to those ubiquitous rubber/plastic wrist bands that are often sold at the cashier of a sports store or grocery store – or kinda similar to a first-gen Fitbit, but with no display. The bracelets have a chip inside that activates the gate and you can use to lock/unlock your locker in the change room. Very handy. No keys, no change, no locks, just a rubber arm bracelet. They come in very fashionable colours as well – slightly worn out yellow, almost grey-black, off-white, blue (i think), and probably others. I am guessing the pool water might cause a bit of wear. They are a great system for sure.

So, ok, equipped with your wrist band you head to the locker rooms. There you are greeted by one of Iceland’s many signs – remove your shoes. You can either leave them on racks outside of the locker room, or put them in a bag to put in your locker. I left mine outside of the locker room on a few occasions  and never had issues. So once you are down to your Jesus boots you head on into the change room. Here you are reminded, repeatedly by both signs and a shower guard dude to change here and shower au naturel before attempting to head to the pool. Seriously, there is a guy who has a job of sitting at the edge of the shower and making sure everyone washes well enough, without a swimsuit, before they are allowed to marinate in a tepid pool of human soup. There are no exceptions nor do people seem to care, as it is part of the culture, so whatever! I’m sure the nude group showers will freak some people out, especially if they have watched too many prison movies – but get over it, it is fine! So once in the shower they have signs everywhere showing you the key areas to wash – and it goes nicely with a little rhyme: Head, armpits, crotch and toes, crotch and toes, head, armpits, crotch and toes, crotch and toes (to the head – shoulders – knees and toes song tune).

From Shop Icelandic
Head and armpits, crotch and toes!

Once that is done, you are free to enjoy the pools and soak up that rotten-egg smell. Actually, it isn’t too bad, once you are used to it, but the first few days in Iceland take some getting used to the hot water – as it all smells like sulfur. Another reminder is when leaving the pool, time to shower off again and dry off nude before going into the change room. This is serious business in this country, they keep their locker rooms clean and dry, so dry off well!

One thing that differed from the pools we are used to in North America is the lifeguards. Or the absence thereof… I think they were the people we saw walking on the side of the pool with their parkas a couple of times and headed to a tower with shaded windows. As an ex-lifeguard, Marianne had serious doubts about the response time in case of an incident. At pool #5 visited, we did notice that there were cameras pointed at all the basins so makes you think that someone must be watching. We even heard someone making an announcement in Icelandic at one point. Sounded like a lifeguard? We were hoping they weren’t talking to us. The upside of not having the heavy presence of a lifeguard closely watching your every move was that there seemed to be a bit more freedom with the use of the slides. The slides usually had a red/green light at the top so it was up to you to pay attention and go down when it was the right time. We never did quite figure out what the sign meant in terms of ages for riding the slides but there was a diagram clearly showing that it was ok to ride most of them with someone else and because we saw dads slide with little kids, we took that as a good enough sign that Maxine could go down with us and she loved it! Back home, she was often too small or too young to ride but she is the intrepid one who has no fear of slides. So lots of sliding fun for all of us and stairmaster climbing workout as a bonus!

We ended up using the pools in Iceland all over the country, and they were awesome. The pool in Akureyri had the best slides, while the first pool in Reykjavik (Laugardalslaug) had the best selection of hot pools on the side; you could find Icelanders of each shade of red coming out of the different pools, clearing helping you to figure out the temperature of that pool. Another pool in Reykjavik we went to, Árbæjarlaughad a good slide for the kids, but also had a great shallow area for the kids to go and play. Their hot tubs were easy to access and not overcrowded, and they even had a nice indoor part of the pool that connected to the outside so that when it was too cold outside you could go in there and let the kids play. Of course each pool also has a lane swimming pool to get some exercise in. Most of the regular outdoor pools seem to be kept at a temperature of around 32 C, so perfectly comfortable.

Is it a pool? ... well, yes it is.
Outside of the pool! So exciting!

We found that each pool had its own redeeming qualities and we enjoyed them all. Hitting the pools and spending a couple of hours relaxing (or having small children climb on you) is a must to when visiting Iceland. I mean especially if you like to hang out nude and chat with the locals – although good luck with that, small talk with Icelanders did not really go anywhere…

Summary: Pools in Iceland: Outdoors, hot tubs, slides, nude showers, wash your crotch, and watch the watcher watching you wash your crotch, relax, good, not too expensive, clean.

I would definitely say that Iceland pools are a must do! More so than the Blue Lagoon or the other nature baths. Not because those others aren’t great, nor should you avoid them, but these pools are cheap and you might actually be the only tourist there – we were on a few occasions!

Next time, more on the France restaurant thing. Why so many restaurants is awesome, not awesome! Or another random blog about us.. either or!

M, Asst. manager of snacks and baggage transport.

Small but many waterfalls.

Iceland to France!

Hi Everyone

We have made it to France. We landed in Paris on Monday and have been exploring the city for the past few days – so much to see and do here. We will have a longer update shortly about the last bit in Iceland and the first few days here in France.

I must say that Iceland did its best to keep us there. Wind storms, ice, early morning flights – everything seemed easier in Iceland when you didn’t have to go anywhere! The morning of our flight we had to get up at 3:30 am and get to the airport for our 7:30 am flight. We were staying in Reykjavik which was about 45 minutes away from the airport, so not too far, but far enough. Also, to make matters more difficult, when we woke up, the temperature had dropped to – 3 C or so, from the 8 C the day before. So everything was frozen and icy! Of course, being in Iceland it should be no problem to go and scrap off the car. But, guess what, yep, no scraper. Seriously? The place is called ICELAND, not warm tropical land; not Greenland (which wouldn’t forget to have a scraper – probably), not anywhere else, but nope… no scraper. So I used the trusty Canadian backup – yep, the credit card. Actually, it was my Aeroplan card. Why do I have that with me? No idea… Maybe for some reason I will fly Air Canada in the next year… nah, no idea really. So, car scraped, and heater going, all set. So I skate back to the apartment we rented to get the bags, slide back to the truck…. go past… then go back and load the bags. So much fun! Anyway, I can say that we are lucky the truck came with studded winter tyres, otherwise it would have been a bit of a slow slippery ride to the airport.

As it is obvious, we made it! Here in France. So far it has been mostly good. Saw a few cool sites, got a Geocache in France, and had a few good meals. Eating out in France is easy-ish, which I will explain later, and people here are definitely trendier than elsewhere I have seen. I mean it is 25 C in the day here and they are all wearing fall/winter clothes – including puffy jackets!? What? I am in shorts and finding it warm… they are in pants and jackets. Crazy.

Ok, we are getting our Europe plans worked out, and post-Europe planned, which will be updated here soon. As promised a longer post coming soon.


M or M or m or m

Look at the pretty lights!

Wild West Iceland – Winter Winds, Whining, and a Wonderful Waterfall

When you are travelling between places in Iceland by car it has become obvious that you need to do a few things before you set off. First, make sure you car hasn’t been blown away over night. Winds seem to scream endlessly here, switching directions at will, and well, you might need to find a good parking spot to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere! Second, check the weather. Will the next day be windy, snowy, sunny, rainy, foggy, or… all of the above. Checking the weather is more important than the distance you are driving. You could circle the island in one long day, and essentially not leave route 1, so a map, in practice is not that necessary – but the weather dictates more where/when you can go. Third, always check your fuel. Yes, just like normal back home. You don’t get a free pass on buying fuel unless you somehow rented a magical car that doesn’t need fuel. Distances aren’t great here on an average day’s drive, but the hills and curves and inevitable stops for photos and sight seeing make it seem like you are driving the car with the world’s worst fuel mileage. After a few days of driving on the coast into a 20 m/s headwind, I was sure our rental car (the trusty Dacia Duster 4×4) was getting 10 l / km instead of the reverse. Also gas stations seem to pop sporadically, sometimes many at once, other times, none for 200+ km. And certainly not last, but fourth, make sure you pack at least 30 kg of snacks (per child under 18) for each hour of the trip. Driving in the back seat of a car, while on vacation, seemingly becomes more calorie intensive than a cross-fit workout in a hot yoga studio. Endless chants of ‘snacks’ or ‘I want to eat something’ seem to emanate from the second row of the four-wheeled transportation system the second the engine starts. It matters not if breakfast was but a few minutes prior, or lunch was still freshly on their lips, the ear-piercing, soul-crushing call for food is incessant and without remorse. I, naively at first, thought the offspring had been working on their rendition of a ‘punk’d’ skit – but I was soon to learn, to my dismay, and continuing dismay, that it wasn’t so. We have been trying to mitigate it, by reinforcing the use of the term, ‘Please’ before the begging, so we somehow justify it to ourselves that our kids are not in fact miniature versions of Neanderthals, but seriously who are we kidding, we just endlessly repeat ‘Say please’, and when they eventually do we give them snacks and they have learned nothing. Kids 1 – Us 0.

So, as I was saying, driving anywhere in Iceland is a bit about time management, massive quantities of rations, weather knowledge, and skill. As our last post mentioned, skill is a sorely lacking attribute of many drivers here in Iceland. I definitely worry more about the oncoming car than the narrow, no shouldered roads, or the hurricane force winds that seemingly come from all directions. A couple cars in the ditch on lightly snowy days tells me these people have no business driving here in October – but hey, who am I to take away their dream of seeing Iceland. I am just hoping the next few days here goes smoothly on the roads!

Ok, back to some real travel stuff. Where were we? Oh yes, we left Akureyri the other day and headed west. We booked an Airbnb somewhere near the ‘town’ of Húnavatnshreppur (Yep, that is how it is spelled and it wasn’t me just mashing a bunch of keys on the computer keyboard.) We found the place relatively easy after a calm drive through the mountains and valleys of the northwest – luckily too, as a storm was moving in the next day and would have made that drive a bit tougher. Beautiful area – lots of scenic lookouts and majestic vistas. Amazing contrasts in the area, from the green fields to the white snow covered peaks abounded along our route. Horses, sheep (or as Maxine calls them – sheepees!), and even a few bovines dot the fields of the landscape along our path. Anyway, as we arrive at our Airbnb we notice it is a farm – a totally real farm. Not a ‘ranch’ or a ‘we have a few chickens so we call it a farm’, but a real local farm. We can tell by the smell – oh and the fact it is a farm, with barns and horses and a butt-load of sheep. We are greeted and shown to the one room palace that we have inherited for the night. It is small, but stylish and functional, but the real show is outside. A small herd of border collies show up to introduce themselves. At final count there are 5 of them, but generally, the mother dog goes solo while the 4 males (father, brother, and pups) run amok around the property. The girls are instantly drawn to the dogs – and likewise for the dogs. Maxine is the perfect size for jumping up on and licking, so she soon becomes a carte blanche for the dogs’ artistic tribute to muddy paw prints and saliva. They are masters at their art.

With the cleanliness factor thrown out the window, and down a cliff, Marianne searches desperately for her Norwex cleaning products to make sure Maxine once again can be seen in public. In the meantime, Maëlle and I don’t look back and head for the open pasture, dogs in tow (then way ahead of us, then beside us again – oh boy do they have a lot of energy.) We go off in search of sheepees and horses, but they see us and the dogs coming and head for the back 40. The dogs chase the sheep around a bit, more to harass than out of working instinct, but the sheep are probably used to it by now. So, we get our photos of the sheep from far, and move on. We can feel the temperature dropping and the wind picking up as the clouds descend into the valley – but knowing we are going no where that night makes us feel better.

The next day we had a surprise for the girls, we had arranged with the organizer of the Airbnb to get the girls a tour of the horse stables and to ride a horse. Maëlle was pretty excited, and showed us in her usual way by throwing a temper tantrum. Seems logical?! Someone must have added urine to her corn flavoured traditional breakfast cereal to make her so ornery, but who knows sometimes. Anyhoo… because of the weather that moved in the girls weren’t going to be able to ride the horses outside. The winds were too strong, and with the driving rain at times, it wouldn’t have been fun. The girls could barely walk into the wind – so I’m sure they would have been blown away like kites should they have been on the horses. Still, the girls got an hour with the horses; brushing them, petting them, and sitting on them. Maëlle also rode her horse around in the stable for a bit. It was pretty hard to get her to let go – as she seems to like these huge beasts. Maxine didn’t actually want to ride the horse around the stable, and seemed more interested in the dogs – especially the older male, who was absolutely attached to her. His tail wagged so much every time she walked near him that I thought he was going to take off like a helicopter. So we didn’t force her, instead as she wandered around the barn the farm / horse owners told us lots about their horses and Icelandic horses in general. Once again, the Icelanders seemed cold at first, but were totally friendly when you started to talk to them. Marianne even managed to snap a pic of me touching the horse – which I think is about the 3 or 4 horse I have ever pet in my life. Horses don’t seem to like me – not sure why, I generally don’t even try to touch them.

After this great experience we had to head out. We packed up the Duster and headed off into the blowing gale;  but just before that, I actually let the girls try to walk head long into the wind, and it almost blew them away. I didn’t stop them, I kinda wanted to see how far down the field the wind would push them, but they made it to the car! What? … like you wouldn’t do the same… 🙂

Anyway, with our visit with the horses over, we set off in the car immediately after a quick lunch, only to hear the melodic bellows of ‘I want to eat something’, followed by our one millionth, ‘You just ate, and you need to say please’. Our drives start so well!

The rest of our drive was interesting. With only about 1.5 hours of driving to the next destination, our road appeared to be clear, despite the warnings from the weather service; however, the winds were stronger than anticipated. Yes, driving in the wind requires a bit more reaction than anticipation as you can’t see the wind, but still it all comes down to slowing down if necessary. As we approached our turn off to our Airbnb, the winds had been mild, only about 20 m/s at most, and mostly from the back, so we were just getting an extra push. Well, that changed quickly. A blue sign loomed ahead with an unknown place name on top and the temperature and wind speed (I think that is what they are – I am just guessing) displayed in digital numbers, so they can be updated in real time. These signs only tend to appear when there is some sort of mountain pass or long stretch of open to the ocean road; they serve as a notice and warning to those who dare attempt the crossing. Our sign read a balmy -2C and a blustery 30 m/s wind speed (108 km/h sustained winds). I guarantee the gusts were above that! Anyway, the next section through the mountain pass was interesting – as I was seemingly dealing with swirling 100 km/s winds that were blowing the truck back and forth. I’m sure Marianne can testify that my driving technique that day resembled the old arcade days when we used to grab the steering wheel of a racing game and wiggle it back and forth in a futile attempt at making the inactive car on screen do our bidding. It almost felt like that at times as I wasn’t sure if I was helping or making it worse – but with no room for error, I decided to slow down and keep us on track. I saw a few oncoming drivers with concerned or downright scared looks on their faces as we snaked through the pass – no reassurance at all that the conditions ahead were any better. But, as I am now writing this, you have guessed, we made it! Actually it turned out to be not so bad, as our 4 wheeled steed proving itself up to the task once again. The key you see, is to slow down and not crash! I have found that the most effective way of driving from place to place here in Iceland! Who knew it was that simple?

We are now hanging out in our little chalet in the valley near Búðardalur, west Iceland. Tonight there northern lights are visible in the sky. Not the most amazing ever, but still pretty cool. I got a few photos of them – and it shows them pretty well. It actually looked better with the camera than with the eye.

Look at the pretty lights!
Amazing Aurora Borealis over the night sky in Western Iceland.

Anyway, today was a chill day with a bit of hiking, some visiting of farm animals, and some ice cream. I mean, when is a better time to have ice cream than when it is freezing outside? The ice cream doesn’t melt on you and it tastes just as good! Despite the chilly temperatures we decided to get out and explore. Marianne wanted to do a hike, but as everywhere is Iceland seems to be someone’s backyard or farm, I wasn’t sure where we could actually hike. Well, I found a hidden and amazing waterfall near by that you could hike to. And it was only about 30 mins away. Well after a disappointing lunch at the local greasy spoon, whose menu consisted of 5 types of burgers, and fish and chips (what a selection!) we decided to find this secret gem of falling water. No map seemed to have it listed, which peaked my interest, but the online photo showing this amazing wild flow of water sold it. So off we went. The road headed west on the peninsula toward Snæfellsjökull National Park, and soon turned to gravel. The posted 80 km/h speed limit seemed a bit ambitious for most, but we rumbled on over the pot holes and bumps. A quick 30 minutes or so later we approached the area of the trail to the falls. Five minutes later we backtracked, searching for the route to the falls again. It should be right where we were, but the only think there seemed to be a driveway. We tried it anyway. Icelanders have proven friendly to our feeble attempts to pronounce their place names, so I was hoping us accidentally driving across their front lawn in search of a secret and almost unknown waterfall would be met with equal kindness. I mean, why not eh? Luckily, we didn’t have to try to use our best Canadian ‘Sorry, eh’ as the road actually bypassed the house by a few metres and climbed precariously through loose rocks into the rocky cliff beyond. As we climbed, the main road slipped away, and the allure of the majestic hidden falls beckoned. But suddenly a large warning sign appeared. Seriously, here? Did we enter into a forbidden ecosystem? Was this a military installation and armaments were scattered everywhere? Were there lava flows or rock slides? Nope. It was a sign warning us not to drive on the runway. Yes, runway. But.. but… where? A barren rocky/grassy strip of land with yellow painted rocks lining the perimeter must be it – but seriously, who would land a plane here? So, we avoided the runway – which would have been harder to drive on than our road, and continued, finally reaching a small parking area, not far from the bustling airport.

Now, we hike. The kids loved the idea and instantly jumped out of the car ready to go… not! It was cold (-2 or -3C), there was no iPad to comfort them for their arduous journey of 30 minutes, and well, we wanted to do it – so that alone was enough for a full on mutiny for the first few minutes. But we overcame the opposition and marched on. We found the first waterfall / cascade only a few metres from our prime parking spot. We scampered down the loose lava stone hill to admire the view, only to tell the kids, with much backlash, that this was not the hike, but only the start. So off we went in search of the true hidden gem. Maxine did her best fire truck impression for the first few hundred metres, while Maëlle, to her credit, was great all day with the hiking. We continued along a some-what used road up into a nearby pasture. Our movements observed on all sides by the judgemental sheepees. They stared at us, but ran when we said hi. How rude! Soon we came around the corner and there it was, through the rocks, in the upper portion of the ravine, the gem of the west, the majestic and unrivaled waterfall that was supposed to be named: Lambhagafoss. Of course, that is what I thought it was called, and honestly have no idea if it was called that, as it wasn’t on any map. But there it was. It seemed a bit smaller than I expected, a bit narrower, a bit less water, and maybe not quite so majestic, maybe a bit ordinary – but still a waterfall! I had found us a waterfall in the (somewhat) back country of Iceland, far from the touches of man – except the airport and the farms and the sheep and the fences everywhere and the roads… yes yes… in the wild! So we started towards it. We didn’t get right to it, as the ravine seemed to cut off that possibility – and it seemed so remote (or the kids were complaining… one of the two), so we headed back. Out mission was accomplished, with a slightly diminished return on the waterfall awesomeness, but a waterfall none the less. I guess a few days without dramatic, enormous waterfalls all around you make you seek out what you took for granted only days ago! So, with that done, ice cream was the reward at a near by local dairy farm / creamery, where the girls also got to see bunnies, cows, and other farm like animals.

Tomorrow we are off back to Reykjavik, for a couple of final days in the land of ice before heading off to Paris. We are going to explore a huge lava tube, and hopefully try a few of the local delicacies (Plokkfiskur!), as our food budget definitely was helped by us cooking for the majority of the times. We’ll update more then, and maybe I’ll get to my take on the pools here – other than just being awesome!

Ciao for now.

M – Manager of luggage handling for the M4 travelling corporation



Northern Iceland with kids: the good, the bad and the beautiful

Travelling with small children isn’t without a few challenges as Mike hinted at in his previous posts, especially on road trips where we tend to sleep somewhere new every night or every other night… Kids are particularly hard to settle on the first night in any new place or when sharing a bed or room. Tonight is no exception. It’s hard to be mad at them though. Especially at our youngest daughter since she seems to be the one missing our old home and her own bed the most. Bedtime seems to be when homesickness occasionally shows itself for a minute or two, and when misbehaviour peaks. You’d think that after a two-month road trip across Canada that we’d have this down path, but alas, it will likely be an on-going challenge this year.

We left Neskaupstadur (nicknamed Nescafe for simplicity) and the east coast fjords on September 30 and headed west on the Ring Road through northern Iceland.

We did not do that much research on Iceland in advance of this trip so we’re constantly surprised and pleased by what we see. The northern section from Egilstadir to Akureyri goes through the mountains at higher elevation. Up there, the scenery changes: there are gradually fewer sheep (and vegetation) as you travel up until there are none, more white capped mountains and plateaus. As we travelled through one of the most desolate landscapes we’ve crossed yet, we had to keep a keen eye on the road as it continued to be narrow and was covered in snow and ice in many sections. Astronauts actually came to practice here before they went on the moon. You can definitely understand why. We made it safely through our travels in this section, thanks to good snow tires, 4WD and Mike’s Canadian winter driving skills but some tourists were not so lucky. We saw a few vehicles in the ditch with the occupants still inside or nearby waiting for help. Did we mention we were thinking about renting a campervan before we came here? With the strong winds and cold weather, we are definitely glad we did not.

Our only pit-stop on this drive was to see Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe by volume. Yup, another waterfall. We were not paying close attention to the directions in the travel guide so when we saw a turnoff for Dettifoss, we took it. We did not realize until we got to the fall that the main road to reach it was on the opposite side of the river. The road we took was a gravel road covered in snow on the way there and it seemed never ending at the low speeds we had to travel on it. It looked like the road on the other side was shorter at least. Once we reached the parking area for the fall, there was a cluster of vehicles that seemed uncertain where to park or where to go. A woman was talking to all the drivers in front of us so we thought something was going on. No, she was not the parking attendant. Her car could not make it up the hill so she was telling people they should park there and hike up the really small hill to the main parking area. The hill did not deter us though and we made it up easily past the other cars. Not that it was a bad idea for them not to go up. Unlike us, lots of the cars were small 2WD cars and it was doubtful they even had snow tires. So basically it was just like driving in Vancouver in winter! A big cluster …

With temperatures below freezing, slippery hiking conditions and a seemingly greater than 500 m hike ahead of us, life was uncertain. We fed the kids more snacks, packed a few extras and additional layers and we headed towards the toilets. After a meltdown over pants and the realization that the toilets were closed, we were off to a shaky start… But off we went. The snow and ice seemed to be enough of a novelty/rarity that the girls pushed on and we made it to the fall and back with minimal slipping, whining, wet/cold hands and only one instance of peeing behind a boulder. As Borat would say: “Great success!”. The conditions for taking photos of the fall were not optimal but we still snapped a few shots. There was definitely quite a bit more water coming down this fall than others seen here and the water was quite grey. It was another nice waterfall in its own merit but it was not the prettiest. But remember that this is Iceland. We are waterfall snobs now.

The rest of the ride to Akureyri was uneventful. More beautiful snow capped mountains, nice lights and a spectacular fjord where Akureyri is located. We stayed at a little Airbnb north of town for the next three nights. Super cute apartment with a friendly dog and three bedrooms! Oh luxury! We even got to see the Northern lights from our apartment window and minke whales in the fjord! Akureyri is quite a nice little town. We really enjoyed our stay there and it was nice to stay relatively put for three days and take it a bit easier.

The following day, the weather wasn’t great in the mountains. That was the day we picked to go to the nature baths at Myvatn. To get there, we had to backtrack about an hour and a half. At some point we were in a small blizzard. Once again, we saw people in the ditch and had to drive carefully. The bonus though was that Myvatn was relatively quiet and it looked kinda neat with the snow falling. Myvatn baths are the smaller northern equivalent of the famous and more expensive Blue Lagoons near Reykjavik which we had skipped. It was nice to marinate in the greyish blue warm waters for a while. But as with all things involving kids, relaxation wasn’t exactly in order. The girls were once again the only kids around and couldn’t help being kids! They had a great time playing!

With the weather conditions having improved a bit (snow turned into rain) we thought we’d check out the area around lake Myvatn. There was an old tephra (old volcano crater) that was on the way that we stopped at. Unfortunately the girls had just comfortably settled into the car and were NOT KEEN on the the idea of climbing a hill to get up to the top in the cold and rain!!! So we witnessed a contagious meltdown and tried our best to motivate them to get to the top of the short hill, even piggy backing them up for a good portion of it. As it turns out, this is an incredible workout and I should do this more often, ideally without all the whining. The view at the top was worth it though. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

We are now continuing our journey along the Ring Road and made it further south west. I’ll save the horse adventures along with pool etiquette and things we should claim from Iceland for Mike. I’m sure he’ll make it much funnier than me.

Water that was cold cold cold!

Reykjavik to the Fjords, Pt. 2

As I left off, we had just made it to our first night outside of Reykjavik, in a small Airbnb near Hella. It was cozy, but did the job. The girls loved hanging out with the horses.

The next morning, into the blustery winds we set off. Our little Dacia Duster 4×4 has proven to be a worthy home on the road so far, so we hoped it would manage the predicted hurricane force winds. Luckily, we didn’t have to find out!

Our first stop, although somewhat unplanned, was the LAVA Volcano and Earthquake Exhibition. It was an interactive centre with information on the history of volcanos and eruptions in Iceland. It was interesting and had some very cool interactive sections, but could have been a bit longer – either way, it was an hour and a bit well spent. Maëlle may have even learned something! I know, shocking! She did put up a good fight, but in the end, I think she knows a few things about volcanos! Ha! We got her to learn! Score.

Ok, now that we are armed with the knowledge that Iceland is full of volcanos that want to erupt and disrupt the world, we are prepared for anything to happen while we are here. So now I drive by a volcano and think, will it erupt today? So far… No! Phew!

Back to the trip! After leaving LAVA we headed to … yes, you guessed it, another waterfall! Yep, a huge honking one, Seljalandsfoss. It was right off the road and of course was impressive. I am seriously amazed at the number of huge impressive waterfalls everywhere in this country. Day 2 on the road, and we already have more pictures of huge waterfalls than I thought necessary – but who am I to argue with mother nature and her preference for throwing water over the edge of a cliff!

Fourty more waterfalls and it was time for lunch. Yes, in Iceland there is no need for mileage markers, they could just use waterfalls as distance markers. It is 60 waterfalls between Reykjavik and Hella and another 40 to Vik. Makes it nice and easy – but only if you know what they actually consider a waterfall! Anyway, I’ll stick to kilometres for now – but it might catch on someday!

We stopped in Vik for lunch and had pizza. Very good pizza. Not sure why I was surprised, as it is common in Europe to find pizza, but I was a little surprised, especially after looking at their topping combos, many of which included pineapple: Salami, onion, and pineapple for example. Anyway, the one we chose was good, no pineapple, but good anyway!

After lunch we battled the winds to get back to the Dacia so that we might set off in search of the next well travelled tourist destination! Lucky for us, it was close by – Reynisfjara beach. Here is an amazing black sand beach with geometric basalt columns rising high above on the cliffs, and because of the storm raging around the island that day, the ocean was putting on a show, or as Costanza put it “The sea was angry that day, my friends – like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli”. Waves had to have been 20 feet high, easily, or more, and were seemingly endless! We battled the wind and the rain to get our picture with the pulverized lava rocks and geologically astounding columns, only to watch the sun come out as we were leaving. This will become common on this side of the country!

The next couple of hours were spent driving to Höfn, staring at wonderous colours that would appear with each peek of the sun through the storm clouds. Imposing black clouds would surround us with winds howling and rain pounding, only to be interrupted with a sudden burst of sunshine illuminating the wild landscape as far as we could see. The fall ambience is beginning to showcase the astounding contrasts of the mountains, fields, and coasts, and makes this place a shockingly beautiful country.

So with the light fading fast, and waterfall overload in effect, we put the hammer down and made haste for Höfn. We had a reservation at a guesthouse with a strangely imposed check-in time of 4-8pm; no earlier, no later. No questions. Anyway, we still had about 1 hour to go at 6 pm; no problem, right? Normally, no. But then we remembered that this section before our guesthouse was the location for Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. No, not literally diamonds – otherwise, we would all be reading this from my mega yacht – but ice. So before we even pulled into the lagoon parking lot, we saw the blues and whites emanating from the water. Picturesque does not even begin to give you an idea of the beauty of the area – it was gobsmacking. Pieces of the nearby Jökulsárlón Glacier were breaking off and floating out into the lagoon and stacking up, before some eventually made their way out to the ocean. Pieces the size of houses, down to hand sized pieces littered the near-shore line and provided an insight into the frozen past of Iceland. As was the theme of the weather of the day, it was windy. We managed to get in a good 30 minutes of the final light of the day checking out as much of the ice we could. 500 pictures later, we needed to get on the road.

The southern coast road of Iceland is beautiful, but is exposed everywhere. The wind gusts and there are few spots that offer true protection. Also, the road is only two lanes with minimal to no shoulder, so there is no room for error. Iceland is beautiful, for sure, but unforgiving is another word that I think applies to life here – and this includes us tourists. Learn fast, or suffer the consequences.

Ok, with the last light behind us, and 3o minutes remaining before our efforts to make our check-in time become pointless, we find the town of Höfn. Our accommodations are somewhere in the nearby houses, and with a little help from the google, we make it with lots of time to spare! The guesthouse is more of a glorified hostel, and we get a four bed room that is 1 of 4 bedrooms in the house. People from Australia, South Korea, and Spain all are sharing the house with us that night. The girls make some Korean friends and we eat and settle in for the night. A long day, which we weren’t even sure would happen because of the storm, finally over. Iceland storms are apparently notoriously dangerous and frequent, but we lasted through our first one!


Day 7 – Höfn to Neskaupstadur

A new day, a new start. Light winds, beautiful sunshine, happy and fed small humans all were signs of a good travel day, and only 10 minutes into the journey we meet the Fabio horses, a perfect start for the girls. As I mentioned in the last post, the girls love horses – and any chance to see, pet, ride or otherwise interact with horses is an exciting time. These horses were standing at the edge of the road, just inside the fence line, but close enough to get every passing car to stop. The horses must love the attention, but probably do it for the food. We didn’t have anything good for them, so we let them just get chin scratches. Good enough as one of the horses loved following Maxine around.

With our horse fix somewhat satiated for the moment, we got back in our trusty Duster and headed for our first stop of the day – the Viking Café and Village. A short distance from Höfn is an older movie set that was made to resemble a Viking Village. Supposedly it was never used, but is now open to the public to visit. It is getting pretty run down, as it sits right on the coast, but still was a nice walk to-from, except for the fact we exceeded the 500 m rule – so the kids were hungry! As we dragged a seemingly starving Maxine back to the car with her life in shambles as we couldn’t feed her instantly, the waves crashed continuously against the smooth black sands, backdropped by steep volcanic peaks. An amazing site with a horrible soundtrack of muffled half-cries and complaints. After a short stop at the car to feed the beasts, we were off again to explore the nearby beach.

Now with sand in all sorts of places, we headed up the east coast along the fjords in search of Neskaupstadur. No that isn’t a cup of instant coffee, but a small town on the east coast along one of the many fjords. In each fjord was a glacier creeping down from the mountains on the inside, with a long winding road snaking along the edges. Winds seem to blow endlessly off of the glaciers out to the sea, reaching incredible speeds. I think this ‘calm’ day was worse than the day before! We didn’t end up stopping for much along the way, as the fjords were beautiful, but not conducive to much exploring on this day. I must say that one of the most impressive things about the east, besides the views, are the tunnels that they have bored through the mountains. We went through three tunnels, each longer than the last, with the last one, just before Neskauptstadur being a whopping 7900m long. Pretty cool.

Our night in Neskauptstadur was pretty uneventful; however, our plans this morning to enjoy the local geothermally heated outdoor pool was thwarted by confusion about the opening time. This left some little girls pretty disappointed … but we will find another pool to enjoy, as they seem to be in every town in Iceland.

Next: Neskauptstadur to Akureyri, with a stop at Dettifoss and a drive through the snowy peaks!


Reykjavik to the Fjords

Hello everyone! It is Saturday, September 29; Day 5 for us here in Iceland. It has been a quick first 5 days but each day has been amazing.

Tonight we are in a small town on the east coast, about half way up the coast, on the end of one of the fjords, Neskaupstadur. Don’t ask me, I can’t pronounce it either. I tried to pronounce a few things along the way and ended up sounding more like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets than a tourist in sync with the local culture. I honestly thought people in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries spoke fast, but wow, hearing people speak Icelandic here, it is on another level. It sounds like when you speed up a recording, not with a funny voice, just the speed. Impressive, but also absolutely impossible to pick up anything. I wish I could understand any of it… but alas, no. But, it is true, almost everyone here speaks pretty good English. There are the few inevitable speeling mistakes on the menus and hotel signs, but other than that – their English is delivered with austere precision.

Something I have noticed throughout this breathtakingly beautiful country is the perfectly calm demeanour all Icelanders have at all times. When they are friendly they are stoic. When they are maybe annoyed at my questions, they are stoic. When we have probably insulted them in some horrible way when we tried to pronounce something in their language – nothing. I am sure they have a trigger and I probably don’t want to figure it out!

Anyway, getting back to the start – and sorry if there are a few overlaps with the last post, we started off in Reykjavik with a super early arrival! Yeah! Nothing beats travelling when you have had little sleep, it is super early in the morning in a different time zone, you have two small children, lots of baggage, have to catch a bus to the rental car, it is pouring rain, it is dark, the shuttle to the car is crowded and… then you have to wait for a while to get the car, oh and then you have a 45 minute drive in the dark to the city. Anyway, we survived that – but not my favourite introduction to a new country. It all worked out and the next two days in Reykjavik went just fine. Marianne even escaped for a couple hours of salsa dancing! I know shocking isn’t it!! We will have a bit more about the big town later, as we will revisit the capital at the end of our trip in Iceland. Maybe we will get to see more than just the big church and the waterfront on that trip.

Day 3 – escape to the countryside! After two days in the city (with 1/2 of one day spent looking for random items in strange stores all over Reykjavik) we headed out on the start of our exploration of Iceland. First stop – a random pull out on the side of the road, with a whole bunch of cars. We had no idea what was there, as it wasn’t in our guide books, but 20 cars stopped on the side of the road couldn’t be wrong, right? Well we did the well rehearsed tourist shuffle from the car, to the sight where everyone was standing and staring… only to find it was a field…? We weren’t sure (and still aren’t) what the attraction actually was. There were some old rocks in a pile on the ground behind a barely standing fence and a small stream bubbling away under an impressively designed highway culvert. Maybe they were all engineers on a conference about culverts? Or fence critics? Not sure. Anyway, I think it was one of those critical mass things. The first car pulled over to take a pee, then another stopped because they stopped, and so on until it looked like it was a pumpkin patch on a Sunday in October. Anyway, we bought into the hype and came away with confusion, a few muddy shoes, and some great pics of a rainbow. Onward we trudged, after that needed stop after a brutal 25 minutes of driving… I mean we had to go through round-abouts, look at volcanos, and listen to the girls ask for the iPad at least 3 times.

I won’t go through everything we did on the first few days of travels, but we stopped by the place of their first parlement. It was also right on the mid-Atlantic ridge! So it was a cool crack in the earth, with history! Not downplaying the significance to their heritage, but I am bored with our politics at the best of times, not sure I could spend much time focussing on their ~1000 year old political parties. Anyway, great spot if you are into that, or just into geology! Next stop – after our first narrow road drive – was Geysir! The original geysers – where the name came from for the rest of them! We saw mother earth shoot a few hot and steamy loads of her superheated fluids all over the eagerly awaiting crowds – and then she rested and did it again! The pungent sulfur smell was rampant, but the crowds either didn’t care, or were all friends of hard boiled eggs. Either way, great time – we filmed it too! But really it is a lot of standing around waiting for the money shot and then when it happens, it is over in about 5 seconds. All-in-all it was a lot of waiting for a stinky mess!

So after mother nature gave us her best shot, we headed over to another of her wonders; the Gullfoss waterfalls. No, there are no seagulls falling over cliffs – and yes, I was slightly disappointed as well. Apparently, it refers to the golden (‘gull’) colour of the falls when the sun hits them. Anyway, tough to get sun through clouds and pouring rain – but still amazing. I snuck in a Geocache here as well! my second in Iceland (an earthcache – which means you need to learn stuff about the site to log it). Overall, the falls were impressive – but as we are finding out, if there is more than 500 m of walking, bring snacks – it is somehow the magic number for when kids get hungry. It is also the optimal distance to declare you have to pee, after utterly refusing to go 5 minutes before.

Anyway, we heard that Iceland had some pretty cool waterfalls – and after seeing Gullfoss, so we decided to check some more out. I think I read somewhere that Iceland has 10,000 waterfalls, well I think that person must have stopped counting somewhere around day 3 of driving the country, as I have seen waterfalls so often it has gone from, ‘Wow, look at that waterfall, cool! We need to hike all around it’, to ‘Waterfall, nice’, to ‘Can we just drive up close for a picture?’ to ‘Oh look, … another spectacular thundering waterfall, … yeah, but don’t stop’. Iceland, goddamit, you are ruining the magic of waterfalls! But you make some awesome ones!

The rest of day 3 was driving to our next AirB&B – a small place in a barn on a ranch near Hella. Turned out to be just fine and they had horses! The girls loved petting and seeing all the horses. They are becoming obsessed with horses… oh oh!

Day 4 – Driving along the south coast. Hella to Höfn (which apparently is pronounced like the sound you make when you unexpectedly hiccup while inhaling…  ‘hup’ … yep, just like that sound you just made).

More crazy beautiful, astounding waterfalls. Even saw one that was flowing up. Yep. The winds were crazy strong and blowing the waterfall back from where it came. Like screw you gravity – get out of here with your downward crap. Not today. We did some drive by tourism, like any good tourist does, and we saw a few things that were awesome. We weren’t sure we would even make it to Höfn (yep, you just did that sound again, didn’t you?) because of the wind storm that hit the island. Crazy thing here, they measure their wind speeds in metres per second (m/s); yep they have such crazy wind that regular old km/h isn’t good enough… nope. So we were expecting to drive through winds of up to 40 m/s. Yep, 40 m/s = ~140 km/h; but luckily the winds were fine, a couple of breezy sections, but nothing too bad. Car only started to get pushed completely sideways across the road twice, but nothing serious.

The two coolest things we saw on our trip yesterday were the black sand beach and basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach (and the mega waves because of the storm), and the glacier lagoon, on the way to Höfn. I’ll go into more details about those in the next post. They both deserve more details, along with the Lava museum/exploration centre, the viking village, the Fabio horses, and our drive up along the fjords of the east with the awesome tunnels!

Until then. This was M, part of the M4 consortium.




So it begins: arriving in Iceland

Life is just a series of new beginnings isn’t it? Mike and I have been managing projects at work for years but we have just embarked on our most ambitious project to date: round the world 2.0 with our daughters and four suitcases in tow. After leaving everything behind in Vancouver at the end of July, we have spent nearly two months and traveled over 9,000 km to reach the Atlantic Coast, visiting friends and family along the way. It was a great road trip and we really enjoyed our time with friends and family. But that was only the beginning of our year off, the longer and more ambitious part lays ahead.

We’ve left Halifax airport last night for a red-eye flight to Iceland on a one-way ticket with little planned after two weeks. Will we be able to sleep on the flight? Will we all be too tired and miserable once we get to Reykjavik at 5 am local time? Will the Airbnb really be accessible in the morning as promised? Those were some of the questions we had when we left. Fast forward 24 hours, we are now sitting in a nice apartment, the girls are asleep and everything worked out just fine! The girls did sleep on the plane, and in the car… and we all slept 5 hours once we got here! Children can be so surprising and resilient. I must say though that I am now sold on taking Melatonine for night flying and for getting over jet-lag!

On our way from the airport, as we went from darkness to crepuscular light, the features of the landscape started to materialize. Lava rock was visible everywhere and the ocean breakers started poking out on the horizon. We’ve only seen a little bit of the capital today but it did not disappoint. First observations: there are a lot of white roofs here. I wonder why. Walking around the city, we experienced chilly winds, rain, sun, rainbows and dark clouds all within the blink of an eye it seemed. The big famous church: Hallgrimskirkja: very cool in person. The view from the top was worth the $20 fee ($10 per adult, free for the girls). Reykjavik is quite a bit bigger than I had thought and there are very few taller buildings. Even the stop lights are short (as in not very high). Perhaps because it is so windy here? There are lots of visually interesting and colourful buildings. The girls had a lot of fun jumping from rock to rock along the waterfront and Mike logged his mandatory Iceland Geocache. Yup, TRAVELLINGCANUCK found at least one per province during our Canadian crossing and now we gotta find at least one per country on our travels.

Fun fact: the hot water coming out of the taps smells like rotten eggs! Perhaps that was to be expected given where it comes from around here (i.e., straight from the ground, geothermally heated) but that still surprised me. I thought that was just the water for the heated swimming pools and for heating buildings. Mike just came back from showering and guess what he smells like? You gotta wonder why bother showering…  Interestingly, the cold water from the tap is from a different source and does not smell. It is one of the purest in the world (according to my extensive google research). It comes straight from natural springs with no treatment required!

Tonight, we finally got this page set-up for everyone who wants to follow us and learn more about the countries we visit and our lives abroad. We’ve never really had a website nor blogged so this should be interesting. Please bear with us! We hope to write and post photos here fairly regularly and encourage the girls to contribute some content. Let us know if you have any questions, recommendations and suggestions! We’d love to hear from you and take you along virtually or meet up with you somewhere along the way!