Friday, May 21, 2010

Slacking on Blogging

Ok ok... I know.  I am an awful person.   I have really been slacking off on posting about what I have been up to this past month.   I have been writing it down though, so I will post as I can (like the one I just posted on Day 4 in Iceland).

It's just proof that we picked all the right places to go, because I only seem to find time to blog when we're on a train, or a quick bulleted list at night before bed.

All in due time... :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sweden: Day One

Place holder too... sorry.

Copenhagen: Day Two

Place holder... accidentally messed up this blog post.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Copenhagen: Day One

Off to Copenhagen. Thankfully, the FlyBus took my bike in its box with no issues.  Keflavik is a very cute airport.  Like so many things in Iceland, it is efficient and well thought out.

Made it to Copenhagen on time, thanks Icelandair.  Also, all my bags and my bike arrived fairly unscathed. I assembled my bike in the airport while waiting for Mitchel. It went pretty easy.  Definitely no complaints.  I mean, I wish the bike box could have been smaller, but that's ok.  I was a little worried about what to do with the box once Beyonce was assembled, but an airport worker just dragged it off.

Oh yes, for those that don't know, my bike is named Beyonce.

Mitchel arrived on time as well, but his connection in Chicago weas tight and he thought maybe his bag and bike wouldn't make the flight.  He spent probably an hour running around trying to confirm that his bags didn't make the flight.

He was right.

We waited and waited in the airport, but nothing.  So finally we headed out of the airport to the hostel. Copenhagen is the land of bikes.  If Copenhagen is like this, I can't even imagine what Amsterdam is like. Bikes everywhere, they have their own little road between the sidewalk and the street.  Very impressive.  Lots of junky bikes, but nearly everyone bikes.  Certainly, there is nothing like this in any US city I have been to.  About the closest I have seen is Portland, and still they pale in comparison.  The rate of helmet wearing between Copenhagen and Portland is about the same:  ZERO.  I would love to see injury/fatality statistics. 

We checked in - somehow Mitchel is able to navigate a foreign city, with just a tourist map, as if he's a local.  It's impressive.  The hostel was very much a European hostel as anyone would imagine.  But it's ok, just one night. Hopefully.  If Mitchel's bags don't make it, we will have to stay another night.

We had dinner and walked around. Stuff in Copenhagen is expensive, but not too different than Seattle. Had some shawarma, was tasty.  So far, Copenhagen isn't too impressive, just a bunch of old buildings, not a lot of charm.

After dinner, we went back to the hostel and pulled ourselves together.  We went out and checked out a few bars, nothing too impressive.  Especially since they smoke in bars here, a lot.  Gross.  Apparently it's illegal, but they don't care.  It was fun anyway.  We met a couple Danish homos, Peter and Kim.

Was a good night overall, even if we stunk.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Iceland: Day Six

Today I was supposed to go to the Vestmannaeyjar, but I missed my flight.  Sort of on purpose.  Because I didn't return the rental car last night, I have to do it today as early as possible.  I've already resigned myself to the fact that I have to come back to Iceland again and, because this isn't tourist season, I thought maybe I would postpone the islands trip.  The tickets were very cheap, so it wasn't too much of a loss.

I dropped the rental off around 10am.  Dagur, the same guy I rented it from, was there and was a friendly as ever.  There was no extra charge for returning half a day late and totally dirty.  And he drove me downtown!

Since I missed the islands, I decided I would just check and see if there were any other afternoon tours I could do last minute.  I didn't want to spend my last day in Iceland shopping and in an internet cafe.  Thankfully, it turns out there were a few options.  Whale Watching or Horse Riding.

Score!  I had wanted to ride an Icelandic horse, but I read on one of the sites that I was too heavy for them.  The lady at the tourist office assured me I was well underweight.  I booked the tour, and still had an hour to kill downtown so I did more souvenir and postcard shopping :)

Icelandic horses, to most people, look like large ponies.  But apparently they are actually proper horses, just smaller and much much hairier.  They have these beautiful long manes and, during the winter, much longer hair on their bodies.  These are the horses of the Vikings.  Iceland protects their lineage as much as they protect their language.  Icelandic horses are best known for their unique gait called tölt.  This is really want I wanted to experience. Apparently standard horses can be trained to do tölt, but it comes native to almost all Icelandic horses.

I am by no means an experienced rider, but I love horses.  I have ridden several times, but never such a small horse.  I felt like I was going to break it, but I didn't.  They are tough!  And the tölt is cool.  Just search YouTube for "icelandic horse tolt" and you will find it... you don't need the fancy ö. 

After riding the horse for a few hours, I came back to the hostel and began packing to leave Iceland and meet Mitchel in Denmark.  I am definitely not looking forward to leaving Iceland, but I am looking forward to starting the trip with Mitchel.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Iceland: Day Five

Today is the day! I am finally going to drive to Jokulsarlon.  This is probably number one on the list of things I want to see in Iceland.  Real icebergs, in a surreal sort of lagoon-thing caused by a retreating glacier. It's quite a long drive from Reyjkavik; about 5ish hours.

The drive was rough, it was very hard not to get distracted.  I promised myself that I would limit the stopping on the way there - I could always take pictures on the way back.  I did stop a few times for food, but otherwise drove straight through.  That was difficult for someone like me.  Probably about half of the drive is quite bleak - black sand as far as the eye can see or endless fields of moss-covered lava.  It was beautiful, in a weird way.

There is just something different about how Iceland looks.  I think that is part of the allure.  Cover an ordinary lava field in this silken green moss and it becomes something new and alien.  Or take a beach/dune and make it black.  You get the point.

Along the way, I caught a glimpse of an iceberg water and I allowed myself to get distracted.  It turns out that it was an ugly little brother version of Jokulsarlon - didn't quite catch the name... but it was something+sarlon.  It was cool to see - officially my first icebergs.  I messed around there for a little bit, but soon was in the car headed to my destination.

Jokulsarlon is awesome.  Clear blue water with frosty blue and white icebergs of all sizes floating aroudn.  Add the dramatic backdrop; a huge retreating glacier, and you have yourself a natural wonder.  I only stayed for about 30-45 minutes though... such a long drive for such a short amount of spectating.  Still, it lived up to my expectations and then some.  Also, as with most places, I was the only tourist there.  So I didn't have to worry about anyone in my way for photos, etc.  That also meant that I couldn't take a boat tour out into the lagoon... I will have to come back in the Summer I suppose.  I did find a beached glacier and break off some ice and taste it - tasted like snow, very old snow. :)

The drive home had considerably more stops.  Anything that I noted looked interesting on the way got visited.  A lot of them were just 5-10 minute photo stops, but two of the stops are worthy of sharing:

One of the excursions I wanted to do is glacier hiking, but I couldn't work out a good time or price.  Which kind of bummed me.  Glaciers of this magnitude are not found anywhere near Seattle, so I have never seen anything like them.  That makes them mysterious to me - an elusive, but giant, sheet of frozen water that can reduce a mountain to gravel.  Something about it just calls to me.  So I did what any smart, rational person would do.  I hiked onto a glacier.

Alone.  No experience, no equipment, no one knowing where I was, in tennis shoes and a softshell.  Probably one of the more reckless things I have done in my life.  I had a pretty good idea of what could go wrong, so at least I knew to watch for chasms, loose rock, stuff like that.  Obviously, since I am posting this, it went well.  So now I can say it was totally worth it.  I would definitely like another go around but with a guide and equipment.  A glacier is a special sort of natural beauty that I would like to explore more.

The other big stop I wanted to make was Svartifoss.  A waterfall that cascades over a wall of columnar basalt.  Every picture makes it look awesome, and I was driving right by. Mostly.

It turns out that Svartifoss was off the road quite a bit.  A few miles drive off the ring road I came to the base of a trail head.  Svartifoss was a little over a kilometer hike, uphill.  Normally I wouldn't have flinched at that, but the day was well underway and I still had at least 4 hours of driving back.  So I mulled over whether to skip it or not for a few minutes before deciding to go for it.

I am so glad I did!  It was truly beautiful.  Not the most impressive waterfall as far as size, but definitely in an amazing setting.  I spent almost an hour on the hike and photographing.  I don't know if it is possible to take a bad picture though. 

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful after that.  A few more photo stops, but otherwise just a drive back to Reykjavik.  I got home pretty late, and couldn't muster the strength to return the rental car.  Just bed time.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Iceland: Day Four

Woke up and, as predicted, didn't feel like rushing off to Jokulsarlon, it's such a long drive along Iceland's southern coast.  Instead, I decided to buy a map of SW Iceland and drive the Reykjanes peninsula.

OK, I am gonna say it:  a lot of it looks like a blend of different parts of Oregon.  The coast was especially familiar.  Even the non-moss-covered lava fields were remarkakably similar to those in Oregon.  But there is something about exploring such an expansive and even lonely place like Iceland that makes it way cooler.

The first half of the peninsula was pretty tame... not boring, but not much to see.  Once I started up the Southen part it got better, almost unexpectedly.  I knew I was looking for a geothermal field but, on the way, I crossed the continental divide (and was a total nerd about it).  Before in Silfra/Þengvillir I was in the divide too, but here the divide is about 5 meters apart.  I spent about 30 minutes playing on the fun rock formations and jumping off them into the sand before continuing on.

Not too far down the road I noticed a shape I had been looking for; a cone, close to the road.  Just a short hike off the road were two decrepit-looking shield volcanoes.  Neither was more than about 100 meters tall, so I decided to hike up one.  I had this longing to see the caldera of a volcano.  Turned out to be a very uneventful thing, but the hike was nice, and it was still cool to be up on this old volcano.  I think I had read that this particular lava flow was from the 13th century, so it's probably fair to assume the same of the cone.

After that, I followed the steam I'd seen from the road - assuming this would take me to the geothermal field I so desperately wanted to see.  But I couldn't help but be distracted by the vast field of rack drying fish.  This food is beloved by the Icelanders, and isn't too bad.  I spent a few minutes checking it out... pretty gross to see, hopefully the grossness of it comes across in the pictures.

After that additional sidetrack, I resolved to head straight to the geothermal field.  Which I did.  My trusty rental car got me down a rutted and rugged offroad to where I thought I needed to be.  Turns out I was actually on the wrong side of a large cooling pond for the geothermal plant.  It was still cool to see though, because it was the same opalescent eerie blue that you see in the photos for the Blue Lagoon.  Though, this water was extremely cold.  Snapped a few pictures and plotted a course around the pond to the geothermal stuff in the distance.

I made it.  Let me just say - SO EFFING WORTH IT.  Definitely the coolest thing I have seen so far in Iceland.  It was an area around the size of a rugby pitch with various pools of steaming explosive churning water, bubbling mud pots, open vents (some steaming, some whistling, some silent). All kinds of crazy colours.  And the smell... was an intense sulfur smell, like I was in a field of burning fireworks.  I took a bunch of pictures, but I can't imagine any of them doing any justice to the actual experience.  I was in complete awe.  I looked at every thing I could.  Probably got too close to some of them, but I couldn't help it.  I was the only person there... I had free reign!

Once I drug myself away from the geothermal awesomeness, I wanted to take a short drive to check out what Lonely Planet described as some of the most desolate cliffs ever.  I don't know how I feel about that description.  They were certainly severe and flanked by a big lava flow, but I don't know if they were the most desolate thing I've seen. (Edit:  Turns out, the most desolate thing I've seen was the bleak and lifeless field of sand between Vik and Jokulsarlon).

Decided to head up from the peninsula and check out Geysir and Gulfoss.  Really taking advantage of these 18 hour days.  On the way, I saw the signs for the Blue Lagoon.  It was on the list, and I am always up for a swim.  Didn't take much convincing.

Blue Lagoon is an entirely manufactured tourist destination.  But it is very nice, and a lot safer than just jumping in a hot spring. Because I was there alone, I didn't stay as long as I would have with company.  But I probably floated around for an hour and a half.  Took some pictures too.  Then it was off to Geysir.

The drive to Geysir was long, probably 2.5 hours.  On the way, I drove across the valley from Eyjafallajokull, but I couldn't see it because of the cloud cover.  Boo.  There were several other quick photo stops along the way.  Another cone I hiked up into, this time the caldera was filled with water.  And it was much bigger.

The actual Geysir, the namesake for all other geysers, doesn't really erupt anymore.  Apparently many years ago, people used to throw stuff into it to make it erupt, and now it is broken. The geyser that everyone goes to see is actually called Strokkur.  Not as cool of a name, but maybe a little bit funny?  :)

I saw it erupt as I was approaching, so I knew I had like 10-15 minutes to figure out the shot I wanted.  Fat chance.   Apparently today was a particularly active day.. it erupted less than 5 minutes later, and twice in a row.  Then about 10 minutes later it erupted three times in a row.  It worked out very well, because I was afraid I would have to be there for over an hour to get some good shots and also video.  There's nothing really to see except the geyser - especially not after seeing the amazing geothermal field on the peninsula.

About 10km up the road from Geysir is Gulfoss. Easily the most popular waterfall in Iceland.  The name means "gold waterfall" in Icelandic... no idea why.  It's defintiely not gold.  But it is totally amazing.  Definitely the most immense waterfall I have ever seen. Part of what makes it so breathtaking is that it is a double cascade. so the spray of water is coming from all angles.  Being there while parts were still frozen added to the ambiance.  I ran around like a child taking pictures and video.  Not sure if any of them really came out because the water spray was so intense, it kept getting on the lens. I always have the memory though, right?

After I got done goofing off around Gulfoss, I decided to head back to Reykjavik.  It was actually starting to get dark, and I figured I should be driving these roads while I could still see.  I was also getting hungry, and I had promised some Icelandic boys that I would meet them for dinner.

Frosti and his partner James recommended a pretty darn good Italian place downtown, I enjoyed the bread and lasagne, they enjoyed beer.  Apparently I had dawdled too long, and they ate without me.  Oops.  Still, they were great company, and after dinner we went for a walk around Reykjavik's city centre. An unexpected but quite enjoyable city tour.

After dinner and the walk, I headed home.  I was dead-set to drive to Jokulsarlon in the morning, and it was a long long drive.  Sleepy time.

Iceland: Half as big, but way more awesome than Texas.

I had made the observation almost right away that nearly every brunette here had blonde roots.  And I joked with someone at the hostel that it was like "the opposite of Texas."  But the more I traveled around, the more this solidified for other reasons.  Here are a few:
  • Blonde is the predominant natural hair colour
  • 100% literacy rate
  • I haven't met a single person that isn't fluently bilingual, and many also speak a third or fourth
  • Breathtaking scenery, that isn't taken for granted and is protected
  • Iceland has gay marriage, a gay prime minister, and is VERY socially progressive
  • Iceland is a very green nation, they recycle, compost, and have all green energy
  • Functional public transportation
That's just a few off the top of my head.  Though, there are some ways Iceland is similar to Texas too:
  • Icelanders are very VERY proud of their country and their heritage
  • Icelandic is unintelligible without lots of studying, like the Texan drawl 
  • There are a lot of horses and other livestock, but mostly horses
  • They drive like crazy people and don't use their turn signals
  • There are vast expanses between towns
Anyway, just thought I would share.  Random silly ways my brain works. :)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day Four: Iceland

Note:  Pictures coming later, some are posted to my Flickr

Today was the day!  A guided tour snorkelling in Silfra and cave diving in some of Iceland's many lava tubes. Very exciting. 

For those that don't know: Iceland is split into pieces, technically. And still splitting.  The North American plate and the Eurasian plates are drifting apart, and have left a rift valley through around half of Iceland.  And in that rift valley, there are a few really awesome things to see, but the awesomest of them all has to be Silfra. A chasm between 1-58 meters deep filled with crystal clear water. As if that wasn't beautiful enough, it is set in the impressive Þengvillir (theng-vell-eer).

The water is SLIGHTLY above freezing, around 2° celsius. So snorkeling in it for 45-60 minutes means that one must be adequately insulated.  I thought it would be a wet suit, but apparently it's too cold even for that.  Who knew?  So we wore dry suits over a thermal suit (think body-shaped sleeping bag).  Very sexy.

As you might have expected, I didn't bring an underwater camera. So, unfortunately, there aren't any pictures (taken by me) of Silfra, so I have included a picture from interwebs.  As well as some I took from the land. 

The whole experience was great, and new. I have snorkeled many times in a few very different places, but none of them were freezing arctic lava-filtered glacial water.  It tasted great, might I add. 

Caving was also great.  The caves were great too, though very similar to the lava tubes in Washington and Oregon.  One difference was the various shapes the lava made; large drips and drizzly shapes and stuff.  Even one section the ceiling was a field of 6-8cm lava drips. 

One thing for sure that differentiated it from the other lava tubes I have been in was the setting.  It was in a lava field that was covered in sage green moss, at the base of a volcano, and with several others nearby.  It was also exponentially far less visited.  There was virtually no sign that other people had been there.  I liked that.

What I didn't like was the ceiling getting so very low at several points.  I liked it, but I just didn't want to tear my new jacket.  Gay, I know.  But I need it and it was expensive.  I actually liked the challenge though.  maybe if I was in sensible attire.  :)

But who does that?  Remember when Abercrombie and Fitch was expedition wear?  Not that I would wear any of their stuff. 

Where was I?

Ahh yes.  The rest of the the evening was normal.  I had dinner, walked around a bit and came back to the hostel.

Oh, did I mention dinner was WHALE?!  I don't want to dwell on it.  But I will just say, it wasn't bad, like a fishy steak.  Yes, I feel a little guilty about it.  But I think it's because I was programmed to as a child.  Iceland's defence is that they do it in a documented, sustainable way and it is no different than any other controlled hunting.   Fair point. 

Tomorrow is a road trip day.  I had been planning on driving to Jokulsarlon (Glacier Lagoon) but I think I am gonna drive the Reykjanes Peninsula instead. We'll see how I feel in the morning, I guess.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day Three: Iceland part 2

It was a bit of an ordeal to get my bike box and bags back to my hostel, but I checked in with no problems and I currently have my own room, which is awesome.  Oh, and the room has a shower in it!!

After decompressing a little bit, I decided to go out and explore Reykjavik.  Definitely good times.  The city is very cute, and what I sort of always imagined a Scandanavian city to be like.  I can't really explain it.  It was quite and peaceful, but stuff was still going on.  Small houses with fun colours, even on the roof.

My first stop was to book a tour.  I went for the "Black & Blue" tour, which is snorkeling in Silfra and caving in lava tubes.  I definitely can't wait for that.  Both were on my To Do list, so doing them both in one day is awesome.  Next stop, Hallgrímskirkja.

Hallgrímskirkja is a pretty large church situated on top of a hill over Reykjavik.  It is modeled after columnar basalt and is quite striking.  I am a bad tourist though, I didn't spend much time finding out about the history, I was just there for the visuals.  The outside is stunning but, to my surprise, so was the inside.
Hallgrímskirkja from the outside and the inside

Directly across from Hallgrímskirkja is Cafe Loki, where I decided to sample traditional Icelandic dishes (also on the To Do list).  I didn't know much about traditional food, but I knew that I wanted to try hakarl, which is putrefied shark meat.  They put the raw shark in the ground for 2-3 months and let it rot. Hakarl is a result of that process.   Mmmm.  If you look on YouTube, you can see people eating it, and their reactions.

Anyway... so I tried it.  It wasn't really that bad, and was a unique experience.  Very ammonia-y.  The rest of the Icelandic food was great too.  Dried fish with butter,  smoked lamb on flatbread, fishmash and potatoes on rye, smoked trout on rye, and a bowl of skyr (yogurt).  Mmmm
My Icelandic brunch

I had one more errand to run.  Because my tour was scheduled for tomorrow, I needed to go to the rental car agency (phone wasn't working) and switch drop the day off of the car.  After a long bus ride and some confusion with the address I finally made it.  I was so annoyed at one point that I almost just left and was going to eat the cost of the extra day.  Thankfully I didn't.

Apparently car rentals have been slow, so instead of reworking the rental agreement, the guy helping me just gave me the car early.  So I went from having the car for 3 days to 4.5.  Nice. 

With a car, all of a sudden I felt like I needed to do something with it.  So I decided I would drive the "1.5" hours to the Arnarstapi.  I could write a very long blog about the drive, because it was actually 3ish hours.  But I would bore everyone.  Let's just say, it was worth the drive, and the pictures don't do it justice.

Arnarstapi is a place where a lava flow cliff has been eroded by the sea, and birds are nesting in it.  It is similar to places in Oregon, but more volcanic, and a better back drop.

Pictures of Arnarstapi

Proof I was really there :)

While I was taking pictures at Arnarstapi (there are more), the weather got a little worse.  It had been snowing at a higher elevation, but it was dropping lower, so I decided to start the drive home.  Which was a good idea.  I had to go over one hill that was up near the snow cap, and it was snowing pretty hard.  But didn't seem to be sticking to the road which was nice.

It's pronounced: Sn-eye-felts-yo-cool-th  :)

Once I got down off the mountain, it was actually very nice.  I was able to stop and take a few pictures of some areas I saw on the way.  One especially cool place was Bjarnarfoss, a waterfall that comes off the top of a plateau and falls about 200 feet onto an outcrop, currently frozen over, and then trickles down.  The picture below really doesn't do it justice because I couldn't get closer.  But man I loved it.  Oh, and that white smudge is actually the clouds, you can see them clinging to the tops of the mountains almost all the time.  Beautiful Iceland.
Bjarnarfoss  (foss means waterfall, FYI)

What I didn't mention about the drive is that just outside of Reykjavik, you have to drive though this INTENSE tunnel.  It was built, essentally, do go directly underneath a fjord, and apparently saves drivers a 45km drive around the fjord. A little research showed that the tunnel is not even the longest in Iceland, but it sure seemed crazy.  It's 6.9km and goes more than 165m below sea level.  Crazy.  I also think I might have gotten a ticket... I was going a little fast and saw a light flash.  :) 

UPDATE:  I *did* get a speeding ticket!!  It cost me 10 euros.

The scenery just before the tunnel

Enterance to the tunnel... ominous

Otherwise, the trip back was uneventful.  Just beautiful scenery.  I was definitely very tired though, had been a very long commute after all.  Off to bed earlyish to be well rested for Silfra and caving.

Day Three: Iceland part 1

It was exactly 48 hours and 4 minutes (timezone adjusted) that it took me to get from Seattle to Reykjavik. Wow.

I definitely made the best of that time where ever I could, but there was a moment in the Glasgow airport where I wondered if I should just bag Iceland and hop on my bike to Ediburgh. Especially after they announced that my flight was delayed indefinitely.

Finally, around 11pm, they boarded the flight. Then we sat on the tarmac for almost an hour while they tried to round up passengers. It was a little annoying, but I appreciate Icelandair's reasons. And if I was one of those passengers, I would want that too.

The flight to Iceland was about 2 hours... and it was mostly uneventful. I was hoping that I would see the Aurora Borealis, but no luck. There was a moment I thought I did, but then realized it was just the sun coming up (at 1am) far to the north.

I could write an entire blog post about getting my bags, but I will just summarize it: Holy Fucking Shit! Because of the delays, Icelandair had three very full 757s flying to Akureryi, Iceland's 4th largest city.... of ~17k people. The airport was extremely tiny, and had one very small baggage claim area. Getting bags was a nightmare, and a very long ordeal. My bike box is so big, it was just ridiculous. Anyway, I don't want to dwell there. :)

I made it to Reykjavik. It was darkish for half of the 5.5 hour bus ride, but I still got to see some beautiful fjords and countryside.

I have so many adventures planned. I will try and keep up with blogging. Stay tuned for a post on driving up to the Snaefells peninsula and seeing Arnarstapi. :)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day Two: Glasgow part 2

Glasgow was uneventful. I didn't have as much time as I thought because my flight got in later, and then it took me about 1.5 hours to leave the airport, another 30 minutes to get dowtnown. I did walk around though, and even had a pint of Guiness at a pub... a gay one.

The city is unique. A blend of new and old buildings, all stuck to each other. I am not sure how much there is to see besides some museums. Looking at post cards though, the Scottish countryside looks breathtaking. Note for the future.

The pub was cool too. I could see it being a fun place to hang out when it is busier. There was a fella there that I would have sworn wasn't even speaking english, his accent was so thick. It was VERY sexy, what can I say? :)

For now, I am on the bus again on my way back to the airport. Excited to be on my way to Iceland. I don't think it will be daylight when I get to Akureyri, but we'll see. Hopefully, if not, then the Northern Lights will be out. Wishful thinking, I fear.

A few pictures added :)
Random Glasgow Building

As I swore I would - Guinness in the UK

A lot of time spent in the Glasgow airport

Day Two: Glasgow part 1

Arrived in Glasgow. Again, the flight was uneventful [read: I slept the whole way]. Because of all the disruptions, Icelandair provided meal service to all of the passengers. It was... interesting. It was "sausages" with leekmash. I have never been a fan of international sausages, these were ok, but I feel weird about what could possibly be in them. Considering what I am about to e Unfortunately at in Iceland, you wouldn't think it is a big deal.

Unfortunately, I had to collect my baggage (and bike) and carry it through customs and re-check it on the other side. Turns out my bike box was opened (and upside down) so when I pulled it off the conveyor parts went flying. No fun. I could see why the bix box is so big though. My bike is barely disassembled. It looked as though the handlebars and rear wheel are still attached. It's just the front wheel and seat and pedals that were removed.

The Glasgow airport employees are nice and friendly though, and the gate agent happily helped me close the box back up. But now that I have seen what's inside... I am sort of wondering if maybe I could unwrap my bike and ride it around Iceland while I am there. Tempting.
I've had a bit of an issue leaving the Glasgow airport - because I had to take my bags back through customs and re-check them, I am apparently stuick in the airport. I have to wait to have an airport employee escort me out. The plus side (because I am always looking for one) is that I got to hear several Scottish guys have a conversation... wow. Nearly unintelligible. I had heard reference to it before when I was in London and then a few times in the States... but it was way more intense than I had expected.

Speaking of accents. I am also privy to an Icelandic lady helping a British passenger try and pronounce Eyjafjallajokull, but I think he should learn to pronounce glacier correctly first. :)

Posting this from the bus to downtown Glasgow. Buses with wifi are AWESOME.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day One: Seattle to NYC

For a lot of people, finding out you have to spend a whole extra day traveling would be a bad thing. But I am embracing this "inconvenience" and taking advantage of my visit to NYC and Glasgow. Perhaps the only downside is the timing. In order to be coherent and (hopefully) avoid jetlag, I chose to stay up all night Friday so that I would be awake and very tired when I boarded my flight from Seattle to NYC. It worked. I slept almost the whole flight, and arrived in NYC feeling fairly well refreshed.

I feel like my positive attitude about the trip reroute has been rewarded. I knew that checking my bike on Icelandair was going to cost around $64 each way. But when I looked at the cost to check a bike on American Airlines (the Seattle -> NYC leg) it was around $100, plus the extra bag fee if you are checking more than one bag. I was checking three, including my bike. So I figured it would cost $135 or $150 for the bike. In reality, the Icelandair rates were automatically applied by American and, to my surprise, I paid $30 for everything to be checked all the way through to Iceland. I am still in shock. That is how much it costs to check a second bag on most airlines, sometimes even more.

And I was upgraded to an exit row seat to boot. Major props for Icelandair and for the American ticket agent.

The flight to JFK was simple, I slept almost the whole way, which is nice. It turns out that my 4 hour layover was more like a 6 hour layover, so I was able to get dinner with a friend in Queens. Yummy pizza, but too many screaming kids. It was nice to get out of the airport and enjoy a city that I haven't been to for a while.

And now I am back in the airport, waiting to board my flight to Glasgow. Here's to hoping the ash doesn't drift more and mess stuff up!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Updated Trip

Mitchel and I met this week, via video chat (why didn't we think of this before?). We hammered out a final route. Unfortunately, a few places didn't make the cut. Sorry Luxembourg and Vienna. The plus side is, we get longer in Berlin and Paris, and get to see Krakow and the distance between Krakow and Bratislava. I am really excited about that leg of the trip. More on that later. For now, here is the updated trip narrative:

May 1 - Arrive in Copenhagen, sight see
May 2 - Bike: Copenhagen->Store Heddinge
May 3 - Bike: Store Heddinge->Nyby, ferry to Stubbekobing
May 4 - Bike: Stubbekobing->Gedser, ferry to Rostock, train to Berlin
May 5 - Berlin
May 6 - Berlin
May 7 - Berlin
May 8 - Berlin
May 9 - Train to Krakow
May 10 - Krakow
May 11 - Bike: Krakow->Pszczyna
May 12 - Bike: Pszczyna->Olomouc
May 13 - Bike: Olomouc->Blankso
May 14 - Explore caves, Moravian Karst, bike to Brno
May 15 - Train to Bratislava
May 16 - Bratislava
May 17 - Bike: Bratislava->Babolna
May 18 - Bike: Babolna->Visegrad
May 19 - Bike: Visegrad->Budapest
May 20 - Budapest
May 21 - Budapest, night train to Prague
May 22 - Prague, night train to Amsterdam
May 23 - Amsterdam
May 24 - Bike: Amsterdam->Den Haag
May 25 - Bike: Den Haag->Bruges
May 26 - Bruges
May 27 - Bike: Bruges->Brussels
May 28 - Train to Paris
May 29 - Paris
May 30 - Paris
May 31 - Paris & Mitzi's Birthday
June 1 - Paris
June 2 - Fly home

Friday, March 5, 2010

Planning: Reroute!!

We've had to adjust our route a little because the overnight train service from Budapest to Amsterdam doesn't accept bicycles.

Yes, for real. Mitchel knows more about it, I was definitely surprised. I mean... it's a train going to the city with the most bicycles per captia. Hello! Anyway.. so the route now goes as follows:

Copenhagen -> Berlin
train to Budapest
Budapest -> Bratislava
Bratislava -> Vienna (really short)
Vienna -> Prague
train to Amsterdam

The rest is the same from there. Not too major. The plus side: I get to see Budapest sooner, which I am very excited about :)

Bicycle Security

I have been locking my bike up in downtown Seattle for over a year now and never had any major issues. The worst "theft" I've had was my headlight - a cheap Planet Bike clip-on headlight.

That being said, I have been wondering what is the right combination of lock/chain for touring across Europe? It seems like pretty much every site has a different suggestion. An awful lot suggest a simple cable lock, but considering some of the locations we will be staying in, that seems insufficient.

Long story short, I have decided to buy a new Kryptonite U-Lock (I already have one, but it's well loved and sticks sometimes) that is long enough to lock up two bikes if it has to. I am also going to bring my Kryptonite cable so I can lock up my front wheel too. It's going to be some extra weight, but I can't imagine what we would do if a bike got stolen.

I'm not sure what Mitchel is bringing, but I figured more security is a good thing. I've included links to the products I referenced. And no.. I don't get any money if you click. ;)

Kryptonite New York U-Lock

Kryptonite Cable

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Iceland: Lodging Booked, checking bikes.

This doesn't really pertain to the main EuroSchlep bike trip. But I just thought I would share that I just booked my lodging in Reykjavik, and I am very very excited.

I think I mentioned before that I am taking advantage of Icelandair's free Iceland stopover offer on my way to meet Mitzi in Copenhagen. For a week! I was able to find a 4-bed dorm for $140 for the whole time.... pretty kickass deal. They have secure luggage [bike] storage, and bike rental for like $10/day so I can leave my bike boxed up.

Speaking of boxed bikes. There was some confusion about how much it costs to get my bike to and from. I just talked to Icelandair and even they weren't totally sure because Keflavik airport in Iceland may charge me again to re-check my bike to Copenhagen, apparently that is out of their control. Either way, it is still cheaper than most one-way bike fees. Best case scenario: $56 each way. Worst case scenario: $56 to Iceland, $40-56 to Copenhagen, and $56 home from Paris. Not so bad either way.

I will say that I am very pleased with Lonely Planet's Iceland book. It is a little outdated; there is a new one coming out later in 2010, but too late to help me. It's still giving me awesome ideas, I just need to confirm times things are open, etc.

There is so much to see in Iceland, I have started a list and it's already pretty long. And that is just stuff in and around Reykjavik. I'll share more later.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tickets are Purchased!

OK, I realize I haven't blogged here in a while. Mitzi has been busy with his med school stuff and I've been working crazy hours. Good times.

Somehow we both found time this week to buy our tickets to Europe. So it's official now!

Maybe I am stressing a little bit. Or a lot. But it's totally worth it. Not only do I get to spend a month in Europe with one of my favourite people, but I also get to spend a week in Iceland exploring on my own. I definitely can't complain.

Time for planning and saving in to begin in earnest. I can't speak for Mitzi, but I have been slacking in both of these areas.

Let the fun begin!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tentative Schedule

There are still some details that need to be added. But here is a basic narrative of where and when:

May 01 - Arrive Copenhagen, touristing.
May 02 - Copenhagen, touristing.
May 03 - Bike Copenhagen to Store Heddinge.
May 04 - Bike Store Heddinge to Nyby. Ferry to Stubekobing.
May 05 - Bike Stubekobing to Gedser. Ferry from Gedser to Rostock, Germany. Train to Berlin.
May 06 - Berlin, touristing.
May 07 - Berlin, touristing.
May 08 - Berlin, touristing.
May 09 - Berlin, wrap up touristing. Train to Prague.
May 10 - Prague, touristing.
May 11 - Bike Prague to Vienna. Details TBD.
May 12 - Bike Prague to Vienna. Details TBD.
May 13 - Bike Prague to Vienna. Details TBD.
May 14 - Bike Prague to Vienna. Details TBD.
May 15 - Vienna, touristing.
May 16 - Bike Vienna to Bratislava.
May 17 - Bratislava, touristing.
May 18 - Bike Bratislava to Budapest. Details TBD.
May 19 - Bike Bratislava to Budapest. Details TBD.
May 20 - Bike Bratislava to Budapest. Details TBD.
May 21 - Budapest, touristing.
May 22 - Budapest, touristing. Night train to Amsterdam.
May 23 - Arrive Amsterdam. Touristing.
May 24 - Bike Amsterdam to Den Haag.
May 25 - Bike Den Haag to Bruges.
May 26 - Bruges, touristing.
May 27 - Bike Bruges to Brussels - lunch in Ghent.
May 28 - Train to Luxembourg City. Lunch in Luxembourg City. Train to Paris.
May 29 - Paris, touristing.
May 30 - Paris, touristing.
May 31 - Mitchel's Birthday!!! Paris, touristing/celebrating.
Jun 01 - Fly home.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Traveling with a Bike, part 1

In one of my original posts, I kvetched about the logistics of flying a bicycle overseas. I think I've found the solution(thanks to some cycling blogs).

Initially, I'd though that I would have to buy a bike box or bike bag and pack my bike, then repack the bike before flying home from Europe. What I was confused about was what to do with the bag or box (heavy plastic) while we were on the road - we aren't ending where we started, and we couldn't possibly carry them with us either. I had been thinking that we'd have to ship the boxes somewhere or something. You can see how that would be scary, right?

It turns out that "nearly all" cycling shops will pack your bike up into a cardboard box that can be checked for your flight. It's not free, but it sounds like it is a nominal price, and certainly cheaper than a plastic box and shipping fees.

That sounds like the way to go. I am sure I can find a place here in Seattle, but I will need to do a little research for a place in Paris. Maybe I will get to practice my french.

I'll also need to check with Icelandair's site for the box specs, so I don't get charged extra for "oversized." While I am on the topic, Icelandair is actually the cheapest I've found for flying a bike to Europe: $40 each way. And you get free stayovers in Reykjavik.

Planning, round 2

Mitchel is in Seattle this weekend for a variety of things including some trip planning. We've both been pretty busy, so I think we have some making up to do.

I'm fairly certain I have the Amsterdam to Paris route planned with days and distances. So I expect we'll review that. Then I will check out anything he has pulled together. I am still slacking on Prague to Vienna, but I am really just looking for a good map of the Czech Greenways because that route is already pretty well established.

That reminds me, I need to e-mail Audrey. She's done at least part of the Prague to Vienna trip. I think it's fair to say that her trip is the inspiration for all of this. Yay for having adventurous friends!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Comments... oops

I thought I had allowed everyone to comment, even anonymously, but apparently not. I turned this on. But if you post and you don't have a login, please say who you are :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So I was Thinking...

... which isn't always a good thing.

Maybe we don't bike all the way to Paris from Amsterdam? The more I look at the maps and calculate distances, it seems like we will through the Netherlands (many great cities, most of which are close-ish together), but then spend a few days in the North of France where there is very little except countryside.

So I am proposing a slight route change to finish our trip:

    Amsterdam to The Hague
    The Hague to Bruges
    Bruges to Brussels
    Train from Brussels to Luxembourg
    Train from Luxembourg to Paris

We'll see what Mitchel thinks.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Planning (really) Begins

Now that our route is set from a country/big city perspective, we have to begin planning the actual bike route. For now, Mitchel and I have split up the planning by legs of the trip. Mitch is taking Copenhagen to Berlin and Vienna to Budapest. I am taking Prague to Vienna and Amsterdam to Paris.

In this first round of planning, we are pretty much just coming up with the bike route, estimated mileage and number of days. I think we're going to do some research on accommodations as well.

We've started purchasing books and maps to do the planning. There are so many online resources, both for maps and for finding books/maps. A couple I am looking at currently are CycleTourer, a great site with resources on bike touring all over the place (including maps and book info) and OmniMap, an online store with an impressive array of cycling maps.

More on books and maps later, I am sure.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Route!

Mitchel and I did some planning today while I was in SF... our route has been determined. Yay!! I think it's a good route that appeals to both of what Mitchel and I want.

Here's what we came up with:

    Fly into Copenhagen
    Quick bike trip over to Malmo, Sweden and back
    Bike from Copenhagen to Berlin
    Train from Berlin to Prague
    Bike from Prague to Budapest
            via Vienna and Bratislava
    Overnight train (~17hrs!!) from Budapest to Amsterdam
    Bike from Amsterdam to Paris
            via The Hague, Bruges, Brussles (maybe), Lille
    Fly home from Paris

There we go. I believe that's 10 countries! For right now, Mitchel and I split up the route and are doing some preliminary research (days, distances, accommodation, stuff like that). More on that later.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What is the Purpose?

This weekend I am flying off to San Francisco; one of the main reasons being my first trip planning session with Mitchel! It should be very interesting. We haven't had much interaction since conceptualizing the trip, so this is long overdue.

In anticipation of our time together, I have been non-stop brainstorming options, questions, alternatives, etc. Probably the biggest question I've been mulling over is "What is the purpose of the trip?" I think this key to all of our planning. It's rare that you get to spend a month with a great friend abroad; you really want to get all you can out of it.

So what is the purpose? To bike as many miles as possible and see countryside? To bike a fair amount of miles and have more layover time in cities? To bike a respectable amount, but train between cities and see more of Europe? You get the idea.

I am leaning towards the last option, and I bet Mitch will too. I look forward to what we come up with this weekend.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Planning: Safety?

While looking up visa information on the U.S. Department of State website, I looked through their Safety & Security section for each country as well. Naturally I have very little concern about countries like Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, etc. Countries like the Slovak Republic, Hungary, and Croatia did throw up some red flags so, naturally, I researched. Here's what I found:

Slovak Republic: Of the three countries in question, this was the one with the biggest red flag. The State department site simultaneously reinforced and allayed the concern. I don't think bike tourists have much to be concerned about, especially considering that we'll only be in the country for a short distance. I don't think there is really any risk as long as we're smart about storing our stuff and don't offend anyone.

Hungary: Hungary has its stuff together. We have very little to be concerned about. There is a group that targets minorities, including gays, but they are small and mostly just vocal. I might ask Mitch to leave his pink belt at home though :)

Croatia: Despite its history, Croatia actually sounds like a very stable and safe place. There is, however, one concern that will need a wee bit more research. There are areas (Eastern Slavonia, Brodsko-Posavska County, Karlovac County, areas around Zadar and in remote areas of the Plitvice Lakes National Park) where mines are still present in the ground. According to the State Department site, we should be fine as long as we avoid "well marked" areas. But I would like to research this more. I would love to see the Croatian coast by bicycle, but it's not THAT worth it. I'm not going to dive in too deep until Mitchel and I decide on a route, then we'll go from there.

U.S. Department of State - Country Specific Information
Croatian Mine Action Centre

Planning: Visas?

This weekend I was talking with someone about some of the countries I have considering for this trip. When I mentioned Croatia they asked if visiting Croatia required a visa. I didn't know, so I did a little research.

Croatia is not part of the Schengen agreement, which allows American citizens fairly unrestricted visa-less travel through most of Europe. In fact, every other country I've considered for this trip is part of this agreement. One less thing to worry about. :)

Croatia allows American citizens to visit for up to 90 days on tourism or business without needing a visa so, if we go there, we're good. However, it is required that we register our presence with local officials, which may be interesting if biking through the countryside.

U.S. Department of State - Country Specific Information
U.S. Department of State - Schengen Agreement

Thursday, October 22, 2009

EuroSchlep 2010

Planning is officially underway for EuroSchlep 2010. Mostly it consists of me being overly ambitious about a route and daily distance. I guess I just want to see as much of Europe as we can.

Here's what I know so far: A month in Europe, with Mitchel, on bicycle. Probably the entire month of May.

Here's what I don't know: The logistics of carrying a bike overseas, the actual route we are going to take, how the f**k to budget accordingly, how to pack properly for bike touring. And much more.

I am going to document this experience as much as resources allow. Hopefully it's not super boring.