The honeymoon

Well, golly. Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 is starting out kind of rough, what with all the icons dying. Yeesh.

But our trip was Great. I mean, c’mon, it’s Paris! The baguette and wine alone is worth the airfare. ;)

Champs Elysees

First night, Champs Élysées

However, there was a Christmas festival on along the Champs Élysées that meant that we were almost always walking through a party. We tried roasted chestnuts (smelled wonderful, tasted surprisingly mildly sweet and were squishy, not crunchy), had glühwein pretty much every day, and had street crepes, of course. Nutella et banane, let’s not mess about here.

Eros and Psyche

Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour par Antonio CANOVA (1757-1822). Commandé par le colonel John Campbell en 1787. Acquis en 1801 par Joachim Murat.

We went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, lots of paintings of Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Saint Sebastian, still life paintings that were a testament to the craft of these artists… I showed my husband the Delacroix canvases and he was suitably impressed by their castle sized dimensions. We saw sculptures of breath-taking beauty (such as my favourite one, above – Psyche being revived by the kiss of Eros by Antonio Canova).

We got up early one morning (not difficult with the jet lag) and walked down to Notre Dame, which was beautifully quiet. We were asked directions by another tourist, which was very flattering. We also ran to Shakespeare and Company and browsed the wonderful books. We visited the Musée Rodin where I realized that a sculptor’s version of rough notes and preparatory sketches are small rough sculptures in clay. By the end of that day’s wandering, however, we had murdered our feet.

The Gates of Hell by Rodin

The Gates of Hell by Rodin (also known as our shoes)

We went to Sunday mass at Sacre Coeur, which wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Other tourists were quite oblivious to the actual real mass going on while they strolled through, and actually had the temerity to try to (and sometimes succeed) take pictures of the proceedings and generally ignore all the rules and requests of the working church (be quiet, no pictures, no hats). The main reason I wanted to go was to show my husband how lovely the music was – the nuns making up the choir must have to go through auditions before they’re permitted to sing. They were all very talented. Sadly, the pipe organist wasn’t to my taste this time. It sounded like they were attempting to improvise some acid jazz with those hymns. Didn’t quite make it. After lunch in Montmartre of a delectable savoury crepe and more glühwein, we hopped on the metro to Cimitière du Père Lachaise, where we got weirded out by being tourists in an active cemetery.

Oscar Wilde's tombstone

Oscar Wilde’s half protected tombstone – now with 75% less lipstick graffiti, and 100% more jerkfaces standing on someone else’s tomb to liplock the stone.

The meals we had were almost always delicious. There were a couple of cafes that were just alright, but we still had wine, coffee and bread and it was Paris. We found that staff were, with perhaps one exception, really happy to have customers. (The one exception being a fellow in the Cafes de Deux Moulins in Montmartre, who got a talking-to by the shift supervisor to pull up his socks after he almost lost a few customers by not seating them away from the door – he was also flabbergasted when I ordered a second round of café allongées.) Our favourite restaurants were Chez Clément, L’Arc Cafe, L’Étoile 1903 and the little cafe in Montmartre where we got our crepes and glühwein after church on Sunday, I think.

café allongée et croissant

But the first one was so good…

There were some human stories happening while we were there, like the beggars on the metro. One middle-aged gentleman would enter the train car, do his speech (name, age, children, no prospects, relying on the generosity of strangers, sorry for disturbing you) and move on to the next. Another was a dirty, barefoot women carrying a “baby” in a snowsuit like it was breastfeeding (it was a doll), and harshly crying out “Mesdams! Mesdamoiselles! Un pièce, s’il vous plaît!” Until she got distracted scratching and picking things out of her hair – eck eck eck. My husband later recognized her sitting on the street in the Latin Quarter begging, sans baby doll. There was a woman kneeling prostrate holding a ratty take away coffee cup along the Champs Élysées, wrapped in her head scarf, dress and a housecoat. Another – father, mother and daughter sitting with a hand written cardboard sign advertising that they were a Syrian family in need.

There was extra security at museums and the churches. We had to open our jackets, show them our belts, open my purse. At the Louvre, we had to go through a metal detector and run my purse through an x-ray machine. There were squads of soldiers in green camouflage marching through the city, with their tastefully coordinated black berets, black belts, black boots and black automatic rifles. Although I thought it was a faux pas to be in green when clearly the situation called for inner city grey. And four motorcycle police officers were on high alert on the Champs Élysées as four tourist girls straddled their motorcycles, taking pictures.

A woman tried to pickpocket me in the Christmas festival area, apologizing when I spun around to look her right in the eye after she tugged on my purse zipper.

After a moment of realization that the Musée de l’Armée in Paris would have knights’ armour and swords and awesome stuff like that, we went and spent a really cool time there. That was my husband’s suggestion. It was awesome to see these ornately crafted weapons and armour that actually had been used. The artisans who made these things were really talented.

We went to the Eiffel Tower two or three times, attempting to go up to see Paris from a height, but the line ups with the extra security were ridiculously long, so we opted for more glühwein, crepes and cafes and strolling along the Seine.

The Eiffel Tower

So after a week in Paris – walking, experiencing, drinking glühwein, eating baguette… we started our trek home. We took advantage of IcelandAir’s deal to do a free stopover in Iceland on your way somewhere, and we flew out of Paris on December 30th to spend New Year’s Eve in one of our favourite places.

10am

This is 10am on December 31st in Reykjavik, Iceland

We went to K-Bar for dinner on December 30th, and then visited with my Icelandic colleague for drinks afterwards and chatted pretty late into the night. On December 31st, we took the bus out to the Blue Lagoon Spa in the afternoon for a relaxing dip in the geothermal water and a “free drink” (included with the cost of our admission) at the swim up bar. We got our Gull beer and found a water outlet to poach in and enjoyed floating, relaxing… And then being hit in the face by ice pellets the size of ball bearings… It was fun.

Our New Year’s Eve dinner reservations were at Laekjarbrekka and the meal was wonderful. My husband enjoyed his slow cooked lamb, and I enjoyed my Arctic char. Then we walked towards where one of the bonfires was supposed to be lit and listened as the fireworks were going off all over the city. Iceland lifts the regular fireworks ban on New Year’s Eve, and Iceland Search and Rescue sells fireworks to everyday people so that they can celebrate, and Iceland Search and Rescue raises money for their work. Since the sun went down at 3:20pm that day, we rolled back into Reykjavik in the dark at 5:00pm, and seeing the occasional firework going off. We didn’t find the park where the bonfire was supposed to be, but we made our way back to the hotel so that I could warm up before the big show. We headed up to the top of the hill and Hallgrímskirkja around 11pm, and met up with a crowd of varying drunkenness as we all went to experience the spectacle.

The fireworks were, well, exhilarating. We were standing right underneath them. This video was taken by someone else (because I’m apparently terrible at taking iPhone video) but we were standing in front of the church in the video (which considering the couple of videos I’ve found uploaded to Youtube which were taken from behind the church makes me think…). I had orange ashes in the hood of my hoodie, and I was being hit with spent fireworks capsules. This is probably why other places don’t allow this sort of thing. But it was such a rush to be whooping and cheering with other people in the crowd as the people setting off fireworks sent wave after wave of explosives into the air. It was a very democratic celebration, and we stood there for over an hour marvelling that the explosions kept coming. Someone started a countdown – I’m not sure it was accurate, but we all joined in and screamed in the new year, kissing under the sizzling shrieking lights. The party didn’t stop then, people didn’t then say, “Well, alright, New Year’s here, off to bed!” Nope. The fireworks kept on going until well after 2am. However, we were dressed for Paris 10C, not Iceland snow and -4C, so I got cold again and we started walking back to the hotel by about 12:30 and probably got in around 1am. We snuggled down into our hotel bed, to warm up, and we didn’t go to sleep until after 2am.

We flew back on January 1st, which was why we were really good on New Year’s Eve – started this year out without a hangover! Yes! Getting through the Toronto Airport was stressful, but because our flight was late leaving, we did make it back to Ottawa and got to sleep in our own beds.

It was a lovely trip, and we’re definitely going back to Iceland to do our hikes. And we’re likely going back to Paris, if only to get in another few days at the Louvre, drink more great wine, eat more great bread, and maybe go see some of the countryside. There’s an entire country around Paris, I understand. :)

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Iceland, part 2

Another delay in posting – sorry about that!

So, we left off on Route 1 headed north to Akureyri. Now, Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland after Reykjavik (which has about 60% of Iceland’s population in and around the capital). Akureyri has a population of 17,000 people. Plus tourists.

We had dinner on a rooftop patio overlooking Akureyri that night, which was really lovely.

View of part of downtown Akureyri, looking up at the church. It's 10:10pm.

View of part of downtown Akureyri, looking up at the church. It’s 10:10pm.

The next morning, we set out to see Dettifoss. You may know it as the waterfall at the beginning of the movie Prometheus. But we got to see it in real life, and it is a force of nature. It is a large and powerful waterfall – not poetic, but raw. The churning water flowing over the 40 metre drop looks like cement because it’s so full of sand and dirt from the lava rock desert the upstream river flows through.

This waterfall doesn't gracefully drape itself over the cliff face. It pounds 40 metres down.

This waterfall doesn’t gracefully drape itself over the cliff face. It pounds 40 metres down.

We also hiked up to Selfoss, which is the mere 10 metre high waterfall slightly upstream. We tried to hike down to see the other waterfalls along the river, but the “Challenging” hiking trail, which had us scaling rock falls on cliff faces to reach the dry river bed where the river course used to be, switched to “Difficult” with the addition of a climbing rope hooked “permanently” for hikers over two large boulders, disappearing down amongst some additional rock fall, to make it to the new river course below. Presumably, it would have helped one lower themselves the rest of the way to the chasm floor, the equivalent of the cliff face over which a truly impressive waterfall likely once cascaded. Alas, we felt that this might be a sign that we were underprepared for the rest of that particular loop, so we opted to circle back (hiking back up the other bank/cliff of the dry river bed – this time over a black volcanic sand dune) to Dettifoss. The only place that had significant greenery in the area was the spot that received most of the spray from Dettifoss.

We investigated Krafla, which last erupted sometime in the 1970s. We scaled the caldera of Viti (which happened in the 1700s) and took a look around, got a little wobbly-squirmy about how high up we were and how very far we would roll should we stumble and fall, and then headed back to the car. The car itself almost didn’t make it up the flank of the volcano, it was so steep. They have set up a geothermal power station there to take advantage of the heat, and so we had to drive under a little rectangular “doorway” they made in the tubing feeding the main generating station, which crosses the road.

And we finally stopped at Godafoss for a look. It’s a very lovely waterfall. Also very filled with tourists. That night, we tried take out from the Indian Curry Hut around the corner from our BnB studio apartment. It was really good. We had vegetable korma and prawn masala and naan bread.

Godafoss, the falls of the Gods, so named because an Icelandic chieftain tossed his Norse god idols into the falls when he decided that Icelandic should be a Christian country.

Godafoss, the falls of the Gods, so named because an Icelandic chieftain tossed his Norse god idols into the falls when he decided that Iceland should be a Christian country.

We drove north the next day to see how far we could go, and what it looked like up there. The north coast of Iceland is really gorgeous, and smells of ocean and white clovers. We actually made it within about 10 km of the Arctic Circle, within 5 km of the 66th parallel, but our car could have potentially been damaged by the back roads we would have had to drive to close that gap, so we turned at Arctic Henge and headed back to Akureyri.

Just past Husavik, looking back towards the mountains near Akureyri and the fjord we just drove around.

Just past Husavik, looking back towards the mountains near Akureyri and the fjord we just drove around.

Alas, the next day, we had to drive back to Reykjavik to drop off the rental car and prepare to fly home. We kept to the Route 1 we had travelled on the way to Akureyri, and set out early, before anything was really open except a few gas stations. That was something we weren’t used to – useful things not opening until well after 8:00 or 9:00am. We hit some rough weather passing through the western lands, and used the tunnel to drive under Hvalfjordur.

We had another lovely dinner at K-Bar, and spent the next morning wandering around sunny Reykjavik before going back to the hotel to catch our bus to the airport. We tried to find the CCP offices, the creators of Eve Online, but we didn’t wander quite far enough.

Our flight was at 5:00pm, so we re-lived 5-6pm a few times. We flew over central Greenland on the way back, which was quite striking. We flew over Nuuk, which is a town that I’m now familiar with due to my research at work.

The eastern coast of Greenland.

The eastern coast of Greenland.

Close up on a tongue of glacier flowing to the ocean.

Close up on a tongue of glacier flowing to the ocean.

Western coast of Greenland, and more tongues of glaciers meeting the ocean.

Western coast of Greenland, and more tongues of glaciers meeting the ocean.

Iceland was gorgeous, and we want to go back to hike the trail between Skogafoss and Thorsmork, and potentially be better prepared for the Dettifoss hike. Greenland’s landscape was amazing from the air, although I suspect it’s far more difficult to get to those places as a tourist.

And that was our big trip for this year. It was a great adventure!

Iceland, part 1

So, this is the trip that I maintained the blog for this summer. After this, I may work on another project and close out this one.

We made it to Iceland without the trouble I had the first time around (discussed in a different post). The flights were smooth, if noisy because there were more families (and unhappy-to-be-flying babies and toddlers). There was no sleep for me that flight, and only a little for my boyfriend.

We flew over Greenland and it was amazing. Glaciers running like rivers down to the ocean and flakes of ice floating away from the edge down fjords. So gorgeous.

Which basically began the amazing gorgeous scenery that has been the rule of the trip so far.

No sleep was rough. We bounced around Reykjavik all day and went to learn about volcanoes. There was a movie, which was dangerous – a dark, warm, dry place with a story… There were a couple jerk-myself-awake moments. We also stopped by the Phallological Museum. Probably more interesting if you’re a biologist… I was surprised that they didn’t have a single reptile phallus.

We had a quick nap once we were able to check in to our hotel, and then went for dinner at K-Bar, which was really excellent and we agreed that there were certain family members – M and W – who would really appreciate it.

And yes, the sun isn’t going down really – it is light all night.

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That’s 11:00 PM. Really.

We got up the next day, jumped into our hiking-adventuring gear and walked over to the car rental place to pick up our car. And by car, we were supposed to get something like a Yaris.

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This. Is not a Yaris.

They were totally strapped for cars so we got an H3 for one day. They promised a smaller car the next day. So we took it and drove south east to check out Eyjafjallajokull. We found Skogafoss, which was gorgeous. We had run into other Canadians at the waterfalls slightly before and they were here for a weekend waterfall tour. They got to Skogafoss before we did and we met them on the stairs and they recommended we hike further than the top of the first waterfall to see other ones. They were so right and everyone who has the ability to do so should as well.

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Somewhere above Skogafoss.

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As far as we got – gorgeous.

It was a great day, despite being a bit misty/rainy. Oh, and the H3 used half a tank of gas. $115 worth.

The next day, we picked up a diesel KIA and did Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. Also lovely if touristy.

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Thingvellir – the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

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Geysir, which smelled like volcano, also known as sulphur. We saw Strokkur explode – I think we just missed Geysir.

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Gullfoss – huge, powerful, roaring.

We could also see Langjokull glacier from there, but to get close, we’d have to take back roads and our car can’t handle that.

We relaxed after those couple of days and went to Blue Lagoon.

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Yep, those pools really are blue.

Which brings us to the driving-to-Akureyri day. The landscape that you drive through just makes you shake your head and say, “Okay, screw you, Iceland and your regular waterfalls in people’s backyards.” It is so gorgeous.

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Random gorgeous scenery along Highway 1.

More soon – Akureyri, and adventuring in the north of Iceland!

Travel conclusion

Sorry, that last post was a bit of a cliffhanger, wasn’t it? I did make it safely back, and even on the flights I intended. The Icelandic government put through an emergency bill to prevent the pilots from striking on the Friday, and to force a resolution between the parties by mid-June. I’m not sure how long this union action had been going on, but apparently the pilots wanted a 30% pay raise. Which to me seems a bit more like a number to begin negotiations from than one to strike over, but I’m not an expert on Icelandic inflation rates or the history of pilot pay grades, etc.

Because everyone else was also caught up in the strike action, all my planned meetings on Tuesday were cancelled. Which is fine since I was still a bit wobbly from my lack of sleep. I estimated I got about 3 hours of dozing in 32 hours of travelling, and then capped it off with 5 hours of actual sleep in an actual bed. So Tuesday, I did wander around Reykjavik and try to get my head in the right time zone.

Iceland is very picturesque and sadly, because I had to use my other carry on luggage allowance for my work laptop, I wasn’t able to bring my dSLR. However, I did bring my point and shoot, which takes better pictures than my iTouch.

Reykjavik skyline from my hotel balcony.

Reykjavik skyline from my hotel balcony.

Reykjavik graffiti near a construction site.

Reykjavik graffiti near a construction site.

A poster warning about the Icelandic polar bear tourist offerings. Which I had clued into when I was in a tourist shop. The fine print reads, "Polar bears do not live in Iceland. Sometimes they travel from Greenland on an iceberg. When they do, we kill them."

A poster warning about the Icelandic polar bear tourist offerings. Which I had clued into when I was in a tourist shop. The fine print reads, “Polar bears do not live in Iceland. Sometimes they travel from Greenland on an iceberg. When they do, we kill them.”

A cute arrangement on a gate blocking an alleyway - single glove speed dating.

A cute arrangement on a gate blocking an alleyway – single glove speed dating.

We went from Reykjavik to Hvalfjordur to stay at a hotel/conference centre for our two days of meetings. It was about an hour’s bus ride out of Reykjavik, surrounded by hills and wilderness. As the co-chair of my meeting joked with me though, “If you get lost in an Icelandic forest… Stand up.” There weren’t many trees, mostly low scrub bush on the hills. Near the fjord, it was grassy because there was a church and stuff.

Looking towards the top (?) (inland) of the Hvalfjordur (whale fjord).

Looking towards the top (?) (inland) of the Hvalfjordur (whale fjord).

Looking back towards the ocean, down the fjord.

Looking back towards the ocean, down the fjord.

Looking straight across the fjord at the mountains.

Looking straight across the fjord at the mountains.

The flight back was fine, except I was sitting a row behind the emergency exit on the wing and my feet absolutely froze. After a quick but busy stopover in Toronto, we made it home by just before midnight. This time, I was travelling with my colleagues.

All in all, it did whet my appetite, so the next travel adventure will be to go back to Iceland with my boyfriend in July. I’ve already booked everything, so we should be set. We just need to figure out if there’s anything else we need to arrange beforehand like whale watching tours or something. And I’m going to bring my real camera this time. :)

 

Travelling once again

I was supposed to have landed in Reykjavik, Iceland yesterday morning. Except that my flight got cancelled due to strikes by the Icelandair pilots just as my late flight reached Toronto. So instead, I had a patchwork of flights that took me far off course (as the Irish customs agent smirked this morning that I’d overshot my destination a bit). I got in at 1am last night.

I went on the red eye from Toronto to Dublin. Yes, I accidentally went back to my beloved Ireland. Sunny, beautiful Dublin. No, really.

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As we were leaving Dublin airport. I didn’t have the window seat when we were flying in.

I had a vegetarian Irish breakfast, to make up for the fact that I really haven’t felt like eating much during my travels. Even then, I barely ate half of it, though I finished my eggs and almost finished my beans and mushrooms.

Then I found a wonderful and different seating area with padded cubbies in the wall. I think it was mostly for kids but I joined the other two adults in using them too.

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These should be everywhere.

It was such a divine break to recline back in not-a-chair. But it was dangerous because I instantly wanted to close my eyes and snooze in my little nest. So I stayed there for a bit, letting my legs stretch up and drain the blood a bit. Then I sadly got up and walked around.

Despite being hustled through customs because of my connection, my flight was later in the afternoon than my travel rearranger had said. So I had ample time to enjoy being on Irish soil. Then, I got on a British Airways (not Aer Lingus as the guy had said…) hop over the Irish Sea and landed in sunny London. Really!

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Coming in for our landing, London, England.

I had Atlantic fish pie and buttered peas for dinner, after taking advantage of having my luggage to change the shirt I had been wearing since Sunday. And there was a rainbow out the window across from my table, which was quite lovely.

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Rainbow over the tarmac.

My flight to Iceland was slightly delayed due to traffic, but we eventually got underway. We chased the sunset, and caught up. Midnight in Iceland looks like dawn.

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As we were landing at Keflavik Airport.

So now I’m in sunny Iceland and I will wander around in the sun for a bit to try to continue overcoming my jet lag. There’s rumour that the pilots will be striking again Friday night, which sucks because I would really like to have a straightforward trip home. Here’s hoping.

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View from the balcony outside my room, in Reykjavik.