Ready. Set. Go.
After arriving at the Keflavík International Airport around 6am, we took a bus into Reykjavik and ended up at our hotel, Icelandair Hotel Natura , around 7am. We were pleasantly surprised when they checked us into our room.
Wacky and extremely lovable art in the lobby.
Despite being exhausted, we opted to explore the city instead of crashing. While waiting to take a free bus into town, we discovered it ran sometime around noon. So, we bundled up, wrapping our scarfs around our necks and ears and set off toward the heart of it all. The first half of our walk into town confirmed our assumption that the ground would be slick, so we treaded with care. Thankfully, neither of us munched it.
Our first notable experience in Reykjavik was gazing upon the outside of the Hallgrimskirkja church.
Thankfully, the wide open door invited us inside from the cold.
A serene moment – and one interesting church door.
A simplistic, serene, yet extremely thought-provoking décor met us inside the church. Hallmarks of a church existed, but not in a conventional way. We had a bit of good fortune when the organist played to an audience of four… us and one other couple.
Inside the Hallgrimskirkja church.
Another shot of the interior.
On The Streets of Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik is a sleepy town during the winter. Most places opened between noon and 2pm, if at all.
(If you want to see any of the photos larger, just click on them.)
Some cities have detailed murals of their city. Reykjavik has this one. Awesomeness.
In Puffins We Trust.
A little magnificence from the road.
A view of Iceland’s largest church.
Trolls are so cool.
The giraffe art is quite fun.
Calling all Lebowski fans.
Graffiti done right.
Lake Tjörnin and an uncanny statue.
The Government House
Statue of Leifur Eiriksson
A few shops were open, and The Little Christmas Shop @Laugavegi 8, 101 Reykjavik earned some dollars from us. There we learned about the thirteen Yule Lads of Christmas. Our favorite is the Spoon Licker. What attracts us to these 13 Santa-types is (a) the inherent Icelandic folklore, (b) the Yule Lads put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children in window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve, (c) gifts or rotting potatoes might be left depending on the child’s behavior throughout the year, and (d) the ever-so-adorable fact that Yule Lads are trolls.
Meet Spoon Licker. On December 15th, he sneaks into houses and licks the wooden spoon used to scrape pots. (Image from Internet)
Pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland, you see ads for the 66 Degrees North clothing line. Gotta say, their clothing line looks cozy and warm. (Image from Internet)
One of our favorite aspects of Iceland is the Icelandic sweater pattern. Good news: there is no shortage of this print in Reykjavik. If it weren’t for the fact that everything in this pattern involved being made out of wool, my least favorite textile, I would have added a piece to my wardrobe.
I found a t-shirt with the pattern on it, but it was $45 and had no extra personality outside a traditional t-shirt. We came home without it. (Image from Internet)
Architecture in Reykjavik
Buildings in Reykjavik oozed simplistic and colorful palettes of architecture.
(If you’d like to see them enlarged, simply click on them.)
A sexy corner building
What a sight.
The outskirts of Downtown
Lake Tjörnin and its birds.
Houses on Lake Tjörnin
The Parliament Building
A side street near the Parliament Building
Along The Shore of Reykjavik
One side of the shore sports typical industrial landscapes such as shipyards, but the other side delivers the promise of nature with heaps of snow embracing mountaintops.
After enjoying a full day exploring Reykjavik, we grabbed some food from the local grocer and headed to our hotel. (We often make our own meals on the road.) The crunchy onions were to die for…yum.
Our meal for the evening
In the middle of the night, I started to feel funky. By 2am I knew why. Let’s just say that the toilet became my best friend for the next several hours. When I have the displeasure of barfing my guts out, the blood vessels near my eyes burst and after a while it looks pretty scary. Around 5am I cringed because (1) we had an 11:30am domestic fight scheduled from Reykjavik to Akureyri and I didn’t know if I physically was up to flying, (2) the blood vessels in my face were a dark reddish purple as if someone had smeared pomegranate juice around my eyes, and (3) I forgot to pack my foundation…uh oh.
Iceland crazy sick face – this is nearly 36 hours after the fact. I didn’t have enough energy to take a photo earlier, so it’s a slight bit lighter.
Uh oh…I look scary.
While I shivered and moaned in bed, praying for my relationship with the porcelain God to end, John had to go to breakfast alone. Thankfully, my relationship with the porcelain God ended about one hour before we flew. I wasn’t entirely sure I was okay because nausea remained.
John stayed by my side. When it was time to go to the airport, I wore my sunglasses hoping that the clerk at the check-in counter wouldn’t have too many questions. Turns out that Iceland domestic travel is definitely NOT like the USA – they didn’t even ask for photo identification at the check-in counter. Oh, and no security screening took place either, and, thank goodness, no questions were asked about me wearing sunglasses the entire time.
A 45-minutes flight to Akureyri proved to be exhausting, but I made it. Stepping away from the plane, I almost fainted from the sheer beauty of Iceland.
A beautiful late morning.
A shuttle bus took us to our hotel, the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri. I continued to be incredibly weak, but I didn’t want to miss the northern lights tour scheduled at 10pm, so I told John to enjoy the city while I slept. He stayed by my side as I slept the remainder of the day.
At 9:30PM, I rose from the dead. Thirty minutes later, we climbed aboard the northern lights tour bus and set out in search for aurora borealis.
Sadly, no northern lights were seen. John and I had already resolved that if we didn’t see them, we’d try again when in Reykjavik…just call us the Northern Lights hunters. 🙂 But, then the tour guide made an announcement that if we were going be in town the next evening, we could try again for free. Seriously? Saga Travel equals coolest company ever!
Still feeling incredibly weak, yet feeling the need for some food, we walked into town. We bought some pastries for dinner, but enjoyed RUB 23 – a fish/sushi restaurant – for lunch. Serious yum! Akureyri is a town worth exploring, but since I had little energy to take on more activities, we simply walked the entire town.
What? A real snowflake? WOW!
On the Streets of Akureyri
Rub 23 – a delicious stop.
Arctic char – yum. Sushi too.
The view from our dining table at Rub 23.
No need for a refrigerator in the room. Outside our hotel room window, we shoved our Pepsi Max into the snow.
Once again, the northern lights tour bus picked us up at 10pm, and we headed out on our quest to find aurora borealis. This time we had a storm rolling in, which left the visibility of the sky spotty, and the possibility of seeing the lights a meek one. The spotty sky opened up and for a short time showed us aurora borealis. At first, I didn’t see anything…and then the sky began to move – a green swirl shifted in the sky. I gasped with joy.
Having never photographed the northern lights before, I hoped for the best. However, before departing for Iceland, I studied manual mode settings for photographing these lights, and here’s how I captured a few of them: (1) Tripod (not negotiable) – and it was somewhat amusing watching others in the group trying to capture these lights with no tripod and a flash, (2) ISO 800/f2.8 for 30 seconds – turn noises reduction & white balance to auto, and (3) ISO 1600/f1.4 for 30 seconds. I passed the test.
After 15 minutes, maybe 20, in the cold dark night, I couldn’t take the weather. I began to feel faint, so I headed inside with Icelandic hot cocoa in hand. John, in his element, remained outside until the allotted time was up. The tour guide came aboard the bus and chatted it up with other wimps like me. When the guide came closer to my section of the bus, he asked me if I captured the northern lights. I said “Yes.” As he continued walking closer to my seat, he began to share a story of a time long ago when he saw the lights for the first time. Eventually, he grew close enough to see me in the light. When I came into view with my non-repairable purple face patches, he stumbled backward and his train of thought broke. Trying sooooo hard to not make me uncomfortable, he picked up his story stammering as he remembered where he broke off and acted as if I looked normal. He was a good man to not scream and go running the other way.
We headed back to Reykjavik. The plane ride back felt normal, so I knew I was on the mend.
Once back at the city centre, we checked out the Volcano House and found some lunch. The lunch stop turned out to be cooler than the Volcano House. However, the hot dog stand is a local legend.
We found “the hot dog” stand. It is a legend in Reykjavik.
Bill Clinton enjoyed a dog at this little gem. The dog is known for being the best hot dog in town, hell, even in Europe.
Above, John’s about to place our order. You can see the same woman who served Clinton about serve us. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat more than two bites, but John had my back.
Hot dogs gone right. Seriously, it’s a kind of magic.
Time to leave Iceland. With an appetite, a long flight ahead of us, and a bunch of Icelandic Krona in our pocket, we ate a hearty lunch. The packed airport shocked us – seeing that it was Thanksgiving Day. For such a busy airport, our plane turned out to be a bit empty, which meant we were able to stretch our legs. Love when that happens.
1. We seriously, seriously, seriously, considered taking a horseback riding tour in the cold weather. We love to take horses out on our travels and the sheer thought of taking Iceland’s purebred out for a jaunt made us giddy. But after I became ill, it was off the table.
2. Everyone we heard talking, that is, every tourist, talked about their AMAZING Blue Lagoon experience. We considered it, but opted out. Maybe next time we’re in Iceland.
3. Bucket list item #62 – see the northern lights. Check.
Before we became travelers, we only knew Waterford Crystal from our wedding registry. We came upon some in Macy’s and noted that it was some expensive “glass”.
After having visited Ireland, we have to admit, the Ireland bling known as Waterford Crystal is hypnotic and more than just fancy glass.
We were thrilled when we learned we’d be taking a tour of the Waterford Crystal plant/showroom.
Before arriving to the factory, our tour guide, Evelyn, shared that in June 2009 the Waterford factory closed leaving tourists out of luck in seeing the famous Waterford Crystal, and many locals out of a job. But, thankfully, in 2010, a new group took over and brought the factory back with a new improved showroom and tour experience.
Since it was our first experience, ignorance was bliss. We thoroughly enjoyed the factory tour. We can say that without taking the tour, we wouldn’t have really known how much work goes into one piece of crystal or just how cool these crystal pieces are.
Step one: the molding process
Right out of the gate, we were surprised to learn that the molding process began with wood. As you can imagine, wood molds do burn, and, so eventually the mold will be out of commission.
The next 9 pictures are a series of photos taken in order of the journey that a piece of crystal undergoes.
1. The Blowing Department
2. Molding in action
3. Blowing crystal into shape
4. Smoothing out and finessing
5. Quality inspection department smooths out the crystal
We found the Quality Inspection Department to be quite impressive. One of the most impressive aspects about this process is if the crystal piece has any imperfections, it is destroyed and sent to be re-melted.
6. Hand Marking Station
7. Demonstration of hand marking waiting for the cutting department
8. The Cutting Department at work
9. Another cutting artist at work
The artists in the cutting department were quite friendly and more than willing to share their expertise with us. One artist, not photographed, shared his knowledge of his station’s technique with us and gave us a glimpse into his life and the journey he traveled to become such an expert craftsman. He had been with the company for 42 years.
Waterford Crystal Showroom
Until visiting the factory, we never noticed that the logo of the seahorse had a clover in the tail.
The delight of walking the showroom – luxurious, sexy, and creative – just a few words to describe the imagery dancing before our eyes.
One look inside the Waterford showroom
Another display inside the Waterford showroom
A gorgeous setup inside the Waterford showroom
Our purchase: Waterford shot glasses
Fun tidbit: As we brought King Bombo out for a picture, another guest – not part of our group – made a beeline for where we were standing. She was fascinated by King Bombo and thought he was part of the Waterford shot set…unfortunately, we had to break the bad news to her, but she chuckled and carried on.
If ever in Waterford, visit the factory – even if you plan to buy nothing.
In the past four years, we have taken in two Titanic experiences in the United States: (1) Las Vegas’ Titanic Exhibit and (2) Orlando’s Titanic Experience. These two exhibits display a variety of artifacts from the wreckage and each do a nice job of delivering a well-rounded learning experience and provide a glimpse into what it was like during a time and place left behind.
This past March and April, we had the opportunity to take in three more Titanic experiences in Ireland that provided a deeper glimpse into the heart of the ship and its people. Our exceptional, and completely unplanned, timing to the city meant we were in Belfast on the 1-year anniversary of the Titanic Belfast center.
A close-up of the Titanic entrance.
The full-framed Titanic Belfast center.
The back side of the Titanic Belfast center.
Walking into the Titanic Belfast building took our breath away. HUGE! MODERN! EXHILARATING! And, quite clever. The experience took us from the bygone era when Belfast became a bustling city and gave us the opportunity to view the plans for the ship, posters advertising the journey as well as discovering how the ship was built, and giving an understanding of the vastness of the Titanic. After the first hour of our tour, we were so enwrapped in the making of the ship, we, for a moment, forgot this beautiful ship sank. Unlike any other exhibit, it gave us a clear understanding of the hard work put into such a project.
Inside the Titanic Belfast – from the top level.
We made a point to arrive at the time of opening and it paid off because we ended up having the place to ourselves for the first hour, which is always nice when you’re trying to take in an exhibit at your own pace.
An exhibit at the starting point of the tour.
Imagery to help connect to a bygone era.
White Star video discussion.
A room dedicated to posters used to advertise the Titanic and White Star Line.
First class accommodations display inside Titanic Belfast.
A view of Belfast from the Titanic Belfast building. Gorgeous.
The Titanic Belfast statue
After we completed the entire tour, which is seriously impressive, we were surprised at the lack of artifacts. We presumed that since this was the largest Titanic experience, we would leave dizzy with information. We were impressed, but not dizzy. This experience would be absolutely off the charts if it merged the Titanic artifacts experienced in Vegas or Orlando. We still recommend this experience, but would encourage an interested Titanic traveler to seek out one of the US experiences too.
Titanic Belfast is not the only experience to be taken in Belfast; the Titanic’s Dock & Pump House is a must-see as well.
Not knowing exactly what we were getting ourselves into when we visited the Dock and Pump House, we were overwhelmed by this location and learning of time in 1912 when the Titanic rested in this dock as it was groomed for its first, and only, sailing. Descending 44 feet below the surface allowed us to take in just how big the Titanic was.
Looking down into the dock.
Our guide taking us on a journey into early 20th century times.
At the Titanic Dock and Pump House. This photo is from the bottom of the dock where Titanic got her screws (propellers) and was painted. Her hull sat on the metal and wood stands seen down the center.
We were surprised to learn this dock continued to be used up until just a few years ago.
According to our guide, the few cardboard men in the dock were left behind because tourists liked to take photos with them.
The pump house educates visitors on how the water pump worked and while it may be unimpressive to some, we found it quite informational and rewarding. The Titanic’s Dock and Pump House is worth every penny.
Our final Titanic experience took place at the City Hall where we had the rare opportunity to see artifacts up for auction. One of the items on display, and not being auctioned, was the violin belonging to Wallace Hartley. Wallace Hartley was known for playing his violin, along with other band members, to calm passengers on the Titanic as the ship sank. As we walked the auction floor exploring the memorabilia and tales of the Titanic, a history buff chatted with us. “The first person to see the violin was a woman who lives three miles away,” said the man watching over the display who appreciated it being shown to the public and starting in Belfast. He also talked about the local pride that is still tied to the ship. “We built it. It was fine when it left here.”
The violin on display at Belfast’s City Hall.
Just one of many tales from the ship.
Other amazing pieces included a letter Hartley wrote on White Star stationery after the Titanic left port and a letter from his parents that Hartley had on him when his body was pulled from the sea. The Titanic was certainly not a joyful event, but being able to memorialize the lives lost allow them to live on.
“Disgusting. Nasty. You’re not actually going to kiss the stone, are you? Do you know what the locals do the stone at night?” All of these seemed to be on the minds of the travelers on our tour. Quite honestly, we didn’t know if we would kiss the stone.
Blarney Castle map
“So, what’s the big deal concerning said stone?” you might wonder. The Irish folklore states that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you will gain the gift of gab…or eloquence, take your pick. Our tour guide, Evelyn, gave us a bit lengthier story that involved Queen Elizabeth. One thing is certain…we didn’t notice any enhanced eloquence with our words.
Right about now, you might be wondering if we kissed the stone. The answer: YES! We realized if we left Blarney Castle without kissing the stone, we’d regret it. We weren’t willing to take such chances. We had a small wait, but for the amount of people wanting to kiss the stone, we were surprised how quickly the line moved.
As we waited at the top of the castle, we passed the time by reading fun signage.
And, ten minutes later, whallah, we were kissing a stone.
By the way, it is not allowed to take pictures from the good angle…a photographer takes the photo and you can buy it in the gift shop. However, you can take pictures from the bad angle all you like.
John kissing the stone.
Kissing the stone is not as easy as it seems. You have to climb many steps in a stairwell to get to the top, and then once it’s your turn you have to lie down, scoot back, hold onto two metal bars, and stretch your neck back so you can kiss the stones. Okay, it’s not the most difficult of tasks, but if you find it tedious to move around you might opt out.
The castle is fascinating and the property surrounding it is heavenly. We actually visited the castle twice, but only kissed the stone once. Our first time visiting the castle, we took our time exploring just the castle.
Looking toward the castle a little ways outside the entrance.
Standing directly in front of the castle.
Another view of the castle, this time from the side where caves reside.
A moment to enjoy the castle bench – Trenquilla holding Flat Sadie (our niece’s school project).
Once inside the castle, the visitor can explore a variety of rooms. Of course, you have to use your imagination since the rooms are just rock walls, but it still gives an opportunity to appreciate a time come and gone.
Visiting the living room.
A view from one of the windows – the property is gorgeous.
Looking out over the lookout.
Small windows to look through – a nice view.
Some seriously old graffiti inside the castle walls.
From the top of the castle, the Blarney House came into view…not shabby.
It would be easy to spend hours hanging out in the gardens on the property. Not only is it beautiful, it is magical too. On our second visit we spent time wandering the nature side of the castle and it captured our imagination. Great fun!
Strolling along we came upon this gauntlet of twine. Adorable.
Beauty at every turn in the gardens of Blarney Castle.
According to the sign outside of the wishing stairs, if you “walk down and back up these steps with your eyes closed – some suggest walking backwards – and without for one moment thinking of anything other than the wish, then that wish will come true within a year.” Hmmm? What would you wish?
We couldn’t help but think of the fairies and how they must use this furniture during festivities.
TIP: If you visit the castle and have limited time, make sure you take care of kissing the stone first. You will kick yourself in the pants if you don’t get the opportunity because you thought you could just run up the stairs and not wait in a queue.
What will we share next? The Titanic experience.
Peace out, The Franci
Dublin easily keeps a traveler busy. While we explored Dublin, we took in an assortment of traveler’s delights.
“Some experiences we enjoyed while in Dublin included the Kilmainham Gaol, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, An Evening of Food, Folklore, and Fairies @ Brazen Head pub, Temple Bar area, St. Ann’s Church, Phoenix Park, O’Connell Street, Millennium Spire, The Bank Restaurant, Trinity College, The Book of Kells, Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours, and the Hop-On/Hop-Off Dublin Tour.”
AN EVENING OF FOOD, FOLKLORE, AND FAIRIES
This experience was by far one of the best we’ve had while traveling. Knowing that we would learn a bit about Irish history, eat in the oldest pub in Ireland (Brazen Head est. 1198), and hear tales about fairies, we were prepared to enjoy the evening. We weren’t prepared to be inspired. The Brazen Head pub in itself provided an experience, but about half hour after our arrival we became part of the building’s history – one of many who enjoyed storytelling and food.
The oldest pub in Ireland.
What makes this event so wonderful is the intertwining of food, music, and stories – all spread over the evening in their own time. First, the storyteller came into the dining room to introduce himself to the guests and outlined what’s to come. We had the privilege of spending the evening with the ever-so-wonderful storyteller Johnny. After the introduction, we ordered our food and beverage and talked to our table-mates. A little while later, Johnny came into the room and educated us about Irish history and how the country was affected by the Potato Famine in the mid-1800s. Shortly after his charming history segment, we enjoyed an appetizer and continued chatting with our table-mates.
Johnny, our storyteller, mesmerized us with his knowledge of Irish history and folklore.
A cozy room full of charm awaits guests to enjoy its hospitality.
Johnny came back in as appetizers were finished and proceeded to tell us some Irish folklore, and just how deep the folklore roots grow. Immediately after the folklore laughs and entertainment, the main course arrived as well as two musicians. Traditional Irish song burst throughout the room by the men who not only brought musical talent, but their Irish wit. Dessert and Johnny arrived to provide us with the final round of evening. WOW, what an experience. This fine dance of food, folklore, and fairies is a MUST DO if you visit Dublin!
NOTEWORTHY DUBLIN RANDOMNESS
The famous Millennium Spire.
Easily identifiable signs – love the clover.
This type of artwork found in St. Stephen’s Green is also found throughout the city.
Wildlife enjoying Phoenix Park.
A busy shopping street – O’Connell Street
St Ann’s Church – the church where Bram Stoker tied the knot.
St Ann’s Church from the inside.
We do not know the name of this pastry, but it was heaven in the mouth. If you see something that looks like it – buy it – eat it – enjoy! You can thank us later!
In a narrow little path we came upon Little Italy. This mural resides on the patio of a restaurant. The Last Supper, Dublin version.
While walking the city, we came upon this art – we heart it.
If you did not know, Trenquilla has a mild obsession for Tokidoki clothing and accessories, so naturally she needed to snap a photo of the Toki doki noodle bar in Dublin.
A statue of Molly Malone resides on Grafton Street. One of the brilliant quirks about the Irish is their ability to give names to statues. This one they affectionately call “The Tart With A Cart” OR “The Dish with the Fish” OR “The Dolly with the Trolley” OR “The Trollop with the Scallops” OR “The Flirt in the Skirt.”
It is not uncommon to see a leprechaun hanging out next to the tart with a cart.
What’s next? Blarney Castle
For many traveling to Dublin, the one MUST see location is the Guinness Storehouse. However, for us it was the Kilmainham Gaol. (Gaol simply means jail.)
Once upon a time, not too long ago, the jail was where many Irish rebels’ lives ended fighting for independence from British ruling and played a pivitol role in gaining independence from the British monarch. The jail is now a museum with operating walking tours dispensing the history of this facility to the public.
Upon our 10am arrival in Dublin, we headed directly to the jail as our first experience. NO ONE was strolling the streets. In fact, we thought Dublin seemed like a ghost town, but apparently NOT at the Kilmainham Gaol. We quickly learned that several tour slots had already filled up. So, we signed up for the next available slot.
How can this be? Oh, well, we signed up for the next available…1:30 PM.
We are sure some travelers who come to see the jail find themselves out of luck.
So, if you are in Dublin and want to check this place out, arrive early or you too might be out of luck.
After the potato famine in 1845-1847, many Irish were not happy with the British controlling Ireland. From the despair and anger rose a group called the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This rebellious group found themselves in a bad situation when trying to take over major buildings in Dublin on Easter Monday of 1916, also known as the Easter Rising of 1916. Nearly one week later, the British eventually overcame them and the group surrendered. The men were later executed at Kilmainham Gaol. The tour gives insight to their cells and where some of them spent their final moments.
The men who were once thought of as nothing more than devious rebels became heroes in the eyes of the Irish, which turned the tide in attitude of Ireland fighting to be its own republic. In 1921 a Civil War began between the two factions of Ireland (those who were fine with being governed by the British monarch and those who were not). This sparked another revolution and in 1923 the Civil War came to an end and the last prisoner of Kilmainham Gaol was released in 1924, also the end of operation of the prison.
On the day we visited, it was a cold and windy day. The temperature was somewhere in the low-30 Fahrenheit range. Walking through the corridors of the facility not only gave us a sense of what it would have been like to be held captive in Kilmainham, but it also made us realize just how poor the insulation was – it must have been a miserable fate to spend time here.
If you would like to learn more about the jail and its history, you can view the visitor’s guidebook PDF online.
The entrance to the Kilmainham Gaol.
A corridor leading from the West Wing of the prison where many famous Irish rebells were held captive.
A long view into the East Wing of the prison.
Rows of jail cells.
The main stairwell in the East Wing.
A closer look into the cells – solitaire rooms.
Looking across the way from the inside of the cell.
On a much lighter note, this location is often used for filming. Prior to leaving for Ireland, we watched one movie in particular, “In the Name of the Father,” that was filmed in the Kilmainham Gaol. This movie utilizes the interior of the prison to the degree that it is easily recognizable when viewing.
Stay tuned for Trippin’ in Dublin – Food, Folklore, Fairies, and Randomness