Category Archives: Vacation

Akureyri

All of our previous trips to Iceland, we had based ourselves in Reykjavik and did day trips from there. But this being our 5th (and Ellen’s 6th) trip, we decided to do something a little different. So after the race, where we were joined by Margaret, a friend we met on the Cuba trip, we flew to Akureyri, a city in the north. It is Iceland’s second largest city, with a whopping population of 19,000.

We flew from Reykjavik’s city airport, which is just 5 minutes from downtown, to Akureyri’s little airport. A short cab ride brought us to our Airbnb, which was just a block from the central downtown area.

Our first stop was the botanical garden, up top a hill which afforded a nice view of the fjord. 

The botanical garden was beautiful, we strolled around and marveled at what can grew in a cold and short summer season. 

The other major site in Akureyri is the church, also on the top of the hill. After the church we visited both of the 66 North stores and the rest of the shopping area.

Along the water, Akureyri has a sister statue to the Sun Viking in Reykjavik.

Ellen of course did her research and booked a reservation at the nicest restaurant in town, Rub 23

We are not really sushi people but we enjoyed great seafood. 

For our second day, we booked a day trip to the Lake Myvatn area. We were in a van with a total of 9 sightseers. The first stop was a hill above Akureyri.

Next stop was the Godafoss waterfall. Just spectacular.

We had visited Blue Lagoon when we arrived in Reyvjavik. We got a chance to try out another bath, the Myvatn Nature Baths. Not as fancy but just as relaxing.

Flying back to Reykjavik, we had time to visit the art museum before heading back home. 

We had a wonderful trip, enjoying seeing new areas of Iceland. Pretty sure, we will be back!

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Reykjavik Half Marathon

We came to Iceland because we love Iceland, but we used the Reykjavik Marathon as the excuse. I don’t like running in hot weather, so if you are going to run a race in August, it should be in a place like Iceland. This was my 3rd international race, after Havana and Budapest. It’s fun to see how races are different around the world.

The half and full both started at 8:40am. I got to the start about 20 minutes before race time, which is as early as I like to arrive. We lined up by expected finish time, but there was just a single continuous wave. The start went about the same as anywhere else. Except there was no national anthem, mayor speeches, or hyped music. Just a countdown and we were off. The beginning part of the course left downtown and entered a neighborhood. It seemed everyone was out cheering us on. This group was standing on their stairs, banging pots. I wasn’t thrilled that the sun was out at the beginning, but it did make running by the water awfully pretty.

Harpa, the arts center, is my favorite building in Reykjavik, so it was nice to run past it.It was also nice to run by the Sun Voyager sculpture.

The thing I like the best about international races is they are marked in kilometers, so you get more frequent confirmation that you are making progress. A half is just over 21 kilometers. There were water stations every 4 kilometers. After passing the sculpture, we did a long out and back that eventually brought us back downtown.

Having only trained in hot humid weather over the DC summer, I had been running at just under a 10 min/mile pace, so my goal was to do 2:10 or better. While it was cooler, with a race time temperature of 61°F, I like it even cooler. I kept a steady pace and officially finished at 2:06:13. I was pleased with the time and enjoyed taking pictures and soaking up the scenery rather than pushing for a better time.

Here’s a happy half marathoner!


London

Not normally thought of as a weekend getaway, London is really not that far away. And Ellen loves Chihuly, who has an exhibit at Kew Gardens. And with life events that made a trip good for mental health, we made last-minute plans.

We flew Virgin Atlantic to Heathrow, arriving Saturday morning. With weekend track work on the underground, we took the Heathrow Express into town, a very easy 15 minute trip. We stayed at the Cavendish London, a boutique hotel in Mayfair, a quite posh neighborhood.

We dumped our backpacks (no checked luggage!) and started our 48 hour stay. We walked to the London Eye. The view from the top was impressive, of Big Ben, which is in scaffolding now, and the rest of the city.

After the ride, we visited Winchester Cathedral. The history of England is inside.

My one request for his trip was a chance to get fish & chips. After touring the church, we found the Laughing Halibut, a perfect spot to satisfy my craving.

We had Rick Steves walking tour between the cathedral and Trafalgar Square on our phones, which included 10 Downing Street, where we hear there is a vacancy.

The National Museum is at the top of Trafalgar Square. When Ellen saw there was a DaVinci there, we had to go inside.

Since we were in Europe, Ellen had to visit her good friend Thomas Sabo.

Finally, after a short stop at the hotel, it was dinner time. Ellen picked a seafood restaurant that allowed us to walk through the theatre district. I had pollock crumble at Parsons.

Sunday, we had only one agenda item–Kew Gardens. Ellen loves Chihuly, and we have seen his installations in many places.

We started the day though with a fancy breakfast at the place to see and be seen, the Wolseley. Great service and food.

We took the Underground out to Kew Gardens. There were 12 Chihuly installations on the map, and we set off. Some we had seen before, and some were created for this display.

When we got to the big glass Temperate House, we were expecting one Chihuly. But in addition to the huge piece hanging from the ceiling, the room was full of Chihulys.

My favorite was near the Japanese Landscape.

The biggest surprise was when we got to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. Inside, there was a display of so many pieces, it rivaled our visit to the Chihuly gallery in Seattle.

Here’s the last piece we saw. Seeing this exhibit was no doubt worth the short trip.

On our way back, we decided to do some more typically London things. We went to Harrods, and I bought some tea. We went to Buckingham Palace to visit the queen.

Our second (and final) dinner was at Hide Ground in our neighborhood. It was a fantastic meal with great service. I had lamb that was outstanding, and a dessert that was strawberry with grain, served frozen on a stick.

And on the morning of our departure, took this picture of the view from our hotel room.IMG_9104

We certainly did not have time to do all the things we would have liked to, but that could take a lifetime in a London. For 48 hours, we did quite a lot.


Medellín Day 7: Trip Home & Final Thoughts

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We didn’t have a choice on the return flight home time, but when your flight is at 6am and you need to be at the airport 2 hours early and the airport is 1 hour away, you get up VERY early. But the hotel had a car waiting for us at 3am and we got to the airport in enough time to take advantage of our Priority Pass lounge access.

Global Entry was kind of scary in Miami, in that the first step was taking a picture of us and then it printed our entry receipt. That meant the other steps, scanning the passport, fingerprints, questions about the trip were all skipped in favor of facial recognition. I guess that is our future.

Our last leg to DC went smoothly. Had to wait awhile for our luggage, but we were home to see Tashi by early evening.

Our visit to Medellín was wonderful. We were able to do everything we had planned without so much as a hitch. We used for Metro transportation, we took advantage of cheap and easy Uber and even figured out cabs when we had to.

The people were the best part. We were treated warmly everywhere we went. Very little English was spoken (it’s our fault we have never mastered Spanish), but people displayed patience and worked with us. The 3 guides we had for our tours were each wonderful. They were honest, open and we had real dialogues with them about culture and politics in our two countries.

We felt safe everywhere we went, being careful and aware of what areas were safe for our planned activities. We definitely want to come back and explore more of Colombia.

Thanks for reading along. You know there will always be new adventures!

 


Medellín Day 6: Comuna 13

Another day, another Medellín Travels tour.  This time we wanted to take the Comuna 13 tour to see an area of Medellín once violent and avoided, now a center of culture and arts. Much of the improvement comes thanks comes from the building of public transportation that connected the area to the rest of the city.

The history of Comuna 13 is dark, gangs, paramilitary groups, a brutal invasion by the government.

We started on the cable cars, taking us over the poorest part of the neighborhood.IMG_8804IMG_8789

I insisted on one picture of us together on the trip.IMG_8798

Next, on the far west side of town, we went up into the hills where a series of escalators replaced 350 steps up the mountainside. (Yes, that’s Ellen in front of me).IMG_8834

All along the way, there was just incredible street art. I’m going to publish a bunch of pictures, but I have many more. (clicking on an individual picture will bring up a larger image).

The view from the top was pretty spectacular.IMG_8841

We purchased a piece of art from one of the street artisans, an addition to our travel collection. On the way down, I noticed a soccer field that was brightly painted.IMG_8851

After returning to the neighborhood, we had lunch at the Sante Fe Mall. We then had a startling revelation. On the day after Earth Day here, private cars are banned during the day. That meant no Uber. Which meant we had to communicate our hotel’s name and address with a taxi driver who spoke no English. I showed him the address on my phone, he consulted with another driver, and off we went. An added experience!

Our last dinner was at Carmen, one of the finest restaurants in the city. We are tired but pleased with the trip. Ellen had the pez negro, the fish of the day,. I had the pato (duck), with potatoes and spinach. Ellen had a glass of cava, I had malbec. And we finished with a five chocolates dessert.IMG_8859.


Medellín Day 1: 6 Hours South

After trips to Argentina, Peru and Chile (and a little begging by my childhood friend Maria), we finally planned a trip to Colombia to add to our South American countries. We will be visiting for 6 nights, staying in Medellín the whole time, with two tours and the rest on our own exploring the city.

Getting to Medellín was pretty simple–a 3 hour flight to Miami and a 3 hour flight from Miami to Medellín. American Airlines was fine, and when we heard the travelers assigned to the exit row for the 2nd flight couldn’t stay there, we volunteered for the hardship of more legroom!

Immigration, getting our luggage and Customs at Medellín’s airport was a breeze. The airport had an ATM, so I got Colombian pesos. Only problem was, the car from the hotel that was supposed to meet us didn’t. After looking around and trying to call, we went to the Information desk and a very nice woman called the hotel and determined there was no car. But she negotiated for the hotel to pay for a cab and got us in a car.

So while the Hotel Sites didn’t wow us from the start, it is a lovely hotel in a great location. We dropped our luggage and headed for the Santefé Mall, as we wanted to get SIM cards before Good Friday, since things may be closed. The mall was truly something to see.IMG_8541

We came upon the Movistar store first, so that was our choice. While the employee spoke no English, I communicated that we wanted data only cards, at least 2GB. And maybe 15 minutes and 70,000 pesos later ($22), we had cards with 2.5GB. One of the easier SIM purchase stories.

The mall had a sporting goods store, so I got my desired souvenir, a national soccer jersey.IMG_8553

It had a Starbucks, so we got a Colombia mug. And it had a grocery store in the basement, which had Ellen giddy as she loves little more (maybe Tashi) than foreign grocery stores. IMG_8542

We were going to walk to dinner, but it was pouring so we got an Uber instead (less than $3). Our reservation was at one of the best restaurants, Oci.MDE. We had a great meal, tuna tartare as an appetizer, beef tenderloin for me, short ribs for Ellen as the main course, and then a delicious ice cream sandwich with salted caramel. Not a bad start!IMG_8552


Spring 2018 Vacation Day 3: Outside of the Duomo, Tomorrow to Como

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I had not seen pictures of the Duomo before walking up on it. DSC_0969

It is amazing in its size and intricacy. The only church that it reminds me of is Sagrada Familia. We are taking a tour inside on Tuesday, so today we just walked around it and listened to a Rick Steves walking tour of the area around the church. DSC_0979DSC_0981

You can’t think about Milan without thinking about Leonardo di Vinci. We see the Last Supper on Tuesday.DSC_0993

The shopping in Milan is truly something. Even the shopping arcades are works of art.

We lunched and then went to the Pinacoteca di Brera museum. Appropriate place to visit on Easter Sunday as there were literally hundreds of Jesus and Mary paintings from the Renaissance.

We stopped for coffee/tea and Belgian fries on the way back to a short stay at our apartment. Then we were off to dinner at a fancy restaurant, Terrazza Gallia, just across from the sketchy train station!

The meal was amazing, with lots of amuse bouche along the way. I had venison for dinner, most tender meat perhaps I’ve ever had. IMG_5211

We had a chocolate mousse for dessert. It was topped with real gold. Really!IMG_5212

It was over a two hour meal, and as much about the experience as the food. We were glad to walk home and relive a great dinner.

Tomorrow, Ellen believes the Clooneys will welcome us in Como. We’ll see.