Tag: travel

Lessons Learned: Iceland

Iceland is the type of place that reminds you of certain truths about life.  Constant change, stark beauty despite (or because of) crippling natural phenomena, unpredictability–it’s all here.  It’s the type of place that could probably teach you patience and contentment if you’d let it.

Be ready, but don’t worry

We were lucky enough to be led by the same fabulous tour guide, Sif, for two days.  She told us Icelanders are pretty optimistic people who tend not to worry about the probability of sooner-rather-than-later life-altering seismic and volcanic activity.  In telling us about the stunningly beautiful coastal village of Vìk, Sif said nearby Katla was the volcano that most worried seismologists.  The volcano has a history of exploding twice a century; however, the last eruption was in 1918.  The town has beautiful black sand beaches with millions of pebbles and stones smoothed by the crazed, dangerous surf.  But that surf is causing the beach to suffer terrible erosion.  Even though Katla will cause substantial damage when it erupts, its eruption would bring much-needed silt to fill in the beach.  The town practices evacuation drills twice a year.  In a way, the biggest worry is flooding; a glacier sits on top of the volcano, and the torrential meltwater flooding would require the town to find higher ground.

Maybe Icelanders are so optimistic because they know that good can come from destruction.  Sif told us that for three years after the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the farmers didn’t have to fertilize because the soil was so mineral-rich.  The crops grew so fast, they couldn’t all be harvested.  Nature continued to give even after it had taken away.

Sif also mentioned that even though the news coverage of the volcano didn’t talk about how the locals were affected, because Iceland dominated the news, people became curious to visit.  Tourism has increased tenfold in recent years, bringing much-needed money to a country whose currency was basically worthless ten years ago.  A few years ago, only about 300,000 people would visit; this year, they expect 3.3 million tourists, ten times more people than live in the country.  (It’s worth noting that English is very widely spoken; Julia, a wonderful woman who worked at the front desk at our hotel, had come from Ukraine to Iceland to learn English and managed to pick up Icelandic as well.)  There were cranes and construction all over downtown Reykjavik, especially near the gorgeous Harpa concert hall on the waterfront, where a Marriott is being built next door (Sif was concerned that it would take away from the hall’s beauty).  A cab driver complained that there were too few hotel rooms, creating a huge market for AirBNB.  Both he and Sif noted that finding a place to live in the city was difficult and pricey in a country already known for being one of the world’s most expensive places.

Be patient and go with the flow

Icelandic has 1800 words just to describe the country’s volatile weather.  Sif told us that the weather forecasts are unreliable more than an hour in advance.  As our tour van traveled along on Friday, we saw heavy rain turn to heavy snow, which gave way to sun–all in the span of maybe an hour.  Later that day at Þingvellir National Park, where you can see the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and explore the meeting place of the world’s longest-running Parliament dating back to 930 AD, we saw it snow while the sun was out.  On Saturday, we were caught in an unexpected snowstorm as we visited the famous waterfall Skogafoss.  By the time we traveled to Vìk, the sun was out, and we managed to dodge another bullet as a large, ominous cloud ahead dissipated.  With the snow on the black beach, there could not have been a better time to appreciate the scenery.

The weather and ever-present threat of danger and change to the landscape contribute to the character of Iceland and the resilience of its people.  It’s a fascinating, beautiful country that I plan to explore more of someday.

Old Themes/New York

Two weekends back, I was in NYC for yet another concert, this time to see the fantastic Mayer Hawthorne, the fabulous Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and legends Hall & Oates at Madison Square Garden. Such a fun show.  I had reserved a room at the Holiday Inn a couple blocks from the venue and a few minutes’ walk from the Vamoose bus stop.  Times Square is only about a 20 minute walk.  I’d stayed at the hotel before so I knew it was decent, and it just made sense to stay there in light of how convenient it was.  (Also, free breakfast!)

My Vamoose bus got in around 1:30 and I went to the hotel to drop my stuff before getting a late lunch/early dinner at Haymaker, a great restaurant just next door to the hotel.  The burger was great and the beer menu was excellent.  Cool space, great atmosphere. Didn’t expect to find a place like that in that part of town, but glad I did and that it was so convenient.  I think it had only been open a few months.  Definitely worth checking out if you’re in that part of NYC.  Before the concert, I walked to Ayza for hot chocolate and dessert.  The hot chocolate was delicious, but I thought the dessert was a bit overpriced for what it was.  Also, I practically had to stare down the staff to help me even though I was sitting at the bar.

Saturday morning I was up early.  I had actually booked a room for that night at the 70 Park Avenue, so I schlepped my way over there, dropped off my bag, and headed out again. I had made plans to see a matinee of Aladdin on Broadway and had a few hours to kill.  You may remember that I saw the Star Wars:  The Power of Costume exhibit in Seattle last May; well, I saw it again in NYC at Discovery Times Square.  I was excited to find that there were even more costumes this time, and not just additions from The Force Awakens.  There were some parts of the exhibit where the staging was fantastic (a mirrored room creating the illusion of a clone army, the background from Padme and Anakin’s wedding), but the lighting wasn’t always great and I’m pretty sure there were signs that did not sync up with the costumes on display.  But overall, I was still glad I went.

I still had time to kill after wandering through the exhibit (since I’d seen most of the costumes already, there were only a few where I lingered) and figured I should get lunch before the show.  I wanted a relatively authentic New York experience, but where are you going to find something like that in Times Square?  I walked a block over (the theatre wasn’t far from Discovery, so I didn’t see a point in going too far away) and found yet more chains and places with mediocre reviews.  But I stopped short when I saw reviews for a nearby pizza place called 2 Bros with fantastic reviews and cheap pizza.  A giant slice of tasty pizza and a bottle of water for $3.50?  Practically unheard of.

The theatre opened at 1, so I took my seat, glad to have a chance to sit after walking all morning.  Aladdin was great, with new songs and a few changes from the movie, although as expected, Genie is just as much of a show-stopper here.  The pop culture references have been updated to reflect current memes (Genie says “Ain’t nobody got time for that” and does the Whip and Nae Nae).  The show was lots of fun, but I still like the movie better, and not just because no one could ever beat Robin Williams.

On this trip, I had also pledged that I would attempt to find the memorial near the late David Bowie’s apartment in SoHo.  I’m not sure how close I was to where he had lived (the memorial was probably long gone anyway), but I found the studio called The Magic Shop where his final two albums The Next Day and  were recorded; it apparently wasn’t far from his apartment, so I can’t have been too far off.  I was sad to read that the studio will be closing this month; it made me wish I had been bold enough to buzz the door to see if someone would give me a tour.

I sauntered around SoHo a little more until I ended up across the street from the famous Apple store (another place I’d been before).  I was thinking about dinner and I figured SoHo would have far more options than the area around my hotel.  Just after recognizing the Apple store, I saw there was a food truck with empanadas outside.  (This was my train of thought:  “Oh there’s that Apple store I went to that one time OH S*&^ THERE ARE EMPANADAS.”)  I found yet another place to get dessert and hot chocolate, Jacques Torres, before getting back on the subway back toward the hotel.

The 70 Park Ave is a Kimpton property, and if you are a member of their Kimpton Karma rewards program, you get a credit to use at the bar or to raid the minibar.  This one was $15; I think outside of NYC, it’s $10.  Either way, free stuff just for being part of the program!  Who says no to that?  I treated myself to a drink and a snack at the bar (the credit only covered the drink).  The room itself was fabulous; I wish I had taken a picture. Even though the hotel was off the beaten path for me, a bit more expensive than the Holiday Inn room, and there wasn’t much of interest around it, I would consider staying there again just because I liked it so much.

It was yet another good, full-to-the-brim trip to New York (but still no Umami Burger). My overall impression of the city hasn’t improved:  It’s dirty; it’s full of tourists and ways to leach money from you; I tired of hearing car horns within a few hours of arriving.  But it still unfailingly provides you with new adventures even when retreading old ground.

Focus Point

For the time being, I am still unemployed.  Many of the jobs I have looked at are social media jobs, and while I’ve been active in social media for years now, there is still so much that I don’t know.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that the University of Richmond offered an online Social Media Certification course.  It started yesterday and I’m making my way through the first of nine sections.  It’s a lot of information.  Naturally, there are other courses about social media and travel blogging, and I’m tempted to take those as well–but one thing at a time!  I still need to carve out time to, you know, look for gainful employment (and use that gym membership I signed up for last week).

Now that I’m taking this class and have figured out that social media would be a good fit for me, I feel as though I’ve opened an enormous can of worms.  I’m seeing articles about social media everywhere!  A fellow travel blogger, Young Adventuress, just posted about how she has managed to make travel blogging her full-time job and her rules for being great at it.  Apparently, there’s even an association for professional travel bloggers (sadly, I don’t have near enough traffic to qualify for membership…yet).

Maybe this class will spark me to do more writing here as I explore social media analytics and whatnot.  Maybe I’ll refine my blog network (which, if you’ve forgotten, includes Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Flickr, as well as my former blog at Blogger, A 3×5 Life).  We’ll see.  In the meantime, if you know anyone who needs writing or editing work done, send them my way, would you?

Ciao for now!

Things I Wish I’d Thought About More Thoroughly

  • My camera:  I’ve had it for 4.5 years.  It’s lived a good life and has served me well.  I use it maybe once a year now, when I go on trips.  I probably haven’t used it since I went to Colorado in October of last year.  And you know what?  It still has a full charge.  But it seems that I left my camera’s cord at home, so once it runs out of juice, I have no way of recharging it. I made this same mistake while on vacation in Utah two years ago, leaving me with only my phone, which leads me to my next point…
  • iPhone insurance:  I haven’t done much research on this since my cell service was suspended the other week, but I’m not sure my travel insurance would cover my iPhone if (gasp!) something should happen to it.  If something did go awry, whatever insurance Verizon offers wouldn’t do me much good since A) my service is suspended and B) I’m on another continent.  And if you read the AppleCare fine print, once you take your covered Apple products out of the country, AppleCare may cease to be useful to you.  So even if I had bought AppleCare for my iPhone, it probably wouldn’t do me any good here.  So I need to insure my iPhone because I use it all. the. time.  Google Maps and iMessage have become indispensable.  I actually use Instagram sometimes for this blog and post pictures and statuses directly to Facebook from my phone.  If something happens to my phone, buying an unlocked one from the Apple store is going to cost me at least several hundred dollars.  Plus I’d have to get a new SIM card.
  • A duffel bag:  Mom and I even had this conversation in the days before I left.  I said that I didn’t need a duffel bag because my backpack would suffice.  But it doesn’t.  It’s hard to stuff clothes into a backpack that’s made for smaller, slimmer things like schoolbooks and electronics.  So today I bought a duffel bag from Lululemon (just saying that makes me cringe a little) because it was walking distance from my current apartment and I didn’t have time to find a cheaper bag somewhere else.  (If you’re curious, I ended up buying a variant of this gem, which I’ll probably review later.  Mine is different in color, maybe owing to the fact that Australian stores carry different color things.  I was fine with the fact that the lining in mine wasn’t paisley.  Bleh.)
  • Jackets:  I only brought one sweater (and I do love this sweater; dark gray goes with everything, right?) and my lovely purple North Face jacket.  I brought no other jackets to vary outfits depending on the weather or whatever look I might want to go for.  Fashion never has been my thing really, but I’d like to be able to at least try a little, and I’ve deprived myself of that chance.

I think that’s all the kvetching for now.  I can’t complain but so much, because tomorrow I’m leaving for the Whitsunday Islands, home to white sand beaches and crystal-clear water.  Looking forward to my trip, as I’ve never been.  While there, my internet may be limited, so I’ll give a full report once I’m back in Sydney.  Until then…