On my recent trip to Boston I needed to make an extra leg through Munich. Initially nothing to be happy about, but it turned out that the flight took an unusual route way north of the general course. It took us above Iceland and Greenland, a course generally only followed by flights to the US west coast.
Pretty exciting for everyone having a window seat on the righthand (northern) side of the plane including me. Instead of a several hour lasting sunset we were accompanied by the spectacular aurora borealis for about four hours. Inflight entertainment deluxe.
The photo quality isn’t quite what I wanted it to be. I needed to shoot with high ISO since I had only one hand available; with the other one I held a blanket to diminish the cabin light and thus the reflections in the airplane window.
Iceland in winter! Ridiculous, right? Not at all! Iceland is very charming in winter and offers a unique scenery. And a very long night just in case you want to be a northern lights spectator! The low sun also sets the perfect canvas for every photographer: golden hour all day long!
Since we’ve only been for few days and due to the road conditions in combination with our car we stayed in the Reykjavík area. You can easily spend a day at the Blue Lagoon, especially if you care for some relaxation time. With a much tighter schedule you could still do Þingvellir (including Almannagjá), Geysir and Gullfoss (a.k.a. the golden circle) even on a short winter’s day. One easy day in Reykjavík and another one driving around Hvalfjörður completed our brief Iceland endeavor:
The Blue Lagoon is a popular destination for arriving or departing guests because of its proximity to the airport. Undoubtedly a mandatory item on your itinerary but be prepared for an exorbitant charge. Whereas the water itself, heated up by a lava stream and rich in minerals is a natural wonder, the Blue Lagoon is not–it’s manmade.
Reykjavík is a lovely little northern city with tons of bars and cafés that serve excellent freshly brewed coffee. The major landmarks are Akrafjall and Esja, two mountains north of the city that paint a wonderful panorama, especially when covered with snow. Other must-sees are the Lutheran church Hallgrimskirkja and the little bit over four year old concert hall Harpa, home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately the church was closed though otherwise announced.
Watching northern lights can be as convenient as looking out of the window or walking in front of your hotel. We were lucky two times and got an easy view! It pretty much comes down to sun activity and whether or not the sky is overcast but of course there is a more scientific approach to that as well. The good thing is you easily find out both: I’m sure you have a trusted weather site or app and concerning sun activity I point you towards aurora-service.eu. We sighted impressive northern lights every single clear night! Besides the easy view we also went for the classy experience and got out in the dark for the spectacular! Dress really warm and bring a blanket.
We only saw relatively little of the island but I still would say that the golden circle represents Iceland in a nutshell. Within a day you will easily be able to enjoy three highlights: Þingvellir national park is a place of historical, cultural and geological relevance; due to the shortness of daylight hours we focused solely on the geological aspect and walked through Almannagjá, the rift valley where Europe and North America part with a celerity of 2.5 centimeters per year.
Secondly, we went to see a few eruptions of Strokkur, a smaller geyser which is located right next to its eponym Geysir. Whereas Geysir is active only every now and then, Strokkur erupts approximately every ten minutes. Iceland is also known for its waterfalls so lastly we drove to the nearby Gullfoss. We only stayed for a few minutes because of the biting cold.
On our last day we were looking for an unhurried short trip and just decided to drive around Hvalfjörður, a fjord right north of Reykjavík. In Akranes, which we reached on scenic route 47, we wanted to hang out at a café for a while but even on the second day of Christmas everything was closed but a gas station. Going back to our hotel was a quick drive below the sea through Hvalfjörður tunnel.
If you plan a once in your lifetime trip, early October and late March are probably the best choices because you have an ample amount of dark hours for observing the aurora borealis and enough daylight to enjoy the land. Also the weather is supposed to be quite stable and it’s not that crowded. Plus driving is a lot easier on ice-free roads. Anyway, experiencing long nights and days is an experience on its own. So if you have the chance, go twice!
Newburyport is a New England style, small coastal town which I think is perfectly suited for a semi-lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s located on the North Shore just about an hour out of Boston. So we picked it for a romantic half-day getaway. Once there, starving, we were lucky to find the local pub Grog Restaurant and rewarded us with a tasty late lunch. Great menu, large selection of beers on tab, delicious food and friendly service; the only downside was we were in line for a table about an hour.
All beefed up we headed out (just a few minutes drive) to the northern end of Plum Island to walk off the meal. First time walking on a beach with a hat and gloves. Still freezing! The setting sun is just not powerful enough to cope with the chilly ocean breeze.
Once back in town we enjoyed window shopping at Water Street and The Tannery Marketplace where one could buy plenty of home made souvenirs at dozens tiny local shops. It got pretty late and unfortunately the Starbucks on Market Square already closed down; would have been a perfect end to that day. Warming up with a hot beverage and hanging out there with a book for an hour or two…
Ride home was pretty easy–U.S. Route 1 runs directly through Newburyport! Tobin Bridge gave us a nice little treat shortly before we arrived home.
We just spent a great weekend in New York City. Well, everything was great except how it ended. We needed to rush out much earlier than planned since it was announced that all public transit will shut down late afternoon Sunday due to Hurricane Sandy.
Anyway, here’s a few exciting (and interesting) things you should put on your list when visiting NYC; well not all of this…
Just when we arrived later Friday evening, Microsoft did a big roadshow pretty much all over Time Square due to their GA of Windows 8. Tons of booths. And you were convinced why you should have a surface. Of course.
One thing I really recommend is visiting the Empire State Building at night. It’s open until 2am and there is no line and no crowd if you go up late. This was my second time up and I find it very impressive to listen to the sound of the city below even at the late hour. I could stay up there for several hours. There is not much to going all the way up to the 102nd floor other than crossing it from your bucket list. There is no difference in the view and you probably hurt your head in the tiny room.
Visiting the Wall Street Bull (which is actually located on Broadway) is touristy thing you shouldn’t miss. I couldn’t find it the first time and ran out of time so I was happy doing it this time.
Sort of around the corner is the 9/11 Memorial which I highly recommend visiting. Admission is for free but you need to make your reservation at least a day prior to your planned visit. Unfortunately, we didn’t know about that but randomly found out you could tours with the 9/11 Tribute Center which happened to have two leftover tickets for the next upcoming tour. We didn’t know how lucky we were at this point. The tours are led by people who have a personal connection to the 9/11 attacks. Firemen, people working in the towers or living across the street. You very much will be moved having that whole additional dimension added while walking that ground.
The remainder of the day we spent with walking up the rest of Broadway up to Time Square. Only do that with a really comfortable pair of shoes. But it’s rewarding. You only really embrace a city by walking it.
Always a good place for breakfast, lunch or dinner is Ellens Stardust Diner located on Broadway at 51st. Enjoy your food while listen to Broadway youngsters. Be prepared to throw some bucks in their bucket to honor their performance. Food is delicious.
Sunday was pretty lazy except a visit at the Museum of Modern Arts. Probably worth seeing but we both agreed that we’ve done more exciting things. If you want you can easily spend an entire day there.
As I said, we needed to rush out much earlier than scheduled. There was a substantial chaos at the Port Authority and the Greyhound folks were quite challenged with handling the crowd. All bus lines pretty much ran all buses available as soon as they got filled until the last seat regardless the schedule. Anyway, we got out.
AEC currently hosts an exhibition of night photos taken by photographers all over the world. All photographers are a member of TWAN, an organization built around the passion for the night sky and photography. Visit their website and of course take the chance and visit the exhibition–here’s a preview: flickr.
I share their idea of shooting the night sky but hadn’t too much opportunity so far; above is one of few photos I took (Wahweap/Page, AZ).
I just came back from my first trip to Spain. The journey started with a train ride to Vienna, the city I lived for the last year. Vienna’s West Train Station was reopened recently after two years of reconstruction–and it looked beautiful: lots of space in the waiting area and comfortable places to stay. But I don’t understand why there is no free wireless. Anyway, my flight was late-evening from VIE and I arrived shortly before midnight at Plaza de Cataluña after taking the Aerobus. After walking down La Rambla, I met my friend at the hostel in Carrer de la Unió. We walked around the nearby neighborhood and the harbor.
Next day, early morning we took the metro to Vallcara and walked up to Parc Güell (actually escalatored up :)). Parc Güell is famous for the architectural elements designed by Antoni Gaudi. We continued to walk down to Sagrada Família. Later that day we had a short walk along the beach.
On Sunday, on my way to the airport, I stopped by at Plaça d’Espanya, to see the Venetian Towers and enjoy a last view over the city, right next to the Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña. Please have a look at the photography section for more photos of Barcelona; I’ll post them soon!
First thing you recognize in Hong Kong is left-hand traffic. But you are reminded at almost every crosswalk: “Look Right!”. Obviously, this is not astonishing at all as they were British until 12 years ago.
Something else, which you’ll inevitably run into and which is quite unusual (but not unique though) is that three banks are licensed by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority for issuing Hong Kong Dollar bank notes. So don’t wonder once you have three different looking 20-Dollar notes in your purse. Also remarkable is the Ten-Dollar polymer note.
However, what amazed me most is the Octopus Card. Initially, I perceived it as an RFID card for prepaid public transit payment (similar to the Breeze Card of MARTA in Atlanta, GA). But it turned out that this card is also widely accepted at grocery and convenience stores, coffee shops and even restaurants. So this card became a very convenient payment method–the most convenient I experienced so far. The idea is similar to the Quick system in Austria, but since the Octopus is contactless, it is way more practical.
In general, Hong Kong is very much a western city. All the American chains are there, huge flagship stores of Europe’s and America’s most exclusive fashion brands are marking the city center. One will definitely smell the sea. It is very easy to get along with English only. And of course all the skyscrapers that are shaping one of the world’s most astonishing skyline.