Iceland 2021 – Reykjavik

Today I embarked on my first trip out of Canada since October 2019. I would have travelled sooner, however the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked havoc on the entire globe for the last 18 months. I’m very fortunate that Canada’s vaccination rollout program occurred as quickly as it did, and I was fully vaccinated by July 2021. Iceland was one of the few countries that I was interested in visiting, that allowed fully vaccinated people to travel there.

This marks my 2.5th time visiting Iceland. I had previously visited Iceland in Summer 2014 with my dad, and I had a brief stopover in 2018 when I completed my France trip, which you can check out here. Getting there was a bit different this time, because usually I fly from Edmonton or Vancouver with Icelandair, however those routes were temporarily paused due to the ongoing pandemic. This time I flew WestJet from Calgary to Toronto, and then Icelandair from Toronto to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. I originally paid $1420 for an economy class return ticket, however I paid an additional $230 to be upgraded from economy class to business class for both of the departure flights. Previous trips to Iceland showed the economy class prices to be about half of what I paid. This is my first time experiencing the new business class seats on Westjet, and Icelandair, since they both refreshed their aircraft during the pandemic. I must say I was very impressed by both.

At the Calgary airport they verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to check-in. The Calgary to Toronto flight was on an older Westjet Boeing 737-800. Roast beef and mashed potatoes were served for dinner, which was actually quite food. Hot meals are a new thing for Westjet since they launched their new business class, but I think they have a hit here. The flight was quite smooth, with exception to the last 45 minutes approaching Toronto, due to a storm in the area.

In Toronto they again verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to boarding. The Toronto to Reykjavik flight was on a brand new Icelandair Boeing 737-8 MAX. The new business class seats are adorned in incredibly comfortable grey leather. Their older seats were more a blue leather colour, and were not the most comfortable. An incredibly generously sized dinner was served, which included chicken kababs over couscous and vegetables, alongside some fresh meats and cheese, and a cake for desert. I skipped eating the cake, as I’m not the biggest fan of sweets.

Upon arrival in Reykjavik I grabbed my bag and went through customs, which was very easy, and almost the same as usual, except I had to hand them some paperwork that I had pre-filled online. After exiting the airport I went and picked up my rental car, which was a Kia Picanto from Blue Car Rental. The daily rate was about $200, which is about the same as pre-Covid times.

After picking up the car I started a day of exploring, before I was able to check-in to my hotel at 3pm. First stop was Snorrastofa, a cultural and medieval center named after Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson. I didn’t go inside, as I was just fascinated by the architecture style, which I would characterize as Medieval, and perhaps Art Deco (the white building).

Next stop was Hruanfosser & Barnafoss, two waterfalls located right next to each other, and about a 75 minutes drive North of Reykjavik. Hruanfosser is definitely the cooler looking of the two waterfalls, and is a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 metres out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjökull.

After taking in the gorgeous views of Hruanfosser I drove back to Reykjavik to check out the Reykjavik Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, one of three art museums run by the same company. This building was opened in 1973 and was the first building in Iceland specifically designed for hosting art exhibitions. Kjarvalsstaðir houses the works of one of Iceland’s most influential and recognized artists, Jóhannes Kjarval. The exhibitions at Kjarvalsstaðir focus primarily on modern art paintings and sculptures. Architecturally the building is considered a great example of Nordic Modernism, however I would say it closely resembles that of some Brutalism traits.

Perlan, a prominent futuristic looking building situated on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill, was the next stop. The site where the building is situated started out in 1939 as a single hot water tank to supply enough pressure to push water up to a 10 story building anywhere in Reykjavik. Over the next two decades five more tanks were built, however were later torn down and six were reconstructed in the later 1980’s. In 1991 the six hot water tanks became the base of Perlan, a building open to the public, housing a planetarium, exhibition of the role of water in Icelandic nature, a photographic exhibition, and “Wonders of Iceland”, which is an exhibition that shows Icelandic nature, glaciers, geysers, and volcanos. The tanks are still in use, and each hold 5 million litres of hot water to supply to city.

Perlan overlooks Reykjavik Airport (RKV), which only serves internal flights within Iceland and to Greenland due to its shorter runway lengths of only 4000 an 5100 feet. The first flight from the airport occurred in September 1919. Regularly scheduled flights started to occur in 1940 by Flugfélag Akureyrar (now Icelandair). The airport in its current form was built by the British Army during World War 2, and originally only had a grass surface. After the war the British Army handed the airport operation over to the Icelandic government. The airport underwent some renovations in 2000. There’s a lot of controversy over the airport as its considered noisy, takes up a lot of useful area near downtown, and poses a safety risk. There’s a few options being considered including leaving the airport as is, demolishing and building a new one close by, or demolishing and moving all flights to Keflavik International Airport.

Close to Perlan is Nautholsvik, a small neighborhood overlooking Reykjavik Airport, which includes a beach, and an artificial hot spring, where hot water is pumped into a man-made lagoon. It provides to beautiful views of airplanes landing, and boats coming and going.

Reykjavik Art Museum Asmundarsafn was the next stop. This is the second of three art museums run by the same company. The building was designed, worked in, and lived in by the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. The white dome structure, built between 1942 and 1950, is surrounded by Sveinsson’s sculptures in the garden, and houses his work all throughout on the inside.

It was time to check-in to my hotel, named Hotel Muli. This is a self-service hotel where you’re provided with an entry code to the building and lockbox, where you can obtain your key. The room was newly renovated and had a fairly comfortable bed, as well as a nice rainfall shower. One thing to note about the hot water supply in most of Reykjavik is that it’s supplied by geothermal water, so has a bit of a Sulphur smell. It doesn’t bother me, but is noteworthy to others. I took a three hour nap before continuing on with my daily adventures.

It was time for me to eat some dinner. I walked to Islenski Barinn, which is highly regarded for its well-priced quality focused food. I ordered a Reindeer Burger and a beer. The burger was delicious and reminded me of an even more tender elk burger, which makes sense as they are both from the same family, however elk are typically much heavier than reindeer.

Next door to where I had dinner is the National Theatre of Iceland, a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. The building was built in 1950, and showcases Samuelsson’s beloved basalt columns. Another building similar to this is the University of Iceland’s Main Building, also designed by Samuelsson. I explored that building on a later day, so be sure to check back on a later post.

Close by is Hotel Borg, a beautiful Art Deco hotel that was opened in 1930. The hotel was originally built by Jóhannes Jósefsson, who competed in the 1908 Olympics, travelled around America in a circus, and then after returning to Iceland in 1927 felt like building a luxury hotel.

Next to Hotel Borg is Reykjavik Cathedral, a cathedral church built in 1796, and reconsecrated in 1879 after a large restoration.

Close by is Parliament House, located on Austurvöllur Square. The building was built between 1880 and 1881. Two additions to the building occurred in 1902 and 2002. The main building was built using hewn dolerite, a subvolcanic rock similar to volcanic basalt. Today only a handful of parliamentary items take place in the Parliament House, with most taking place in adjacent buildings.

It was getting late, and I was quite tired so it was time to head back to the hotel for some sleep. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment i visit the famous Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption, hike the Krysuvik Geothermal Loop, and attempt to visit the Blue Lagoon.

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Saskatoon

Two weeks ago we decided to take a trip to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for the long weekend. We took an extra day off to turn it into a four day weekend. During the 7 hour drive to Saskatoon I ended up having quite a few work phone calls, which made for a quicker trip out. For lunch we stopped at A&W in Oyen.

Accommodation was at the Delta Bessborough, a historic grand railway hotel originally built for Canadian National Railway. The ten-story Chateauesque-style building was opened in 1935. The hotel was designed by Archibald and Schofield, who also designed two other hotels for the Canadian National Railway; Hotel Vancouver, and The Nova Scotian. The hotel features 225 guest rooms, three restaurants, a fitness centre, pool, conference rooms, and a massive waterfront gardens. The 8th floor was closed off for renovations, however we managed to sneak up there to check out what the hotel would have looked like before it was renovated in 2003.

After checking in to our hotel it was time to get some dinner. We walked over to Las Palapas, a Mexican place that was recommended to us. On our way to the restaurant we walked through the historic Nutana neighbourhood. Some of the buildings here were built in the very early 1900’s.

At Las Palapas we shared some tortilla chips as an appetizer. For our main meal I had some tacos, and Julie had enchiladas. We both agreed that the food was excellent.

After dinner we walked down the street to Prairie Sun Brewery for some potent potables. I picked up some Pink Himalayan Salt IPA’s, and Julie picked up some ciders. We walked back to our hotel and spent some time in the pool and hot tub, before crawling into bed and watching some Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime.

The next day we woke up around 8:00am and had breakfast at Broadway Cafe. I had eggs benedict with hashbrowns and Julie had a scrambler without eggs. The food was fairly mediocre, however the 1950’s décor was beautiful, and the staff were very friendly.

After breakfast we drove through the neighbourhood of Varsity View to find the few surviving examples of Art Deco homes that were built in the 1930’s. I had heard that Saskatoon had quite a few examples of these homes still around, however many of them were in bad shape.

After driving through Varsity View we parked the car and walked through the University of Saskatchewan campus. The University was founded in 1907. The original building, The College Building, was opened in 1913 (now declared a National Historic Site of Canada). Since then numerous other colleges were established; Arts & Science (1909), Agriculture (1912), Engineering (1912), Law (1913), Pharmacy (1914), Commerce (1917), Medicine (1926), Education (1927), Home Economics (1928), Nursing (1938), Graduate Studies and Research (1946), Physical Education (1958), Veterinary Medicine (1964), Dentistry (1965), and School of Physical Therapy (1976).

Remai Modern Art Museum

After walking through the University of Saskatchewan campus we drove to the Remai Modern Art Museum. The museum was established in 2009, however has only been in its current building since October 2017. The museum has three floors with two different collections distributed amongst them; the two main collections being the Mendel Collection, and the Picasso Collection.

The entrance is beautiful and modern, with nice leather seats, a fire place, and cool light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

The Mendel Collection is a permanent collection featuring 7700 works by artists including Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Cornellius Krieghoff, and William Perehudoff.

The Picasso Collection, on the second floor, is also a permanent collection. It features ceramics and linocuts by Pablo Picasso, and features 405 linocuts, many of his beautiful wife Jacqueline. Linocuts, also called linoleum cut, are a print made from a sheet of linoleum into which a design has been cut in a relief. An interesting thing to note is that some of Picasso’s designs included 50 lays of linoleum, and if he made a mistake anywhere along the way, he had to start over again.

After visiting the museum we went and got some ice cream from Homestead Ice Cream. I had Saskatoon Berry and Lemon in a waffle cone, while Julie had Licorice and Saskatoon Berry in a cup. If you’re a lover of ice cream you have to eat here!

Western Development Museum

After getting some ice cream we drove to the Western Development Museum (WDM), which was established in 1949, and has been in its present location since 1972. There are technically four WDM’s, located at Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton, and Saskatoon, but the area of focus is Saskatoon. The Saskatoon one is called 1910 Boomtown, and focuses on the boomtown era of 1910’s, as well as features vintage automobiles, trains, farm equipment, and other memorabilia. There’s a tremendous amount of content to write about this museum, so I’ll release it in a separate post, and eventually link it here.

After visiting the museum we went back to the hotel for a bit to relax, before heading out to dinner at Bon Temps. Bon Temps is an authentic Louisiana Cajun / Creole style restaurant. I had a delicious brisket served with corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, and a jalapeno corn bread. Julie had scallops served with green beans, mashed potatoes, and a jalapeno corn bread. We also had some adult beverages to go along with our meal.

After our meal we walked to the 9 Mile Legacy brewery, which was unfortunately closing in 10 minutes, so they were no longer serving any pints. I picked up two cans to-go, and we walked back to the hotel and went in the hot tub before going to bed.

On our final day in Saskatoon we went to Hometown Diner for Breakfast. I had a breakfast poutine, and Julie had a delicious chicken bacon club sandwich.

After breakfast we drove to the farmers market, which was extremely underwhelming, so we quickly left. Next up was the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo, which was excellent! The zoo is a National Historic Site of Canada (designated in 1990), and was created in 1966. There were over 30 different types of animals on display including Bald Eagles, Burrowing Owls, Great Horned Owls, Grizzly Bears, Lynx’s, Swift Fox (which escaped!), Dingo’s, Pygmy Goats, Bison, Pronghorns, multiple types of Sheep, Alpaca’s, Meerkats, and Capuchin Monkey’s.

After visiting the zoo it was time to grab some lunch. We drove to Odla, which actually happened to be right next door to the Broadway Cafe that we ate at the other day. Odla is a fine example of farm to table. I had a delicious hamburger, which was the BEST hamburger I’ve ever had in my life, and Julie had a grilled vegetable and quinoa plate.

After having our delicious lunch I drove to Crossmount Cider Company, which was a short 15 minute drive south of the city. The craft cidery is built next to a retirement community and overlooks a man-made wetland area, where you can few all sorts of birds while enjoying some ciders. We decided to both get a flight of sample ciders. The cidery was established in 2014.

After visiting the cidery we drove back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit before going to Thirteen Pies Pizza & Bar for dinner. I had a pizza called The Midnight Meat Train, which included sausage, meatballs, bacon, provolone, mozzarella, jalapenos, and tomato sauce. Julie had a pizza called The White Walker, which included roasted mushrooms, provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, white sauce, prosciutto (added extra), and truffle oil. We barely at half of our pizzas before calling it quits because we were full. We packed up our leftover pizza and started to walk back to the hotel. On our way back we both decided that we would give our leftovers to a homeless man who looked fairly hungry. I also snapped a photo of a very cool brutalism building called the Sturdy Stone Centre. The Sturdy Stone Centre, designed by the architecture firm of Forrester, Scott, Bowers, Cooper and Walls, is a 13 story building that was built in 1977. Floors 3 to 7 are used as a parkade, with the remaining floors used as office space.

The rest of the evening we spent watching more of our Amazon Prime series called The Man in the High Castile, as well as some time in the hot tub, before going to bed.

The following day we had breakfast at OEB before driving back to Calgary. I had my favourite dish there, a breakfast poutine called Soul in a Bowl. Julie had some smoked salmon on gluten-free bread.

On the way home we were supposed to stop at the Saskatchewan Sand Dunes, however due to an immense amount of rain the road to the dunes was inaccessible. I only made it about 100 feet before getting stuck, needing a tow out from a friendly Saskatchewan family.

Well that concludes this series, but be sure to check back soon as I have a trip to Kelowna in a few weeks, as well as plenty of upcoming hikes, including trip to Lake O’Hara in July.

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Kelowna – Part 3 of 3

Two weeks ago Julie and I embarked on a week long holiday to Kelowna for some relaxation, lots of food, wine tours, cider tastings, and to visit my friend Krystylyn. We left on Saturday September 5th and went home on Saturday September 12th. Let’s continue with this series.

Thursday September 10th 2020

Thursday started off with our typical breakfast before heading out. First stop was the Pandosy area in Kelowna. We walked around the area, went into a few stores, and even purchased some artwork for our place. I also saw a beautiful Art Deco style home near the beach, which had me in awe!

We stopped at Hotel El Dorado for lunch. I had a burger, and Julie had Fish and Chips. Hotel El Dorado, located right on the Okanagan Lake, was originally founded in 1926 by Countess Bubna, an aristocratic English woman. The hotel was originally called The Eldorado Arms Hotel, and was Kelowna’s most social hub until the 1960’s. Over the years the hotel hosted dog shows, garden parties, croquet, etc. In the 1980’s Jim Nixon took over Hotel Eldorado and began an extensive expansion. In front of the hotel is a beautiful old Cadillac and an old truck.

After eating lunch we went to Vice and Virtue, a brewery on the east side of town, where Julie and I grabbed some low gluten beer. The owner has a gluten sensitive person in his family and thus tries to keep a few low gluten content beers on tap.

After that we head back to our condo to relax for the rest of the day. We played some Catan and spent quite a bit of time by the dock. For dinner we made pasta and meat sauce.

Friday September 11th 2020

Friday morning was spent relaxing by the beach. On the dock we met a couple that just got married and worked for Air Canada based out of Vancouver. The lady was a flight attendant, and her husband was a baggage handler. For lunch we had some leftovers.

Dinner was our special night out at Quails Gate. We started the evening off with a lovely charcuterie board and a half litre of red wine soaking up the views over the orchard. All was going well until a wasp flew into Julie’s hair. Julie had no idea the wasp was there until she went to brush her hair, and that’s when he stung her.

The staff at Quails Gate were absolutely fantastic and ended up rushing over with a bag of ice, a slice of onion to draw the toxins out, and were able to accommodate our move inside. The service was absolutely impeccable. For our main course I had a lamb dish, and Julie had a dish dish; both of which were excellent.

After dinner we drove back to our condo and relaxed for the rest of the evening. Julie wasn’t feeling very well so she ended up spending the evening in bed watching Sons of Anarchy, and I spent some time at the dock.

Saturday September 12th 2020

Saturday morning we spent at the dock, before we had to pack up for our return trip home. We loaded up the car at around 11am and headed towards Kelowna. Brunch was had at KRAFTY Kitchen & Bar with Krystylyn. Julie & I both had a poutine bowl, and Krystylyn had a burger.

On our way home we had a quick stop at Upside Cidery for quick growler refills and Legendz Diner in Golden for a quick bite to eat. Legendz is a beautiful 50’s style diner run by a wonderful Indian family. They have owned it for the last decade or so and their dedication to customer service is top notch! Julie had a gluten-free club sandwich, and I had a Hawaiian Burger!

Be sure to check back soon for my next adventure!

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Vietnam – Day 10 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. Breakfast was a rather mediocre buffet, and a few hot dishes. I had an omelet. The tour bus for Ha Long Bay picked me up at 8:30am. I choose a semi luxury 2 day option operated by A Class Cruises for about $160 USD ($210 CDN). About half way through the 4 hour drive we stopped for a bathroom break at a very overpriced tourist stop. They put a chain around your neck with a number and record how much you spend and then the workers get a kickback. I found that really annoying. The bus finally arrived in Ha Long Bay at around noon. Throughout the bus ride I was talking with a really nice couple named Danny and Sara, who are both photographers that live part time in Australia and part time in Canada. They’re absolutely adorable together.

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We immediately boarded our boat; Stellar and were greeted with a welcome drink before heading upstairs to the dining room to be briefed on the next two days, discuss safety items, and to get room keys. After obtaining my room key I went to my room to drop off my bags and clean up a bit. The room was small and smelled a bit musty, but the bed was comfortable. The bathroom even had a nice rainfall shower.

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First activity for the day was Kayaking through Luon Tunnel and spending an hour chilling out in the Kayak. This was very peaceful and relaxing. I even saw some monkeys!

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Then the tour guide took us over to an island where we all went to an outlook that you could gaze into Ha Long Bay, and then we went swimming in the ocean and hung out on the beach for an hour or so.

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It was now dinner time so we were taken back to our boat and had dinner. I called it family dinner because it was Sara and Danny, myself, and a French couple that hit it off together and hung out for the rest of the trip.

After dinner many people went upstairs to the sundeck to watch the sunset, myself included. After sunset people Sara and Danny decided to go squid fishing, but didn’t have much luck. I had a drink and talked with them while watching them for a bit before heading to bed, as I was exhausted from waking up early the entire trip.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Ha Long Bay boat tour and explore a massive cave that can hold over 1000 people inside of it at the same time!

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Chile – Day 6 – Travel Day & San Pedro De Atacama

Today we woke up at 5:15am because we had the airport shuttle departing for SCL Airport at 6:00am. Security was a total breeze which makes you wonder if they’re even looking at the screens or peoples tickets and passports. I recall when I travelled to Peru in 2014 with my father that there basically was no security for internal flights; this basically gives the same perception. We then purchased some Starbucks; I had a drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. Our 8:15am flight boarded quickly and we arrived at Calama Airport (CJC) at 10:50am.

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The day fell apart from here and it started with the Budget rental car agency. The rental car took almost three hours to figure out and we were given about ten different excuses as to where the car was, but it was obvious they were not prepared. I left a nasty 1 star review on Google Reviews during the whole process. While waiting for the car we talked with a bunch of people dropped off cars at other rental agencies and they said the entire park was closed due to flooding and heavy rain; which was not great news for us… more on that later! After finally leaving the airport at close to 2:00pm, three hours later we went to Lider (Walmart) and purchased water and a few groceries and started our adventure.

We drove one hour to San Pedro de Atacama and saw the Valley of the Moon from the top of road. The weather looked okay at this point in time and we had yet to see the flooding until when we drove into the town. That’s when things really changed… the roads were red mud and completely flooded. We drove to our hotel; Hotel La Casa de Don Tomas. The hotel was absolutely beautiful and we were greeted with Champagne. After checking in we decided to walk into town and get some dinner at Las Delicias de Carmen. We both ordered vegetable lasagna with a side of potatoes and quinoa. We were told the portion was large and could probably share it, but we didn’t heed to her advice… we should have though! While we were waiting for our meals to come out there was a torrential downpour and the power in the entire city shut off. Our server casually came over with a candle as if this were a regular occurrence. We ordered a thousand layer cake to go for C as it was her birthday. We wanted to have it while watching a movie back at the hotel, but sadly with no power there was no internet.

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We watched a previously downloaded episode of Marvelous Miss Maisel, the second last one before we’re all caught up. If you have not seen this series I highly recommend it! I came up with a plan B for tomorrow for us to explore Reserva Nacional Alto Loa. It was still raining, my cold was getting worse, and it was time to go to bed.

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