Iceland 2021 – Exploring More Reykjavik & Puffins

I finished off my Iceland trip by spending the remaining few days exploring more of Reykjavik and going to see some Puffins on the island of Lundey. During my last few days I visited the National Theatre of Iceland, Harpa, National Museum of Iceland, Iceland University, Nordic House, Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, Magic Ice Bar, Le Kock Restaurant, and I also took a boat to see the Puffins on the nearby island of Lundey.

National Theatre of Iceland

The National Theatre of Iceland is 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.

Iceland University

The University of Iceland’s Main Building was designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. It was completed in 1940, and is very similar in design to the National Theatre of Iceland. I love the use of the basalt columns!

Harpa

The Harpa Concert Hall was opened in May 2011. The distinctive building features a coloured glass façade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. It was designed by Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The structure was originally supposed to be a part of a large development including a 400-room hotel, luxury apartments, retail area, restaurants, car park, trade centre, etc. however due to the 2008 world financial crisis the development was changed into a concert hall.

National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland was established in 1863, and has been in its present location since 1950. The building is an Art Deco style building. Inside the building there are three floors, with the basement featuring photography from Spessi, and the second and third floors featuring historic artifacts from Iceland’s history. In a nutshell Iceland’s history began in the 800’s when Viking explorers from Norway settled the land. In the 930’s the chieftains had established their own form of governance, called Althing, making it one of the world’s oldest parliaments. In the early thirteenth century internal conflict arose, effectively ending the Icelandic Commonwealth. Norway, in turn, was united with Sweden in 1319 and Denmark in 1376. All the Nordic states were united in one alliance, called the Kalmar Union, which lasted between 1397 and 1523, however after its dissolution, Iceland fell under Danish ruling. The Danish-Icelandic ruling in the 17th and 18th centuries was crippling to the economy, which resulted in immense poverty and population decline, which was further hampered by several natural disasters including the “Mist Hardships”. Iceland remained part of Denmark, however in keeping with the rise of nationalism around Europe in the 19th century, and independence movement emerged. The Althing, which was suspended in 1799, was restored in 1844, and Iceland once again gained sovereignty after World War 1 on December 1st 1918, however shared the Danish Monarchy until the end of World War 2. Due to the island’s strategic position in the North Atlantic, the Allies occupied the island until the end of the war, with the United States taking over occupation duties from the British in 1941. Following World War 2 Iceland experienced large financial growth, largely due to fishing. The 2008-2011 financial crisis hit Iceland hard, however has since somewhat recovered.

Nordic House

The Nordic House was opened in 1968 and features cultural events and exhibitions, and even features a library with a collection of over over 30,000 items in seven languages, although oddly most are not in Icelandic. The modern style building was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. A unique feature of the building is it’s unique shape of the roof, which echoes the range of mountains in the distance. Inside the building almost all the installed furnishings, lamps, and furniture are designed by Alvar Aalto.

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral is a Lutheran Church in Reykjavik that took 41 years to be built; starting in 1945 and was finished in 1986. The church stands 75 metres (244 feet) tall, and is one of the tallest structures in the country. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), author of the Passion Hymns. The architecture styles are a blend of expressionist neo-gothic, brutalism, and art deco. From up-top you have a beautiful unobstructed view of the entire city, including the close-by Reykjavik Airport, which I watched some planes land at.

Magic Ice Bar

The Magic Ice Bar is a bit of a tourist trap, however is a neat experience if you want to experience some ice sculpture art, have some very chilled alcoholic beverages, and hang out with friends then this is the place for you. Being a solo trip I found it quite lame, but the ice sculptures were neat.

Le Kock Restaurant

The Le Kock Restaurant serves a bunch of delicious items on its menu, including the “Dirty Harry” burger which is comprised of a grilled beef patty, bacon, mushroom “bomb”, pickled red onions, chipotle sauce, romaine salad and crispy onions, served on a Deig potato roll. I also had a side of chiptole potatoes. I highly recommend this place!

Puffins – Island of Lundey

On my final day in Iceland I took a tour with a company called Special Tours. The tour cost $59 CDN and was very well planned. We departed at 11:00am on August 20th and went to the island of Lundey, where there was thousands of Puffin’s getting ready for winter. I managed to get a few candid shots of the beautiful birds, including some with fish in their mouths. This was the last day of the year for the tour, and I was told its way livelier in the months of June and July.

This concludes my Iceland trip, however check back frequently as I’m always up to new adventures. I still have quite a few hiking adventures that I’ve taken, which I’ve yet to post. I still plan an Eastern Europe road trip when it’s safe to do so, and also plan on visiting Norway and Bali.

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Iceland 2021 – Landmannalaugar Trail Hike

Landmannalaugar Trail has been a dream of mine for years, and was the main reason for my 2021 trip to Iceland. The trail is 55km long and starts in Landmannalaugar and ending in Thorsmork. The trail typically is completed in 4 days, however I completed it in 2 days. I was actually going to tack on the Thorsmork to Skogar hike called the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, however the weather deteriorated to the point where my safety was compromised so I pulled the plug early, more on that later.

My first day started early at 530am, as I had to catch a 630am bus to Landmannalaugar. I woke up, had a quick sandwich that I had bought the previous day and stored in my fridge, grabbed some coffee from the downstairs lobby, and caught a scooter to the Reykjavik Bus Terminal. At the terminal I grabbed my hiking bag and waited for the bus that I had pre-booked. It’s important to note that you should book the Highland Bus (Reykjavik Excursions) well in advance, as these seats can fill up days or weeks in advance since this hike is so popular. I paid about $60 CDN for a return trip.

The bus was on time and took about 4 hours, with a 45 minute break halfway along the journey at Hella (Kjarval Verslun) for a bathroom break, where you could also buy coffee and baked goods. I picked up a coffee and used the bathroom. The bus arrived in Landmannalaugar early at about 10:45am (scheduled time was 11:15am). Upon arrival I cooked one of my dehydrated meals for lunch with my JetBoil stove and talked with this lovely couple from Toulouse, France.

The hike starts off with a moderately steep bunch of switchbacks. Don’t forget to look back at the Landmannalaugar hut and campsite! After the switchback you head straight through a lava field from an eruption that occurred in 1477 from the Brennisteinsalda volcano. This area is one of the most unique areas I’ve seen because there’s a combination of regular basalt lava blended with numerous shining black obsidian rocks.

After passing through the lava field you’re presented with a breathtaking view of a field and the magnificent Vondugil (Bad Ravines) valley. The surrounding colourful rhyolite mountains are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and look like something out of a painting.

The trail continues climbing elevation towards the Brennisteinsalda volcano. You can see all sorts of steam coming from the mountainside, and tons of small sulfur rocks and hot springs. This part of the hike is a bit strenuous so make sure to take your time while enjoying the views.

The hike continues in a general upwards direction towards Hrafntinnusker Hut, with ever changing geography, most of which looks like its something from an imaginary painting.

Below you’ll see a picture of me at the highest point of the hike. From here on in the geography changes significantly and I start to run into some snow. Yes that’s right… snow in August!

The snow continues for quite some time, until I emerge on another geothermally active area, before continuing onto another snowy area. In this snowy area there was a memorial for a young person named Ido Keinan, who passed away in a blizzard in June 27th 2004. It’s a somber reminder that no matter what time of the year you’re in that you should be prepared for anything. This hit home later on in this hike when the weather deteriorated significantly to the point where I wasn’t able to maintain my body heat. I decided to pull the plug, but more on that later on.

This is probably a good time to mention that there is generally cellphone coverage on more than 50% of the hike with atleast 3G coverage, and sometimes LTE. There’s a few cellphone towers along the way, and some unique solutions at some of the remote huts, which include CB radio’s and repeaters.

I eventually descended towards Hrafntinnusker Hut, the first hut of the hike after Landmannalaugar. I filled up my water bottles with fresh water here, and was able to use the washroom. Something to note on the hiking trail is that most huts have an outhouse which you can use for free, or you can use proper toilets for about $4 CDN. The outhouses were generally acceptable, so I had no issue using them, however there was not hut warden to check the usage of the toilets at Hrafntinnusker Hut, so you might be able to use the nice toilets for free there.

The trail starts to lose some significant elevation after Hrafntinnusker Hut, and the geography changes again to rolling hills with even more snow, before turning back into mountains with some more elevation gain. Make sure to take tons of photos, as this was again another amazing part of the hike.

As the trail continues towards Alfavatn hut the geography changes again, but this time becomes much greener. The green mossy areas show up wherever there is water runoff from geothermally active areas. Apparently the sulfur and other minerals is very desired by the moss.

The descent towards Alfavatn hut is very steep, and while I’m not a huge proponent of poles, I would recommend them in this scenario.

Eventually you’ll come across your first river crossing, which conveniently has a rope in place, which I suspect is required earlier on in the season, however I didn’t really need to use it in late August. I always recommend water shoes as it make river crossings much more enjoyable than stepping on sharp rocks.

Finally you can see Alfavatn hut in the distance. This is usually where most people stop for the night, howver I opted to go a bit further to Hvangill, a much small hut, just a few kilometres away. The reason for my choice, was to make a 4 kilometer shorter day on the second day. It’ll turn out that I was very glad I made that decision the following morning, but more on that later. I stopped for dinner in Alfavatn to have a dehydrated meal for dinner, and I purchased a beer at the “bar” there for about $10 CDN. I felt it was a worthy reward for a days hard work.

Continuing on from Alfavatn there’s a few river crossings, luckily the first few are small enough that there are some wooden bridges to cross, so you don’t have to take off your boots.

About 4 kilometers of minor elevation gain and descent you’ll emerge on Hvangill hut and campsite. The campsites all have stacked rocks around them to block wind. I was thankful for this as the following morning I was woken up around 5am by howling wind. When I arrived at Hvangill I paid the warden $5 CDN to use the shower, and $20 CDN for the camping fee, setup my tent, had a shower, and went to bed.

I struggled throughout the evening to maintain warmth, as I wasn’t prepared for 0° C weather. The weather should have been 8-17° C however a weather front rolled in and caught me by surprised. I wore 4 shirts, and two pairs of pants, and still wasn’t warm enough. I eventually fell asleep and was woken up at 5am by an intense wind. I peered out of my tent and was greeted by some heavy fog. Visibility was probably about 300 metres.

I got ready, packed up my tent and started my journey towards Thorsmork. At this point in time I had decided that I will terminate my hike in Thorsmork, rather than continuing along to Skogar, as the weather was forecasted to get worse throughout the day. The day started out with a large river crossing over a bridge, followed shortly by a significant river crossing without a bridge. The current was fairly strong, so I can’t even imagine what it would have been a month or two prior.

Following the river crossing I walked plenty kilometers over a lava field, before descending into the next camp called Emstrur, where I ate lunch quickly before continuing on. The visibility at Emstrur was less than 100 metres.

The hike after Emstrur started to get geographically interesting with much more green being present as I descended towards Thorsmork. At times the visibility improved, but in general it was quite poor, and quite cold. There were quite a few river crossings that had to be navigated, but most didn’t require me to take my shoes off.

About 4 kilometres away the geography changed again significantly to what resembled farmland, and I saw the occasional sheep. In fact I even scared a sheep that was grazing.

Finally I arrived in Thorsmork, where I caught a 3:15pm bus back to Reykjavik. On the bus ride I met a really nice guy Kyle, his sister named Kaitlynn, and their friend Courtney, who are all from the Boston area. It made for a very enjoyable bus ride back. The buses have to drive through rivers up to 1 metre deep, so they’re specially equipped Mercedes Benz high clearance vehicles, with locking differentials. You can checkout my YouTube video of a river crossing here.

After arriving back in Reykjavik I checked into “Room With a View” hotel, a self service hotel. It’s kind of like an Airbnb place. It was very well appointed for about $200/night. I’ll be here the next two nights.

After checking in I went and picked up my other bag from the Reykjavik Bus Terminal storage lockers, dropped it off at my hotel, and went for dinner at Lebourski Bar next door. I had a Donni Burger and a beer. While I was there a guy spun the wheel on the wall and won ten free beers, which he shared with his friends at the bar.

After dinner I had a shower and got ready for bed. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series.

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Iceland 2021 – Glymur Falls and Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River

Today started off with Dominos Pizza for breakfast, a strong start for the fuel I needed to hike to Glymur Falls, Iceland’s second highest waterfall, which cascades 198 metres to valley below.

After scarfing down my pizza, which I have to note tastes significantly better than Dominos Pizza back in Canada, I grabbed a coffee from the lobby area in my hotel and proceeded to drive about 75 minutes to Glymur Falls. The trail starts off walking relatively flat for about 1.5km through some shale and shrubs until you get to a cave. You descend some stairs through the cave before shortly arriving at the first of two rivers crossings. This is where I ran into Kim and Sander, a travelling couple from Chicago. We ended up taking pictures of each other crossing the river, and stayed with each other for the remainder of the hike. The river crossing has a log and a hand line to assist you in getting across.

After crossing the river the trail starts to get very steep, with some areas where you have to scramble. luckily there are ropes to assist you if required. You can start to see the sheer magnificence of the waterfall cascading to the valley below. There was also quite a few birds perched on ledges and flying down into the valley.

You continue climbing until you get to the top of the waterfall where you cross the Botnsa River for a second time. This time the river was much wider, but was quite shallow. I had to stop and take my shoes off, and put on my water shoes to cross the freezing cold river.

After crossing the river you continue to loop back towards the car, with a fairly steep descent in some areas. I said bye to Kim and Sander and wished them well on the rest of their trip.

I was starting to get hungry so it was time to source some lunch. I drove back to Reykjavik and stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant called Viethouse for some nice hot beef pho.

After lunch I drove about an hour south to Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River, a famous hot spring river where you can soak in the hot water and take in the beautiful views. There’s a parking lot and a restaurant at the base of the hike, where you have to pay a nominal parking fee of about $2 CDN/hour. The 4km hike to the thermal river takes about 1 hour, as you have to ascend 347 metres. Along the hike to the geothermally active portion of the river you are presented with a beautiful view of a fairly significant waterfall.

Upon arriving at the geothermally active portion of the river you’ll notice that there are some wall partitions for you to have a bit of privacy to change into your bathing suit before you jump into the hot water. I’m unsure of the exact temperature but I’d probably place it closer to 40-42°C, as I found it hotter than the Blue Lagoon. I soaked in the river for about 40 minutes before getting changed and headed back to my car to drive back to my hotel.

Tomorrow I’m heading on a three day hike on Landmannalaugar Trail so it was time to pack my bags and drop them off at some rental lockers At the hotel I packed my bags and dropped them off at some rental lockers at Reykjavik Bus Terminal. It was also time to drop off my rental car, so I dropped that off as well. I was getting fairly hungry so I decided to try out a local hot dog stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. This is apparently the best place to go for some late night hot dogs if you’ve had too much too drink.

After having a hot dog I figured it was time to try one of the local scooters, since I was so far away from my hotel. I rode back to my hotel and get ready for bed as I have to wake up very early tomorrow morning for a 630am bus to Landmannalaugar. Be sure to check back soon to continue on with my Iceland adventures.

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Iceland 2021 – Blue Lagoon, Waterfalls, Glaciers, and Plane Wrecks

This post is a very special milestone for me as this is my 250th blog post since I started writing in 2016. Today started off fairly early with me waking up around 7am, as I had to get ready for my 9am soak at the Blue Lagoon. On the way to the Blue Lagoon I drove to a local bakery called Bakarameistarinn, where I ordered a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I was a bit early arriving at the Blue Lagoon, so I sat in my car writing some of my blog, and going through my photos.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field near Grindavik, where I was yesterday. The Blue Lagoon is a series of man-made pools that are filled by water from a nearby geothermal power plant. After the water is used by the geothermal power plant to spin the turbines to generate electricity, it is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat for municipal hot water, and then fed into the lagoon. The water’s unique milk blue shade is due to its high silica content. The water forms soft white mud on the bottom of the lagoon, which feels nice on the feet. The water is also very high in salts and algae. The temperature of the water stays between 37-39°C.

The power plant feeding the lagoon was opened in 1976, and the runoff started to make pools. In 1981 a psoriasis patient bathed in the water and noted that the water alleviated his symptoms, and over time the lagoon became a popular place for people to bathe. In 1987 a proper bathing facility was built, and in 1992 the Blue Lagoon company was established. Numerous studies have been conducted in the 1990’s confirmed that the lagoon had a beneficial effect on psoriasis, and a clinic was opened in 1994.

After bathing in the lagoon for a few hours it was time for me continue on with my day. Next stop was two waterfalls next to each other; Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss. Seljalandsfoss drops from over 60 metres above and is part of the Seljalands River, whos origin is from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. If you feel like getting really wet you can walk behind the falls into a small cave. Gljúfrafoss is a smaller waterfall north of Seljalandsfoss. You can walk right up to the base of the waterfall by following a short trail down a narrow canyon. Make sure to take a picture looking up for a neat perspective.

After visiting the waterfalls I started driving towards the town of Vik, however was distracted by a glacier that I could see off to my left hand side. I decided to stop at Solheimajokull Glacier, and I’m extremely glad that I did. Solheimajokull Glacier is a 11km long outlet glacier that originates from the southwestern part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The glacier has undergone tremendous changes over the last century with measurements of its glacier snout having retreated 977 metres between 1930 and 1969, advancing by 495 metres between 1969 and 1955, and receding by 1312 metres by 2019. In 2011 a lagoon started to form in front of the glacier and has been growing steadily as the glacier continues to melt and retreat. The current depth of the lagoon is about 60 metres.

After visiting the glacier I drove another hour or so to Vik, where I stopped at The Soup Company for lunch. I had the Red Hot Lava bowl, which was a black bread bowl filled with a spicy prime rib soup. After lunch I drove to Vik Church to snap a photo of the beautiful oceanside and the church. This is one of my favourite views that I recall from my 2014 trip to Iceland with my father.

Close by is Reynisfjara Beach, a black sand beach with basalt rock formations. Last time I was here in 2014 with my father it was pouring rain so I didn’t have a chance to take great quality photos. This time it was windy as anything, but at least the sun was shining.

Next up was the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. You used to be able to drive right up to the crash site, however the road was closed many after numerous people got stuck in the soft black sand. The hike there is about 7.4km return, and took me only about 1.25 hours. In November 1973, a Douglas Dakota C-117 airplane was making a return trip to Keflavik airport after delivering cargo to a radar station near Hornafjörður in East Iceland. While flying back, the plane gradually started to lose power and altitude, and were forced to crash land on Solheimasandur. Some speculate that the plane ran out of fuel when the pilot accidentally switched to the wrong fuel tank, while others speculate that the plane crashed because of ice buildup on the wings during a storm. Keeping with the stormy conditions these pilots had to endure I nearly crashed my drone when the windy conditions worsened and started to sweep my drone away from me. I had to run after it a few hundred metres before it pseudo crash landed in the black sand.

It was getting fairly late so it was time for me to start the 2 hour long drive back to Reykjavik. I stopped at Tommi’s Burger Joint for dinner, which was recommended to me by someone the previous day, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

After dinner I went back to the hotel and was ready for bed, as it was nearly 10pm at this point in time. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series where I visit Glymur Falls, and soak in Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River.

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Czech Republic – Karlov Vary

The last stop on my Czech Republic tour was Karlov Vary. Karlov Vary is a spa town in the Northwestern side of the Czech Republic. The town was founded in 1370 by Charles IV, a Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia at the time. The city currently has a population of around 50000 people and is sought after by Europeans with ailments hoping to receive treatment. I was rather exhausted at the end of this trip so I only grabbed a handful of photos, but it was a beautiful city that was well worth the visit. Hot spots of the city include Mill Colonnade, Market Colonnade, Park Colonnade, Hot Spring Colonnade, the Diana Observation Tower, the Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul, and walking the main drag. Accommodation was the beautiful Revelton Studios for about $65 CDN per night.

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Bet sure to check back periodically over the next few months as I visit local attractions, ski, hike, etc. My next trip is in mid-March 2020 when I embark on a 14 country tour of Eastern Europe.

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 2 of 2

Today I woke up at 8:00am and had some coffee in my room before venturing out to explore more of the city.

First stop was Hôtel van Eetvelde, which was sadly under construction so I couldn’t get any good pictures of it. Hôtel van Eetvelde is a town house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta for Edmond van Eetvelde, the administrator of Congo Free State.

Second stop was Maison Saint-Cyr was built in 1903 to serve as a mansion for the painter Georges Saint-Cyr. The façade is about four metres wide, and is rich in finely worked ironwork that forms a set of lines, curves and geometric figures. Each balcony has a railing with different patterns.

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Third stop was Stoclet Palace, after a few quick photos of some various things along the way. Stoclet Palace was built in 1911 in the Viennese Secession style by architect Josef Hoffmann. It was built for Adophe Stoclet, a wealthy industrialist and art collector.

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Fourth stop and fifth stop was Arcades du Cinquantenaire and Autoworld. Arcades du Cinquantenaire is a triple arch in the centre of Brussels and is topped by a bronze quadriga sculpture group with a woman charioteer, representing Brabant raising the national flag. Autoworld is a substantial collection of vintage vehicles in extremely well preserved states.

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The sixth stop was the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a beautiful Art Deco church that was completed in 1970. Construction began in 1905 in Neo-Gothic style, but only the foundations had been completed before World War 1 broke out. Construction of the actual basilica began in 1919, with the architectural style changing to Art Deco, and was not completed until 1970.

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The seventh and eighth stops were Mini-Europe and Atomium. Mini-Europe is a miniature park that was started in 1989 and represents over 80 countries and 350 buildings. Atomium was designed and constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo by architect Andre and Jean Polak. It is 102 metres (335 feet) tall and has nine 18 metre (60 foot) diameter stainless steel clad spheres which are connected by escalators and stairs. 3 metre (10 foot) diameter tubes connect the spheres. The central tube had the world’s fastest elevator at the time; allowing people to reach the summit in only 23 seconds at 5 metres/second. The Atomium, was designed to last a mere six months and was slated for destruction after the 1958 World Expo, but due to its popularity it made it a major element of Brussels landscape. A weird piece of history about Atomium is that SABAM, Belgium’s society for collecting copyrights, claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproduction of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS). There are numerous censored images circulating the internet, but finally in 2016 there was a bill enacted to allow pictures to be legally distributed.

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I then stopped for dinner at the same restaurant I stopped at for lunch yesterday; Tonton Garby, before heading to get a new power adapter, because I somehow forgot mine at home. After getting a power adapter I visited the Brussels Comic Strip Museum, and then went to Beer Planet and picked up a few authentic trappist monk beers that were recommended to me.

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I went back to my hotel room to edit photos and write my blog before heading out to take some night time photos of Atomium.