Monday, August 24, 2015

Day 3 Iceland- Volcano, Glacier Hike, Waterfalls

On Day 3 of our Iceland adventure, we fell victim to jet lag. We woke up late (at the time we were supposed to be downstairs for our shuttle pickup) and got ready in a record 5 minutes. The travel Gods seemed to be on our side. Our shuttle was running behind schedule and we found it down the street at the next hotel.

One word to the wise. If your bus stops for a restroom break, take advantage! Many of these bus tours are a whole day and there may be limited access to a restroom. There is no bathroom on the bus. On the pit stop, I also took advantage by buying a sandwich to put in my backpack. Pack snacks, energy bars, and food and water if you can. Sometimes there will be no option for a food break or rest break during these tours.

Our first stop on the way to our glacier hike was the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. This volcano erupted in 2010. We caught a glimpse of the farm that withstood the eruption. We were also able to touch the ash remnants of Eyjafjallajokull.

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano
Volcanic Ash
Once we got to the Solheimajokull glacier, we put on our safety gear and got a quick lesson on how to walk on a glacier and follow your crew. We were given crampons and an ice axe for better grip on the glacier. We had our snowboots on (Timberland and Sorel). I recommend a good hiking boot or snowboot when you go on the glacier hike. If you only have sneakers or other improper footwear, the tour company is well equipped to lend you a pair of hiking boots.

Safety Lesson
While hiking Solheimajokull is for "beginners" I would say it is a little intense and can be difficult at times. Walking in bulky winter gear up a hill with the sun in your eyes can be challenging. Definitely get in shape before doing this. With that said, the hike can really be done by a beginner but it is not a cake walk.
Layers of ice upon ice
Going up!
The glacier hike tour was very educational. We learned about ice tunnels, the effects of global warming, the history of the glacier, and how to maneuver on a glacier. Did I mention on top of it all, the glacier is beautiful? It's massive and the ice crystals have the most amazing colors.

Learning how glaciers change and evolve.
One with the glacier.
After the glacier hike, our bus stopped at two waterfalls: Skogafoss and Seljalandfoss. Skogafoss was my favorite waterfall of all the waterfalls we saw on our trip. You could walk up close to it and it was massive. The water gave way to rainbows and to the side on the hill you could see some Icelandic horses. Seljalandfoss was a smaller waterfall that you could walk behind to catch a view of the running water. At the time we went it was winter and the water on the ground had turned to ice. We had to hold on to the chained path to avoid slipping. I was looking from a different vantage point and slipped by the bridge. Be careful out there.

One of my favorite moments in Iceland
Photography Credits: Desmond Chow and Roxwriting

Icelandic Mountain Guides

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rijsttafel in Amsterdam

Sama Sebo Restaurant
When in Amsterdam, it is essential to try Indonesian food. I found Sama Sebo restaurant through the Fodor's guidebook. 

Reservations are highly recommended for rijsttafel (an Indonesian banquet) dinners. A traditional rijsttafel meal consists of a plate of rice with a variety of side dishes to accompany it. These dishes can be noodles, stew, various meats, vegetables, and egg rolls. Basically anything that has different flavors, sauces, and textures to create a meal out of the rice plate.

We did not have reservations for dinner and were lucky to secure the last two seats in the house (at the bar) at Sama Sebo. We were seated around 9:30 PM. The couple next to us in line were told that the kitchen had closed. I couldn't believe we arrived at the restaurant just in time. We were this close to drinking beer and eating peanuts for dinner. It was a rainy night, late, and all the decent restaurants were packed.

Bar scene at Same Sebo
The rijsttafel we had originally come for was 31.50 euro per person. After going over the menu and realizing we wouldn't care for half of the options, I went a la carte and ordered a few dishes to build our own custom rijsttafel. My menu reading skills served us wisely and what we ordered turned out to be the perfect amount and the right combination of food for us. We had a little bit of everything from beef and pork to goat and tofu. We ate everything with noodles and had the obligatory vegetable dish (which turned out to be really good). All of the flavors and sauces were fantastic. We had crunchy textures, savory meat, sweet sides and a topping that just went well on everything! Coconut! Our meal turned out to be half the price of the tasting menu since each dish ranged in price from as low as 3 euro to as high as 8 euro. 
Our rijsttafel spread
Custom Rijsttafel at Sama Sebo:

Serundeng (fried coconut)
Bami (Noodles)
Pisang goring (fried bananas)
babi sateh (pork skewers)
Kambing sateh (goat skewers)
Gado-Gado  (vegetables)
Daging Madura (meat in madura sauce)
Tahu Goreng (fried tofu)

Sama Sebo
P.C. Hooftstraat 27
1071 BL Amsterdam

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tapas Barinn- Icelandic Tapas and Exotic Meats

Dinner at Tapas Barinn was a truly unique Icelandic experience. Tapas Barinn is the one restaurant I recommend if you had to eat out somewhere in Reykjavik.

What I love about tapas are that the portions are small enough just for a taste but large enough to share with one or two other people. Sure, you only get a bite or two, but the point is to sample your way through a variety of tastes and textures until you are full.

At Tapas Barinn, we specifically went to try the Icelandic Gourmet Feast Tasting Menu. Instead of getting two portions for ourselves, we opted for one only and added a dish of kangaroo. There was so much to choose from on the menu. We wanted to try something we have never tried before. Hence, the kangaroo to round out our dinner.

Our meal started with shots of Brennivin, the Icelandic liquor nicknamed "Black Death".

We were served bread with two spreads, one of which was an olive tapenade.

Complimentary Bread
Our first dish was smoked puffin with blueberry Brennivin sauce. Yes, those cute and cuddly tiny birds are served for dinner. The texture was like raw fish and the taste was definitely enhanced with the blueberry sauce.

Icelandic sea trout with a pepper sauce was a more familiar taste. No complaints or anything exotic here.

Lobster tails baked in garlic sauce was outstanding. The lobster was on the small side. Perhaps it is due to the temperature and location of where it came from.

Lobster Tails
Pan fried blue ling with lobster sauce was another delicious fish dish. We had no idea what a blue ling looked like so we googled it. Not the prettiest of fish.

Blue Ling
The grilled lamb Samfaina was so juicy and flavorful. Not gamey at all.

Minke whale with cranberry sauce is not a dish I would like to have again. I just couldn't stomach the whale and enjoy it. The flavor was just not for me.

The kangaroo was like steak.

For dessert, the white chocolate skyr mousse was phenomenal. Skyr is Icelandic yogurt and they whipped it into the mousse until it was airy. It was served with a side of sorbet and passion coulis. Absolutely amazing.

Sykr Mousse
Photography Credit: Desmond Chow and Roxwriting

Tapas Barinn
Vesturgata 3B
101 Reykavik, Iceland

Monday, July 20, 2015

Day 2 Iceland- Golden Circle Tour

Day 2 was our Golden Circle Tour. We waited for our pickup at the hotel patiently as they were running a little bit late. Once we were picked up we went straight to the bus depot where we transferred to a luxury coach liner. Iceland has the tour thing down where everything runs smoothly and is pretty comfortable.

Our first stop on the tour was the Friðheimar greenhouse. Here we learned all about how farming is done locally in Iceland. If you have a chance, try the Friðheimar tomato soup which is made from the tomatoes grown on the premises. Iceland tries to grow their own food as much as possible so they don't have to import from other countries.
Icelandic Greenhouse
We continued on to Gulfoss waterfall which looks triangular and is fed by the waters of Iceland's second largest glacier Langjökull.
Throughout the ride on the side of the road we saw many horses. Icelandic horses are so special as they are pony sized and walk with five gaits.

The second part of the Golden Circle tour is to visit the geysers. Strokkur Geysir and the geothermal pools were so stunning to look at. The colors were beautiful, steam came out of the ground, and water exploded into the sky.
Hot, hot water.
Waiting for Strokkur to explode.
Stand back!
To conclude our Golden Circle Tour, we ended at Thingvellir National Park. Thingvellir National Park is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are separating from each other a little more each year. It was a center of parliament in the beginning, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and most recently a backdrop for Game of Thrones.
Thingvellir National Park
Photography Credits: Roxwriting, Desmond Chow

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 1 Iceland- Tour of Reykjavik

We took a trip to Iceland in February through an amazing package deal sold by IcelandAir. Weekend trips to Iceland were a bit of a trend with New Yorkers for a bit. We extended our trip by adding a few extra days to our vacation. We had high hopes of viewing the Northern Lights, looked forward to enjoying Valentines Day in Iceland, and couldn't wait to climb a glacier and experience The Blue Lagoon. It was time for some adventure and relaxation.

Our trip began with going through JFK airport. We were greeted by many airport security, who when they saw that our boarding passes were for Iceland, gave us funny looks and joked with us that we were leaving cold New York City for an even colder place. Iceland does sound like a cold and remote country but the weather forecasted for that week was to be slightly warmer there than in New York. We'd see for ourselves soon enough. Our friends' trip to Iceland just a few weeks before us showed pictures of them in snow bundled up and with waterproof windbreakers to protect themselves from harsh rain. It was a breeze checking in and going through airport security. We arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare.

IcelandAir was such a nice airline to ride. The seats were spacious, the food was decent, and there were tvs with movies and television shows for each seat. Each seat also had an Icelandic greeting to teach you a few simple Icelandic words and cultural bits.
Learning Icelandic
We arrived at Keflavic airport after a five and a half hour flight. Keflavic was a really nice airport, very clean and modern looking. The bathrooms were high tech and each stall was its own private bathroom. I had booked our transportation to our hotel in Reykjavik with Flybus. Flybus was a luxury coach liner and the ride was about 45 minutes into the heart of Reykjavik. Everything went smoothly. I was just really surprised with the epic winds we met outside of the airport walking to the bus. The winds were so fierce that they would push you. We even saw a few suitcases escape from their owners and end up on the other side of the street. Hold on to your bus vouchers, luggage, and children if you have any!

We did not have any specific plans for the first day except to get on a boat at night to go on a Northern Lights tour. We took advantage of the free time to see the city of Reykjavik.

Our self guided walking tour included visiting Harpa, Sun Voyager, Hallgrimskirja, Perlan, and walking through town. I'll elaborate more on the Northern Lights in a separate post.
Concert hall Harpa. I didn't get a chance to go inside because it was so early but the building itself was really nice to walk around. The lights on the outside change colors ever few seconds. Here you will smell the sulfur off of the water. Yay for rotten eggs.
This is the path we followed along the water to see many of the sights.
Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. This boat was massive and looked different depending on the lighting.  Take many pictures. They will all be beautiful!
The colorful houses of Reykjavik.
We went to the top of Hallgrimskirja church. It costs 700 kr to go up, roughly $7 USD.
The view from the top.

We saw Perlan in the distance from the top of Hallgrimskirja. It looked close enough to walk to. Bad idea. The route was not direct and the hill to climb to it was slippery from the ice and snow.
                    We took this picture on the roof of Perlan. We chose not to go to the Saga Museum or eat at the restaurant.

Photography Credits: Roxwriting, Desmond Chow

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Snacks in Amsterdam

It's very easy to get the munchies in Amsterdam. Even if you don't partake in the cafe culture, there is plenty to snack on in Amsterdam. Here are a few treats we came across on our trip.
Grocery store ice cream sandwiches.
Apple Taart from Winkel 43. Wash it down with mint tea.
Frozen Yogurt
Bloodsinaasappel (blood orange) sorbet
Hot dog with sauerkraut, fried onions, and bacon
Photography Credits: Roxwriting, Desmond Chow