Thursday, November 10, 2016

Day 5 Iceland- Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa

The Blue Lagoon- a geothermal spa
Our last day in Iceland included a day trip to the hot springs Blue Lagoon. This was part of the package we bought on Icelandair. We found it to be a very good deal and if you happen to come across a deal as good as this one, by all means go for it. The Blue Lagoon trip included a van/bus pickup from Reykjavik to Blue Lagoon, Blue Lagoon Spa Comfort Experience pack, and bus transfer from Blue Lagoon to Keflavik Airport.

Everyone on our bus was also on their way to the airport. This meant that everyone on the bus had to check in their luggage for storage at Blue Lagoon. The line was hideously long as was the line to get into Blue Lagoon. Luckily, it was pretty organized and the lines moved at a reasonable pace. Please note that these lines do cut into your pool time. Overall, our pool time ended up being about an hour and a half. It wasn't long enough but just long enough to experience and want to return.

If you want to save money, bring your own towel from home or your hotel. Our package included a towel so we only had to carry our bathing suits with us. The Blue Lagoon Spa Comfort Experience pack included entrance fee, use of Blue Lagoon towel and bathrobe, skincare samples, one drink at the swim up bar, and a skincare voucher which we ended up not using. The Blue Lagoon also issues a high tech bracelet that opens and locks your personal locker and keeps track of purchases. It's a little tricky to use the bracelet to lock your locker since it is extremely sensitive to all the lockers nearby but there are available attendants to help you if you have trouble.

The locker room can be quite chaotic. My suggestion is to get in and get out as fast as possible. This requires you to pick a locker where it isn't crowded, strip down and put your things away, and take a quick shower for cleanliness. There is free shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and hairdryers on hand. You really don't need to bring any personal products. If nudity bothers you, there are some private stalls available. Being American, nudity does make me feel uncomfortable but in Iceland, it didn't matter. I even passed up the private stalls and just showered in the open. It was more efficient and no one cared. I went out to the pool but did not have a good plan to meet up with my partner. It took awhile to find each other but didn't hinder the fun. There isn't a lot of towel hangers to keep up with the ratio of people. Also all the towels are white. Just remember where you hang your towel and all should be fine. People were not into stealing from what I observed.

See where everyone hangs their towels and robes in the back?
Now the water! The water is hot but you get used to it. It is like a very hot bath or jacuzzi. The water is quite shallow. I'm 5'2" and the water came up to my chest. I am not a swimmer but at no point did I feel unsafe. The grounds are pretty big and even though it was crowded there is still a sense of privacy and intimacy. People are very respectful and polite. The line for drinks at the swim up bar takes awhile but its worth it to be able to sip a cold smoothie made with Skyr in the warm pool.

Submerging ourselves in the warm water.
His and hers smoothies.
Gopro picture.
There is a lot to do at the pool. You can book yourself a massage that takes place in the water. There are also sauna rooms, smaller pools, and pots of free mud available for your skin. It's pretty fun. A note about the water: it's salty. I thought I was doing myself a favor by wearing contacts but it turned out to be a horrible idea as some of the grainy water got into my eyes and it felt like my contacts and eyeballs were getting scratched. Next time I will just wear my glasses and deal with the fog. If you have long hair, definitely put it up. The water kills your hair. For weeks after, my hair felt coarse. I knew the water would damage my hair so I made it a point to get a haircut after Iceland instead of before the trip.

Mud mask!
The Blue Lagoon was such a fun experience and a great way to finish off an Iceland trip as well as relax muscles after a glacier hike. Once we got past the check in process and were in the water it was really relaxing. Everyone had a good time. There were a few with their gopro. Just shows how unique the experience was and everyone wanted to capture it. There are also Blue Lagoon employees walking around with an iPad taking pictures of people but we didn't come across them on our session. Last but not least take note of the time. There are clocks everywhere. Make sure you give yourself enough time to clean up and retrieve your luggage from storage. You don't want to miss your bus to the airport!

The steam.

Photo Credits: Desmond Chow

Blue Lagoon
240, Grindavik 420-8800

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Visit to Murray's Cheese Caves

We were invited by Google to have a tour of Murray's Cheese Caves on Bleeker Street. Did you know that Murray's makes their own cheeses?

Murray's Cheese Shop
 It's a very interesting process. From start to finish there are a few steps.
  • Collect milk from cows and goats. 
  • Heat the milk. An agent called rennet must be added to the milk which will cause the curds to separate from the whey. 
  • Cut and cook the curds. Drain and salt. 
  • This state is then molded and pressed into the shape of cheese needed. 
  • Dry the cheese and take to the cheese caves!
Compliance with sanitation and food safety first! Hairnets and lab coats.
Safety socks for shoes.
Cheese comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Burrata!
Cheese can get very stinky. Stinky cheese is kept in a separate part of the cave.
Like fine wine, cheese needs to age. It can take a few weeks, even months, to get the desired taste. This aging process can get very smelly and moldy. A cavemaster will have strict watch over the cheeses and do additional steps to preserve the cheese and get it to perfection.

The finished product.
There are many different styles of cheese to choose from. Sharp, mild, soft, crumbly, blue, stinky, the choice is yours to what tickles your fancy!

Pair cheese with nuts and dried fruit to enhance flavor.

Murray's Cheese
254 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10014

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Graffiti in Reykjavik

One of the things I loved while exploring Reykjavik was seeing the artwork and murals on the buildings, being bombarded with colors, and finding graffiti in every nook and cranny. Almost no alley or building facade was untouched. Here is what we saw while we walked around town.
Cafe menu with Hallgrimskirkja in the background.
Mountain poetry
How to tie a tie
Mexican food this way

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Food and Snacks in Iceland

Here is a sampling of the food and snacks we came across in Iceland.

1. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is the #1 hot dog stand in Iceland. It is located across the street from Harpa. This makes the hot dog a popular quick dinner or pre/post concert snack. It's a great way to sober up and in general an affordable anytime meal.
Typical night at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
A sweet tasting hot dog
The hot dogs are lamb with a mixture of pork and beef. They are commonly served with ketchup, sweet mustard, and fried onions called cronions.

2. Hlollabatar
The best sandwich shop located next to our hotel.
We usually shared a sandwich because each sandwich cost about $13 USD.
We ate at Hlollabatar twice due to time constraints between our day tours and night Northern Lights tours. It's fast food and located in Ingólfstorg, the main square of Reykjavik. We call these sandwiches submarines in the States. Icelanders call them boats.

3. Noodle Station
When you see this sign, you've come to the right place.
The Noodle Station
Chicken with extra noodles and topped with peanuts and chili pepper flakes.
Noodle Station may be the most popular noodle soup restaurant in Reykjavik. It's popular amongst the locals, the tourists, and those who stay nearby in the hostels. During peak hours, the restaurant can get very crowded. The soup is Thai style and offers a choice of beef or chicken with the option of an extra serving of noodles. We ate here twice on our trip because it was so good.

4. Nudluskalin

Nudluskalin is the other noodle shop in town. I wouldn't call it a competitor of Noodle Station, rather an alternative if Noodle Station is too busy. It is located down the street from Noodle Station. Nudluskalin offers more varieties of noodle soup. The hours are limited compared to Noodle Station. They close early.

Nudluskalin Menu
Gwiddíáw Domm Kha
Coconut Noodles with Turkey Meatballs
5. Drinks
Koko Mjolk
I'm sure this was for kids. It was rich chocolate milk.
These were our berry smoothies made with Icelandic yogurt Skyr at The Blue Lagoon. They were more tart than sweet.

6. Hakarl
Fermented Shark
Fermented shark is a national dish of Iceland. I was too wimpy and squeamish to try it.

7. Horse
Popular meat in Iceland
Horse in sausage form.

8. Eldur & Is

Eldur & Is is an ice cream and dessert shop. Their ice cream is delicious and they sell cakes made out of candy bars.
Single Scoop
Daim Cake
9. Candy

This candy shop at the Kolaportid Flea Market was very popular with the children. They sold chocolates, gummy candy, and lots of licorice.
Candy shop
Gummy and licorice
Kokosbollur (Chocolate Truffles)
10. Sandwiches
Ham and Cheese Sandwich
This is a typical sandwich I bought from a convenience store or bus stop. We were on the go so much we had to have emergency food in our backpacks just to get us through the day. These sandwiches were also a lot cheaper than the food at the cafes in the tourist spots.

Photography Credits: Desmond Chow, Roxwriting

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Tryggvagata 101
Hafnarstræti, Reykjavík, Iceland

Hlöllabátar Ingólfstorgi
101 Reykjavík, Iceland

Noodle Station
Laugavegur 86
Reykjavík, Iceland

Skólavörðustígur 8
Reykjavík, Iceland

Blue Lagoon
240 Grindavik 420-8800

Kolarportid Flea Market
Tryggvagötu 19 , Old Harbour, Grófin
Reykjavík, Iceland

Eldur & Is
Skólavörðustígur 2
Reykjavík, Iceland

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