Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in Hawaii, 2012

Lauren and I traveled to Hawaii for Thanksgiving this year. The focus was on spending quality time with all of Lauren's family, as it should be. I was very happy to catch up with members of my extended in-law family, some of whom I hadn't seen in a year or more.

Lauren and I did manage to sneak in some sightseeing time and a few cool photos as well, including the Spitting Cave near Portlock:

The view from the lighthouse near Makapu'u:

...and a birthday treat of dinner at Chai's Island Bistro, where we got to hear the Brothers Cazimero perform live in a really small, intimate venue(!):

Thanks and aloha once again to all of the family for being such gracious hosts!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ireland/Iceland Trip, day 10: Sunny morning in Reykjavik, and farewell to Iceland

We awoke to the first truly sunny day we'd had in Iceland, and we made the most of it by wandering outside, taking in the buildings, the waterfront, and the impressive Harpa concert hall.

We had time for a stop by the Culture House where some of the oldest copies of the ancient sagas are on display, along with some contemporary Icelandic artwork on the upper floor....

...and then, sadly, it was time to make our way to the airport, enact the incredibly sketchy (though undeniably convenient!) rental-car return plan, and wing our way back home.

We had an amazing time on this trip.  And although this was a great chance for the two of us to strike out on our own a bit, our "real lives" back home were always close as well.  We felt the support and generosity of so many friends with us in spirit each day, as we ventured to places and met people that we never would have known except through our friends.

Normal life starts up now, with Lauren returning to law school and me returning to work.  But we're so grateful to have had the opportunity to have this adventure together.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ireland/Iceland Trip, day 9: Iceland's "Golden Circle"

This was our day for cross-country driving and nature sightseeing in Iceland.  Again on Solveig's excellent advice, we toured the Golden Circle (well, thanks to slightly wonky GPS, call it our "extended, special" version of the Golden Circle).

Our first stop was Þingvellir, the meeting place of the Icelandic parliament for hundreds of years.  The Icelanders are rightly proud of their status as one of the earliest democracies to survive into modern times.  When chatting with us the day before, for example, Kjartan was quick to mention the 11th-century writings of Adam of Bremen, who described Icelanders thus: "They have no king except the law."

Wandering around the volcanic rock and dramatic streams and lake of Þingvellir, it was remarkably easy to picture representatives gathering to create and recite the law of the land here more than a thousand years ago...

The next stop was Geysir, from which English derives its word "geyser."  Impressive bubbling and shooting pools, with boiling-hot water sloshing around.  Also, a surprisingly cool cafe where we grabbed lunch and watched vintage videos showing matches and instruction in Glima (Icelandic wrestling), which is the national sport.

Then, it was on to Gullfoss ("golden falls"), which felt like an up-close-and-personal Niagra to me.  Also an important spot for the modern conservation movement in Iceland, since an early conservationist successfully worked to prevent the damming of the falls.

We then moved on to the Kerið crater, whose dramatic reds were a little muted on this gray and drizzly day.  Quite a sight, nonetheless.

It's easy to focus on the sightseeing destinations on a day like this, but I think the thing I'll remember most is just the look and feel of the Icelandic landscape sliding by during our long stretches in the car.

After returning to Reykjavik, we enjoyed a dinner at Solon, where we had a drink combination that was likely the beginning of a lot of great (or terrible) nights for Arnar and Solveig in days past ... [brennevin in front, Egils Gull beer waiting in the wings]:

We then relaxed and chatted late into the night at a few local spots, including the Lebowski Bar (some concepts transcend all geographic boundaries, clearly).

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ireland/Iceland Trip, day 8: Visiting Kjartan at Kólus factory, Sightseeing in Reykjavik

Our dear friend Solveig, who was born and raised in Iceland, helped us with so many suggestions for our trip.  We were thrilled to hear that her father, Kjartan, was available during our visit and was interested in showing us around the Kólus candy factory that their family has owned and operated for decades.

Lauren discovered a love for the saltier Icelandic licorice, and she also rediscovered a love of factories in general.  Kjartan told us all about the candy-making process, and he regaled us at length with facts about Icelandic history and culture.  It was a joy to start our first full day in Iceland in the company of a local, and we are very grateful to Kjartan and Solveig for making this happen.  [Oh, and thanks once again for the staggering amount of candy we got to take home.  We're still munching our way through it now!]

We drove from the factory to the base of The Pearl, where we could take in a great view of the city...

Then it was on to lunch at Cafe Paris, followed by some shopping and museum-hopping in Reykjavik...

...and then it was time to make the mandatory stop at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur ("The Best Hot Dogs in Town").  One of our guidebooks estimated that the vast majority of Icelandic citizens have had a hot dog from this little stand at one point or another.  They've got a picture of Bill Clinton chomping on a dog hanging behind the cash register.  And they claim to have the best hot dogs in the world.

I'm from Chicago.  I take such claims seriously.  I was going to find out for myself, and rain wasn't going to stop me.
Conclusion?  They were darn good hot dogs, in a very different style from (say) the classic Chicago-style hotdog or a Hot Doug's creation.  Best in the world?  Could be, depending on how your tastes run.  I will say that just thinking about the sweet mustard and crunchy-onion topping is making my mouth water a bit as I write this.

While we were standing and eating our hot dogs, some Icelanders on a work scavenger hunt approached us, and asked me to read an Icelandic sentence aloud on camera, then shout "woohoo!"  I happily played the hapless tourist and obliged.  Two words, roughly 20 syllables total, and I still remember that the first syllable was "Þer," but after that I quickly fell into the glossolaliac gibberish they were hoping for.  All in good fun, of course.  To the foreign ear, the Icelandic language has a beautiful sound, but it's notoriously hard to pick up.  Our guidebook recommended that we not even try: "Icelanders learn English from an early age and most speak it well, albeit with a charming and quirky accent.  You are only likely to find a language barrier if you were to speak in Icelandic since Icelanders are not used to foreigners trying to speak their language and usually just reply in English." :)

After that, more shopping(!), some sightseeing at the Hallgrímskirkja church, which Lauren said was the most beautiful church she'd ever seen, but which I found to be a bit blocky and imposing:

Cool statue of Leif Ericsson out front, given by the US:

We stumbled into an impromptu concert from local band Tilbury in the well-loved local 12 Tonar music shop.  Lauren is now their biggest fan (seriously):

...and then we finished the day with a romantic, fancy dinner at Perlan (The Pearl), which is a rotating restaurant on a nearby hill offering great views of the city.

So ended our big "city" day in Iceland, with a tour around the countryside to follow on the morrow...