On Travels Tips for Iceland

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Since about 2012, vacation travellers to Iceland has drastically increased – and the trend seems to be continuing. Because one’s travel will probably involve Reykjavik, here are some tips that are worth knowing before arriving.

Consider flying KEF-based Icelandair or WOW airlines (discounter) as they may provide considerable savings. We used Icelandair for our entire trip to the UK, and we would fly them again.

The international airport for Reykjavik is not in Reykjavik, but actually in Keflavik (KEF) – which is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik.

Given the airport location, Flybus and Grayline provide bus transportation to Reykjavik. Visitors can purchase tickets in the baggage area at the airport.

The buses will not take passengers to their hotel – but will stop at designated bus stops within the city, so select a hotel close to one of the bus stops. We got lucky with our hotel as it was very close to two stops. Thumbs up to the Skuggi Hotel.

 

Reykjavik is a very walkable city – so select a hotel in the city center or in the old city/harbor area.

Tour companies are abundant, and also use the same bus stops are airport transportation.

We found hotels and food to be expensive. Before booking we expected $300+ per night for a hotel. Once we were there, you learn to accept the $30 for pizza or spaghetti.

We mistakenly thought restaurants would be mainly fish – Not true as there are a wide variety of culinary offering.

Previous posts about Iceland

Enjoy any or all of the videos about intriguing Iceland.

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On Iceland: Reykjavik

We spent bits of four different days in Reykjavik. It is an easy city to walk, and there is enough to keep us busy. Interestingly, about a third of Iceland’s population is in Reykjavik.

Admiring the architectural pattern of basalt rocks of the Lutheran Cathedral

 

Smiling at the Sun Voyager metal sculpture saluting the Viking heritage

 

Engaging in the quaint building architecture

 

Strolling the main shopping street.

 

Loving the modern feel of the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

 

Marveling at the view across the water

 

Knowing how much Resa would enjoy the many murals (more in a future dedicated post).

 

Standing in amazement at the 10:45 pm sky

 

Enjoying the fireworks thanking us for visiting before leaving the next day

 

Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland, but not expect the grandness of New York, Chicago, London, or Paris. It’s not even close to Cincinnati. However, at 110,000 people, it’s large enough to offer a wide variety of activities, yet quaint enough to be manageable and make one feel comfortable. Bottom line: we enjoyed it – Thumbs up!

On Iceland – Day 2: The South Coast Tour

We continued with Extreme Iceland for Day 2, but this time for a trip along the south coast. It was simply another day of the beauty providing sensory overloaded.

Wondering about the numerous lava field I expected, but observing ecological succession with lava field covered with moss was a surprise

 

Seeing wonderful scenery

 

Walking behind the waterfall (Seljalandsfoss)

 

Strolling black beach (Reynisfjara)

 

Marveling at rock formations

 

Enjoying the view from Dyrholaey of the black beach we just visited

 

Reflecting about the setting of a farm with its fertile land and the glacier above

 

Hearing the roar of Skogafoss in its gorge

 

Standing on the glacier (Solheimajokull)

 

Never tiring of the landscape and the views

 

Continually admiring the landscape

 

…. after all, how could anyone get bored with seeing places like this.

 

Hope you enjoyed the brief highlights of Iceland’s south coast. Here’s a 2+-minute video showing the sights in motion.

On Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh’s human roots date back to 8000 BC, the city along the Firth of Forth became chartered in 1125. Today, it is Scotland’s political, cultural, and commercial hub. We journeyed into Edinburgh twice – first on a bus trip from Greenock (on the west coast) for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (previous post) – then several days later after our ship set anchor in nearby South Queensferry for encountering more of this Scottish jewel.

To me, Edinburgh was the most captivating of the cities we visited on this trip. The grand old stone buildings, the charm of Old Town, the Georgian and Victorian architecture of New Town, and being a city bustling with activity; – let alone the highly visible Edinburgh Castle sitting high on a hill above it all.

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With 5 major festivals in progress during August, the streets were not quiet – plus two cruise ships in town. I wonder how many of the people we saw were Edinburghers? But cheers to the many street performers!

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The Royal Mile (High Street) is Old Town’s main street. It’s loaded not only physical charm, it’s a vibrant area filled with shops, eateries, and establishments featuring adult beverages. Taking the long walk up the hill from our bus to the castle was a great introduction into Edinburgh. The feast continues by wondering nearby streets.

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As usual, our fee touched Edinburgh’s pavement many times on this day. This city is a visual feast – let alone filled with history. Greyfriars Bobby is an interesting story – a dog who faithfully stayed at his master’s grave for 14 years. Various people took care of Bobby during this time, and yes – he is buried a short distance from his master.

We loved Edinburgh and would like to return during a less-crazy time. We missed going into Edinburgh Castle because we chose to forego the long lines. Atop Calton Hill provides outstanding 360-views of the city, but I’ve shown enough pictures in this post. Besides the video shows it. Enjoy this 2-minute drone video tour giving you a taste of this fabulous city.

For those wanting to see more of Edinburgh, click here for a longer tour.

Next stop: Normandy France

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On a Tattoo

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No – This post is not about body art.

No – This post is not about Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) proclaiming “De plane! De plane!” from the Fantasy Island tower.

Yes – This post is about an evening signal calling soldiers to their quarters.

Yes – This post is about an extravaganza of music, marching, and performance by military bands from across the globe as England, Scotland, France, India, and Japan providing precision and power.

Yes – A night including 11 pipes and drum bands from Scotland (5), Australia (3). Germany, Malta, and one composed of 45 players invited from at least Argentina, Chile, Mexico, USA, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia; all combining together (at least 300) to bring a layer of complexity through a national tradition.

Yes – A night when about 50 fiddlers from the Shetland Islands, a local children’s choir of at least 30, an international dance company, and The Queen’s Colour Squadron supplied elegance and poise to the instrumentation.

Yes – For us, a night of spectacle, exhilaration, and awe. Welcome to the 2017 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – the 68th edition of a 3-week celebration of music, culture, and tradition.

The castle quietly waits …

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The call is made.

They emerge from Edinburgh Castle.

They keep coming onto the Castle Esplanade …

… to entertain with music and theatrics

… with music and dance

… with music and fire

… with grace and majestic grandness

All in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle that also served as a beautiful backdrop

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Attending this event wasn’t on our radar, but for other cruisers this is the reason this took this itinerary. Two days before the event, we noticed tickets remained through a ship excursion, so we decided pay the price and go. Maybe because of my music and band experience, hte finale with over 600 musicians and others was so moving with moments of chills running through my spine. The video below is a high-quality edited version (2+ minutes). The full 5+minute fixed-camera version is linked below the video.

Full version link of the final dress rehearsal (5+ minutes)

Next stop: Edinburgh by day

On the Scottish Highlands

Beautiful mountains, valleys, and rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands sets the stage for this post. After a day in Greenock, Scotland (on the west coast), we had a cruise day – and oh what beauty Scotland provided as we cruised.

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The following day we docked in Invergordon. Months before going we discovered that Invergordon itself doesn’t provide much, so we booked a tour with Gavin at Invergordon Tours –  and he provided a wonderful day that included quite a variety. He’s also quite the personality – and a very tall bald guy wearing a kilt.

Millionaire’s View provided our first scenic view of the area.

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The Falls of Shin was a scenic stop, but we didn’t see any Atlantic Salmon leaking the falls on their spawning journey. The water does drop again below where we took this picture.

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Dunrobin Castle is a 189-room castle overlooking Dornoch Firth with beautiful gardens below the castle on the way to the water.

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The castle tour was OK, but we loved the falconry demonstration.

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We spent lunch time in Dornoch, a quaint town. Dornoch Cathedral (Church of Scotland but originally Roman Catholic) is part of the town square.

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Scots are serious about their whiskey – so the tour included a stop at Glenmorangie distillery – famous for their single-malt whiskey, which stays barreled for 10 years. They also produce long-aged whiskies, plus other varieties that included 2 years in a different type of barrel – such as sherry, port, and sauterne. Good stuff!

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A video of images from the land to the strains of Scotland the Brave done by pipes and drums is a fitting way to end this post.

We recommend Invergordon Tours – so a shout-out to Gavin for a wonderful day.

Next Stop: An evening in Edinburgh

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On Belfast

I describe Belfast, Northern Ireland as beautiful, interesting, and gut-wrenching – and we were only there for a part of one day. On one end is the natural beauty, architecture, vibrancy, and history – and the other end The Troubles – the Northern Ireland Conflict (1968-1998).

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Belfast’s history is long and complicated. With its Bronze Age beginnings on the hills above, Belfast formed as a small settlement along the River Farset near where the river joins the River Lagan very close to its mouth at the Irish Sea.

A castle stood along the river during the Middle Ages. After a fire (1708), the owners rebuilt on a slope above the city where it still stands today.

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Today, Castle Street serves as a reminder of the original while the River Farset is enclosed below High Street.

Belfast’s population boomed during the mid-to-late 1800s as industry flourished: leading the way were processing tobacco from the New World, shipbuilding, rope making, and producing linen. Those industries are gone today, but toasts of its past remain – including the Titanic Museum located on the shipyard that built the Titanic.

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We took the Belfast Free Walking Tour – a 3-hour walk with a guide who encourage at the end. (We’ve done these in a few other European cities). Our guide was a local, and old enough to know The Troubles. He holds hope in today’s young generation because they are the first generation in 150 years that have not been involved in conflict.

Issues around The Troubles still simmer.  Physical scars still exist. Over 90% of children still attend segregated schools. Inhabitants are still divided by physical walls. The Peace Wall- which is anything but peaceful looking – still has gates that open and close daily. Politically-motivated murals decorate the wall. Memorials dot the neighborhood serving as a constant reminder of the past and the divisions.

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Since the Good Friday Agreement (1998), Belfast has undergone a social, economic, and cultural transformation.

Belfast is known for its many murals that tell its story – many (possibly most) are politically based. For mural enthusiasts, Belfast is a wonderland.

The Cathedral Quarter contains a courtyard (Commercial Court) that is a wall-to-wall-to-wall collage of images. Simply awesome! Although I hope to feature this area in its own post, here’s an interactive video allowing viewers to click-and-drag the image for a 360 degree view. The beginning includes some instructions, but not how to rotate the image.

FYI: Games of Thrones fans know Belfast as an important location for the show .. and yes, special tours exist.

Thanks to the Free Walking Tour and one of the hop-on hop-off bus lines, we saw and learned a lot in our short time in Belfast – a fascinating but gut-wrenching place. From the range of emotions of Titanic and The Troubles to the pride of its own as flutist James Galway, philosopher/author CS Lewis, and musician Van Morrison.

Here’s a promo video from one of the tour lines that will take you throughout the city.

I end with this song and video by Simple Minds (from Scotland) – Belfast Child – as it haunts me in a way Belfast did.

Next stop: The Scottish Highlands

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.