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Iceland Part 2

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Iceland Part 2 (Waterfalls & Mythology)

ICELAND DAY 4

Waking up early because “sleeping in” is for the weak and lazy… Hit the road and see more of Iceland… A slightly bumpy road, but the views were to die for. Our journey would take us down to the south. Past some famous waterfalls to one of the most visited black sand beaches. The map was as follows:

Full Route

ION Luxury Adventure Hotel to Skogafoss

Iceland Part 2

First stop was Skógafoss, a 2hr drive from Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel through Selfoss. The scenery on the drive was breathtaking and we enjoy some Icelandic music provided by our driver DJ (AV). But nothing made our jaw drop like the view of Skógafoss as we drove into the carpark (parking lot).  

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Skógafoss was formed when coastline receded leaving the former coastline cliffs standing as a clear divide between the Icelandic highlands and lowlands.  The Skógá river provides enough water to make Skógafoss one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland. It’s 82ft (25m) width and huge 200ft (60m) drop produces double rainbows.  It did not disappoint, we loved the opportunity to snap some photos at the foot of the falls. AV chanting viral internet favourite catchphrase “Double rainbow all across the sky, what does it mean?” It meant another reason Iceland was like no other place on earth.

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The movie buffs recognise the location from Marvel Studios film Thor: The Dark World. It also featured in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The site is stunning, it’s obvious why cinematographers love shooting it but is must be a challenge to deal with electrics and the constant mist from the falls.

For the energetic and/or adventurous, there is a cliff-side hike that takes you to the top of the falls. Be ready for stairs, there are many but it is very well worth the effort.  Nothing gives the full grandeur of its scale like the view from the top. During the summer hiking season, it is also possible to head down the eastern side towards the Fimmvörðuháls pass which winds through the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Continuing further will have you passing through Þórsmörk then on to the famous Laugavegur to Landmannalaugar. We think the Friend’s will have to return to try the summer hike in the future.

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There is an Icelandic legend that says the original Viking inhabitants buried a great treasure behind the falls. Locals allegedly found the treasure chest centuries later, But as they grabbed the ringed handle the chest disappeared in front of their eyes. The ring was donated to a local church and is now housed in a local museum. Knowing the Icelandic love of mythology, it is a little hard to give much credence to the story.  That didn’t stop the boys from wanting to search for it. Luckily Moosh and Sherri’s votes count for double, so FT and AV were ushered back to the car before they getting too wet!

 

Back into the car, we were off to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach a 30min drive from Skógafoss.

Skogafoss to Reynisfjara

Iceland Part 2

Reynisfjara and the Black Sand Beach, in is in Reynishverfisvegur which is near the village of Vík í Mýrdal. The site is an icon amongst icons in Iceland. The original Viking legend tells a tale of two Trolls caught by the morning light attempting to drag a three-masted ship to shore. Frozen to stone, by the rising sun they turned into the needles of rock that can be seen off the coastline.

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The Black Sand Beach is a black pebble beach. The wind was blowing hard reminding us that the arctic circle is at the whim of the elements. There have been many emergency situations and even fatalities from people caught in the strong and unpredictable wind and waves along the coast. We stayed away from the water and we suggest other visitor do the same.

The Basalt stacks are a great photo opportunity and there was no chance we could withhold our excitement clambering to climb on them for more photos. The Basalt is smooth and almost soft to touch (ironic for volcanic rock). The punishing wind and rain has polished the rock, not to mention tourist like us.

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There is a nice little cafe that takes advantage of the many tourists. The coffee and tea tasted ok, but the weather was rather cold, so anything to warmed us was beneficial.

We were on the road again and towards another waterfall. Seljalandsfoss, a 45min drive from Reynishverfisvegur. The roads are very good along this stretch so it was a very easy drive. We had planned to stop at the famous abandoned airplane that is a short walk from the main road. But time was getting short and we wanted to make the most of the last two stops. Part of travelling is setting plans, but also knowing when to change them for the betterment of the overall experience. Make the most of the time you have, but don’t get caught up in regret of missing something. There will always be things you can’t get done, cherish the things you do.

Reynisfjara to Seljalandsfoss

Iceland Part 2

Seljalandsfoss is another famous Icelandic waterfall. Situated along route 1 it is very popular with day-trippers from Reykjavík. The waterfall has a 60ft (18M) drop, but what makes it truly unique is being able to walk behind easily. Be prepared to get muddy shoes and a cold spray, but it is well worth the trek.

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Fed by Seljalands-river it’s water originates from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Truly a case of beauty from Icelandic fire and ice.

Amazing Race fans will recognise it from season 6. We were not in a race, however, so we took our time and got some great photos and a once in a lifetime experience.

The final leg had us heading back 2hr through Selfoss and Grindavik to our final location the Blue Lagoon.

Seljalandsfoss to BL

Iceland Part 2

The drive through the southern coastal landscape is otherworldly. The Basalt boulders take on a rusted orange hue in the afternoon sun. The lichen and moss almost appears greener compared to inland. After a long day of driving it has hard to keep the wheel straight and not get lost in the surrounding. We needed a soak in the Blue Lagoon, to revitalise our minds, body, and souls. But first, we had to skirt the edge of Grindavik.

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Grindavik is a small but modern fishing village situated the on the Reykjanes peninsula. One of the 3 early Viking settlements on the peninsula the site was originally called Járngerðarstaðarhverfi. Járngerðarstaðarhverfi was established by the sons of Molda-Gnúpur Hrólfsson who along with Þórir Haustmyrkur Vígbjóðsson was instrumental in colonising the Reykjanes peninsula.

 

The Blue Lagoon is the premier tourist attraction in Grindavik and the best known geothermal health spa in Iceland.

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We booked ourselves into the Blue Lagoon Silica Hotel which is a just ten-minute walk from the Blue Lagoon. The hotel offers its own private bathing lagoon which is only available for hotel guests. Open every day from 09:00 to 22:00 dodging the tourists and locals make the room price worth it.  The hotel has won several design awards and it was obvious from the moment you arrive. Built in harmony with the surrounding landscape, it offers an oasis of calm, relaxation, and healing. The hotel has 35 bright and spacious double/twin rooms. All rooms offer private facilities and a veranda, with breathtaking views of the surrounding lava fields. To say it felt luxurious would be an understatement, it felt both stylish and high class, but incredibly relaxing at the same time.  A quick freshen up and we jumped into our bathing suits for a soak in the Silica baths.

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The Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon. It’s geothermally heated waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur. It is claimed they have therapeutic properties helping those suffering from skin diseases like psoriasis.

The water temperature averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F) and is fed from the geothermal power plant called Svartsengi. The water is renewed every two days keeping it clean and fresh. The plant uses superheated water vented from the ground near a lava flow that runs turbines generating electricity for the local community. After passing through the turbines, the steam and hot water pass through a heat exchanger which heats the municipal water system. The water is then fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal use.

The mineral content is obtained from the underground geological layers. Which are pushed up to the surface by the hot water during the power generating process (at about 1.2 Mpa (170 psi) pressure and 240 °C (464 °F) temperature. Because of the high concentration of minerals the water cannot be recycled.  Therefore the only option is to deposit it in the nearby landscape. The milky blue shade of the water is primarily caused by the silicate minerals. The water slowly re-enters the ground after being pumped and stored on the surface. Leaving the silicate deposits impermeable to the volcanic rock. The milky blue deposits can be seen across the nearby the lava fields and the plant needs to continuously dig new ponds. Something the owners of The Blue Lagoon have taken advantage of, with their many expansions. The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water. Of course they have found a really good way to make money by bottling the mud for home use.

The experience was amazing, soaking, floating and sipping on some Icelandic lager made the Silica Hotel the right choice. There are something that are worth paying more for. This was certainly one of them.

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After an amazing dining experience at the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, we were unsure if Iceland could top it. We booked a table at Lava at the Blue Lagoon. A restaurant that is headed up by Iceland’s first celebrity chef Ingi Þórarinn Friðriksso.  We scraped off the mud, put on our fancy clothes and walked across the lava fields to the main Blue Lagoon building that houses Lava.

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Head chef Ingi Þórarinn Friðriksson leads a team that prides themselves on having an international perspective, regularly seeking inspiration by spending time at Michelin star restaurants in New York, London and Paris. The food certainly lived up to those lofty aspirations. Check out the review on our Foodie page.

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ICELAND DAY 5

A restful night sleep in the Silica Hotel we arose to a nice buffet breakfast with a selection of fresh fruit and of course Skyr. We took one last soak and were ready for our last half a day sightseeing before jetting off to London.

Blue Logoon to Reykjanesbær

Iceland Part 2

Not wanting to stray too far from the airport we decided to stay in Reykjanes and check out some of the tourist attractions nearby. We headed up to Reykjanesbær a 20min drive from The Blue Lagoon and only 6min from Keflavik International Airport.

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Reykjanesbær is the 5th largest municipality in Iceland. It has a quaint little main street and is probably best known for being home the Viking World Museum. It was our first stop for the day. We enjoyed learning about Viking culture and history.

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Viking World hosts a permanent display of the Íslendingur, the replica of the Gokstad Viking ship. Built in the late 1990’s using traditional methods. It was sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Commemorating the millennial anniversary of Leif Ericsson’s voyage there and then to New York.

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The curators have suspended the ship from the ceiling and allow people to walk on the deck. This gives you a really tangible understanding of the workmanship, skill, and bravery required to construct and sail a ship in such an inhospitable geography.  There is a selection of other Viking artifacts and information regarding the culture and challenges faced by the nordic colonialists.

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They have a space set aside for temporary exhibitions. When we visited it was housing an audio tour explaining the ancient nordic religious myths and stories.  Colourful UV light enhanced 2D dioramas complements the audio. The artwork combined with the fanciful mythology has an almost comic book feel. It is clear to see why Marvel embraced Thor as a comic book character.

 

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The staff were very friendly and even allowed us to put on some wool pelts and cheesy Viking helmets for a couple of fun photo ops.

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It was time for lunch and our last chance for some quintessential Icelandic flavours. Unfortunately, a lot of the main street restaurants were shut. We were departing on a Sunday which seems to be a sleepy day for the village of Reykjanesbær. We managed to find Rain Bar Restaurant and Caffe.

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It’s decor was dated compared to many of the other places we had visited and it was pretty obvious is wasn’t going to be a culinary highlight. The view was really nice and it gave AV the chance to order Whale Steak with Pepper Sauce.

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Nordic countries are renowned for being happy to devour sea mammals. AV was aware of this and he had been looking for it since arriving.  Most Non-Nordic or Japanese might be a little disgusted by the idea of Whale Steak. But as the Four Friends One World food daredevil, AV had to oblige. The things he does for our readers.

Whale Steak is an interesting dish. In this case, it was Grey Whal. As mentioned, we doubt this was the finest version of the dish, but interesting nonetheless. The meat was slightly gamey with a mild minerally aftertaste and unique umami. On the whole, not an unpleasant dish like some people had forewarned. AV said after finishing the dish “I look forward to trying again another day, at a restaurant that might do it with a little more class”. But remember this is the same person who said he wanted more Hákarl (Rotten Shark) so perhaps take his advice with a grain of salt worthy of a whale steak!

 

We piled back in the car and headed to the airport via a refill at a nearby gas station (petrol station). Iceland uses a card-based payment system. You purchase the card inside the store or at the end of the pump stand. Then insert the card at the pump to redeem it for fuel. This takes a little planning so that you do not overfill your card with more than your tank can take.  We didn’t do a great job with this and left Icelandic Krona on our card.

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We dropped the car off and boarded the shuttle bus to the terminal.

The Keflavik International Airport is a nice airport, they have great amenities and of course they sell all the quintessential Icelandic items we had grown love.  We picked up some candy and a bottle of Black Death.  I am sure we would have stocked up on more if we had been returning directly home from Iceland.

As we boarded the plane it became clear that we were leaving a little piece of ourselves in Iceland. We had seen so much, but there was still so much left to see and do. It’s a big world and we want to see and share more of it. It is hard to commit time and money to revisiting places. We like to tick them off the list and move onto the next. However, it is very hard to say we won’t be back to Iceland. We predict the Vade’s will take advantage of the many stop-over deals Icelandair is offering on routes to Europe.

 

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  • 11

Cancun, Mexico

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Our few days in Mexico City were jam-packed, so the idea of heading somewhere for a little downtime was refreshing.  We’ve all heard of Cancun and its general association with Spring Break, college students, drunkenness and the like.  Now we couldn’t have been further from Spring Break, but it was early January and still holiday season, so we were a little anxious as to the level of rowdiness in the air.  Sigh of relief, it was peaceful, quiet and perfect.

CANCUN DAY 0.5

As our shuttle pulled into the steep driveway of the Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe we got a sense of just how colossal it was, only that wasn’t even half of what was on offer.  We were unsure of what to expect at our first all-inclusive hotel but were ready for the experience.  There was a slight (beneficial) hiccup at check-in that saw Moosh and FT upgraded to a beachfront villa for the first night.  Hello, short-lived awesomeness! (Although, have you ever sat in a first class seat and then been directed back to economy? #supersadface).  That night we had dinner at The Cocay Restaurant and for a buffet style, complete with some cooked to order options, it was fairly decent with loads of fresh choices.  Once Vade and FT had finished round 3 of desserts, we bought some beer and went back to the villa.  Cue music and twilight beach views, the perfect setting to plan the days ahead.

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CANCUN DAY 1

Good morning Mexican sunrise, balcony, camera – selfie time!  We readied ourselves for the day ahead and set off on the Chichen Itza tour (12 hours return) booked through Viator.  The experienced guide allowed us to learn more about the history of Chichen Itza.  The tour also included lunch with traditional dancing and a couple hours at Ik Kil Cenote (giant sinkhole).  Unfortunately, we were not aware that you could swim in the cenote so our swim gear was back at the hotel, nonetheless it was still beautiful to visit and see the surroundings.  The cenote is 60m in diameter, 26m below ground level and has a carved stairway leading down to a platform.  Note that the stairs are slippery when wearing flip-flops, so slow and steady as they say!  After cenote time, it was bus time, go time, then Chichen Itza time.  

The most recognisable structure at Chichen Itza is most commonly known as El Castillo (Spanish for Castle) and is also known as the Temple of Kukulkan.  The temple has four sides of 91 steps, comprising 365 steps total, each step represents a day of the year, with the 365th step at the top of the platform.  We took so many photos but it just didn’t seem enough, every angle provided another perfect shot.  Thankfully you are not allowed to climb the ancient monuments, not only preserving them for future generations but allowing you to capture some excellent photos without having someone’s accidental front bum in view!  There are many more sacred temples, columned arcades, and other stone structures within this World Heritage Site which absolutely blew our minds and when you visit – we are sure you will agree.  After walking around in the searing sun learning about the history, culture and meaning of the Mayan ruins, we had to check out the market stalls.  As with most tourist spots there are masses of locals selling souvenirs, but thankfully it didn’t detract from the amazingness of Chichen Itza.  In fact the handmade pottery pieces, in varying forms and so colourfully painted, were a joy to look at.  Our slight concern of ‘fragility in transport’ was overcome by the want for some of these handicrafts, and not long after we walked away with plates/platters and day of the dead skulls.  After a full day out in the sun we were beat, and of course, the bus ride home always seems longer.  We missed our dinner reservation at La Concha seafood restaurant, so a buffet feast was the only option.  Given the long day out, albeit sensational, we were dog-tired and hit the hay nice and early.

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CANCUN DAY 2

Some days it’s a treat to have no alarm scream at you to wake up.  To allow yourself to lay in until whatever time, then prepare yourself for a day of nothingness.  Our day had arrived. Pool time, Cocktail time, Sun time!  The pool was calling our names and with our boardies and bathers on we made our way there, after breakfast of course.  It is said you should wait 30-minutes before swimming when you’ve eaten, but nothing is said about consuming Margarita’s for that bench warming duration.  So we did, and did some more.  The un-measured ‘free pour’ drinks had serious gusto, and thankfully they went down just the way we wanted – smoothly.  The sun was shining, the water was a pristine blue and the view of the beach beyond was a postcard (do people even still send postcards?).  Added to all that perfection, the company of Four Friends – well let’s be honest, it could not be beat.  We were lucky to see a few Iguana’s near the pool and soon realised they had the same idea as us, just chillin’ in the sun.  In total we spent 5 hours getting kissed by the sun, leaving a gentle tan for Moosh and FT but serious ouchies for Vade and Sherri.  Even with copious lathering’s of SPF they got extremely burnt, for their Vancouver skin was not used to the sun.  So much so that Aloe Vera gel and moisturiser simply dried like milk on hot pavement (will let you picture that one).  It was not comical, they were in serious pain and as a result Sherri could not make it to dinner that night.  Vade pushed through his soreness and we dined on Italian food at El Mirador.  The food was delicious and proved to be an outstanding treat for the senses, looking ever as wonderful as it tasted!  So even though Four Friends were Three Friends it was still a great evening.  Our fingers were crossed for dear Sherri that she would be feeling better for our last day together.

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CANCUN DAY 3

Tour booked, time for snorkelling at Puerto Morelos.  Sherri had never been snorkelling before and we knew she was in for a real treat.  The water was nice and cool, the perfect temporary antidote for Vade and Sherri who were rather burnt from the day before.  Kids….pay attention, Wear extra sun lotion or as we say in Australia “slip, slop, slap!”  (Although it’s not always possible to follow the other two S’s – seek & slide – what if there’s no shade to seek? And slide on sunglasses….all day? Helloooo….tan line!)  We saw a myriad of colourful fish and coral of all shapes and sizes and had an epic time.  Sherri had a blast declaring, “We need to incorporate snorkelling into every vacation!”  We worked up a serious appetite as the current had pushed us around a bit and fortunately for us the guide took us to La Playita, a small family restaurant not overrun with tourists, with delicious well-priced food.  What made the lunch even more special was the seating on the sand, bare foot and natural, unlike many others with man-made deck’s hovering in the air.  Puerto Morelos is a cutesy little town, not huge which is nice but just enough to allow a walk around and give a sense of small time Mexico.

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Dinner was booked for a place called Pik Nik which came highly recommended by Trip Advisor.  The restaurant was Downtown so we jumped into a taxi and away we went, ready for a night of great food and great company.  We ordered up a storm and had to get some margaritas, after all it was our last night together, right?  When the drinks arrived Sherri turned to Moosh and said, “I have something to tell you”.  

Moosh replied with excitement, “You’re moving back to Oz?”  

Sherri laughed it off and exclaimed, “No, we are coming to New York with you!!!!!”

Well, Moosh started crying, her joy manifesting as tears.  That moment made the night and the holiday – “Another round of drinks then shall we?”  Just so happened that 3 of the 4 had united to surprise Moosh, and surprised she was!

So our food arrived and it was AAAHHHHMMAAAZZZIIINNNGGGG, everything was traditional, delicious, full of flavour and the service was spot on.  Thank you Trip Advisor for pointing us to this place.  Pik Nik does not have a website, relying purely on reviews and we could not recommend highly enough that this is a ‘must-do’ when in Cancun.  The owner gave his time to speak with diners during the course of the evening and was even kind enough to walk us to the main street (60m away) and flag a taxi.  He gave the destination to make sure we were taken direct, as the taxi on the way to Downtown took a longer route.  Back in Cancun, we took a stroll of the nightlife zone to see ‘where it’s at’.  We walked past Congo Bongo and a few other clubs, with no intentions of going in but it was a nice night for a walk, until the rain started.  

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Knowing that we now had extra time all together was very exciting.  To be sharing the streets of NYC once again as Four Friends, we would be sure to experience it very differently to last time.

 

TIPS for Cancun

Be prepared and buy Aloe Vera lotion before departing – you don’t want to pay resort prices

Pedestrians DO NOT have right of way in Mexico

Negotiate your taxi fare upfront

Buy bottled water

Get up early and walk along the beach – it’s too nice to not do this


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