World travel videos, photos, and blog.

Video Iceland

UPDATE: I've added some notes on Iceland, some of which is lifted from tips I've sent to others interested in Iceland. As of March, the US currency is four times stronger than it was when I was there!

My first big activity in Iceland was scuba diving in 32F water at Silfra in Thingvellir National Park.

I booked my dive through Reykjavik Excursions, one of the biggest tour companies in Iceland. It was slightly cheaper to book with them and in the end, it was that provided the gear and guide. All I needed to stay warm under the dry suit were a couple of pairs of socks and thermal underwear.

New Year's in Reykjavik was incredible but too difficult to capture on video.

New Year's Eve provided me with a wonderful introduction to Icelandic cuisine and culture thanks to my friend Ingvar and his family having me over for dinner. I think the only traditional food I'd had at this point was skyr, made of cultured skim milk. Its taste is similar to yogurt but its creation is closer to cheese. I had it with the included breakfast at the guesthouse.

Dinner at Ingvar's started with salmon marinated in salt and dill (graflax) served with a creamy mustard sauce and toast. We followed up with a beautiful pork roast, caramelized potatoes (Brúnaðar kartöflur), pickled red cabbage (Rauðkál), and mixed salad. Regina fixed us pomegranate and champagne cocktails but I was curious about the Egils Malt Extrakt that Ingvar's brother was drinking. It looked like dark beer. He mixed it with orange soda (Egils Appelsín) to make jólaöl. It wasn't a combination that looked very quenching. Days later I finally picked up a bottle of both. I prefer them both on their own than mixed. The Malt Extrakt is a brown sugary, malty drink that wasn't as bad as I expected. It's said that it keeps the Icelanders beautiful. Next time I'm bringing home a case. For dessert we had milk ice with fresh berries and chocolate sauce. I was stuffed but had to have a bit. It's like an icier version of ice cream. After dinner we ventured out to the beach for an enormous bonfire. Locals and tourists gathered around, faces illuminated, bodies toasting. I got a kick out of Bjork's black house amongst the row of prime beachfront properties. After chatting with other revelers we headed back to the apartment to join the swarms of people lighting fireworks on what seemed like every street. Ingvar had bought a couple of crazy rockets and a massive fireworks "cake". I lifted my personal ban on lighting fireworks to launch a rocket into the sky and was awestruck as the cake exploded into a mini pyrotechnic show. The amazing thing was, similar shows were going on for hours on every other street. And it wasn't even midnight.

Back in the apartment we imbibed Reyka vodka with pomegranate juice and I sampled Brennivin, a liquor made of potatoes and caraway seed that's often referred to as "BLACK DEATH". Awesome. Regina and I made some New Year's calls while Ingvar tuned into Áramótaskaupið, a satirical year end tv show that most of the population watches before midnight. Afterwards, we rushed over to Ingvar's grandparents' apartment for a better view of the city of Reykjavik as it seemed to explode all around us. It was a sight that has to be seen in person. We danced like maniacs for hours at a couple of clubs on the main strip. I wandered back to my hotel around 6am or so. It was one of the better New Year's Eves I've had the good fortune to experience.

In town, I mostly wandered around and got lost which is always nice. I went to the National Museum (free on Wednesdays) and the weekend flea market (not much there). The restaurants were pretty empty because of the economic crisis. Most Icelanders cook and drink at home. On weekends at midnight, they hit the clubs. I danced like a maniac at Salon and Vegemot (really beautiful people there). Some bars and cafes I popped into were Cafe Paris (touristy), Hresso (live bands some nights), and Dillon (kind of a rock and roll joint). I was trying to save cash so I ate a lot of sandwiches from the 10-11 shops (all night convenient stores). I had a nice dinner at Cafe Reykjavik (seafood soup and grilled halibut are good). I tried a pricey but tasty bowl of soup at Sea Baron (The New York Times allegedly named it best Lobster Soup in the world, you can get whale kebabs there, too, I passed). I also tried hot dogs at various stands. Gotta get the crispy onions. I never tried the fermented shark but I had plenty of lamb.

The landscapes in Iceland are generally out of this world.

Thanks to Ingvar's dad, we had a car and were able to skip town for a night and explore some dark and lonely beaches and wander around one of the national parks. The rest of the time, I booked day tours. All of the following were worth checking out: Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss water falls, Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Vik and the cliffs at nearby Dyrholaey, caving, scuba diving, and just wandering around Þingvellir National Park. The Blue Lagoon.

If you can't afford a car rental, you're left with day tours. There are a few big companies like Reykjavik and Icelandic Excursions. The most popular tour is the Golden Circle which takes you to geysers, waterfalls, and parks. Anytime you get out of Reykjavik and start to make your way into the countryside, it's breathtaking. Really beautiful landscapes. The Southern tours take you to a glacier, more falls, and a national park. Since it was raining, I chose more active trips like caving in lava tubes, glacier walking, and the scuba diving. I enjoyed them all but they get pricey. It was about $80, $120, and $300, respectively. Prices vary with the crazy currency fluctuations.

Day tours are great. They pick up from just about every hotel/guesthouse. They pretty much provide you with transportation and don't lead you around like sheep. Once you get to a place, you're usually free to wander. If you stay at Baldursbra, the host can book your tours for better prices. You can save 10% on Reykjavik Excursions with a coupon in the Visitor Guide. The Reykjavik Welcome card is only worth the price if you're taking the bus around the city a lot. Otherwise, most art museums are free and the other museums have free days if you plan accordingly. The Tourist Center in the middle of town has brochures a plenty but don't count on them to book the best prices. You really have to compare and do some currency conversions.

My last stop was the Blue Lagoon. It's mentioned in every tourist piece about Iceland so I was skeptical of its appeal. But I was blown away. It really is pretty beautiful. I bought a package that dropped me off there for a few hours on the way to the airport. This was enough time to soak in the lagoon, sit in the steam room, and take a walk around their grounds, which are stunning.


Our New President

I was really excited to have the opportunity to witness the swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States. I really don't buy into presidential candidates very often and voting has always been about choosing the lesser of two evils for me. What thrilled me about Barack was seeing how supportive the international community was towards him. Having traveled around the world under the Bush administration, I noticed a slight hostility towards Americans. I often jokingly apologized for being an American. In turn, most people would clarify that it was the government they hated, not the people (though one did chuck Euros at us in disgust). I really believe Obama's election has united people domestically and internationally. I told myself back in the fall that I would try to make it to Washington, DC to be a part of this historical event.

Fortunately, my friend Anthonette lives half a mile from the U.S. Capitol Building and kindly offered up a sofa bed for me to crash on. I rolled into DC the Friday before the Inauguration and spent some time with our friend Faisal and his family (watching Battlestar Galactica, in fact). We spent Saturday wandering around town trying to figure out the best strategy for watching the event. We had no idea when or how many people were going to show up. You could feel that it was going to be chaos though.

On Sunday, we headed out to the Lincoln Memorial for the We Are One concert that aired on HBO (USA Today, Live-blogged it). Despite the cold and crowds, the show was pretty good with performances that included Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, U2, John Legend, Usher, Jon Bon Jovi, and Garth Brooks. Some famous faces like Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, Jamie Foxx, and Denzel Washington showed up to do various readings. Jamie Foxx did a great Obama impression while Tom Hanks' Abraham Lincoln tribute felt a little long-winded. Garth Brooks ignited the crowd with "American Pie" and "Shout". Later, two bald eagles were brought out and displayed. The crowd seemed to expect them to be released in some sort of dramatic way. They weren't, it was a bit random. Finally, the Man, walked out and the people exploded in cheers or "Obama" and "Yes We Can". It was the first time I'd seen Barack in the flesh (I'm not counting the two seconds his motorcade passed us by in Hawaii). The energy was amazing around us. I looked behind me and the mass of people went farther than the Washington Monument. There was no doubt that Inauguration Day was going to be nuts.

Exhausted from standing out in the cold all day, Anthonette and I walked home and passed out for a couple of hours. We woke up and went down to a local pub called the Hawk and Dove for a night of dancing and tomfoolery. At 4am, we rolled home and collapsed til mid-morning. Monday was a day of lazy for us rather than a day of service. We hung out with some other out-of-towner friends and decided to try to turn in early so we could head out to the mall by 5am. Around 11pm, we got the email.

Anthonette's friend had extra tickets! By midnight, we were walking to a Congressman's office to pick up a pile of extra tickets. We scored two blue tickets which placed us in the standing room immediately behind the seated section. This changed everything. We spent an hour working out how we'd tackle the next morning and after snapping photos of ourselves with one of the town's hottest tickets, we got a few hours of shut eye.

Tuesday morning we got out of the house around 7am and started making our way out to the Capitol. There were crowds of people everywhere. We made our way towards the Blue Gate but it was one of those situations where you join a crowd that isn't 100% sure of what's going on or whether we were in the right place. Two hours later the mob started moving. Fortunately, we were able to move up the side of the line and up to the security check-point pretty quickly. We found our place among the million and a half people stuffed into the National Mall and smiled at our good fortune.

The ceremony was freezing and pretty exhausting. It was hard to really get my head into what was going on. It was too much to take in on so little sleep. The view of the crowd was incredible. Hundreds of thousands of people behind us waved American flags. People of every background, cheered, cried, prayed, sang, and smiled. We looked at our new president and hoped for the best, knowing that the country and the world was in a tough spot. After the swearing in we watched George Bush's helicopter fly away from the Capitol. People flipped it off, waved, and watched bad memories drift away in a helicopter.

Next up was the parade. We'd already decided that we would retreat to our friend's condo in the Newseum to watch the parade on TV. But our blue tickets enabled us to grab a spot at the beginning of the parade route where Obama's motorcade would pass by. Little did we know that we'd be standing in the cold for three hours before he drove by. But it was worth it. I was awestruck as his armored limo cruised by and he waved from the window. He was so close! As soon as he was gone, we bolted down the street to the Newseum and warmed our bellies with soup and wine. It was an exhausting day. But it was definitely a memorable one.


The Inauguration

I'm in Washington, D.C. for inauguration festivities. Been having a
good time meeting new people. Tonight my friend scored us tickets to
the ceremony. We'll be standing on the south side, in front of the
reflecting pool (and behind people who actually get to sit). It's
going to be cold and crowded but we're excited.

Passing Time

Sleeping, eating, walking. That's the extent of my New York activity.

I've posted some snapshots from the Iceland trip in my Picasa Gallery.

I might be going to Iran pretty soon and I wanted to tell you about Rick Steves' Iran: Yesterday and Today, airing on PBS this week. The one hour special explores the history and culture of Iran in the city and the countryside. Check your local listings. (Channel 9 or 10, Mom)

I'll be at the Inaugural Concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC this Sunday. The concert will include Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Renee Fleming, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, Heather Headley, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Usher Raymond IV, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor,, and Stevie Wonder. It will air in the evening at 7pm on HBO.


Island to Island

I stepped out of Penn Station last night and felt a brief awestruck as I looked up at the tall buildings of Manhattan. I clearly wasn't in Iceland anymore. 7th Avenue looked more crowded than any part of Iceland I'd been to.

I'm having a little rest today. I thought I'd put the small batch of photos from Iceland up and cut some YouTubes for you but I thought wrong. Oatmeal, laundry, and bed rest me thinks.

My last stop out of Iceland was pretty incredible. I visited the famous Blue Lagoon. I was skeptical of its appeal as it's mentioned in just about any piece of writing about Iceland tourism. Now I know why. Built out in the middle of nowhere amongst a moss-covered, volcanic landscape, this hot spring lagoon looks like another planet. I'll write more later. I need to blow my nose.


Glacier Walking

I've caught my first cold in months. I mean months! Yet I'm about to
go prance around a big block of ice all day today. Yesterday I only
made it through one museum on my day of museum hopping before an eye-
stabbing headache put me out of commission. The National Museum was
pretty interesting though. Regina and I brushed up on our Icelandic
history and had fun in interactive children's exhibits trying on armor
and ancient costumes. We were amused to watch to really young girls
'reconstruct a heathen grave' complete with a realistic recreation of
the skeleton lying in a grave.

I got invited to a lamb dinner for the last day of Christmas. While we
munched, fireworks exploded all over the city again.

Other notes: I had a bowl of soothing lobster soup at Sea Baron by the
harbor. I grabbed a bottle of Eglis Malt Extract to drink. I expected
it to taste pretty rank but it was tasty. It's a super popular drink
here and is said to be healthy for you and to keep you looking young.
I may have to stock up.


Lamb Dogs

Two with everything (though that's not my Coke, I don't drink soda)


Coffee and Caves

My sleep schedule is so erratic here. I can't tell if it's due to my
new taste for coffee or my annoying habit of having sleep for dinner
(a favorite meal in college by the way). Anyhow, for the second
evening in a row, I'm up at 1am too tired to read and not tired enough
to turn my brain off.

Sunday afternoon I hit the indoor flea market with Regina and Ingvar.
There weren't too many things of interest from sellers buy Ingvar did
give us a nice explanation of the different fish, meats, and other
delicacies for sale in the food section. Some interesting bits that
you don't see back home were sting ray, shark, and horse meats and the
first milk of a pregnant cow which when sold in a plastic water
bottle, looks like it could be orange juice. Black licorice is a very
popular candy and flavor here. It flavors everything from drinks to
chewing gum (salty licorice Extra?)

We had a couple of hotdogs from the stand made famous by Bill Clinton
a number of years ago. A typical Iceland dog is thin, made of lamb,
and served with crispy fried onions, fresh onions, ketchup, mustard,
and remoulade sauce. Tasty little buggers.

We ended the day early at a cafe, sipping coffee and playing cards.
Two cups of coffee ended up making me walk the streets listening to my
iPod at 1 in the morning. The streets were almost completely dead with
the few drunk tourists stumbling here and there. A stark contrast to
the midnight-6am partying of the night before.

On Monday we hopped in a van and went out to the national park where I
did my diving. This time I headed below the earth into the underworld
of a lava tube. Icicles dropped from the ceiling as we climbed through
melted rock chunks. At one point we stopped for a hot cocoa break,
turned our headlamps off, and took a moment to wonder in pitch
blackness. Your brain gets a little weirded out as your eyes search
the surroundings for any bit of light to adjust your vision. But
there's nothing. The pap of water on my wind breaker made me flinch.
The vulnarability of blindness made me raise my guard against funny
business. I was sure our guide was out to spook us after telling us
the legend of a farm girl who disappeared into these caves and was
said to appear topside wearing golden shoes. But after a few minutes
we were off again and later emerged from a snowy hole.

Other activities left for the week include museum hopping Tuesday
followed by the last holiday dinner if the Christmas season, a glacier
hike on Wednesday, and possibly a visit to the famous geyser and falls
on the Golden Circle tour. Though I may skip that because the weather
is poor and so is my bank account at this point. Afterall, I've got
New York to reckon with next week. Ah but I did prebook a stop at the
Blue Lagoon geothermic baths on the way to the airport. That'll make
my tourist checklist more complete.


New Winner

Tonight, this dance club, Vegamot, single handedly stole the title of
country with the most beautiful women away from Russia.
Congratulations Iceland, you're women are incredible. I only wish they
would speak to me.

It's 6am and people are finally leaving the clubs now. I guess I
should sleep. I'm going to miss free breakfast. Boo.


Dark and Lonely

Visited some black beaches, waterfalls, and licked a glacier
yesterday. I keep joking that Iceland is dark and lonely which suits
me just fine. Off to have a duck dinner.


Fireworks Wednesday

Happy New Year! Festivities in Iceland were amazing. The evening
started with an incredible home cooked meal followed by an enormous
bonfire on the shore in front of Bjork's house. After lighting a few
fireworks off we took a breather as Ingvar and the rest of Iceland
watched a year end TV program that satirizes the year's biggest
events. Not much made sense but I hear it was pretty amusing. We
rushed over to another home for a champagne toast before midnight as
the whole city exploded with fireworks. I mean the WHOLE city!!
Imagine every street launching a fireworks show for an hour straight.
There's no way to properly describe it or even photograph it. It's 360
degrees of explosions near and far. After a few cookies and chatting
with Ingvar's family we stopped home to do a little prepartying with
some if Iceland's quality beverages.

Then we hit a dance club where I flailed around the dance floor for
hours. Two scuffed up shoes and one broken camera later, it was nearly
6am. I made some calls to friends back home and met some very friendly
and attractive locals who were wondering why I was shouting into my
phone. Today I recuperated in my hotel room, thankful that I'd stocked
up on sandwiches.

Tomorrow we're taking a drive down south and spending a night outside
of the city. I'm looking forward to seeing some new sights.


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Location: United States A 29 yr old filmmaker from California traveled through Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia/NZ over ten months from April 2007 to March 2008.

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