Skip to content

Chicago Trip

Anne and I are enjoying a nice weekend in Chicago, a rare mini getaway from Toronto and our winter routine. We flew down Saturday morning (Porter Airlines doing its comfortable thing), spent some time at the Art Institute of Chicago, and saw Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West” at the Lyric Opera (starring Deborah Voigt).

Today (Sunday) is R&R day, with a nice brunch at Puck Cafe at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and a dinner reservation at Bin 36. There’s some cloud but it’s above freezing, a wonderful preview of the spring.

New job!

On Tuesday this week I rejoined BMO after a short hiatus, moving from operations to the finance department. Specifically I will be tracking and helping to coordinate the technology development budget: all of the money BMO spends on projects. So far, so good… A lot to learn!

BIG thanks to everyone who helped me with the job search, and I wish my old team in Wholesale Banking Product Ops all the best.


Feast of the Dedication, SMM, 2010

The Golden Circle

Friday, 6pm
Centrehotel Plaza, Reykjavik

Thursday morning we bade a tearful farewell to the Myvatn horses and set off for our long drive back to Reykjavik. The weather was warm, but with patches of cloud. As we descended into Akureyri there was a thick bank of fog, but we cleared it as quickly as we entered it and by and large the weather was clear for most of the day.

We stopped at a gas station for a typical Icelandic road lunch: hot dogs and a drink. (Anne even went for the luxury hot dog — bacon-wrapped!). The terrain was as varied and beautiful as ever. North of Reykjavik we passed through a 6km toll tunnel under a fjord, and by 4 pm we were back in town.

Our first stop was to the Centerhotel Klöpp. We had some anticipation about staying there, as this would be our third and last attempt: both the first and second times, they had moved us to a sister hotel (Arnarvhol, very comfortable) instead. We arrived at Klöpp — and they had lost our reservation (despite the email confirmation I had received, which I was able to show them). So we were sent to the Centerhotel Plaza instead, right in the heart of the town by one of the main shopping squares. Oh Klöpp, how could you treat us so? The Plaza is ok, but not as nice as Arnarvhol and way noisier at night. Oh well, it’s only two nights…

Once we had dumped our stuff we dropped in at the tourist information centre (next door to the hotel, one plus) and got some advice for our Golden Circle tour on Friday. We also confirmed that the city’s Harborhüs Art Gallery was indeed open late on Thursdays. So after a pizza dinner (at Hornud, not bad) we went to the gallery.

Good: the price (free) and the building (modern conversion of a port storage facility). Bad: the art. We’ve enjoyed some Icelandic sculpture (e.g. in the gallery in Akureyri) but this museum had only three artists featured, and none of them did anything for us.

Friday morning, after a noisy and somewhat sweaty night in our un-airconditioned hotel, we breakfasted and headed out of town.

A short aside to describe the typical Icelandic hot breakfast: coffee (strong), meusli with sürmjolk (sort of like yogurt), and then bread (toasted or buns) with some combination of salami, fish, jam and cheese.

Back to the drive: heading west of the city on a gorgeous day, we drove to the ancient Icelandic parliament site, Thingvellir (Þingvellir). It’s a dramatic site, on the edge of Iceland’s biggest lake (Þingvallavatn), and right on the fault line dividing the North American and European plates. The site is bordered by some nice rocky crevasses, and has two downsides: (1) a lot of tourists, and (2) a lot of midges. Still, worth seeing.

From Thingvellir we continued on to the second Golden Circle site, Geysir. This area has a number of hot bubbling pools and two major geysirs: the “old” Geysir, and Strokkur, which nowadays gets all of the tourist attention despite its much smaller jet (only 30 metres, versus Geysir’s 70!) because it erupts dependably every 4-8 minutes, and some times even more often. (Geysir goes off a couple of times a day at boringly unpredictable times.)

We skipped the third stop on the tour, Gulfoss, which is a much smaller version of Niagara Falls, because, well, it’s a much smaller version of Niagara Falls. Instead, we drove back by a different route and stopped briefly at Kelið, one of several lava craters near Selfoss, south of Reykjavik. Refreshing lack of tour buses!

So then we drove back to Reykjavik for the last time this trip. We got back by 4 and after a recuperative coffee (with an excellent view of the local colour at the “see and be seen” bar opposite) we dropped some tourist dollars at the trendy North 66° store and ambled back to the hotel to fill in our tax refund forms and put our feet up for a bit.

Home tomorrow! We’ve had an amazing two weeks here. For me this is the second-best place I’ve ever been for natural beauty and outdoor activities (we both agree that New Zealand can’t be topped) and one of the best trips ever. We’re starting our list of things to see next time we visit! And of course, tomorrow we get Iceland’s famous spa, the Blue Lagoon, to send us off right!


Wednesday, 8:30pm
Hotel Reykjahlid, Myvatn

This morning the skies over Lake Myvatn were overcast, which would have been disappointing for our original plan, which was to rent bikes and cycle around the lake. Fortunately we’d already decided to ditch that plan and head to Akureyri instead. When we got there it was sunny. Yay for sloth!

After a quick visit to the helpful information centre we headed into downtown Akureyri (that is to say, the pedestrian street, a block away) and found the Blue Cup Café. This was an exceedingly convivial spot for coffees, a tasty lunch, and a large, comfortable table for sitting and playing Scrabble for a while. Which we did. (It was a tight match but Anne was kind enough to let me play WISPY onto a triple word — off of a hanging “E” to make EW. We checked just now and EW is not in the Scrabble dictionary. With WISPY I was able to win, barely.)


After our match we set out to see some of the town. We shopped briefly along the street, and then headed somewhat indirectly to the Art Museum, which was tiny but free and had some very nice sculptures. (By the way, Icelandic sculptures seem to be highly influenced by Inuit work.)

After the gallery we walked along the upper road past the cathedral, with lovely views down to the harbour below. We stopped at Byrja for ice cream (oldest independent ice cream maker in Iceland) and walked back up to the lovely (also free) botanical garden.

Then we drove back to Myvatn. By this time the weather had cleared up and we were able to stop for some nice photos. Back at the lake we stopped in the village south of Reykjahlid, to visit the Cow Café, Vogafjos. (See prior post.)

To end the day in style, we went to the Myvatn Nature Baths for a lovely soak in the steam room, hot tub and large, naturally heated mineral pool. Wunderbar!

The Whale Tale

Wednesday, 5:50pm
Vigafjós Cow Café, Myvatn

While we wait for the cows to be milked (on the other side of the glass partition from the café) I may as well catch up on the trip blog!

We set out from Seydisfjördur on a rather gloomy morning and made our way over the hill and the end of the fjörd to Eigelstatur. First stop was to a drug store for contact lens fluid, which was ridiculously expensive. Memo: bring more next time!

The first four cows are getting hooked up to the milking apparatus. Seems a bit uncomfortable, but the cows have that glazed look of punching the clock workers in the eyes — I guess we all have our jobs to do.

Back to the road: we drove north-east towards northern Iceland. The first couple of valleys were green but as we got closer to the middle of the island the rain-shadow of the surrounding mountains reduced the vegetation to low green moss or even raw rock. If the weather had been better we might have stopped for a few pictures along the way, but it was gray, gloomy and overcast and we pressed on. We drove past Reynalid and the hotel we would be staying at and continued up to the north, driving on a gravel road part of the way, until we came to Husavik, the “whale watching capital of the world”, a medium-sized town on a huge bay. We had a quick lunch in one of the restaurants by the harbour — not memorable food — and signed on for the 3:30 sailing of North Sailing Whale Watchers.

The vessel, a wooden-hulled ship about 50 ft long, set out from harbour into the gloomy bay. At first the wind was moderate, and we cruised northwards towards a couple of other ships which had spotted dolphins. We got close enough for several sightings of four dolphins swimming together and feeding, but after 15 minutes they decided they’d had enough of us and took off for parts unknown.

The ship turned south and west and passed Husavik again, in search of a whale. No whale did we find, but we did get a fair bit more wind, some larger waves, and some ice-cold spray. After a freezing hour we belatedly accepted a long thick raincoat each, supplementing the layers of fleece and Gore-Tex that were already employed. It was really cold.

There was a brief sighting of a minke whale called out, but if it was there it was having none of us: it dove, and swam off before surfacing somewhere out of sight. We returned to port slightly seasick, freezing cold, and still without any whale photos. My hunt continues. 🙂

We checked out of Husavik and drove back through the fog. When we got back to Lake Myvatn and our hotel, the sun had come out from the clouds and all seemed much better with the world. We checked in, stopping for a quick photo of the gorgeous Icelandic horses grazing between the hotel and the lakeshore, and had a great fish dinner before calling it a day.

Looks like the cows are almost done. The café gave us a tiny sampler of the fresh milk: delicious. Time to be on our way.


Tuesday, 9:20
Hotel Aldan, Seydisfjördur

Monday morning we got up early, had a soulless breakfast with the tour groups in the Hotel Höfn’s breakfast room/bar/conference facility, and set off. First stop was the Guesthuse Arnanes, 6km out of town, where we had stopped briefly the evening before. We got there 15 minutes before our appointed time and stood around awkwardly for a bit but eventually the owner noticed us, remembered why we were there, and sent us down the hill to where the horse hand, his son, was sorting out three horses from a muddy paddock. From the 15 or so horses he picked three and saddled them up efficiently.

Icelandic horses are terribly attractive. They are shorter and smaller than the standard breeds, with long, shaggy manes and tails. Anne was given a light brown mare, and I had a black gelding. After strapping us into helmets and a very brief demonstration of steering and directing the horses we were up.

Following the guide we rode out to the main road and along the culvert beside it. The horses splashed through short sections of mud and longer sections of tall grasses with equinamity. After a few minutes we turned off the road onto a rocky track and sped up to a brisk trot, which was pretty fun. The horses’ gait was smooth and comfortable.

We slowed, and crossed a broad but shallow stream, climbing the bank on the other side. Then we rode up to an abandoned shed where we dismounted to give the horses a breather, check the saddles, and give the guide a chance for a quick cigarette. Finally, we rode back to the road and back to the Guesthuse, about an hour of riding in total. We were both delighted by the experience and are looking forward to other opportunities to ride in the future.

Back on the road, we started weaving our way north from Höfn into the east fjördlands. The road wound around the coastline, with sharp-peaked flinty gravel and rock hills stabbing upwards on our left. The fields and plains of the south more or less vanished, and traffic grew even less frequent.

We stopped for lunch in a little fishing village, where the café fed us the “catch of the day”, probably literally given the number of fishermen in the cafe also eating it. It was a very tasty fish (catfish?) breaded, with cole slaw and potatoes, and skyr with fruit for dessert. Yum!

We carried on, eventually going through a long tunnel and coming out at Egilsstadir, the central town for the region. We climbed the pass to the east of town and drove down into Seydisfjördur, the delightful village where we stayed the night. The sun came out forthe first time of the day and the lovely harbour sparkled.

After dinner yesterday evening we went for a kayak trip down the fjörd with a local guide and an American couple. The fog had rolled in, but visibility at sea level was still excellent. We were very concerned about the cold initially, but after a couple of minutes paddling on the dead calm waters we were toasty and we had a wonderful and peaceful couple of hours.

And then a very, very good sleep at the Hotel Alden. We can definitely recommend it as the best place we have stayed so far this trip.

Skaftafell to Höfn

Sunday, 7:30pm
Hotel Höfn

The drive from Reykjavik to Skaftafell was fairly long and very rainy. The ring road — highway 1, which encircles Iceland — is one lane in each direction and never seems to have much traffic, but what there is, around Reykjavik, quickly calmed down as we crossed the hills south of the city and then descended into the southwest lowlands. This area is clearly the breadbasket of Iceland, with a fair percentage of the population and a whole lot of sheep. We retraced a lot of the route that we had been on the day before on the bus, before finally passing the turnoff to Thorsmörk and getting to new views. In the South we were often treated to lovely waterfalls cascading down the green-covered cliffs of the hills and mountains to the left. As we passed the particularly beautiful falls at Skogar, we thought about our friends from the hiking trip who, continuing on from Thorsmörk, would be arriving there on Sunday.

After Skogar we stopped for gas at Vik, a lovely little seaside town with a black sand beach, and took a detour down to the water for some pictures. We had left the flat Southwest plains and the road started getting more interesting, except for the (sometimes long) bits where we drove across old lava fields, generally staight, flat and dull. But there were some lovely windy sections where the road passed through hills and we stopped at a parrticularly beautiful little spot to take a couple of photos of an idyllic little church with a waterfall in the background.

Finally we started a long drive across the glacier runoff plain to the southwest of Vatnajökull, the great grand-daddy glacier which covers an improbable proportion of the island. Though the clouds were brooding and we had occasional rain, we got clear views of several of the glacier “tongues” sticking out between the peaks and descending to the valley floor. We stopped for the night just past Skaftafell glacier, one of these offspring of Vatnajökull, and checked in to the Skaftafell Hotel, which was comfortable and had free Wi-fi!

This morning we woke up to bright sunshine. Most of the clouds had vanished and I went outside to get a clear view of the glaciers above the hotel. I took a quick picture for Facebook and after breakfast I had a couple of minutes to catch up on email and post an update.

The day’s activities took us back along the highway to the Skaftafell Park, where we had a wonderful morning climbing up the trail parallel to the Skaftafellsjökull itself. (Jökull means glacier.). We ate a nice packed lunch while looking out over the glacier, finished the climb, and then were greeted by a rain cloud. We kept thinking that it would stop, or that it was slowing, but it rained on us for the remaining 3 1/2 hours of the hike, by which point we were very wet indeed. After tromping soggily past the famous Svartifass waterfall (nice basalt rock) we got bakc to our car, changed into dry clothes, and continued our drive. The rest of the day was basically sunny.

We made our way around the coast to Jökulsárlón lagoon, which was the first place we have run in to in Iceland that was overrun with tourists. In this case, they had good reason to stop: at the base of one of Vatnajökull’s wide tongues the lagoon is a spawning ground for icebergs, which are bottled up by the road and bridge and make a singularly pleasant sight. We took photos for a while and then drove on.

Finally we arrived at our destination for the night, Höfn, where we checked into the namesake hotel while the World Cup final was just getting under way. We’ve just finished lobster dinners in the restaurant and are headed for bed. Tomorrow: horseback riding and the drive to the eastern fjords!

On The Road (almost)

Hotel Skaftafell, Skaftafell

Getting out of Reykjavik took a lot longer than expected yesterday. At slightly after 9 a nice man from Geysir Car Rentals stopped by to pick us up and take us to our rental car. At first they were going to give us a manual, but I’m very rusty on stick shifting so we asked to switch to an automatic, which Anne had actually requested in the booking, and he was able to take us to one, a capacious gray Mazda. We drove back to the hotel, loaded up our stuff and were off.

Apparently Reykjavik only has one public laundramat, which is in the basement ofthe city’s youth hostel, a nice and modern complex situated beside the main swimming pools we had visited a week earlier. We found it ok, but someone else was just loading her laundry into the only working washer as we arrived. 45 minutes for her wash, then 45 mins for ours, and then an hour for the dryer… Pretty soon it was noon and we were still sitting in the basement of the Youth Hostel in Reykjavik, not on the road as we expected. On the plus side, I got to finish my book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, highly recommended) and we had a pitstop downtown for hotdogs “with everything” at Reykjavik’s favorite hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu. (Apparently Bill Clinton is a fan.)

Þorsmork back to Reykjavik

We had a lovely stay in Þorsmork, which was really the perfect place to end the long hike. First of all, it is located beside a stream at the end of a narrow, flower-filled valley, with a nobly steep hill to the west and a view of the massive Myrdallsjokull glacier to the east. To the south, across a wide, flat, river-threaded valley is the massive and awe-inspiring Eyafjallajokull glacier, looming over the mountains. The glaciers are both more black than white. Only the steepest parts show the ice — the rest is covered with several inches of black ash.

We settled into the hut, where we had a room for our group alone — no more grumpy Germans. After unpacking a bit and using the facilities, Anne and I went with José, Caroline, Helga and Willi on a 25-minute hike to the next hut down the valley, which had an outdoor spring-fed pool (warm) and a cafeteria with beer (cold), both of which felt wonderful after the long hike.

After the walk back to the first hut we had our last night of the hike.

Friday morning the skies had almost fully cleared, and in the morning sunlight the steam plume rising from Eyafjallajokull was plain and distinct. I took some photos prior to breakfast. For the final morning we did a hike with the group up the steep hill next to the hut, stopping at the top to take in the impressive views and get a couple of group shots. We descended down the northwest side, towards the second hut with the pool, and stopped at a large cave with a natural acoustic (the Singing Cave) where Anne and I fumbled our way through a couple of folk songs and a two-part truncated version of “If ye love me” (with apologies to Mr. Tallis).

After a bang-up lunch back at the sleeping hut (herring in curry sauce on bread, with cheese – yum!) we had an hour to relax and read before the bus arrived. We spent some of that time working our way through a photo album belonging to the hut that was full of pictures of buses, 4×4’s and trucks getting stuck in the rivers. In due course the bus arrived, crossing those same rivers in dramatic fashion to get to us, and then, with us on board, working its way back down the valley again. I ended up sitting at the very front of the bus, where I got some very dramatic photos as the driver expertly navigated us into the rapidly-flowing brown torrents. One of the rivers was deep enough that we had to open a special air vent from the cabin to the engine so that it wouldn’t conk out in the water.

We changed buses after leaving the valley — with a slight delay as the new bus wasn’t big enough for all of us and they had to call out a reinforcement one — and got back in to Reykjavik at about half past seven. After a shower in the hotel and a dinner out with a half bottle of wine we were done in completely, and had the best night of sleep of the trip so far.

Today: laundry, then back on the road, this time with a rental car. Much more of Iceland yet to see!