Iceland in Summer

We started our trip to Iceland in Reykjavik. This was our home base for day trips out into the country.

While in Reykjavik we tried the soup in a bread bowl which is a big thing here. The photo below is from Svarta Kaffið which was great!

Into the Country

Now the best part about Iceland is actually getting out of the city and seeing some of the country. There are numerous spots to see along the roads. This is a geothermal pool that we had to hike about a mile out to get to after taking a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. The outside temp is around 45 F but the pool is like a hot tub.

Skogafoss

Another place we hit up was Skógafoss which is a short drive from Reykjavik.

There are stairs that take you up to the top of this waterfall where you can follow the stream and hike around a bit.


Reynisfjara

Afterwards we headed toward the Black Sand Beach known as Reynisfjara next to the Vik.

The sand here is black due to the volcanic activity from long ago. For a more specific description, consult Google. There are also Basalt columns!

Sólheimajökull

There are many ice caps and glaciers scattered around the island as well. This one was covered in a pretty thick layer of dirt but if you have an ice pick you can cut through and see the white/blue ice very clearly underneath. You actually don’t even realize you are walking on a glacier in the summer since the dirt layer is so thick.


Geysir

We also followed the Golden Circle which is a tourist route that allows you to see several sights over the course of a few hours.


Gullfoss

This waterfall was quite large compared to the previous one. You could walk right up to it.

Kerið

Kerið is a volcanic crater known as a caldera that is now home to a lake.

Blue Lagoon

Expensive? Yes. But you’re in Iceland. A man made outdoor thermal pool that has multiple spa treatments, bars and a restaurant inside. This was one of the highlights for sure.

Returning!

I would love to head back. We went in the summer but I think in the winter we’d have a good chance to see the northern lights. Also next time we come I’d love to go a bit north and look for puffins! The only ones I saw on my trip were on the menus of some rather adventurous restaurants.

Destination Wedding in Bali

Ashley and I’s wedding took place on November 9th in Bali.  It was somewhat distant and we wanted a more intimate feel rather than a very large wedding.  Below are some of the photos from just the wedding day itself.  I’ll save the activities of the other days for another post for now.

The wedding was at Jannata Resort and was coordinated by the Seven Agency.   Photography was handled by Rudy Lin Photography.  Setup was perfect and exactly what we wanted.  Unfortunately as happens in Ubud, it started raining!  So we shifted venues under a shelter later.  
The resort exceeded every expectation we had in terms of the level of service and scenery.
Carrying my umbrella around in the rain.
We had zero rehearsal time since we communicated with the planners entirely through email.  The wedding itself happened before we knew it was going on.  As far as no-rehearsal weddings I think this went pretty well.
Not rehearsing meant we had no idea what was next.  Including the petals being showered.
Ashley looked amazing.

While we could have done without the rain, it was amazing.  I’m happy our families had a chance to enjoy this with us would recommend Bali as a destination wedding spot in a heartbeat for anybody looking to escape.  Whether it’s a jungle wedding like the one we had or by the beach it’s a destination that is hard to beat.

Experiencing Seoul

You hear them everywhere.  Various greetings shouted at you from shops you walk by in downtown Seoul.  They sum up the intro experience in Korea perfectly.  Effervescent hospitality from various retail and service industry workers excited to pull you into their stores, clubs, and restaurants coming from nearly every direction.  This is Seoul.

Seoul was our first foray into Asia. Actually I lie. Shanghai was but that was on layover and I messed up what was supposed to be a quick run through downtown and dinner. So I guess we’ll start there.

Day 0

We had about 12 hours in Shanghai from the time we landed in the evening. I sort of took for granted that the ATM would work so didn’t bother withdrawing cash. This is a habit I have gotten into, arriving in a new country and just using the ATM to withdraw the local currency.

As the inverse of luck would have it, my card did not work at any of the ATMs in Pudong Airport. Fantastic. Add that to the fact that my accent is so poor in broken Mandarin, that I am unable to convey the idea of dropping us off anywhere but our hotel so we can actually see the city, means we end up going across the entire metro Shanghai in a taxi to arrive at our hotel in Hongqiao. That was basically our first day in Asia.

Seoul

As soon as we landed things got more cutesy.  Example?  A stuffed bear greeting us upon arrival in our Airbnb in Yongsan-gu near Sookmyung Women’s University.  We even spotted a couple of Totoro’s imported from Japan.

The Hello Kitty Cafe in Myeongdong was one of the first places we went.  This place is adorned with Hello Kitty everything and is a dream for anybody into that.  As Ash is like obsessed with her we had to go here.  Above is my latte with Hello Kitty’s face emblazoned atop my cream!

This place is pretty easy to get to, a short walk from Hongdae station, which, for us was the easiest way to get there.

What have I gotten myself in to?

After grabbing a coffee and relaxing in a pink vacuum for about an hour we took a walk over to a restaurant nearby that offers a good menu called 나물 먹는 곰 (Veggie Eating Bear). It has good options for vegetarians which can be somewhat difficult to track down if you don’t know where you’re going.

Fun fact: this is the first place to presume Ashley is local and offer her the Korean language menu and me the English menu.  (She is not Korean).  This was an amusing trend we noticed throughout.

Sights Around Seoul

It’s pretty cool to just wander around the city and see where it takes you.  You just have to have a rough idea of the  neighborhoods you want to go to.  Luckily there are plenty dotted throughout so it’s hard to go wrong.

We happened upon the Gyeongbokgung Palace while doing this which we learned is a popular spot for people to adorn the traditional hanbok and have photos taken in front of.

  

Close by the palace is a place called Bukchon Hanok Village, which is a traditional village in Seoul.  There are windy roads higher up the hills from the bottom roads with a ton of really interesting houses.

You could easily spend a day at least between the palace and the village just reading, walking and exploring.  There are tons of restaurants and bars nearby as well to refuel at.

Eating and Drinking Around

There are a ton of cafes in Seoul.  The Style Nanda Pink Hotel in Myeongdong was an interesting one as well.  I had a matcha latte with a cloud of cotton candy floating above it.  How do I eat it?  I’m not sure.  I just started chomping into the cloud after a couple of sips.

There is also a really good place to get Bibimbap in the same area called Gogung which I was hyped to eat at as a big fan of Bibbimbap.  It’s very much a traditional restaurant and the food is great!

I couldn’t leave without trying Korean Fried Chicken.  I’ve had amazing “KFC” in London at Jinjuu in Kingly Court and while different, this is really good.  Paired with beer, this is a favorite.

It never ceased to amaze just how hard it seemed Koreans go on a nightly basis.  It seemed no matter what day it was, the night was alive with business people and students staying out until the sun was close to rising just drinking and eating casually!  Very fun atmosphere.

The place at the end of the street by us was open all night and morning it seemed.  We always stopped by there at the end of the night for a drink and snack before going to bed.  I was partial to the fried squid that you cut up with scissors combined with a beer.

There are hundreds of things to do in Seoul and my photos don’t do the city justice.

Noryangjin Fish Market

From the early morning fish markets, to the dizzying area of cosmetic and makeup shops, to the fine dining and late night karaoke bars, Seoul is an electrifying city.

Traveling Through Rome and Naples: Highlights

dsc_5268small

It’s been a busy September!  Ashley and I have just recently come back from a trip to Italy where we had a great time eating nearly everything in sight.  Late September seems to be a good time to visit Italy because it’s the latter half of tourist season which means you still get an adventurous vibe but since it begins winding down, hotels tend to have better deals as they start thinking about filling their available rooms.

The days leading up to the trip were a bit scary because I had a pretty bad cold coming on. I can never tell if it’s a cold or hay fever but luckily it subsided precisely the day we set foot in Italy.

We had an amazing time staying at the Rome Cavalieri hotel (read review here).  We took the shuttle into central Rome every day and wore ourselves out by early evening we were relaxing at the spa of the hotel.  Will definitely be back if we come back to Rome soon!

I know Italians will say that the Pizza in Rome is not that amazing and mainly for the tourists but you know what, I don’t really care we are in Italy we must eat pizza!

whatsapp-image-2016-09-24-at-20-05-24

I had Buratta for the first time as well. Ashley has been talking about this forever so it was good to finally have it.  I researched the best place to have Buratta in Rome and we found Roscioli’s.  This cheesy explosion on a plate was a great way to start a meal, which I had to follow up with Cacio e Pepe!  I’d never actually had that before either so it was a meal full of firsts.

Buratta

Buratta

 

Cacio e Pepe

We did the obvious tourist things as well, visiting Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon.  It’s difficult not to do these things even when we’ve already seen them because they’re just so impressive in person!

Trevi Fountain

 

Naples: A completely different Italian experience

After spending time in Rome we took a regional train to Naples for the evening.  We could tell we were in for a completely different experience the second we passed Mount Vesuvius and started approaching the main station.  The city’s buildings are so different, streets more narrow and general vibe completely different than what we experienced in Rome.

I have heard mixed reviews of Naples before arriving but the people are some of the nicest I’ve met and we had an amazing AirBnB host who was gracious even when I left our keys in the flat and she had to let us back in!

The food.  Oh my.  This was one of the highlights.  Pizza in Naples is on another level.  While the Margherita and the standard cheese and tomato sauce pizzas are typically Neopolitan you really can’t go wrong in this city.  This is some of the best pizza I’ve had and it’s worth it to make Naples part of your Italian holiday if you care anything about food and pizza!

Pizza! (Not a traditional one mind you)

Pizza! (Not a traditional one mind you)

Naples, to me, seemed a more authentic Italian experience simply due to the fact that it seemed to be a place where Italians converged both locals and domestic tourists.  People hanging outside of popular pizzerias, spilled into the streets watching football, it wasn’t something I saw in Rome.

Naples was a great experience and I’m glad we went.  The historic zone is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the oldest cities in Europe which adds to part of its character.  Definitely recommend staying in this part of the city if you get a chance!

Italy is always a good time and I’m glad we went.  The food was great, the people were nice and we had a good time just relaxing at the hotel, seeing some sights and eating some fantastic food.

Hiking Cinque Terre

Hiking Cinque Terre

The mountainous terrain of the Cinque Terre region draws visitors from all over the globe for some of the world’s best hiking views. There are hikes geared toward the novice and expert hiker alike in Cinque Terre. If you’re worried about your ability to hike some more challenging trails in Cinque Terre, then it’s best to have a look at which ones offer the best views at the least effort. However, if you’re up for the more intense hiking Cinque Terre has to offer, the views are worth it!

hiking cinque terre

Cinque Terre Hiking Checklist

  • Lightweight daypack or backpack
  • Two bottles of water
  • Small pack of food (jerky or granola are my favorite for short hikes)
  • Comfortable shoes you don’t mind getting dirty
  • Clothing that can stretch or is non-restrictive and is comfortable
  • Light jacket (depending on season, it can get cold on top of the hilly terrain)

Trail 531

Trail 531 is very old path that connects Manarola to Riomaggiore. It is a near-vertical, sometimes-scary climb that is only for those able to do steep climbs. You can see hikers of all ages climbing up and down this trail, but don’t be fooled. If you get easily winded or are scared of heights, this is one to avoid.

Since it’s not immediately obvious when you arrive in Riomaggiore, below is a handy guide on how to get there.

Getting to Trail 531

Getting to Trail 531 from Riomaggiore side can be a little confusing. When you leave the main station, you’ll not walk right, toward the covered tunnel where the main street is, but straight, through what appears to be a residential street. After walking for about 5 minutes up the slightly inclined street, you take a sharp right to continue up the street. Then you take one more sharp turn, left, on what appears to be a small paved walking path. You are almost there. You should start to see the path, it will start on your side and then veer off across a bridge before running up a hill to start your hike.

Cinque terre

Villa Dell’amore

Also connecting Manarola to Riomaggiore, the Villa Dell’amore is the easiest trail that you could technically consider hiking Cinque Terre. It’s more of just a pedestrian walkway than a hike, which makes it is one of the most frequently photographed paths in all of the five villages. Do not revolve your trip around walking this path because the path is often closed due to landslides. For up-to-date status reports on the Villa Dell’amore, try asking the nice people of Riomaggiore Reservations on their FaceBook.  They were very helpful in not only our accommodation, but also our questions on the area.

If you are looking to travel between Riomaggiore and Manarola and you don’t want to hike up the hill and the Villa Dell’amore is closed, you’ll have to take the train.

Other Trails

I’ve only personally hiked the trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola because after we got done with that, we decided that was enough for us, then proceeded to get wastey on wine and pesto pasta.

If you’ve got further experience with trails 593, 506, 586, 687 or 598 please let us know!  The trails connecting the villages are fascinating and if I had more time I would have hiked them all.  The highest rated book I’ve come across is one on Amazon called Cinque Terre and the Riviera di Levante Walks and it’s likely your safest bet if you plan on making larger hiking or walking treks in the Ligurian coast.

A Madrileno Bullfight

It was the last day of the San Isidro festival in Madrid and I took a train from central Madrid out to Las Ventas. Las Ventas is in an eastern area of Madrid and home to the city’s premier bull ring. It’s the kind of place that has tapas bars dedicated to bullfighting and where the atmosphere is imbued with tradition. The second you leave the station you know you’re in the right place as the Plaza de Toros towers over you in the arid heat of the sun.

IMG_20150517_155428

Never having gone to a corrida, I wasn’t quite sure how to purchase tickets. There are numerous ticket vendors lining the outside of the arena, but the best deal appears to be to just buy them directly from the ticketing office attached to the arena.

It was there I ran into a fellow American man, also looking in to attending one of the bullfights. After helping him with the Spanish for purchasing tickets and what kinds of views we could expect, we both settled on mid-tier seats in the sun. The Sol seats, as they are called, are cheaper than the Sombra ones, in the shade, and you could get a decent seat for about 15 euro on this particular day.

After purchasing our tickets, we decided to both head to a bar for a drink as we were both solo that day. Neither of us had been to a bullfight but shared a similar viewpoint on it: open minded but with a slight reservation on whether or not we were contributing to a practice that should cease.

The Corrida

The 25,000 person stadium capacity means you arrive in the atmosphere akin to a professional sports event. It’s a stadium complete with food and drink vendors

IMG_20150517_204554

The procession began at 7PM on the dot. The sound of a pasodoble blared from the band and the matadors and their entourages were marched out onto the field in a very rehearsed manner.
DSC_2981

You don’t have to be an aficionado to quickly realize that there is a very clearly defined order to how things should unfold. Trumpets blaring introduce the various phases of the fights, begining with the first phase known as tercio de varas.

DSC_3004The start of the fights are full of excitement. The bull is at its strongest in this phase. At this point in the fight, the banderilleros will use their capes to test the bull and understand the bull’s preferences and tendencies. It appears that the bull and matador truly are partaking in a sort of dance together as they induce the bull to charge throw their capes in series’ of passes known as veronicas.

As the phase progresses, though, the bull is weakened slowly by the picadors (the horsemen with long lances that jab at the muscle of the bull). This concludes the first stage.

DSC_3034

It is a bit shocking when it first happens, especially as the bull will frequently charge the horse that the picador is riding. The horses are somewhat protected with a sort of shield and are rather indifferent to the charges of the bull. It’s apparently a rather recent development to shield the horses as in the old days of bullfighting it would often be the case that the horse could be gored in this portion of the corrida.

Picadors when they were first introduced.

Picadors when they were first introduced.

After the bull is jabbed things begin to slow down. The second stage, known as the tercio de banderillas begins. In this stage, the banderillero will then stick the banderillas (colorful little harpoon like objects) into the shoulder of the bull to further weaken it.

In the final step, the tercio de muerte, the matador demonstrates his control over the bull by having it run several final passes through his now-red cape until the bull loses its energy and the matador has to end it with a quick stab. The crowd will get restless if this does not come soon after the bull becomes weakened. The shouts of ‘matalo ya!’, encouraging the matador to end it, can be heard throughout the arena.

The goal of the corrida is clearly not meant to be a sadistic exhibition as much as to showcase man’s control over a raging beast and how he can gracefully control it until it comes to an end and the bull submits to its fate. Luckily the ones we witnessed ended immediately with the single final blow. I’ve read of occasions where the matador does not end it with one stab and unfortunately results in the bulls death being prolonged.

Should You Visit

There is some visible blood but the events were not overly gory from what I saw. If you are a meat eater to begin with, it’s worth noting that the animals on factory farms endure arguably much more stress in their life than these bulls. Whether or not a spectacle should be made of it is another story though and one you have to come to an answer with on your own terms.

The bullfights last 20 minutes at a time over the course of about 2 hours. Would I go again? I’m not sure – I don’t think I would go out of my way to do so unless it were a major event like Running of the Bulls where the spectacle happened more outside of the ring than in. There is something to be said about the preservation of tradition, however there is also a strong argument tradition doesn’t necessitate tolerance.

 

 

 

Inside Banksy’s Dismaland

riot wagon

This post contains descriptions of Dismaland that are better left to your untarnished initial experience.  Leave if you don’t want the experience explained to you.

Getting there is easy enough.  From London, you can catch a train to Bristol, and then onward to Weston Super Mare.  The home of the 5 week Banksy and Friends exhibit known as Dismaland.  The experience starts with a one-hour queue to get to the ticket booth to purchase wristbands for entry.  Once you’ve completed that obstacle, you are ushered into a second queue to actually get in which ends up taking another hour.  Welcome to Dismaland.

Upon entering you’re “greeted” by the hard working security staff of Dismaland, who make sure to diligently probe you with questions such as “Did you pack your own bag today?”, “Where are you from?”, “Didn’t your mother teach you to button your top shirt button?”, or “Is that yours? (referring to a child in a stroller)”

It’s hard to keep a straight face to this, when the entire security checkpoint is a ruse.  The scanners, metal detectors, cameras are all made of cardboard.  The notion of the “appearance of security” that makes itself apparent as I write this is shocking.

After entering you are treated to a variety of dismal sites.

dismaland castle

From the photogenic, distorted, Aerial to the topsy turvy trucks your Instagram feed will be healthily fed.

IMG_20150822_140134

DSC_3228jpg

IMG_20150822_135706

It’s certainly not an attraction for the overly sensitive.  While a lot of the content itself is tame, the ideas represented by them can be a bit polemical.  Walking through the dismal castle you arrive at Cinderalla’s overturned carriage, Cinderella sprawled out over the side of the window and her horses overturned.  There are photographers constantly snapping photos.  The obvious parallel to the late Princess Diana is heavy.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Upon your exit, you’re shown the stills of the scene you just saw on computer screens, providing a very direct critique of peoples voracious consumption that feeds the ravenous behavior of the paparazzi you may have been quick to judge.

DSC_3241jpg

The experience of it all is amazing.

IMG_20150822_140352

The entrance into a dark warehouse containing works by numerous artists provides a range of subversive and critical works.

DSC_3252jpg

At the terminus of this warehouse is a large miniaturized recreation of riots in the street with tiny smashed storefronts and riot police.

DSC_3267jpg

And in case you’re wondering, yes there are some more traditional Banksy-esque pieces there.

IMG_20150822_135941 (1)

IMG_20150822_140254 (1)