Category Archives: Travel

Our Trip to Iceland

Rachel and I spent four days in Iceland and I wanted to share our experiences and photos.

March 19, 2014

Day One in Reykjavik

We flew out from Boston at 7:30 PM Eastern and arrived in Keflavik around 7 AM GMT. The funniest thing we learned upon arrival was you then simply go and buy duty-free alcohol with (literally) everyone from your flight, attendants included. Everything in Iceland is amazingly expensive so you buy things as cheaply as you can.

Rachel and Devin hit the road in Iceland

After picking up our rental car and GPS we drove the 50 KM or so along the coast to Reykjavik. Over 2/3 of the country’s population lives in the city and even at rush hour, there’s really not much traffic.

Cappuccino at Reykjavik RoastersOnce we arrived at our hotel, Hótel ÓÐINSVÉ, we parked on the street and checked in. Since our room wasn’t ready at 8 in the morning we headed over to Reykjavík Roasters for a quick “pick me up” and a light morning snack. At this point Rachel suggested we grab our swim suits and find a nearby pool to do as the locals do. We walked a few blocks (everything is only a few blocks away) to Sundhöll Reykjavíkur and took a shower, changed out of our “airplane” clothes and enjoyed the hot, geothermal water.

Sundhöll Reykjavíkur

We then grabbed lunch at one of the most famous restaurants in Iceland, Bæjarins beztu — it’s a hot dog stand with delicious lamb-based links, a sweet mustard, and crunchy fried onions. From there we spent time walking around town and visited the capital’s park and lake, Tjörnin, which includes some of the few trees in the country.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Around 2 or 3 PM we were getting really tired and napped. After a few hours of rest we walked a few blocks (again) to likely the country’s best Indian restaurant, Austur India Fjelagid. We had a great meal to end the day, all thanks to the recommendation from Andrew’s travel guide.

March 20, 2014

March 20, 2014 Golden Circle

The next morning we woke up refreshed and without much jet lag. We gathered all our materials, maps, and guides, and planned our route around the Golden Circle. After enjoying a European-style breakfast buffet (with fresh salmon) at the restaurant connected to the hotel we hit the road.

Rachel reviews our route

We drove about an hour or so and arrived at þingvellir National Park. We didn’t spend a lot of time wandering here as it was quite cold and windy, but the landscape and lake was quite dramatic.

Panorama of the lake at Þingvellir

Our route then led us to Geysir, one of the first documented geysers. This is actually the site where Europeans have traveled for hundreds of years to witness the natural phenomenon. We saw the Strokkur geyser erupt a few times while we were there and is the most commonly photographed (and mis-attributed) geyser in the area. The Great Geysir only erupts a few times each day.

Strokkur geysey erupts

From there we continued on to Gullfoss, a huge waterfall and one of the most popular attractions in Iceland.

Gulfoss waterfall in Iceland

The cliffs drop down in two stages creating a dramatic view. We were able to hike up along side it and also down into the canyon a bit. It was so icy that the trails were actually quite dangerous.

Rachel at Gulfoss

Instant noodles in the carBy now it was a little past lunch time and we took advantage of one of the best tips we received: in the morning fill up a thermos with hot water (its free and plentiful), stop at a gas station along the highway, buy instant noodles, and have a meal on-the-go as you sightsee. It worked out perfectly. Thanks, Sonya!

We circled down south to continue the circle and arrived at Kerið, a large volcanic crater.

Panorama of Kerið

It was formed after lava emptied from the chamber and the earth fall in on itself. It was an interesting sight to see and think about how it was formed.

Rachel on top of Kerið

On our way back up north towards Reykjavik we noticed a lot of steam near the ocean. As we drove up and over a pass we also saw a marker for the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Plant which had an an exhibition. We decided to take an afternoon detour and go learn about Iceland’s primary source of energy.

Hellisheiði Geothermal Plant

This is the newest and largest plants on the island and the facilities are awesome. The literature and exhibition itself was very informative, as well. I’d highly recommend this stop.

Generators at Hellisheiði

We arrived back in town and had some dinner at The Laundromat Café. We learned that, yes, even the simplest meal is going to cost us about $20 per person. On the bright side, there’s no additional tip so its worked into the cost.

That evening, around 7 PM we met up with a large tour group to head out on a northern lights trip. All said, we had about 8 large tour busses driving out into the country (actually, right back past Hellisheiði where we were just a few hours ago). The evening started out cloudy so we stayed inside at a large event hall and went outside to check every so often. The clouds started to clear and we could start to see some green cloud-like whisps over the mountains. To the naked eye the lights looked like hazy green streaks slowly moving along the sky. The weather and clouds dampened the effect but we saw them! Some folks with time-lapse cameras and tripods snagged some awesome photos. After piling back on the busses and driving back, we made it to the hotel by 1:30 AM.

March 21, 2014

March 21, 2014 in southern Iceland

Our second “full day” had a pretty fun agenda: head south, hike a glacier, visit a waterfall, then visit another waterfall and go behind it. So, we packed our warm clothes, full ski jackets and pants, long underwear, hiking boots, YakTrax, and headed out.

We drove further south along the coast where it was warmer, but a bit windy. The drive towards the mountain range was a bit ominous but the landscape was dramatic. From the ocean the cliffs shot straight up and the wind brought snow all the way down from the peaks and volcanic range high above.

Southern coast along Highway 1

On our way to the glacier, we stopped to take a picture of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2012.

View of Eyjafjallajökull

We arrived at Solheimajokull and it was extremely windy. It was coming down hard and fast from the high peaks and nearly blew us over. As we got onto the glacier we hiked with YakTrax and stayed on the paths the local tour guides use to bring groups on.

Rachel adds her YakTrax for hiking the glacier

Hiking on the glacier was a fun experience. It’s such a big area of ice, it was awesome to look down and realize the canyon carved out below us, all the way to the ocean, was formed by what we were standing on.

Rachel and Devin on the Solheimajokull glacier

Since Solheimajokull was the furthest destination for the day, we turned back around to head back towards Reykjavik and snacked on some candy to tide us over until after our next adventures.

Black sand and soot on glacier ice

With just a few minutes of driving we arrived at the Skógafoss waterfall.

Rachel at the Skógafoss waterfall

We hiked up the stairs (seen in the background) and stood high above the waterfall and ocean below.

Panorama above Skógafoss

On our way back down, we ducked off onto a dirt path that threw us right in front of the waterfall. It was a dramatic sight. We were so close to the front of the fall the mist formed icicles all around us.

Devin and Rachel at Skógafoss

We then stood down beneath the fall. The rocks were a sheet of ice which made walking a challenge. We, and a number of other photographers, were able to snag some excellent photos, though.

Panorama at bottom of Skógafoss

Next we drove back towards the Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Plural because the dramatic cliffs receive water from the peaks high above and the water falls off them all over the place. This specific waterfall is unique because the cave behind it has hallowed out so far back and wide you can hike up next to it and walk behind it.

Seljalandsfoss waterfalls

We decided to take the path less traveled and hike up beside the waterfall. The wind was so strong it literally blew the water on top of us. Instead of turning back and coming around the other side, we scurried down the rocks (again, YakTrax and waterproof jackets and pants were used here) and spent some time, quite literally, under the waterfall itself.

Rachel after the descent under the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss

After laughing about the whole experience and being quite pleased with our adventure, we took a few photos, went back to the car, stripped down and drove off with our instant noodles in-hand.

Rachel behind Seljalandsfoss

As we headed back and neared Hellisheiði again, we found ourselves in instant whiteout conditions. The dramatic passes and landscape mean you can be down on a dry road with grassy landscape and then climb a few hundred feet to be socked into a windy, snowy, cloud. Having driven over Vail Pass in Colorado, it was not unfamiliar territory. Fortunately this is quite literally one of two ways back to Reykjavik and the plows were out in full force, as well.

After putting all our clothes on all the radiators, we decided to try what seemed like a kitschy restaurant called “Lebowski Bar” for dinner. This was, as you might imagine, a bar dedicated to The Big Lebowski and specialized in hamburgers and “white russians” (in milkshake form). We actually really enjoyed it (who doesn’t love The Dude?!) and thank Sonya again for the recommendation.

March 22, 2014

March 22, 2014 in Iceland

Our last day in Iceland was also a day of dramatic extremes: in-water massages at Blue Lagoon and trying to buy gas at a gas station. These two were the least stressful to most stressful things I think we encountered in the whole trip.

Volcanic landscape in Iceland near Blue Lagoon

As we left our hotel and drove back towards the airport in the morning we stopped at Blue Lagoon as we had a 1 PM in-water massage.

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið) is truly blue because of bacteria in the water that reflect the color blue. It was fairly surreal. The land also produces silica mud which, when applied to your face, has some sort of benefit?

After our amazing in-water massages, where we laid on a foam mattress and had a warm blanket draped over us, we showered and changed into our travel clothes. We filled up the rental car with gas (kinda, what a struggle) and dropped it off at the airport. We saw that a direct flight back to Denver was leaving around the same time so we saw what it would cost to change our flight. The answer was $2,000.

We flew back to Boston and landed around 6:30 PM. Nothing says “screw you” like going through US Border Patrol. While I understand the need for security, I wish returning to my own country was not the least welcoming and unfriendly experience when traveling.

We checked into our hotel, ordered room service, fell asleep, then woke up a few hours later and flew home to Denver the next morning at 7 AM. After throwing bags and bags of clothes in the laundry we looked back over our photos and remembered one of the best trips we’ve had together in a while.

Second Annual Denver Brewery Tour Weekend

For the second year in a row, I hosted some friends from the east coast on a tour of Colorado breweries.

The long weekend begun on Thursday, November 7, 2013 and contained over two dozen check-ins at various breweries, eateries, and coffee shops around the Denver metro area (and Fort Collins).

Thursday consisted of…

  • starting a late lunch at Euclid Hall, one of my favorite downtown restaurants with an excellent beer selection
  • then stopping by Prost Brewing before happy hour (where a lawyer meetup was convening?)
  • then Wynkoop Brewing Co. for some pre-dinner drinks
  • then swung by Lucky Pie in LoDo for some pizza and, yet again, good local beer

Friday included…

  • a (not early enough) start at Snooze, one of the busiest but tastiest spots for breakfast and brunch in downtown Denver
  • Crema, for a quick hipster-filled caffeine pick-me-up
  • a tour of the Stranahan’s distillery, some of the best whiskey made in Colorado
  • then swinging by Breckenridge Brewery’s 471 Kalamath location for some unique beers
  • then a stop by TRVE for some hard-core metal brews
  • followed by a stop-over at Renegade Brewing to have one of my local favorites: REDACTED
  • a delicious dinner at My Brother’s Bar, the oldest continually operating bar in Denver

Saturday comprised of…

Sunday wound down with:

  • a delicious, early breakfast at Sassafras, quality southern cooking
  • Crema again, for good measure
  • a trip to Epic Brewing, the prettiest warehouse and tasting room in River North
  • Crooked Stave at The Source, the best sour beers in the best cluster of butchers, bakers, and restaurants in River North
  • Mile High Spirits, a great menu of local-made spirits
  • Our Mutual Friend, with one of my favorite ‘session’ beers around

All in all, looking back at this list it was a busy weekend with a lot of quality stops along the way. If you’re in Denver, I highly recommend checking out any and all of these venues.

Virgin America Safety (Music) Video

I love everything about this music video and overall campaign for Virgin America’s safety video. The self-awareness (“for the .001% of you who have never operated a seatbelt before…”), catchiness, and entertainment value is not hard to produce but is a much more enjoyable (required) experience. My guess is other airlines aren’t doing something like this for two reasons: 1) safety is a priority and should not be relegated to a side show, and 2) it’s not the way it’s been done before.

This whole thing makes me step back and wonder why the safety and instructional videos are shown (or demonstrated) in-flight and not something all fliers should pre-qualify for1 (like a drivers license test) before getting on a plane.

  1. I believe Bruce Schneier or someone similar proposed this when discussing security, TSA, flying, etc. 

I can’t stop thinking how easy it could potentially be to truly “disrupt” the airline industry. Judge Gomila looks at a number of aspects of flying that don’t make sense:

It would be silly if you had to recheck all safety tests with an independent agency before driving a car every single time. Having to watch the simple safety instructions every flight is a waste of time and energy for the passenger. No one even watches it anyway. We need to take this online and out of the cabin, making it a test that people hold a license for, rather like a driving license.

I know the aviation industry is something Horace Deidu has been thinking about recently, too. It encourages me to see smart folks talking about these things in addition to folks like BlackJet creating (admittedly, less accessible) stepping stones in the meantime.

Travel Tip: bring an AirPort Express to hotels

Here’s one of the best things I’ve learned while staying in hotels: bring an Apple AirPort Express wifi base station. I can’t take credit for tip this at all, this is all Alex, but the reason you do this is so you can connect multiple devices through a single access point.

Ideally, you set this access point name and security to be one your devices already know (like the one at your office or house) so you don’t have to go re-enter passwords all over the place. Plus, most paid hotel services just see the one device (AirPort) and charge you once for that connection, not for your iPhone, iPad, and notebook. Yes, I’ve once accidentally charged $14.95/day multiplied by three devices to a hotel room. And finally, it helps if you have more than one person traveling.

It’s a small, lightweight device (hardly bigger than your notebook charger) with easy configuration and a way to save money and hassle while traveling.

My Year in Review

I’ve not really been known to think reflectively (or much, for that matter). I’ve seen people like Alex and Joe post a “year in review” and Matt always does one on his birthday. As I read them I thought it was valuable, if not, fairly interesting. So here we go…

  • Rachel and I experienced our first full year of home ownership (technically we took control in December 2010) which included plenty of projects (replacing attic insulation, planting trees) and plenty of purchases (couches, new bed, desk).
  • We got married in July.
  • We visited the best Colorado dude ranch for our “staycation” honeymoon, it was amazing.
  • I turned 25, which almost seemed like a “quaterlife” milestone but turned out to be just another year…
  • At Crowd Favorite, I helped work on dozens of web design, development and other consulting projects. Notable launches included the AMC and WEtv websites, and the Annotum WordPress theme.
  • I helped contribute very minor patches to WordPress versions 3.2 and 3.3 and released my own plugin, small steps to contributing to open source development
  • I started blogging a bit more regularly again thanks to the soon-to-be-released FavePersonal theme from the team at Crowd Favorite.

This past year I also traveled, what I would consider to be, the “right amount” for both business and pleasure. Although Dopplr has been abandoned since Nokia bought the site, it’s still my favorite way to visualize my trips:

  • Visited San Francisco a couple times for client meetings and the WordCamp San Francisco conference, it’s still a fun and novel place to stay
  • Spent a few days in New York, twice, for client meetings
  • Slept through the SXSW conference in Austin
  • Experienced Vegas for the first time as an adult
  • Spent a few days in London for a client project and had time to wander around and take in the sights
  • Traveled to Portland (Maine) to experience the Monktoberfest conference (and beer tasting)
  • Rachel and I visited Monterey and Carmel where we surfed for the first time, spent time on the beach, and visited some vineyards
  • Spent a quick weekend in Florida (my first visit) to participate in WordCamp Orlando

Overall it was a good year but I think there’s room for improvement in 2012, here are some things I’ll try to track towards:

  • ski a lot more and be more adventurous (less ‘routine’)
  • spend more time traveling with friends and family
  • continue working on interesting projects and products at Crowd Favorite
  • explore our neighborhood and the surrounding businesses
  • work on the landscaping projects in early Spring
  • participate more in the WordPress community and give back where possible
  • average reading one book per month (I slipped this year..)
Fisherman's Wharf

Visiting San Francisco

This past weekend Rachel’s family and I visited San Francisco for a little weekend getaway. We stayed in SoMA which is always a nice downtown experience. With Samovar Tea, SFMOMA, and an Apple Store within walking distance, what else could you ask for?

Beyond the typical attractions (Fisherman’s Wharf) we had a chance to explore some of the less hectic areas in the Bay area. One foggy afternoon we had the pleasure of taking a leisurely walk around Golden Gate Park. This park alone is worth the cost of living in San Francisco. I felt the same way about Washington Park in Portland, Oregon.

We also enjoyed walking around the Marina area and visiting the Exploratorium. I’ve been to some pretty good science museums (Denver, Smithsonian) but this place is amazing. The energy and exhibits possibly could’ve kept us there all day.

On Sunday morning we woke up early, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped in Sausalito to grab breakfast at Fred’s Coffee Shop. The fried french toast was unanamously decided to be as good as it sounded.

We moved on to Muir Woods and spent most of the morning hiking through the redwoods. Having lived in Colorado and traveled much of the Rocky Mountains, I can safely say those trees are unlike any you’ll find inland. It’s a good thing we arrived early because by 10 AM there were busloads of visitors showing up and lines of cars waiting to park. It was not unlike showing up at an amusement park or a beach on a crowded summer weekend. Though, I did realize that what I like most about California mountain roads are the steep pitches and sharp turns; things that can’t coexist with snow.