Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bryce Canyon National Park

The Ampitheater

"It's a helluva place to lose a cow", remarked Ebenezer Bryce about Bryce Canyon. (Ebenezer was a homesteader in the Paria River Valley around 1875 and the Park is named after him.) As I looked at the Ampitheater from Bryce Point, I couldn't agree more. It was awfully crowded down there with phantasmagorical rock sculptures shaped by water, frost and erosion over millions of years standing toe to toe into the distance.

Hoodoos from Sunset Point

Bryce Canyon is not a canyon. It is actually a series of natural amphitheaters carved by erosion. And the air is so clear at Bryce that we could see far into the horizon. The Hoodoo (Bryce Canyon's newspaper) writes that "On a clear day you can see over 150 miles and even recognize landforms in Arizona!". As we drove from one vista point to the next, I appreciated more and more the panoramic views of Escalante National Park which borders Bryce Canyon. At Rainbow Point, we had reached the highest point of the Park at 9,100 ft. above sea level.


The white grottoes seen at Bryce Point are in sharp contrast to the red hoodoos in the Park. They look ethereal in pale tones but not unique as the rock formations are tinged in a paletteful of hues from reds to oranges to ochers to yellow and whites and subtle shades in between. 

Sunrise Point

Sunset produces an amazing layered horizon. We were at Sunrise Point at the end of the day where we should have been at dawn. But it is just as spectacular here at sunset.

Tunnel through Red Canyon

We passed through Red Canyon on our way to Bryce and this area is ablazed with towering walls of red rocks. It's definitely worth a stop. 

How to get there:
Take Highway 15 North from Las Vegas. At Cedar City in Utah, take Highway 14 to 89 north to the Park. Sometimes Highway 14 may be closed as it was when we went up to Bryce so take Highway 20 instead through Red Canyon to 89 south. Bryce Canyon is 270 miles from Las Vegas. There's an entrance fee per vehicle of $25 which is valid for 7 days or $12 per person if traveling by motorcycle, bicycle or as a pedestrian. These fees I've indicated were valid in late September 2015. It's best to purchase an annual pass if you plan on visiting other national parks in the area like Zion or Escalante. Seniors over 62 years of age pay $10 for a lifetime pass. Check the Bryce Canyon website for more updated information:

If you wish to avoid the hassle of finding a parking space within the Park, there's a free shuttle that takes visitors to various vista points within Bryce Canyon and may be boarded from parking lots outside the Park at Ruby's Inn and the Visitor's Center. Shuttles run from mid April to September 30.


Images by TravelwithCharie

Reykjavík Basics

Where to say:
Center Hotel Klopp
Klapparstig 26, Reykjavik 
Buffet breakfast included
Central location. A block from Laugavegur, the main shopping street.

Foss Hotel Baron
Baronstígur 2-4, Reykjavik
Buffet breakfast included
Across the boulevard from Sculpture and Shore Walk and a short walk to Höfdi House.

Where to eat:
It is expensive to eat out in Reykjavik. If you're on a budget, it might help to buy food at the supermarket. There are several supermarkets conveniently located in the city center or try the Thai Restaurant on Laugavegur where the food is delicious and reasonably priced. 

Catfish at Sushi Samba

Samba Sushi
Japanese and South American Fusion cuisine.
Thingholsstraeti 5
View their menu here:
This is an expensive restaurant. Prepare to pay at least $30.00 for the dish shown above.

Pearl Cafe
Open from 10 a.m. To 9 p.m.
Perlan is a destination on its own. It sits on a hill and has a 360° view of Reykjavik. There's a bus that stops at the bottom of the hill which is a short easy climb to Perlan. The Café serves hot and cold dishes including soup and pizza.

Baejarins Beztu
Tryggvatagata 1 (across from the harbor)
This is a popular hotdog stand. Tourists love to take their selfies here with hotdog sandwich in hand. One hotdog and fries add to 600 ISK or $4.50.

Baejarins Beztu

Ruan Thai
Laugavegur 59 on the second floor (above the supermarket Krónan)
Good food and reasonably priced. Attentive and friendly service. 
Two dishes and beverages for $30.00. See their menu here:

Krónan Supermarket on Laugavegur 59

10-11 Supermarket on Hverfisgata 

Grayline Tours
We took Grayline Tours to the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon and the Northern Lights.

Airport Transportation:
From Keflavik airport, they will drop you off at their station in Reykjavik where you will board a smaller van to your hotel. You save when you purchase a roundtrip ticket. They have a counter outside the arrivals area at the airport.

The airport transfer can also be made with a stopover at the Blue Lagoon. There are lockers at the lagoon where you can store your luggage while soaking at the lagoon.

Icelandic króna (ISK).


Images by TravelswithCharie

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Skálholt Cathedral, South Iceland

Skálholt has been the spiritual center of Iceland since the ordination of the first Catholic bishop, Isleifur Gissurarson,in 1056 and through the advent of Lutheranism in the 16th century. The Catholic bishop from North Iceland, Jon Aráson, was captured and beheaded together with his two sons in 1550 effectively ending the Catholic faith in Iceland. The Lutherans maintained their Episcopal See at Skálholt until 1785. A major earthquake and volcanic eruptions toward the end of the century finally drove the bishop and school to Reykjavík where the See was installed in 1801. This led to the decline in importance of Skálholt as the religious, educational and cultural center of Iceland. Renewed interest in Skálholt in the 20th century saw the construction of a new cathedral on the ruins of previous churches. It was consecrated in 1963.

Excavations in the area have yielded artifacts including a stone sarcophagus and tombstones which are displayed in the church crypt.

Interior of the Cathedral

The altarpiece is a mosaic of Jesus and was created by local artist, Nina Tryggvadóttir. The stained glass windows were a gift by the Danes to the church and tells the story of salvation. It was made by another female artist, Gerdur Helgadóttir. The plain exterior walls of the Cathedral belies the beautiful interior space lit by a kaleidoscope of colors from the stained glass windows.


This interesting turf house, Þorláksbúðwas built in recent years on the ruins of the old chapel. It is in sharp contrast to the white washed Cathedral. The Unesco World Heritage Center refers to Iceland's turf structures as "vernacular architecture". Its origin may be traced to the Viking settlement in Iceland in the 9th century. There are many fine examples of these structures in Iceland today though these are mere reconstructions since turf has to be replaced every 20 to 30 years and together with the ravages of time, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, these turf dwellings would not have survived in its entirety to the present day. There is controversy over the placement of Þorláksbúð at Skálholt but in my opinion, the addition of this vernacular house focuses attention on an important cultural heritage. And that's a good thing!

The Golden Circle Tours offered by various sightseeing companies include a visit to Skálholt. 

The Settlement Exhibition on Adalstraeti 16 in Reykjavík is a good place to learn more about life in the Viking Age and see firsthand the remains of a 10th century longhouse and other artefacts excavated on the site.


Images by TravelswithCharie

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Golden Circle

Thingvellir National Park

One of the closest areas to visit from Reykjavik is Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. The Park is of historical significance to Icelanders. This is where the oldest open air parliament in the world (the Althing) was established in 930 and continued to meet till 1798. Thingvellir is also of paramount geological interest. The North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates run through the Park and have created a rift which continues to expand. 

Thingvallatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland and lies south of the Park. It is the habitat of 150 types of plants and 50 invertebrates. 


Gulfoss (golden falls) is fed by glacial melt from Langjökull, the second largest ice cap in Iceland. When glacier melts and flows down the river, it carries sediment with it. Hence the water is somewhat golden in hue. Gulfoss cascades in two tiers down a 32 meter canyon. Sunshine and a spray of mist in the air will create a rainbow to make your heart leap. Yes, Wordsworth!

Strokkur (The Churn)

Strokkur is the most active geyser in Haukadalur Valley. It spouts regularly about every ten minutes and you can anticipate its arrival by watching the activity in the boiling basin. When it spouts, it is accompanied by a thunderous noise but it ends too quickly leaving the onlooker begging for more.

The Great Geysir was once the main attraction in this field with its 60 to 80 meter high jet trajectory but it has been dormant since 1916 and now spouts a mere 8 to 10 meters high into the air at less regular intervals.

Steam vents, small geysers, hot springs, and warm streams populate this active geothermal field bounded by Laugarfjall mountain. The raw and volcanic landscape of The Golden Circle has attracted the production company of the successful TV series, Game of Thrones. The brooding backdrop is tailor-made for their show. 


Images by TravelswithCharie

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chasing Aurora

Aurora Borealis from the Grayline Iceland Tours brochure

For many years I dreamed about going to Iceland or Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis. That dream became reality in mid September of this year when I finally landed at Keflavik airport in Iceland. The first few days of our stay was marked by rain and heavy clouds. Then a storm followed. It seemed hopeless. But on Thursday the sun came out and the clouds lifted. Grayline Tours confirmed our northern lights mystery tour and I was in heaven!

We were driven to Reykjanes Peninsula which is south of Reykjavik at around 9 p.m. The sky was still shedding the light of day so we drove quite a distance away from city lights to get the best view. I kept scanning the darkened skies for traces of the aurora and finally I saw a patch of green in the sky. It wasn't big nor was it dancing but it was there. The driver stopped the bus and we all trooped out of the bus to watch the aurora from an ancient lava field. It was chilly outside and we stood there for a while but the aurora never developed. So we left for greener pastures until we reached a lighthouse where we parked for an hour or so to wait for the northern lights to reveal itself. We were not lucky there either. As we were right by the water, it was much colder though we had the option to get a hot drink at the café. Most of us queued up for the restroom instead.

Downcast we headed back to Reykjavik. It was then past 1 a.m. We were told that our tickets were good for two years or until we see the northern lights. And I had made up my mind to rebook the tour for the following evening. As we approached the city, the bus went down a darkened road as the driver tried one last time to find the elusive aurora. And there in the middle of nowhere, the guide called us to get off the bus as soon as possible. What happened next was magical. Above us was a huge canopy of green and white lights. And all I could say was "Oh my God!". And yes, the incredible spectacle before us was His work of art. 

I couldn't get a good photo of the aurora. I only had my IPhone camera and my digital camera. But it's enough that I saw with my own eyes what I had wanted so much to see all these years. When I got back to the hotel, I reviewed the photos and found some smudges of green in a few of the shots I took. I increased the exposure of the image below in order to see the green rays better but it made the photo grainy. 

My photo of the Aurora Borealis

We saw the northern lights again the following evening from our hotel window. It was nothing like the images I've seen on Instagram or Google images but we did catch a green whirlpool. How amazing that was! What started as a hopeless pursuit amidst bad weather conditions turned out to be a good week for chasing aurora.

For more information about the Northern Lights tours, check their website at or send them email at The mystery tour costs 6400 ISK as of this writing. Tours are conducted from September 15 to April 15. I highly recommend Grayline as their staff took us to many locations and didn't give up until we saw the fleeting northern lights. The ability to rebook the tour free of charge in case the aurora is a no show is quite reassuring.


Image with lighthouse from Grayline Iceland Tours.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Reykjavik Walks

Reykjavik is an easy city to explore because of its compact size. We spent three days discovering this charming old town and made lots of stops along the way to read all the helpful descriptions provided at each site and tried some local Skyr and pastries along the route. The Shore walk begins at Höfdi House on Borgartún, overlooking the bay. It is a beautiful stroll along the coast. The City Center walk starts at Government House while the Cathedral Square walk begins on top of the hill at Hallgrímstorg.  The Harpa Concert Hall may also be included with the Shore walk as it is at the end of the boulevard and a hop and skip from the Sun Voyager. 

Shore Walk

Höfdi House

The Höfdi House is where détente saw light. The great thawing of ice between the United States and USSR (as it was known then) began with the meeting of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in this house in 1986.

One of the former residents of Höfdi House was the poet and entrepreneur, Einar Benediktsson who lived here from 1914 to 1917. There is a statue of him standing in front of a harp (which symbolizes his poetry) on the grounds of the property. Here's an excerpt from his work, Surf.
"Mighty heartbeats from the ocean's cold depths
My strength and peace I drink from your sound."

Sun Voyager

Sólfar or Sun Voyager is a steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. What appears like a Viking ship ready to set sail into the Atlantic, is really a dream boat--it carries dreams of hope, progress and freedom. It is also an ode to the sun. 

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

See description under City Center Walk.

City Center Walk

Government House

The Government House is the office of the Prime Minister of Iceland. It was originally built as a prison and used as such till 1861. Then the Governor of Iceland lived here until Iceland became a sovereign state in December 1918. Government house is sometimes called The White House.

Iceland has the oldest parliament in the world known as the Althingi. It was established in 930 A.D. and the country's leaders met outdoors on the Law Rock (a flat ledge on a rocky outcrop now marked with a flagpole) in Thingvellir to enact laws and render justice. The meeting was open to all free men and it attracted large crowds.

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

Geometry + glass + light = Harpa Concert Hall. It is the home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera. The entire building is clad in glass and reflects the play of light. Harpa was designed by visual artist, Olafur Eliasson. 

Old Harbor

The old harbor is the jumping off point for whale watching and puffin tours. It has been scrubbed and updated and has become the new hub for locals and visitors alike for its restaurants, shops and scooter rentals. 

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur

This is one hot dog stand that always has a queue in front of its cozy stall.  Tourists from around the world can't wait to do a selfie with their hot dogs. Bill Clinton ate here. So what's in the hot dog? Free range lamb and some beef and pork. You add the condiments. Or you can order one with everything in it. They accept cash or credit card. A hot dog and soda as of this writing is 600 kr. And that's a steal since dining in Reykjavik restaurants averages 3800 kr. per person. On Tryggvagata and Pósthússtraeti, across from the harbor. They also have branches in other parts of the city.

Cathedral Square to Downtown


This cathedral is the iconic symbol of Reykjavik. (See separate article on Hallgrímskirkja.)


What's in a name? This rainbow street is called Skólavördustígur. It is dotted with restaurants and boutiques and a short stroll downhill from the cathedral. It intersects Laugavegur, the main shopping artery in Reykjavik.

Trolls on Laugavegur

According to Norse mythology, trolls are supernatural beings who live in isolated mountains, caves or rocks. They are giants, strong, hideous looking, slow witted and unfriendly to humans. There is a distinction between small and large trolls. The small trolls are the huldufólk (hidden people) or elves. 

The fascination for trolls in Iceland can be explained through the natural environment according to B. S. Benedikz (author of Iceland):
"The reason is of course perfectly clear. When one's life is conditioned by a landscape dominated by rocks twisted by volcanic action, wind and water into ferocious and alarming shapes, the imagination fastens on these natural phenomena." From Wikipedia


Images by TravelswithCharie

Monday, September 28, 2015


Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran cathedral designed by Gudjón Samúelsson. Samúelsson drew his inspiration for this project from his surroundings, particularly from columnar basalt formed by lava flow in this volcanic island. It took over 40 years to complete the cathedral. Samúelsson didn't live to see the inauguration of Hallsgrímskirkja in 1986.  

The cathedral is named after Hallgrimur Petersson, Iceland's beloved poet who penned Hymns of the Passion (listen here: He was also the pastor at Saurbaer in Hvalfjördur.

The rib vaulted ceiling reminds one of the great Gothic cathedrals. But what sets it apart from its predecessors is its clean and simple style. Sharp arches flow down to linear columns. 

The main altar is adorned with an eight-meter long painting, Five Crucifixions by Helgi Torgils Fridjónsson. "Whether this work should be regarded as religious, is really up to the spectator, however all mental conflict is by nature religious. People ponder the suffering of the crucified but I do not believe that for a religious person passion stands for direct pain but rather for a kind of experience and motion in time", according to Fridjónsson.

The organ was made by Johannes Klaes of Bonn. It is 49 ft. high and weighs 25 tons. 

Straight lines frame an arched window.

Hallgrímskirkja sits on a hill and its tower can be seen around town. There is a 360 degree view of the city and harbor from the tower which rises 73 meters (244 ft) from the ground. I used it as my point of reference when exploring the city. The fee for the elevator ride to the tower is 800 kr. Proceeds from the fee are used for church projects.


Images by TravelswithCharie