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.

Grottoes

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: www.nps.gov/brca.

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:  sushisamba.is
This is an expensive restaurant. Prepare to pay at least $30.00 for the dish shown above.

Pearl Cafe
Perlan
Open from 10 a.m. To 9 p.m.
www.perlan.is
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: ruanthai.is

Supermarkets:
Krónan Supermarket on Laugavegur 59

10-11 Supermarket on Hverfisgata 

Sightseeing:
Grayline Tours
grayline.is
We took Grayline Tours to the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon and the Northern Lights.

Airport Transportation:
Flybus
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.

Currency:
Icelandic króna (ISK).

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


Wednesday, November 18, 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

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


Skálholt


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.

Þorláksbúð

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