Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Iceland 2016: Snaefellsnes National Park

We started the day intending to visit Sanefellsnes National Park, but immediately upon leaving town saw a beautiful waterfall and stopped for a quick hike and picture.

We actually spent most of our time in the park at Djupalonssandur beach, which was a black sand beach with beautiful views of the mountain and glaciers. Both kids enjoyed playing on the beach and watching the wind and waves.

A park ranger, however, gave me a tip, which was that right outside the park, there was a crack in the mountain with a canyon inside that was worth a visit. We went in and indeed, it was very strange to feel the strong wind on the coast blowing hard and then suddenly disappear as we approached the canyon entrance and then see the sky go away once we entered the canyon proper.

Returning back to Grundarfjordur, we had a fairly late dinner and prepared for a return to Reykjavik the next day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: The Way of Kings

I picked up The Way of Kings at a huge discount from Amazon in preparation for a transatlantic flight. I usually try to avoid buying the first book of a series, especially an unfinished one, because of poor experiences, but Brandon Sanderson's established a little bit of credibility with me and it seemed like at least the first book would be a worthy standalone novel.

What's cool about Sanderson is that he thinks through his magic systems, and isn't afraid to drive them to their logical conclusion, D&D style. If a human figures out a system that's equivalent to magic, then he's going to keep using the same tricks over and over again. That's human nature, and it's good for magic systems in the series to reflect that.

His Mistborn series, however, focused so much on the magic system that the characters were barely sketched out. With 1000 pages, however, The Way of Kings does a much better job of character building. One of the protagonists, Kaladin, has a hugely long backstory that's largely told in flash-backs. It's well done and the character somewhat complex. Even though you know where he ends up, each plot twist is still a surprise: a sign of good plotting.

Most first novels are simply setups, but The Way of Kings does a good job of being more than that, doing world building (though fairly simplistic world-building --- don't expect Tolkein here!), conflict setup, back-story exposition, and world exposition all at once. None of the tropes of traditional fantasy are here --- nearly everything's fairly original, so don't worry that you're getting into yet another Western European Tolkein rip-offs with the serial numbers filed off: there's not a hint of elves, dwarves, orcs, or incantations here.

It took me weeks to get through this book, and the length of the book is such that I'm contemplating paying full price for the Kindle version of the sequel rather than repeated renewals of a dead tree book. If you know me that's about as high a compliment as I can pay any book.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Iceland 2016: Vidgelmir Cave and Grundarfjordur

The day threatened rain. My original plan was to head directly to Grundarfjordur, but on looking at the map (and getting lost), we decided that it was better to try to do a cave tour. I'd been in a cave tour before, but this one promised ice! Indeed, it was icy (and cold!), but the people running it were very flexible, so we got into the 2:30pm tour despite arriving at 3:00pm!

The cave had newly built boardwalks, and so was a much more user-friendly experience than previous cave tours I'd done. That's a good thing, since the age limit was also fairly low (4 years old). What's disappointing is that apparently the ice has been melting and we'd missed the peak ice time, but then Bowen got so cold that he said he was done with ice cave tours.

After the cave tour, the tour guides recommended that we visited the a nearby waterfall that was built on a lava flow. It was well worth the trip.

We arrived at our AirBnB too late in the evening to do much except buy groceries for dinner, though Bowen and I managed to visit the local swimming pool to swim. Unfortunately we did not bring his wet suit and I didn't take into account that he'd gotten used to the extra buoyancy of the wet suit for swimming, so he quickly looked like he was in trouble and the life guard jumped in to "rescue" him. She didn't quite believe he could swim so after that he was stuck in the hot tub for a bit.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

BVI Trip moved to April 2017

The previous trip solicitation resulted in a trip and boat reservation, but it's been moved to the first week of April next year. There's one cabin left if you're interested.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Iceland 2016: Siglufordur Penninsula

We were blessed by another sunny day for our day in Akureyri. That meant that we should spend time hiking, and forget about museums and other city-things. I looked at the map and decided that the Siglufordur Peninsula was worth a trip.

We started off at the Dalvik visitor center asking for a hike. We were given a map of all the hikes in the area, and recommended a couple of easy ones. Well, finding the trailhead was a little challenge, but once again we quickly discovered how rugged the terrain was. We did get pretty amazing views though!

Driving further down the peninsula, we found more fishing towns, and gorgeous waterfalls set amongst cliffs in the road.
We finished off with a short hike at a local bird refuge, which did indeed have plenty of birds to look at. Clouds started rolling in and we drove back to town just as it was raining.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Iceland 2016: Dettifoss & Myvatn Nature Baths

The day started off gloomy, so we weren't too sad to be leaving Eglistadir to head to Akureyri. On the way would be the famous Dettifoss, which could only be reached by driving a dirt road for about 35km. At first the dirt road was scary, as at low speeds the entire car would judder. I wondered whether my confidence in not opting for a full-on SUV had been misplaced. Then I realized that the car actually had less judder at higher speeds! After that, the rest of the trip went quickly.
Arriving at Dettifoss parking lot, I realized what a zoo the place was. We did manage to get parking fairly rapidly, but it was clear that visitors were arriving at a rapid clip! Arriving in the middle of the rain also made Bowen unwilling to get out of the car, but grandma didn't want to go either, so it was me, Xiaoqin, and Boen.

The actual falls is about a 15 minute hike. You could hike more and get more waterfalls, but given how cold it was, we retreated back to the car to head towards Myvatn Nature Baths. I don't actually have any pictures of the baths, but Bowen and I both enjoyed it. It's quieter than the Blue Lagoon, but also has a much stronger smell. I wouldn't recommend a trip just to visit it, but if you're in the area it's not a bad place despite the exceedingly expensive restaurant on-site.

At Akureyri, we found our AirBnB near downtown. I'd booked the place thinking that it would be a great place to explore the town, but in reality, the town was really tiny! We did manage to walk downtown to eat at a restaurant, and it was also nice that the nearest supermarket was within walking distance, but the town itself wasn't nearly as pretty as the environs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Iceland 2016: Seyðisfjörður

The day began with another dirt traversal on our mini van, which was remarkably challenging, since I had to keep shifting gears to keep the car from stalling out on the steep dirt roads. The Citreon Grand Picasso has a feature that I thought was quite broken: there's no separate hand brake control. Starting the car and putting it into drive automatically turned off the hand brake, while stopping the car and putting it into the park automatically engaged the hand brake. While a nice convenience feature on flat land, it makes starting on a hill with the usual trick of "engage the hand brake, then slowly let out the clutch while providing gas and only disengage the hand brake when the car's not going to stall" impossible to utilize. I stalled the car a couple of times, but between the dirt road, the fog, and my obvious incompetence at the stick shift (the car did roll back a couple of times while I got the hang of starting off on dirt) meant that not only was my wife too nervous to take pictures, she was also to terrified to consider asking me to stop for pictures.

Once the road became paved and we started up the road to Seydisfiodur, however, the scenery became even more stunning. On a good weather day don't expect to take less than an hour to traverse the road because it's simply too pretty. We stopped at every turn out, even in some places blocking dirt roads for pictures, and when we found the hiking pull out about 500m in elevation above the town we simply had to stop.

The scenery was gorgeous. The hiking reminded me a lot of my first day on the coast to coast: soaked through with water, and a severe test of the water proofing on my Salomon XA Pro 3D trail runners (summary: they failed --- the waterproof label is pretty worthless). Staring at the trail map, it looked like you could hike all the way to town from there, and it would have been awesome to arrange a one-way taxi from town to this location so you could hike down to town, or find the corresponding location in town to hike up --- it looked very rugged, but with gorgeous scenery it's definitely not something any serious hiker should pass up.

In town, we had a supermarket lunch, and then proceeded to find more hiking spots.

We shot picture after picture, and hiked up to a waterfall. Iceland on that day definitely exceeded my expectations --- it felt just as pretty as Switzerland was, but with its own unique vegetation and terrain.

We had to drive back to Eglistadir for lodging, and reluctantly left in the mid afternoon. The drive to our AirBnB turned out to be once again over a dirt road to a bunch of newly built buildings. The furnishings were quite elegant and compact, and it had an outdoor BBQ. We made dinner and then, given the infinite amount of light we had, ambitiously went for another waterfall hike. As usual, Google maps misled us as to where the trailhead was, but we eventually found it thanks to a local runner. When we got to the trailhead, it was quite clear that the trail was under going some heavy duty renovation: huge machines were driving up and down and were clearly about to pave it.

This one wasn't nearly as gorgeous: while the waterfall was promised to be one of those that you could hike behind, when I got there with Bowen, it was very clear that this was beyond the ability of a 4 year old: you had to drop off into a dark canyon/ravine holding on to a chain. Any slip could cause a major injury. What blew my mind was that this hike was rated "easy." I was learning that Icelandic Hiking is set at a level far beyond what I was used to in other countries. In Switzerland, for instance, I learned that a 2 hour hike according to the sign would take me an hour and a half at most going at full speed. Here in Iceland, a 2 hour hike would actually take me 2 hours, and despite carrying Boen I'm still a faster hiker than most visitors I saw! If you visit Iceland for a hiking trip, bring all your gear and be prepared for the "easy" hikes to take much more than you expect. And yes, Bowen did do all the walking himself, though he wasn't fast. This is definitely a country for those hikers who like challenges.

We got back to our AirBnB in time to see the horses back in their pasture. For more than the first time, I wished that I could have known in advance to spend way more time out here on the East Coast of Iceland, but the reality was that the forecast was for more crappy weather and we probably wouldn't have gotten a chance to do more hiking anyway.