Our goal was to be on the road by 8 this morning so we could try to get same-day tickets for Independence Hall - and we almost made it! More like 8:30:)
We had tried to reserve tickets in advance, but again, four months advance planning only produced one ticket for a morning tour. Lacking any other options, I grabbed the ticket we had reserved for the 9:20 tour and headed over. So cool to be inside Independence Hall!! The tour started in the judicial room, and then moved on to the assembly room, where the Declaration and Constitution were both written! So cool taking in the history that occurred in the room, and seeing the chair where George Washington sat and presided over the room. (Benjamin Franklin said, "I have often looked at that [sun] behind the
president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting.
But now I... know that it is a rising...sun.")
I left the room with the last of our group - only to see Scott and the boys entering the judicial room with the next tour! I quietly followed them in where Scott told me the ranger who admitted people into the tour waiting area had been appalled that the boys were there and unable to get tickets. She'd told them to wait until she could confirm a few no-shows on the next tour and then waved them in, even without tickets! YEAH!! I listened to the details of the two rooms again, this time with my family!
When we were done, we walked around the corner to where a long line had formed for the Liberty Bell. The boys and Scott had walked right into the center when there were making their way to Independence Hall, so they were not impressed with the 30 minute line, but understood that their mother still wanted to see it first-hand. A family picture and a few "Am I really here?" minutes, and it was time to make our final stop in Philly: Ben Franklin's grave. We found it just around the corner from the visitor's center. I love old cemeteries... they boys were less impressed, but still wandered through and tried to find the birth dates on the old stones.
By 11:30 we were back on the road, returning to New Jersey and heading north to Thomas Edison's workshop in West Orange. This was a "Plan B" stop for us - one we wanted to do, but would skip if we ended up spending a lot of time in Philadelphia. I'm glad we made it because it was incredibly interesting to see how Edison had sectioned off his experiments, as well as how many people he had working for him! After a couple hours, we were one the road again, until Scott finally turned off the car GPS and said we'd reached roads he knew by heart - his old home! We spent the next few hours exploring his favorite bakery, finding this grade school and playing on the swings in the park. By 5pm, it was time to head to our space for the night: Uncle Mike's house in Ringwood, NJ. More family, more laughs... and pizza! Within a few minutes of our arrival, John, Tom, Chris and Kathy had joined us for the evening. So great to see them again! And the boys (who were feel rather anti-social, or exhausted?) got to add a few more faces to their collection of "Gruncles" (Great-uncles).
We were all up around 9am and, oh, doesn't it feel good to have some real sleep behind you!
We were almost human and able to think through problems that seemed insurmountable the day before. (Like Nolan wanting an NYC sweatshirt, but expecting it to only cost about $3.)
We packed up our bags, and stored them at the desk downstairs before going back out to some shops for NYC souvenirs and then heading to Battery Park to pick up our Statue of Library tickets. We had booked tickets to climb to the crown back in January. (We were actually only intending to check on the tour times, but had quickly realized there were only two tours left we could get four tickets for on this day.) So we were some of the lucky few that actually got to enter the pedestal or statue, which have tight security since re-opening after 9-11. The ferry took us out to Liberty Island where we had to leave everything except cameras and water in lockers before entering the statue. It was such a great experience! I doubt the boys will ever forget climbing the (very narrow!) steps to to the windows and looking out over the water. Very cool.
Back down where we walked around a few more times at the pedestal and then at the ground level, before re-boarding the ferry to Ellis Island. We hadn't talked to the boys as much about Ellis Island, but they knew the general story of immigrants coming past the Statue of Liberty to the vast falls where they were processed and allowed, or not allowed, through to the United States. We looked up Scott's great-grandpa William Burke, and then finally headed back to Battery Park.
Once we swung back through to get our bags another Uber took us to our car rental place, just a few blocks from the entrance to Carey Tunnel, which allowed us to exit Manhattan ASAP after picking up our car:) On the road, traffic was heavy at first, but continued to lighten as we got closer to Scott's Aunt Patti's house in south New Jersey - just about 25 minutes outside of Philadelphia.
So good to see family again! We ate Chinese food and spent the night catching up with Patti, Neal, Katie and Joey before crashing for a second good night's sleep.
Wheels down at New York's JFK around 5:15 this morning. Whew. We each managed a few hours of sleep on the plane - now we get to see if it's enough to get through a day in New York City.
Scott called and Uber to take us to our hotel, the DoubleTree in the Financial District. To our pleasant surprise the hotel was willing to give us our room despite our arrival 8 hours before check-in time at 3pm! With an hour to settle in, and take the world's briefest naps, we were back out the door around 8am, heading from the Financial District to midtown on the subway with roughly 5,000 of our closest friends. (It probably wasn't the best "first-impression" of the subway for the boys...)
When we told the boys we were going to NYC, they each got to pick 3-4 things for us to do. Together their list includes the Empire State Building, Central Park, the New York Public Library (we had just finished reading The Land of Stories
series, which ends at the library), Times Square (Nolan wanted to eat at the McDonalds) and the Statue of Liberty. (We later added the World Trade Center.)
So with those stops in mind, our first stop was the Empire State Building! Luckily the line wasn't too long so we walked through most of the waits for elevators and security without too much delay. And then we were on top of the world! Where it was very cold. Almost too cold to really be out on the balcony. But there are plenty of things to see from inside the observation area and, in the end, we were there.
Next we walked a few blocks to the New York City Public Library, where the boys started complaining about their feet hurting. (Well, that didn't take long! Clearly we should have walked a few more laps on the driveway before we tackled NYC.) The library is impressive! It's almost funny to think about our small city library in comparison. We explored the different rooms, found the original Winnie the Pooh animals and the map room (I love maps), before moving on toward Times Square.
We had tried to warn the boys that Times Square can be a little bizarre sometimes, so they were a bit nervous about scam artists or being approached by performers, but it was fine. We stayed in the zone where you can watch the performers without being approached and slowly made our way to McDonalds, where we took a lunch break.
By this time the kids were starting to really protest their feet, so we agreed to grab a taxi to Central Park, where we surprised them with an hour-long carriage ride through Central Park. (We knew in advance they were going to be dragging by this point, so we can set it up in advance.) The carriage took us right past all the sites they wanted to see (mostly from movies): Bethesda Fountain/Steps, the Balto Statue, and Sheeps Meadow. The driver also pointed out all of the places famous people had lived on the east and west sides, as well as where movies had been filmed (Elf, Enchanted, etc.). It must have been good, because we all manged to stay awake the entire time (or maybe that was the Starbucks stop before we climbed on board).
After our ride, we coaxed the boys into trying the subway again and found it considerably less crowded at 1:30 than it had been at 8am. Back at our hotel we all took another catnap to recharge our batteries. Afraid that too much sleep would make it heard to ever get used to the time change, we pulled ourselves back to our feet around 4pm, and headed out to the World Trade Center site, not far from our hotel. We spent an hour looking into the pools at the bottom of the sites where the two buildings had once stood and reading some of the names engraved on the sides. After some more sitting and people watching, it was time to find some dinner and head back to the room, via a few shops. Our intent had been to ride the Staten Island Ferry after the sun went down to take in the lights of the city, but once we got back to our room, we were all done. It was time to get some real sleep. Good night NYC - you hold a lot of sites for these Oregonians!
Our bags are packed and we're off to spend the next week on a major field trip for the boys!
Flight AS450 leaves PDX at 9:30 tonight and the questions is: Can we all make it through a day in NYC with whatever sleep we can manage on the plane tonight?
Time will tell - we're counting on adrenaline to help get us through!
The boys just finished their first year of The Art Conspiracy
- a two-week day camp that focuses on bringing the arts to the rural districts of Sheridan, Willamina and Amity.
Last night was their "Art Show" and - wow! - we were impressed at what they could do in two weeks!
Nolan studied Polymer Clay sculpture in the morning, and learned Taiko drumming in the afternoons.Here is his performance
, along with the pieces he made in class:
Carson did afternoons only, and studied digital photography. His favorite shots are posted here
Here is his best picture, "The Sad", on display and in full, along with a shot I snapped of him during the portraits session
The early light of being way far north finally lulled us out of bed around 8 this morning, which was perfect because the viewing deck at Hallgrímskirkja
(the church right across from our hotel) opened at 9am. Once again we enjoyed our free breakfast at the hotel, said good-bye to the Hótel Leifur Eiríksson
and ventured out for our last day in Iceland. Hallgrímskirkja is the highest building in Reykjavik, so the viewing deck of the church offer the best views of the city. We got there a little after 9am and found a little sign that basically said, "If we haven't gotten here yet to receive money, please just leave about 900KR each and go on up." I love Iceland. The trust... the simplicity... the baffled crowd gathered around the sign wondering if it can really be that easy. On top of the church it was not only beautiful, but someone, even more windy (which was hard to believe possible). We read the signs, admired the views from all sides, and returned to the lower levels before we froze to death!
The only other item on our to-do list for the day was shopping. Neither of us are big shoppers, but we had avoided picking up things for the kids, family or ourselves until we'd seen what different place had to offer. Now it was time. We took a few hours to stroll down the main shopping streets like we had the first day, but the reality is that most shops have exactly the same things for sale. And nothing was jumping out at us. On the advice of a few websites, we decided to try a different approach and headed to Kringlan
, the largest shopping mall in Reykjavik. And we discovered where the locals go! The mall included some standard shops (Subway, The Body Shop, etc.), but Flying Tiger
was our favorite. We probably spent an hour there! Of course it's also fun to just see the locals in action and window shop a bit, so this last minute decision turned out to be a really interesting addition to the trip.
Shopping done we returned to Reykjavik for some fish and chips! After strolling around a bit we finally settled on Icelandic Fish and Chips, located near the bay. Everything was a la carte, so we ordered two different types of fish, sides and sauces for our final Icelandic meal. Super-yummy!! And a bit bitter-sweet. It was time to head for the airport.
45 minutes later we were returning our car to the rental place - doors in tact. (Thank, goodness!)
The owner of the company was the only person around, so he offered to drive us back to the airport. It took about 15 minutes and along the way we got him started chatting about tourism in Iceland and the overall economy. Apparently, 3-4 years ago they had around 400k tourists visit. This year they are
anticipating 2.5M! By comparison the entire population of Iceland is
330,000 (about twice the size of Salem). There are a lot of
conversations going on about how to manage the numbers, but essentially the economy of Iceland tanked around 2007 and tourism is what brought it back. So it needs to be managed, but also continued. (I'm not sure if that means we were part of a growing problem, or part of a solution!?) I do know that basically EVERY attraction we visited had construction going on to accommodate the crowds anticipated this summer. We also read blogs with detailed descriptions of how to find trails and sights that were "unmarked" only to find parking areas and marked trails there when we arrived. So not only are they recognizing some of the issues, they are taking steps towards resolution at a much faster pace than we would likely be able to take in the states. It will be interesting to watch Iceland in the coming years to see what other adjustments they make in order to balance livability and local culture with the throngs of tourists who want to catch a glimpse of this intriguing little island.
Up a little later this morning... yesterday was a long day! Our original plan was to be on the road by 8, but our eyes may have opened a bit closer to 8:30. And then we still needed to pack things up.
So instead of a trip to the grocery store with things we could bring back and cook for breakfast, we threw our bags back in the car and hit the grocery store for breakfast options we could eat while driving. Luckily we've discovered this amazing yogurt-type stuff called Skyr that's absolutely delightful! Especially the vanilla flavor. Combined with a granola bar and an orange, we were quite happy.
Our first stop of the morning was just around the corner (and one of the places that made us understand why doors occasionally blow off cars in Iceland): Reynisfjara
beach and the basalt columns of Hálsanef.
We'd seen the black sands at Vik the night before, but this is the more famous beach around the corner, and includes an amazing cliff made of tall columns and old lava flows that almost seem to move while you're watching them. The jet black sand, combined with the grey sky and white waves, gave the strange feeling that you were standing in the middle of a black and white movie. We turned away from where all the tourists gathered near the basalt columns and tried to take some pictures of the desolate beach stretching the other direction. It's hard to believe they are color photos!
Back in the car for just 20 minutes or so and we found ourselves at Sólheimajökull
glacier, where we had originally been scheduled to hike for the day. Turns out you can actually hike right up to the glacier (and onto it, if you are inclined to do so without a guide). So despite our canceled hike, we really had a good time playing around where the outer fingers meet rock that the retreating and advancement have cut through the years. The blue ice was beautiful and clear. The patterns in the larger glacier were, again, almost alive with movement. We ended up staying here for well over an hour, although we had expected it to be a quick stop.
Another 15 minutes down the road is one of Iceland's most famous waterfalls: Skógafoss
. At this point we were, admittedly, a little done with waterfalls. They're absolutely beautiful. And Iceland has done a good job of making each different by cutting steps to the top of some, and paths behind others. But here's the thing: we have all those things in Oregon too. So super-cool, but not a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Instead of spending a ton of time with the hundreds of other people climbing to the top of the falls, we drove around the corner to the Skógar Folk Museum
that was highly recommended by Guðrún, our Airbnb host the night before.
Yes. This was what we had been looking for to make the trip feel complete. And (baffling!?) almost none of the throngs nearby at the waterfall made their way over.
The museum has three parts:
1. The folk museum which offers a huge variety of tools and implements
used for fishing and farming, as well as artifacts dating back to the
viking age. This was a great way to walk through the history of Iceland and the development of it's people and culture.
2. An open-air museum that features rebuilt turf houses give you a glimpse into the atmosphere of how Icelanders
lived through the centuries.
3. The museum of transport, which tells the story of
technology and transportation and its development in Iceland in the 19th
and 20th century.
We spent WAY more time here than we'd allotted, but SO worth it!
One stop left in the day so we hit the road to our Day 3 hot spring (yes, we scheduled one each day!): Reykjadalur or "Smokey Valley".
Scott and I had both been looking forward to this hike. We read about it on all sort of blogs (here
... you get the point). The hike takes at least an hour and roams into the mountains, through a geothermal area. Steam comes out of the ground all around you as you hike through streams, past waterfalls and alongside pools so hot they're boiling. But here's the catch. It was really rainy hard when were were there. (As in, we're from Oregon and we still thought it was raining hard.) And windy. WINDY. A couple times I forgot to stand with my feet shoulder width apart and almost got blown over. So, although we were passing all of the beautiful things, we were also soaked to the skin. Through our thermals, wool sweaters and down coats. But you only get one chance to hike Iceland, right? So we went on!
Finally, we arrived!! We got to the boardwalks and noticed something strange: there was no one there. Scott stepped off the side, removed his glove and dipped his hand into the stream and it was COLD. Wait, what?! Apparently the hot springs could not keep up with the rain that day. A phenomenon that was NEVER mentioned in any of those blogs above! But we were not to be defeated! Despite the other (smarter?) people turning around and going back, we were going to do this. We hiked upstream a bit, beyond the boardwalks. Normally this area was deemed "too hot", but it turns out with the rain it was about right. Of course, there was still a catch. Changing out of three layers of clothes, including wool socks and hiking boots, while standing in the open air is, well, VERY COLD. And frankly, nearly impossible.
BUT WE DID IT!
And then we had to change back. Dear Lord. I really don't recommend ever trying to put on wet thermals in the pouring rain and then hike for an hour, although after about 15 minutes they did start to work like a wet suit - warmed by body heat as we hiked! Finally back at our car an hour later we rewarded ourselves with coffee and dessert at the trailhead cafe (purely by the grace of God they actually had a sugar and gluten free option).
Wet completely through we headed back to Reykavik for our final night.
We were up early and out of our room with our bags in the car before the hotel started serving breakfast at 7am. Food is SUPER expensive, so we enjoyed the quick free breakfast before setting off on the Golden Circle drive.
Our first stop was þórufoss, a bit off the beaten path, but an easy addition when you have a rental car. We were the only people there (which we would appreciate later in the day when we caught up to the tour buses) and it was a great way to start our exploration outside of the city.
Next, it was time to scratch that ongoing national park itch at Þingvellir National Park!
We got there right as it was opening and enjoyed a quick walk through the visitor's center, before strolling down through the hiking paths. The site hosted Iceland's parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries and also boasts Þingvellir Church, ruins of old stone
shelters and the Prime Ministers "summer home", which is really just used in the summer to host political gatherings. It was a beautiful and interesting stop! You can read more about some of the activities that took place at the Þingvellir site here. The site also has another great example of the crack forming between the tectonic plates of Europe and North America.
Our next stop was a hopeful one: we had read about an amazing waterfall called Bruarfoss with crystal blue water. However multiple sites said it was difficult to find the right place to park, as well as the trail leading to the waterfall. We allocated an hour in our plan, crossed our fingers and said a prayer. And it worked! Definitely an discrete trail and a very muddy path, but we found our way to the bluest waterfall I've ever seen!
Still on schedule we made our way to the Geysir Geothermal area, which is a lot like a mini-Yellowstone! In fact, "geyser" derived from the Icelandic verb geysa, "to gush", the verb from Old Norse.
Bubbling mud pots, steaming ground and a few geysers make up the small area. The main geyser is larger than Old Faithful, but has been dormant for some time. Strokkur geyser goes off about every five minutes, and we saw it "gush" a number of times while we strolled around.
Just beyond Geysir, was Gullfoss - our final official stop on the Golden Circle drive (there are other sites people include, but these were the ones we prioritized). Another beautiful waterfall - this time a double, that flows directly into a crack in the earth.
At this point we headed south, planning to spend the last hours of the afternoon on a hike to a hot spring located in the mountains. Along the way I received an email from the guides that were supposed to take us on a glacier hike tomorrow saying they had to cancel due to high wind and rain being forecasted. Well, heck. Some quick regrouping and we decided to switch the hike planned for today, with the one we were going to do tomorrow since that one was more on the way to our stop for the night. So we threw the itineraries out the window (figuratively), we made our way to Seljalandsfoss and it's walk-ably close neighbor, Gljúfrabúi.
Gljúfrabúi actually turned out to be one of our favorites in a place where waterfalls start to feel a bit like cathedrals in Europe. ("There's *another* amazing one...") While many people debated whether to wade through the craack into the cave, Scott took off and, of course, I had to follow. Inside, where the water falls, was amazing. Wet, but amazing. The the only source of light came from the hole where the water flowed in, making for a bit of a surreal feeling. After wading back out we decided to try our luck with climbing the rock that blocks the lower section of the waterfall. Suffice it to say some of the climb involves chains that have been added to assist with the climb up the face (or around the side) of the wet rock.
We don't have a lot of pictures because:
A) We were hanging on for our lives
B) We promised my parents we wouldn't die while they were watching the boys and we didn't want proof we had attempted this climb.
For the record, we were successful:)
Still going strong we headed for our last major stop of the day: Seljavallalaug pool
The pool was built in the hills of southern Iceland in 1923 as a place where children could learn to swim. It captures the water from a nearby hot spring, making it possible to use year-around. (Although many people who entered while were there clearly expected it to be much warmer then it was.) A small stream towards the back, in addition to a pipe in the corner from the main spring, turned out to be the places to be. This was definitely one of my top five experiences from the entire trip. I loved this little pool and hated to have to leave just a short hour later.
At 6:30pm we were back in the car and headed to Vik, our stop for the night. We arrived at our Airbnb just after 7pm, checked in and headed out for one final walk to explore the tiny little town, find some dinner and see the famous black sand the southern coast is known for. The sun finally set about 11pm and so did we! Another great day in Iceland!
Pictures from our Golden Circle day are posted here.
Things we've learned so far:
1. foss = waterfall
2. vik = Bay
3. Þ = "th" sound
4. ð = "d" sound
5. æ = "ee" sound
6. We are very grateful for all the sites that recommended waterproof hiking boots. We've passed many people trying to navigate mud and streams that we just trekked right through.
7. The time Scott put into figuring out how to get us a phone was well spent! We've chatted with the boys, texted pictures and actually got the email that canceled our hike tomorrow!