Sunday, 28 July 2013

The English Pub Experience

After a day of hiking in Dedham England, the girls were ready for something to eat.  Ally loves meat pies and mashed potatoes and had been craving them since our arrival.  So a traditional English Pub was what we had in mind.  

We hiked back to a mill in Dedham, we loved this garden path, which was much darker than it appears above.
The trees were linked overhead and created a tunnel, with the light shining in the end.
This is the sight where one on Europe's most famous artists, John Constable, painted the Hay Wain. 
We ventured to Colchester to see the sights and seek out dinner.  A fellow we met on the street gave us the names of a couple of pub options. 

The Colchester Castle, unfortunately it is under construction so we could not go inside for a tour.
The one was called the Slug and Lettuce, the other, The Duchess...I opted for the Duchess for obvious reasons.  Mark and the girls thought it would be neat to try the Slug and Lettuce.  We came upon the Slug and checked out the menu, it had what we were looking for but we thought we would check out the Duchess before deciding.  It was OK as well, but in the distance there were a few more that looked interesting.  Mark and Meg went into one while Ally and I checked out another.  Mark and Meg’s was quickly stroked off the list, as Meg was ID’d when trying to enter.  She didn’t even know what the man had said when he asked to see her ID and Mark was a little perplexed as well.  Did they really look like they were on a date together? In Europe, if you are underage you are not allowed in many of the pubs on a Sunday night after 6:00, this was going to throw a wrench into our dinner plans. Who parties in a pub on a Sunday night anyway?  Turns out all of the pubs, which we had checked out, had the same rule except for the Duchess – they said we could stay until 7:00; the Royal Family has quite the pull in England I guess. 

Short on options, we decided to sit down and order our meat pies and mashed from the Duchess.  We waited, and waited, and waited – didn’t the woman just say we had to be out by 7:00?  Why was she not coming to take our order?  We continued to patiently wait, but were really starting to question the service at this establishment.  Several more minutes passed and we decided to leave.  At this rate we would have to stuff the food down our throats to be finished by 7:00.  Since dining out would be a rarity on our world trip adventure, we thought we better take the time to enjoy it properly.  So there we were, back out on the street again with two very hungry girls and no pub prospects.

After being turned away from yet another establishment, a kind woman directed us to The Castle. We made it in without being ID’d so things were looking up (not quite sure why it was allowed to serve minors, but we didn’t ask).  It was a traditional pub all right, with worn out tables and seating and lots of beer on tap.   Mark was happy, and there were meat pies on the menu.  Two for two!  The woman at the bar told us to take a seat, and when we were ready to order, to come back up to the bar and pay for our meal in advance.  We did so and our meals came out shortly afterwards.  Mark asked me about a tip and wondered how much to leave.  I figured the standard 15% but since we were unsure we decided to consult with the local expert…Google.  What did people do before Google?

One happy man!
This is what we learned:
A British pub must never be confused with a Canadian or American bar.  Pubs are an important part of the life and culture in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, of course, the Republic of Ireland.
The word “pub” comes from “public house.”  In older times, the term signified someone’s house that had been opened to the public.  A pub is truly the neighborhood’s living room.  It’s an everyday party for the neighborhood, and your welcome is a bit warmer than in a Canadian or American bar.  The owner or operator is referred to by various names:  host, publican, landlord, and governor.  He often lives on the premises.

Our research also told us that there is quite a code of etiquette to be followed when frequenting an English pub.

There is no tipping in an English pub!  To offer a tip is to display your unfamiliarity with pub etiquette.  (Yes, you do tip in a restaurant as opposed to a pub.  Fifteen per cent is a very generous tip in an English restaurant.  Ten per cent is acceptable.)
There is no table service in English pubs.  Order and pay at the bar.  The barman or barmaid is very aware whose turn is next.  Signal your readiness to make a purchase by holding money in your hand.  You will be waited upon in turn.  All purchases are in cash.

Suddenly it dawned on us. The Duchess was doing her job, the same way she had for many, many years - free of judgment until our arrival.  To our knowledge this was the first blunder of our travels and surely not to be the last. 

Enjoying our meals, turns out Ally didn't get mashed after all... I guess we will have to hit another pub!
We finished up our meals and felt a little uncomfortably not leaving a tip, but happy to have a few extra pounds still in our pockets.   About halfway home I looked at Mark and said – I do hope The Castle was an English Pub and not an English Restaurant…maybe it was a restaurant and that is why the girls were able to be there after 6:00. Oh drat…I think we should have left a tip...blunder number two.  To all of our English friends, we are so sorry to have disgraced you so! 

Tomorrow, we are headed to the beach, I’d better check out Google before we leave!  

Friday, 26 July 2013

Take Only Pictures, Leave Only...Licence Plates

Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints Licence Plates!

At the end of Tuesday, when we tucked into bed after midnight, Mark said that he had experienced enough adventure for one day to last him the rest of the trip.  His heart had returned to a normal rhythm and his adrenalin levels had reduced; perhaps the shot of whiskey helped! I, on the other hand, was wishing I had another Coke tallboy!
Now this is MY kind of coke!  It was the size of a Tall Boy beer at home!
It was suggested that we visit Landmannalaugar, a region near the volcano Hekla in the southern section of Iceland's highlands. In order to get there you must venture off the smooth paved Ring Road into the highlands.  When Mark was looking into rental vehicles he asked for a 4 x 4, as he was interested in ‘seeing the country’. This didn’t sound all that exciting to me, but we would go along for the ride and take photos of land and rock formations that would appear in Mark’s geography lessons for years to come.  He figured it would be a few steep gravel roads and maybe a puddle to jump. The Ford Explorer that we had ordered ended up being a Dacia Duster upon delivery.  Who makes Dacia anyways? It was quite a bit smaller than the Explorer but was nearly new which was nice or scary depending on how you look at it.  How reliable was this Duster and would it get us through Iceland?
The Duster after it's first river crossing... no problem!
After unloading some of our luggage in the Reykjavik apartment we loaded up the Duster with our camping gear, ready for an adventure.  I checked the map and we estimated it would take us about an hour maybe two tops, to reach Landmannalaugar.

The first few kilometers of our adventure were pretty uneventful and included the expected gravel roads and a few tight turns.  We travelled slowly to avoid gravel chips. We were thrilled when we reached our first river to cross.  It was about six to eight inches deep and had a little current.  Mark had never driven a car through water that deep before and was pretty excited.  Considering that our insurance would not cover us for damage to the chassis or stone chips, we passed through cautiously.  The rental folks said we could driving through water up to our knees, we were in good shape with this river!  I’m not quite sure whether they were referring to Mark’s knees or mine, but still, we had plenty of leeway on this passing.  We thought we should capture the crossing on camera so we turned around and went back through the river again to get a photo and some video.  It is not everyday that you drive your vehicle through rivers! Little did we know what Icelandic backcountry had in store for us.

The big sticker attached to the dashboard of rental vehicle in Iceland, hokey doodle!
The roads became narrower and the signs that indicated a ‘blind head’ made our hearts pump with anticipation.  It usually meant that we would be climbing a one-lane hill and could potentially meet oncoming traffic without warning. We made it through the first few signs without sight of another vehicle, but then, of course we were bound to meet someone on a blind head, weren’t we!  Pfew…we made it through without a scratch but I’m pretty sure I left a few years of my life on the side of that mountain.

The roads became steeper, with more and more switchbacks, as we climbed higher and higher into the highlands. We climbed the range slowly for a couple of hours. Mark told Ally that if she could handle these backcountry roads, she was sure to be able to handle Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland, upon our return. During this whole time Ally had been reading her book; she wasn’t all that interested in Dad's rock formations and this back country adventure either. She finally gave up reading after she had hit her head on the window for the second time and scolded Dad for his driving abilities.  I, on the other hand, was so thankful that I was not behind the wheel.  My tummy was doing summersaults on the crest of every knoll and I couldn’t bare to look out my window, down the steep rock face – do they not believe in guardrails in Iceland for crying out loud? And why were we at the same elevation as the nearby glaciers?

We stopped for lunch and the view was tremendous. A few more brave soles stopped to check in on us to see if we were heading in or out and to ask how the road conditions were.

As we continued on our journey we came across this sign. Hmmm shall we venture further? 

Just as we were approaching our first big hill after lunch, Mark saw horses in the distance. We quickly pulled over to view the most amazing spectacle; cowboys leading a herd of horses through the highlands.  I hopped out of the Duster to capture the scene on video as a horse was headed right towards me.  The sound of the pounding hooves was amazing and there must have been about 15 cowboys and girls on horseback, leading the herd of about 50 or so horses.  I’m pretty sure there weren’t any signs warning us of horse roundups!
Amazing sight in the highlands, see all of those horses in the distance!

They moved off the road around our Duster, then went right back on it.

We were now far beyond our 2 hour estimate and according to the map - not at all close to our destination.  We chatted with a few other travellers and decided to venture on behind a 4 x 4 truck.  We would follow his lead, avoiding the blind heads and any other natural obstacles (like herds of horses!) that we might encounter. Mark locked in the four-wheel drive and we ventured through a few more rivers.  The truck ahead of us would stop and navigate through the river and we would watch intently, learning what to do and what NOT to do. Needless to say there was no need to capture that measly little river at the beginning of our journey on camera. The next few crossings are difficult to witness on our footage as the camera usually knocked off the windshield or roof while trying to capture the moment. 
Yee Haw!
The last of the big rivers was really intimidating. Two trucks of similar size to ours were sitting on the opposite bank coming towards us, with their drivers scratching their heads. The 4 X 4 truck we were following plowed through and we followed (not without water splashing over the hood). It didn’t build a lot of confidence that those in the truck in front of us were videoing us, waiting to capture some famous YouTube footage. I guess they didn’t realize that we had left our licence plate behind! Yikes, how much would that cost us?

Finally, after about 4 hours of tumultuous travel we reached our destination, only to find that we would have to cross the deepest river yet in order to reach the campground.  Many vehicles had given up at this point; they parked on the other side and carried their camping equipment across.  The campground was crazy busy and not what Mark and I had in mind for the night, so we opted to avoid the swollen melt water river. 
The river we chose NOT to was well above Mark's knees.
We ventured around Landmannalaugar, checked out the hot springs, and climbed up a volcano, another opportunity for Mark to break in his new reed, on the bagpipes.  He wondered if anyone had bagpiped on the slopes of the Stutur volcano before? I highly doubt it! The ridge was not the best opportunity for Ally and Meg to dance as it would be a long way down if they lost their footing (it was like walking on a giant pile of red BBQ lava rock). We attracted hikers from far and wide and met a lovely group of travellers from Switzerland who were just finishing a year of travel.  They were filled with information and invited us to stay with them in Zurich; Hanny lives right beside the biggest waterfall in mainland Europe.  We said our goodbyes and would look forward to catching up with them again in November.

The natural hot springs where the fresh cool water mixes with the steaming water
to create a lovely, natural hot tub.

On top of Old Smokey Stutur Volcano

See the van down below!

It was getting quite late; we hadn’t had dinner yet and we still had to get back to the main highway, find a campsite and set up camp. This led us to another hour or two of driving on rough “moonscape” and volcanic plateau, until we reached the main road once again.  It was about 1:00am when we finally tucked in next to Iceland’s famous “Geysir”; we set our alarms to get up at 6:00am for what the next day had in store for us! How dangerous could the biggest waterfall and geyser in the world be, after a drive through the mountains of Iceland?

Red volcanic rock roads.

Geysir - where the name geyser originated from.

The most spectacular waterfall, Gullfoss...and a rainbow to boot.
And… just incase you were wondering, the rental car company was thrilled with the shape we returned the Duster in, and we didn’t even get charged for the missing licence plate!  They said, “No problem, it happens all the time in Iceland!” Silly me...of course it does!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Iceland Teaser

Here is a little teaser for you all to enjoy before our next Blog post! 

Thanks Mark for your cinematography!

A Guide to Iceland's South Coast

Welcome to Iceland the beautiful home of glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls and hotdogs, where even the prime minister is addressed on a first name basis. Iceland has a variety of travel experiences to suit any budget.  A five star hotel, you will not find here; however, a close fit can be found with Kristinn and Porunn’s apartment in the city of Reykjavik.  The host and hostess will welcome you with open arms and provide a quick overview of the island and its many sights and adventures.  You will not want to miss: The Harpa Theatre, The Free Walking Tour and the Hallgrimskirkja. 

Free Walking Tour of Reykjavik
The back of the Hallgrimskirkja.
Piping and dancing on top of 'The Pearl'
Be sure to taste the mouth watering cuisine of…hotdogs, dripping in sweet mustard and mayonnaise with a fried onion crunch.  The cheapest taste of Iceland comes in at a mere $3.00 each, quite a bargain on the island. 
The girls loved the crispy fried onions added to the bun!
After a day or two in the city you must set out on the Ring Road, the main highway that travels around the perimeter of the island.  There are a variety of transportation and accommodation options to suit your needs from rental vehicles, Happy Campers, Excursion trucks, to a cot on a cab! The south provides: breathtaking views of the countryside, a visit to the Blue Lagoon, Glacier walks, spectacular waterfalls and Puffins.
Coolest tent ever!!!

Not my idea of a Happy Camper - we passed on this campsite!

The countryside is vast and diverse; in parts it resembles Mars with the abundance of volcanic rock and little vegetation, allowing the traveller to see for miles. In other areas the mountains are speckled with sheep roaming free in the green grass and rocky slopes.  Trees are few and far between, the oldest tree on the island dates back to 1880 (a baby really) and can be found in Reykjavik, the capital city, of all places.

The Blue Lagoon, one of the 25 wonders of the world is located just outside of Reykjavik. Guests can renew their relationship with nature, soak up the scenic beauty and breathe the clean, fresh air while relaxing in the warm geothermal seawater. Experience a silica mud facial where science and nature work in harmony resulting in a natural source of healing power. The water and its minerals do wonders for the skin but are a hairstylist’s nightmare.  Three showers later and your hair will resemble a drier, more matted version of itself.
Look at those models, appearing in this travel broucher!

Just another day at the SPA!

There are many glaciers along the south coast that offer breathtaking views. Iceland is known for its four major glaciers.  Myrdalsjokull produces huge waterfalls pouring down in all directions and its peak reaches 1493 metres.  A unique campsite is nestled into the base of Skogafoss, the plunging 60 metre waterfall. If you are one of the lucky travellers you may be treated to a performance by a loan piper perched atop of the spur, jutting out from the natural wonder. Mist and spray may soak you to the bone, but a very worthwhile experience when Axel, one of Iceland’s ‘real’ Viking descendants, compliments you on your playing and offers you a job.  
A treat for the tourists!
Vatnajokull is the largest glacier in Europe and produces many glacial tongues creeping down towards the sea.  You may encounter a Geography teacher in the midst of a lesson on glacial morphology (glacier parts) along your stroll to the snout. Iceberg Lagoon (Jokulsarlon) featured in the James Bond series is magnificent and offers a unique photo opportunity for visitors. Be sure to check out both sides of the road for incoming and outgoing icebergs. Low tide presents a unique opportunity to witness stranded icebergs grounded on the warm, black, volcanic sand beach.
Geography 101

Breathtaking and WARM finally!!!!

So cool....

The sand was warm even though it was covered in icebergs.

If you venture as far as Hofn, treat yourself to a feed of sweet succulent local lobster, best enjoyed from a picnic table with a view of the sea. Also pick up some fresh, smooth black licorice made in the local licorice factory.
Yum Yum!
Just outside Hofn you will find Arnanes, the home of Willy an Icelandic horse. For $6000 isk/hour you can enjoy a relaxing horseback riding adventure into the mountains and through glacier runoff streams.  The Icelandic horse is best known for the tolt, which is a floating, comfortable gait, where the horse moves softly over the land as if it were crouching down.
Ally and Willy
The South of Iceland is unique and is by far the part of the island most frequented by travellers.  Everything that makes Iceland interesting can be found in the south.  There are just some places in the world that must be experienced and Iceland is certainly one of them.

For the non-official guide to 4x4 adventures inland Iceland, please check back in a few days!

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Packing Mission - Part 2

     It was time to get packed and the closet of possibilities was beckoning me… I can do this, no problem.  I have listened to everyone’s advice and truly want to reduce and take a moderate amount of clothing and accessories.  Everyone that has travelled anywhere has said - pack light.  But…when it actually came to deciding what to bring the conversation went something like this…
Lisa – Mark, come and have a look at what I have set out to pack and let me know what you think. 
I was quite proud of the reduction I had made from the closet of possibilities.  Mark walked into the bedroom, took one look at the bed that housed the neatly folded plethora of ‘stuff’ and laughed!

This was the first attempt from the closet of possibilities, no wonder he laughed!
Mark - You can take about half of that amount.
The hopes of being praised for my accomplishments….dashed! Did he have any idea how difficult this was? He, the one that has a whole bag devoted to the bagpipes, surely I should get an extra bag devoted to….well…the things that I think are important like hair dye, shoes, wine gums or clothing.  Even the girls have a whole bag devoted to their highland dancing.  I get the tank…my extra piece of luggage that has been devoted to medication…of all things.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we are taking our health very seriously on this trip and I’m fairly confident we have enough medication to outfit us (and the rest of the country we are residing in at the time) should anything ail us.

The bags have names now...I'd like to introduce you to The Dancer, The Piper and The Tank
Anyway I digress…I was trying to tell you about Mark’s reaction to my clothing….after he said to take about half, I gave it another go and asked for the 2nd inspection.  Mark was more complimentary this time and was quite impressed with my explanation of the 3 pair of pants sitting in the pile. One was travel fabric for outdoor adventures, one travel fabric but rather dressy for multi use and the last, Capri jeans, which I can wear in the warmer climates with, flip-flops and tuck inside my boots for the chillier times.
Mark - Three pair of pants, very impressive, I’m proud of you babe.
Yippy, I had received the praise I had been searching for…until he looked at the next pile. 
Mark - What is this pile?
Lisa – oh those are yoga pants.
Mark - so you have 4 pair of pants, and what about these?
Lisa – oh…those are tights
Mark – So really 5 pair AND THESE?
Lisa – black tights
Mark – You really need a gray pair and a black pair?
Lisa – hmmmm

Again my spirits were dashed.  Later that evening while Mark was running an errand, I packed.  I didn’t ask for any more input – honestly this was hard enough without his input.  Everything fit in the backpack and I even had some extra room at the top.  I was thoroughly impressed with myself.  It looked like an overstuffed sausage about to burst at the seams, but at least it was packed and I could lift it onto my back – no problem! 
The girls had great success packing as well, I’m just afraid to discover what they have forgotten as the trip progresses.

Meggie all packed and ready to go. She will keep
us all in line during our travels!

Ally's bag all packed, just like Dad showed her!
Mark didn’t miss the overstuffed sausage when he returned, and he doesn’t know exactly how many pairs of pants that I have packed, but in the end he only said, “If it makes you happy it makes me happy, just remember that you have to carry it and we are sending stuff home before we hit Asia”.  Honestly, I’m OK with that, I’m sure by then I will have settled into this trip-around-the-world thing and be sick and tired of carrying my closet full of potentials around AND be happy to reduce.  But until then, I’ll just burn a few extra calories.
We made it, the only bag that isn't in the picture is The Dancer - the beginning of the
things we would forget along our journey.
Oh and just to let you know…Mark threw an extra pair of jeans in his pack the night before we left….he also figured 3 pair of pants was not quite enough – so there!!!! I promise to write another installment in the Packing Mission as we continue to travel as I’m sure things will certainly change – they’ve got to because when we put the pile of luggage together…even I said it was WAY TOO MUCH! 

…to be continued.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Packing Mission Part 1

I have no idea what to pack! And this, my friend, is not because I have not spent any time researching, contemplating and thinking about it.  The exact opposite in fact, I have created many lists and asked anyone who would listen, for input.  I have scoured malls and outdoor stores looking for appropriate travel clothing and shoes, with not much success. You know you are desperate when you scout out peoples photo's on line to see what they are wearing during their holidays or honeymoon (K and S - you look fabulous!) The reality is everyone has a different opinion on what is important to pack.  It might be easier to write about what I am not taking with me...
The storage room!
My closet all packed up, OK not all of it!
The stuff that didn't make the cut from the closet!
A girlfriend mentioned that she envisioned me with colour co-ordinated trunks all stacked up. She couldn’t believe that I was limited to 3 pairs of shoes (which I am still negotiating on) - she of course, knows the ‘work’ me. The one with co-ordinating outfits who everyone comes to if they need anything from glitter, to paper plates, to minutes from the last leadership meeting.  How on earth am I going to be able to pack everything that I will need for a whole year into two pieces of luggage and a carry on?  One of those pieces of luggage being a back pack for crying out loud!  OH and did I mention that we also have to pack eight solar ovens, bagpipes and three Scottish kilts?
These are my bags! My Asolo pack, My North Face - the tank on wheels
 and my Lug Puddle Jumper and Skipper
Another friend said pack light, you end up wearing the same thing over and over again anyway. This just adds more stress to the ‘what to pack dilemma’.  If I have to wear the same thing over and over again, I can tell you - I better love it and it better make me look 10 pounds thinner than I am now.  Not to mention the other criterion that has been suggested such as it can’t be; too bright, made of cotton, too bulky, too skimpy or too heavy – and the list continues.  
I prefer our friend’s H and J's advice who honeymooned around the world.  They said pack light, take as little as possible - you end up giving away and buying a lot of your clothing as you travel – hmmm this packing thing might not be so bad after all!  The less that I pack the more opportunity I have to shop.  A colleague at work tells me I will love shopping in Australia – but we are not going to be there until May 2014, I won’t be able to wait that long! She said Asia was great too, I can just see the expression on Mark’s face now when I say, ‘You go ahead and see the Taj Mahal, I’m just going to poke around in this shop for a minute!’ Yeah, that is not going to work, I need to pack, at least some good essentials to get me through!
I am trying to convince myself that a backpack is not all that bad, it might not be the beautifully co-ordinated trunks mentioned above, but you can dress it up.  Heals and a little black dress can be paired with any accessory, right?
Getting my pack fitted at The Adventure Attic in Dundas!
The girls both have 60L Asolo packs, theirs are
travel packs where the straps can be zippered in for flights
OK, who am I kidding! The reality is we were having our backpacks fitted and it just happened to be after a very schwanky fashion show fundraiser event! The heels and little black dress were not planned, and as much as I love those peek-a-boo toes, they will not be poking out of the top of my pack...I must negotiate myself and my belongings into a compromise between the beautifully co-ordinated trunks and the reality of the backpack!
So this is the closet of possibilities.  I still have a lot of work to do to whittle this down, but at least it is a start.

 The plan is to take as little as possible.  I love lululemon so that will be a staple in my wardrobe.  I'll wear tights and leggings in the cooler climates with my riding boots and with flip flops in the more temperate areas.  We all have great rain coats that we will layer up under for cooler times. We have scarves to cover up shoulders, to dress up outfits and for warmth. A few long shirts, shorts, tank tops, t-shirts, capri jeans and a another pair of pants that still need to be purchased.  Headed to SAIL this week!

Finalizing our packing list is not going to happen quickly or appear in one blog post, but I assure you I will update you as the mission continues!  Stay tuned...