Nacho & Adriana’s Fiesta en España

As a follow-up to their “Not-A-Wedding” in Costa Rica last August, Nacho and Adriana hosted another party in late April – this time in Palencia, Spain so that more friends and family could join in the celebration.  Darlene and I were able to join and we made an extended trip out of it with a coastal hiking trip in Portugal and a multi-city tour through Spain before joining everyone in Palencia.

Click through for the full gallery:

An Intrepid Tour of Spain

Upon completion of our hiking trip in Portugal, Darlene and I flew to Madrid and immediately joined the guided group tour we booked with Intrepid Travel.  We met our guide, Sergi, who quickly proved to be both quite enthusiastic and entertaining, along with our nine fellow travelers (mostly Aussies) and David, a guide-in-training preparing for his upcoming first tour.

Here’s the link to all the galleries from the trip.

Day 2: Toledo

Our first full day was a day tour to Toledo from Madrid to explore the old walled city – and for Darlene to buy boxes of marzipan from the nuns at the convent.

Days 3-4: Seville

We were then off by high-speed train to Seville where we spent two days and nights to see the city.  We lucked out at the normally very crowded Plaza de España as it was being cordoned off in preparation for a concert and we swung by the replica of the Victoria, the only ship to return from Magellan’s circumnavigation voyage.  We skirted around Seville’s bullfighting ring, Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza and wandered through the shopping district.  We had a wonderful local guide show us around the amazing royal palace and gardens, Real Alcázar de Sevilla (also home to scenes of Dorne from the Game of Thrones tv series) and we wandered around the immense Seville Cathedral (one of the largest in the world), which was originally a grand mosque.  Lastly, we attended a flamenco performance on our final evening.

 

Day 5: Córdoba

Our next overnight stop was Córdoba, home to an amazing and incredible grand mosque – a mosque so large that a huge cathedral could be built within the center of it.  Our walking tour continued around the old town and that evening we got to see an Andalusian equestrian show.  (No pics or video allowed during the performance.) The following day, on the road to Granada, we stopped in at a olive oil mill and learned first-hand how olive oils are taste-tested.

Days 6-7: Granada

We stayed two nights in Granada whose star attraction is The Alhambra, a medieval fortress and series of palaces chiefly built by the Moorish monarchs of Granada.  We enjoyed a walking tour through various parts of the old city and there was also much shopping.  For the Alhambra, we had a daytime tour of the fortress (or Alcazaba) and the Generalife palace and gardens but then we were able to return after dark for a mesmerizing tour of the Comares Palace grounds and a quick peek into the more recent Palace of Charles V.

Days 8-9: Valencia

On the way to Valencia, we had a short stopover in Elche as a break for the long drive, where we saw a couple of renditions of the “Lady of Elche”.  Unfortunately our bus broke down and we had to wait for a replacement to come and get us.  We made it to Valencia eventually and the following day we walked around the impressive structures making up the City of Arts and Sciences – a substantial public space including science and art museums, opera house, planetarium and aquarium.  Would’ve been fun to check it out in more detail but our day was already filled with a trip out to and boat ride on Albufera Lake with a lunch of traditional Spanish paella and then a walking tour around the older quarter of Valencia.

Days 10-11: Barcelona

We had a long drive from Valencia to Barcelona and our group tour with Intrepid Travel came to a close in Barcelona, but not after a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter including La Rambla, the Mercat de La Boqueria (a popular marketplace), the Barcelona Cathedral and a farewell dinner.  We stayed on an extra night and took a tour of one of Gaudi’s amazing architectural and design wonders, the Casa Batló – so very worth the admission and the crowds.  We also explored the Gothic Quarter a bit more on our own and went through the Maritime Museum of Barcelona – before Darlene collapsed asleep on a bench.

 

Days 12-13: Madrid

The Intrepid Travel trip actually started in Madrid and some folks took in some of the sights ahead of the trip start but we didn’t have time between our Portugal trip and this one, so we flew back to Madrid after Barcelona for a day and a half of sightseeing with Jennifer before we all boarded a train for the upcoming party in Palencia.  We managed to get in a Segway tour of the huge El Retiro Park and visit the Prado Museum, the Cathedral of Santa Maria and take in the full royal palace tour (Palacio Real de Madrid) – mostly no pics allowed in the palace though.

Click through for the full gallery of our Spain tour!

Also, here’s a flyover I recorded in VR in MS Flight Simulator of several of the cities we visited:

Hiking Coastal Portugal

Darlene and I joined Glenn and Michele for a weeklong trip with BikeHike Adventures in Portugal and our wonderful local guide Pedro and driver Filipa.  Our trip started with a day tour of Lisbon and continued with hiking days along various portions of the Portuguese coast as we worked our way south, including portions of the Vicentina Trail (or Rota Vicentina). We visited a tile workshop to see how Portugal’s azulejo tiles are created and got to try our hand at painting our own tiles.  Our trip ended with a visit to our guide’s mountain home town and enjoying a home-cooked meal from his mom at his uncle’s distillery before the return all the way back to Lisbon.

Unfortunately, Darlene came into the trip with a lingering respiratory illness and we didn’t think she was still infectious until I started getting symptoms – sore throat, congestion and eventually frequent coughing fits.  Darlene sat out one day’s hiking and we both took a day off to try to sleep and recover, the two of us missing out on the hike to Cabo San Vicente, the southwestern-most point in Europe.  We all masked up once it became clear I was getting sick, but Glenn and Michele ended up getting infected by the end of the trip anyway.  And we all had to deal with it for our ongoing travel – Darlene and I on to Spain and Glenn and Michele continuing on in northern Portugal, Spain and the Azores.

Click through for the full gallery:

Glenn’s Sore Feet

My brother is currently embarked on a 500-mile walk across northern Spain.  Glenn’s following the Camino de Santiago, taking pictures, making friends (furry and otherwise) and blogging about it as he goes – it’s an entertaining read if you’d like to follow along: https://www.glennssorefeet.com

   

And here’s Michele’s take on Glenn’s solo adventure: “Smell ya later!”

Bavarian Road Trip

Earlier this month, Darlene and I were able to get away for a little road trip in Bavaria, the southern region of Germany.  Darlene used to work summers in Bavaria and so she organized a little ten-day itinerary for us to see some of the sights.  We flew into Frankfurt and visited several locales before flying back via Munich.  We ended up skipping Frankfurt entirely when our inbound flight was delayed half a day, but we had a day seeing castles in the Rhine River valley, two nights in Heidelberg, a day visit in Bamberg, two nights in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, day visits to Aalen and Augsburg, three nights in Oberau and the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area, a day visit to Hohenschwangau and then a final two nights in Munich.

Some highlights of the trip:

Visiting the lovely Heidelberg town and castle
Visiting the lovely Heidelberg town and castle

Visiting Rheinstein Castle on the Rhine River
Visiting Rheinstein Castle on the Rhine River

Walking around Bamberg
Walking around Bamberg

Exploring the enchanting walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Exploring the city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Hiking up through Höllentalklamm gorge
Hiking up through Höllentalklamm gorge

Ascending Zugspitze
Ascending Zugspitze

Visiting Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castles
Visiting Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein

Visiting Munich
Visiting Munich

Click through for the full gallery.

Summer in Iceland

Well, “almost summer” anyway: Iceland (and most of the North Atlantic) experienced the coldest summer in decades this year – this after one of the warmest and wettest summers ever last year.  So while we remained bundled up from the cold, wind and rain,  Darlene and I had a fantastic time.  It’s a very beautiful place and full of so many places to see and experience that even with 19 days in Iceland we were still forced to skip so much.  Iceland is definitely a wonderful and easy place to visit.  The hardest part is having to pick what not to see (and trying to pronounce or even just copy down the Icelandic place names).  I tried to book lodging to give us multiple days to stay and explore in each area and we consciously left off whole large areas of the country but even so it wasn’t enough: we still felt like we didn’t have enough time in any given area.  Gotta go back!  And yes, I’d like to see it in winter too.

A short video montage of our 19 days in Iceland.

Click through here for my full gallery of pictures and videos from the trip.  Here are just a few highlights from our trip though:

Landmannalaugar

 

This is an incredibly colorful (and popular) mountain area to explore in the highlands.  Many will set out to do the two-to-four day Landmannalaugar backpacking route to Þórsmörk (I’d like to someday) but we just enjoyed a day of hiking some of the nearby trails through this colorful terrain, followed by dipping in the natural hot springs there.  This was also our first taste of the many rough, gravel roads (including river crossings) that are needed to access many parts of the country.

Skógafoss and the Fimmvörðuháls Trail

 

This is a gorgeous waterfall to begin with, particularly how it falls on to a flat plain, and even though Iceland is covered with incredible waterfalls, the trail that starts here covers the most fantastic series of waterfalls I’ve ever encountered.  It’s not just the sheer number (as in dozens) of falls that you see along the trail, but the incredible heights, splendor, variety and ferocity of the various falls that tumble down this beautiful gorge that lead up to where the two glacial ice caps (Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull) meet at Fimmvörðuháls Pass.  Many people will hike this trail up and over the pass to Þórsmörk (or all the way to or from Landmannalaugar) but if nothing else, you’ve got to at least spend a day hiking as far as the bridge crossing (as we did).  While there’s an overnight hut at the top of the pass, they say you can do the one-way hike to Þórsmörk in 10 hours or so but I don’t see how it can be done so quickly if you try to take in all the incredible views along the way.

Askja (Vatnajökull National Park)

 

This was to be our deepest adventure into the highlands of Iceland. Askja is a large volcanic caldera (and crater lake) in the remote central highlands and part of the vast Vatnajökull National Park of volcanic formations, glaciers, lava fields, and the largest ice cap in Europe.  (Notably, this was the area that the Apollo space program used to train their astronauts in geology.)  This excursion was potentially going to be trouble for our little Subaru Outback due to some potentially deep river crossings. As it turned out, the cold weather played in our favor and the river in question was not running too strong (and the weather clear), so we were good to go on our own rather than needing to sign up with a tour operator and their monster trucks/busses. We camped out at the base of Herðubreið but, once again, there was much more to see here than we had allotted time for and I would love to come back and explore more of the area.

Lake Mývatn

 

This lake region is filled with tons of different geologic formations: geothermal areas, volcanic cones, lava formations, caves and lava tubes, etc.  The name Mývatn means (“the lake of midges”) and oh boy, we can attest that there are a bajillion of them along the water.  I know we short-changed this popular area, having only a day left to hit up the some of the many sites before having to head on to Akureyri.  We did get to see the fissure and water-filled cave Grjótagjá, the tephra crater Hverfell, the lava formations of Dimmuborgir and walk around Höfði to see some of the lava pillars in the lake (and the aforementioned bajillion black flies).  Lots more to see, like the Lofthellir cave and its ice sculptures but it would be a half-day tour just for that.

Herring Era Museum (Siglufjörður)

 

This sounds ridiculous, but the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður (on the northern coast) is a really wonderful experience.  We almost blew it off.  I mean, come on, “Herring Era Museum”?  But it’s really well done.  You get to explore several buildings from the “glory days” of Iceland’s herring fisheries from the early 20th century, including the living and working quarters.  Every room is furnished and filled with personal belongings as well as tools and equipment as it would have been at the time – and not behind glass: most of it is just laying out open and unprotected.  It’s deservedly won several museum awards.  It really feels like walking into the past.  You can pull out a suitcase from under a bunk bed and find it filled with clothing and mementos.  It’s quite the experience!  There’s another building housing a couple of fishing boats “docked” to a pier that’s staged and lighted and feels more like you’re on a movie set than in a museum.  And of course, you can climb aboard and explore below deck or on the bridge.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

 

The centerpiece is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is the glacier-capped, volcanic mountain of Snæfellsjökull and the peninsula is surrounded in fjords, more cool geologic features, and rugged mountains and coastline.  The hike between Arnarstapi to Hellnar was wonderful in particular (with a fantastic cafe at the turnaround in Hellnar…. oh, that skyr cake!!)  We also checked out the Vatnshellir lava tube, the Sönghellir “song cave”, the impressive and intriguing cleft in the cliff Rauðfeldsgjá and made a driving tour of the northern coastal towns on the peninsula. We spied on a seal colony in twilight, tested our strength with the old fisherman’s lifting stones and tried hiking up to the glacier itself but the road was still closed due to snow and the visibility too poor to go very far without a trail to follow.  After three nights at a guesthouse on the peninsula, there was still much we were unable to get to see or explore.

Langjökull and “Into the Glacier”

This is a new experience, opened in June of 2015, where they’ve dug out a series of lighted passages and chambers into the Langjökull glacier.  After being driven up and over the glacier by massive, converted missile carriers, you get to walk down into the man-made tunnel, into the glacier, inside the ice and even see fissures and ice formations from within the glacier.  Very cool!  When we were there, it had just rained heavily the night before and so water was still dripping and seeping through everywhere in the glacier.

Glymur Hike/Waterfall

 

This short little gem-of-a-hike is definitely worth a half-day to enjoy.  I’m very happy our host at Hotel Á recommended this to us on our final day as we would have missed it otherwise.  It was a great way to cap our trip.  Note that there’s a choice of paths to follow up once you reach the river Botnsá.  I definitely recommend crossing the river and taking the eastern trail (or righthand side of the river).  I think it provides more revealing and thrilling views of the gorge, falls and the valley back to the fjord and car park.

And More to Experience…

A couple of other little surprises to mention are Petra’s amazing stone collection in Stöðvarfjörður in the eastern fjords (and she was quite an interesting character) and the entertaining Settlement Centre presentation in Borgarnes of the Saga of Egil.

I was floored by how frequently and unexpectedly fantastic the meals were throughout the country, even in the smallest villages and most remote guesthouses.  Iceland clearly has a disproportionate share of fantastic cooks and chefs scattered around their country to treat their mostly European tourists.  It’s like being treated to French cuisine in terms of the care and skill… but also in terms of cost: it’s very easy to go US$60-$100 or more for two people.  There is of course cheaper fare in a smattering of fast food, roadside cafeterias but it’s mostly not very appealing.  If trying to keep to a smaller budget, I definitely recommend buying groceries and cooking meals yourself.

I wish we could also have gone to the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Strandagaldur or toured the western fjords or gone backpacking in the Hornstrandir, etc.  Like I said, much to see and experience in Iceland!

Click through here for my full gallery of pictures and videos from the trip.

Twelve Days of Croatia

Darlene and I recently enjoyed a twelve day trip to Croatia, booked through REI Adventures.  (June 27th to July 9th)

Our trip started in Zagreb and we worked our way south through Dalmatia and down to Dubrovnik, with a side excursion through Bosnia-Herzegovina.  As an active, multi-sport trip, we enjoyed lots of hiking, biking, river and sea kayaking, as well as just seeing and exploring various sites along the way.

Here’s a video montage I put together covering much of our trip:

I’ve organized the pictures into four different galleries:

Days 1 -4:  Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Zrmanja and Krupa Rivers, and Novigrad

  

Days 5-7:  Paklenica National Park, Vrgada Island, Skradin, Krka National Park, and Trogir

  

Days 8-9:  Split, Trebižat River, Mostar, and Ston

  

Days 9-12:  Dubrovnik, Zaton and the Elafiti Islands

  

 

Norwegian Road Trip

After our week in Scotland, we were off to see a bit of Norway! (September 19th-30th, 2013)   Our first day was just an air travel day from Edinburgh through Heathrow and on to Oslo, with some extra time lost having to return to the airport to pick up our delayed baggage.  But the next day we would travel from Oslo to Bergen on one of the “Norway in a Nutshell” tours with Jane, Janie, Darlene’s sister Shel and her extended family before picking up a rental car to explore more of Norway on our own.

I’ve organized these pictures and videos into five separate galleries:

Days 1-2: “Norway in a Nutshell” Tour

Days 3-4: Aurlandsfjord

Days 5-7: Jostedalsbreen and Sognefjord

Days 8-9: Geirangerfjord and Trollstigen

Day 10: Oslo

A Week in Scotland

These are pictures from a weeklong trip touring central Scotland (September 12th-18th, 2013) with Darlene and her friends, Jane and Janie, before continuing on to Norway. I’ve organized the Scotland portion of the trip into three separate galleries:

Days 1-3: Kingdom of Fife and Stirling

Days 4-6: Loch Ness and the Highlands

Days 6-7: Edinburgh

Two Weeks in Ireland

Just back from two weeks in Ireland with my brother Glenn and my sister-in-law Michele. The first week was spent mostly in the southwest on a very fun, small group tour with Wolfhound Adventure Tours. The second week we rented a car to explore more of the west and a bit to the north.

Click through for pictures and video from the trip:

    

Cycling Prague to Budapest

This is a collection of images from a ten-day cycling trip from Prague to Budapest organized through REI Adventures,  August 3rd – 12th, 2008.  We journeyed through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary.  Click on through for the full galleries, including some short video clips:

I. Czech Republic – Tabor, Telc, Hlohovec

II. Slovakia to Hungary (by way of Austria)
– Devin, Bratislava, Neusidler see, Sopron

III. Hungary – Györ, Pannonhalma, Budapest