2016 Travel Overview

Previous years-in-review – 201520142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

Some of our travel stats for the year:

  • 82k total air miles on 11 airlines: American Airlines, Southwest, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Dragon Air, Air New Zealand, Vietnam Airlines, Etihad, Qatar, Icelandair, and Jetblue.
  • 11 countries visited: we returned to the UK, New Zealand, and Spain, plus we added several new-to-us: Oman, UAE (Abu Dhabi), Vietnam, and Iceland (marking our 40th country visited!)
  • Domestically, we made return trips to San Diego, Chicago, New York, Portland, Florida and Asheville.

2016_travelmap

And, of course, our 2016 end of year video featuring “Search Party” by Sam Bruno. Enjoy!

Leandra’s 40th: Silver Falls State Park

We’ve been wanting to go to Silver Falls State Park since our very first trip to Oregon, but it always fell off the list for one reason or another. This trip we set out to rectify our previous oversite, setting out early on Sunday morning. After 1.5 hours of back country roads (and a quick stop for gas) we arrived at the south station where we procured a parking pass via credit card, then headed to the smaller North Falls Trailhead lot to hike to the first two falls. Since it was early we easily snagged a parking spot and began our walk of the ~1 mile top loop.

Upper North Falls @ Silver Falls State Park North Falls @ Silver Falls State Park
Upper North Falls, North Falls

Looking at the trail map we figured we could save our feet a mile or two if we hiked to the next set of falls from the Winter Falls Trailhead. Lucky for us, we managed to get the last spot (of about 8).

so strong!  Middle North Falls @ Silver Falls State ParkMiddle North Falls @ Silver Falls State Park  no trail

Six falls in a four mile hike is a great day for us!

On our way out of the park we stopped back at the South Falls lot, which at noon was now quite busy and filling up rapidly. As to be expected given the parking lot, South Falls itself was very busy with lots of families, strollers, and dogs. Thankfully it was still (barely) in the shade.

South Falls @ Silver Falls State Park

Since we had a wine tasting reservation that afternoon we skipped Lower South Falls in favor of a shower. Overall, Silver Falls State Park was a great day trip, with quite a dense collection of falls and views. We definitely need to get back on a future trip, perhaps at a different time of year with more water flow.

Leandra’s 40th: Mt. Hood

On this trip to Oregon we originally intended to spend Friday wine tasting in Willamette Valley. However, with an expected temperature of 95F, we decided to escape to a higher elevation in search of cooler temperatures.

After a 1h drive, plus a bit of camp traffic, we parked at the Little Zigzag Falls trailhead and made the short half mile round-trip hike to a beautifully shady falls with very cool water, quite refreshing on a warm day.

Little Zigzag Falls

Our next stop was Mirror Lake, a moderately strenuous 1.5 mile uphill (o/w) hike. Most of the trail takes you through forest, but eventually loops around the small Mirror Lake. As the name indicates, there are nice views of Mt. Hood, plus lots of flowers (and bugs!) too.

Mirror Lake living up to its name

in bloom   wildlife

Now mid afternoon, were ready for a bit of shade, so we stopped at Glacier Haus Bistro in Government Camp for a snack of croquettes for me and house-smoked salmon for Leandra. After the Mirror Lake hike and the dry conditions the free water outside was quite welcome!

Refreshed, we headed to the trail-head for Umbrella and Sahalie falls. Both can be accessed via a 4.7 mile hike, or as we found out, you can drive much closer! From the main parking area we did the one mile roundtrip hike to Sahale Falls, where I clambered down the cliffside to a rocky overlook while Leandra stayed on the trail and swatted flies.

Sahale Falls

Alternatively, you can continue driving along the Elk Meadows trail road to the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, and as you drive over a small stone bridge you will see Sahale Falls on your right.

If you continue up that same road there is a small pull-out just before the resort parking area with a small trail through the meadow. The trail to the beautifully bendy Umbrella Falls is maybe .2 miles, and winds through a meadow that was in full bloom in mid-August.

wildflower meadow

Umbrella Falls

And the view of Mt. Hood is quite excellent too.

Mt Hood

By now it was late afternoon, so we began driving back to Newberg. On the way we stopped to try the beers at Bunsenbrewer. I enjoyed the Wit (cinnamon and coriander) and Leandra sampled the tasty sour stout.

Beeriodic Table menu @ Bunsenbrewer

On the way we fortuitously saw a sign for the Jonsrud View Point, and it was quite picturesque.

Mt Hood from the Jonsrud View Point

Knowing we wouldn’t get to Newberg until after dark, and fearing most of the restaurants would be closed, we decided to stop at Oregon City Brewing for some pretzels and and apricot sour for me, plus a porter for Leandra.

beers @ Oregon City Brewing

All told, a pleasant day trip to escape the unexpected heat.

Leandra’s 40th: a birthday in Portland

For Leandra’s birthday she decided that we would go to Portland to celebrate with wine tasting, hiking, good food, and unbeknownst to her, a concert too. There are so many things to do within a few hours of Portland so one of the hardest parts of planning was focusing on just a few areas. Weather played a role too, as the weekend we were there saw temperatures in the mid 90s, so we rearranged our schedule along the way. In the end we spent a day hiking on Mt. Hood, two days wine tasting, and two more days waterfall hiking. All in all a good way to celebrate a milestone birthday.

oregonmap40thbday

Where we stayed

Jupiter Hotel
Check-in was friendly and easy and we were given the choice of a first or second floor room on the ‘chill’ side – we choose the second floor. It was a warm day, and our doorway was very hot as the air conditioning units of our room and the neighbor both exhausted to the same small space. We ducked into our room which was small but enough for one night. Beside the bed there was a small two person table, a desk area and a small closet. Bed was OK, if a little firm. The cold water in the sink was not working, but was addressed by the time we returned later in the evening. Our room didn’t get very dark so we were glad for the eyeshades we brought so we could sleep in the next morning.

The Jupiter isn’t that fancy, but it definitely had a great location with lots of bars and restaurants within walking or short Uber distance. This was our second visit and we would consider returning in the future for a good price.

Windrose Vacation Rental
Located on the edge of downtown Newberg, we enjoyed staying in an apartment whilst in wine country. Located in the basement of a larger meeting center, the bedroom stayed cool even in the August heat, and had a large closet and plenty of space. It would be nice to have a thicker curtain to keep the room dark in the summer mornings (the blinds did not cut it). The kitchen had the pieces we needed to enjoy breakfasts and takeout. Downtown is quite walkable from here, and we took advantage of this a few times too. While we never met the owner in person, she left us a kind note, tasty chocolate and her cell number in case we needed anything. The only (small) negative was that the TV didn’t work – apparently she was getting her roof redone and the DISH wasn’t set up properly.

Radisson Hotel Portland Airport
Tucked amongst some low rise office parks, the Radisson has a strange location compared to some of the other airport hotels.

Pros:

  • Cookies in the evening, snack bars and coffee in the mornings.
  • Housekeeping was quite friendly, always smiling and saying hello in the hallways.
  • Spacious rooms.
  • Lots of parking.

Cons:

  • Sleep number bed didn’t work – it was stuck on the hard setting and it was never fixed, even after we mentioned it to the front desk staff.
  • The windows are thin, so you do hear air traffic. The hotel provides ear plugs, but some of the more recently constructed hotels nearby block the noise better.
  • Room layout is a little strange – bathroom when you first walk in, then the bed, then a sitting area? Perhaps this is to move the bed away from the window, but it felt a little odd to have the bed in the middle of the room.

Overall, the room was fine for our needs, a good use of points during an expensive time to stay in Portland.

Eric’s 40th: Reykjavík

We spent our first and last evenings in Iceland’s capital and main city, Reykjavík.

Tuesday

Our apartment was two blocks from the famous Hallgrimskirkja, a church design inspired by the Icelandic basalt columns seen several times on our trip.

Hallgrimskirkja  Hallgrimskirkja

After getting into our apartment we realized that the nearby grocery store was just about to close (at 6p). However, there was a smaller convenience market, 10-11, a few blocks away, so we headed there to purchase breakfast and snack items for the next day.

On our walk down we scouted potential restaurants, but none of them really struck us – reviews were so-so, and prices were definitely high. Leandra had read about Micro Bar, but when we arrived at the address there was a restaurant in its place (with a faded awning above the door that said Microbar!). Clearly something had changed, and as we found a little later, they had indeed moved locations in the fall.

We were ready to eat by this point, so we decided that takeout from Núðluskálin was probably the best option. While Leandra was ordering a noodles for us, I explored the side streets and noticed a Mikkeller bar (we returned to it on Sunday).

After a nice dinner in our apartment we did some more research and found the new address for Micro Bar, so we decided to go out a second time. On the way we found a few street art murals too.

street art  street art

Reykjavik @ 11pm

We’re glad we found Micro Bar as they had a great selection and cozy basement atmosphere. I immediately spotted a sour ale on the board and although Leandra’s first choice was out, she enjoyed her tequila barrel aged Imperial Stout (that took her nearly an hour to drink)!

Micro Bar

Wednesday (morning)

The next morning we simply went downstairs to Brod, a bakery in the next building, for some delicious breakfast danishes and after a second purchase of more pastries, we checked out the Sólfarið (Sun Voyager) on our way out of town.

Sólfarið (Sun Voyager)

Sunday

We arrived back in Reykjavík in the late afternoon around 3pm. Thankfully we found a close spot for our car right outside our room, and street parking is free on Sundays. Bonus! Our first stop was Brod – on Wednesday they told us that cinnamon buns were released after noon, so we made sure to try those. We were not disappointed!

We made a reservation for dinner at Roadhouse, then walked down a few streets that we hadn’t explored earlier.

downtown Reykjavík

Eventually we made our way back to Micro Bar for happy hour.

Since we hadn’t done so on Tuesday, we also stopped in Mikkeller & Friends to try their offerings. Housed on the upper floor with exposed beams, this was also a quite cozy beer hangout.

Mikkeller and Friends bar

Leandra hadn’t used any of the cash she took out from the airport ATM, as credit cards are accepted everywhere in Iceland, so we used it on beer. And with the price of beer in Iceland, that $40 didn’t last long.

Roadhouse had good reviews on Google for their burgers and their fries were especially well reviewed, so we were interested to try it out. The fries (double-fried it turns out) were quite crispy and good, but the burgers were just OK – a bit dry and not all that memorable for a near $20 burger even with a bunch of toppings.

With a long day of travel facing us, we retired to re-pack our luggage for our flight home the next day.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland overview

After a two hour flight from London we landed in Keflavik airport. Volcanic rock, virtually no trees, and a very windy, cloudy 45 degrees met us on arrival – it felt like a totally different world.

Much of our time in Iceland was spent driving, and over the course of six days we put approximately 1,100 miles on our non-four wheel drive rental and we still only saw a relatively small portion of the island.

iceland_map
click map to enlarge

Iceland is rather expensive but there were a few money-saving tips we heard about before we arrived:

  • Buy alcohol at the airport duty free for a 30-50% discount. This is indeed accurate, as alcohol is only available through state-run stores with a significant tax attached. There is a duty free store conveniently located in the baggage claim.
  • Skip restaurants and go to grocery stores – especially for breakfast and lunch items.
  • Laundromats aren’t readily available, so for longer trips bring clothes that are washable in a sink or look for an apartment that has a washing machine.

Also, Iceland has a wonderful weather app, Vedur, that is highly recommended on an island that sees a lot of bad weather as it will provide alerts for storms and heavy winds.

Where We Stayed

Mengi Apartments

With a location close to the famous Hallgrimskirkja church and within walking distance to all of downtown this was a great place for us to stay our first and last evenings of the trip. On our first night we were in the top 2nd floor unit. Featuring lots of windows in a large living room, and a bedroom away from the street, we really liked this apartment. The kitchen was great with helpful items for serving our takeout and breakfast. Bonus points for the record player and Icelandic vinyl!

our loft apartment in Reykjavik

iceland-hotel-1

On our last night we stayed in the ground floor apartment, which has its entry on the street. This apartment is partially underground, so the living room windows have a foot-level view of the sidewalk. Given the proximity to the sidewalk this apartment is not nearly as private, and a bit louder. The bedroom is on the side and faces an alley off the street, so it is also a little louder than upstairs. Though a little smaller, there is still plenty of room.

The con to both apartments- in both bathrooms, the towels were really, really rough, and the shower soap was empty. Also, the water smelled a bit like sulfur. Relatively minor, and if we were staying more than a night I’m sure it could have been addressed. We’d definitely consider staying here again, and would look to reserve the 1st or 2nd floor units for the additional privacy they would provide.

Bella Apartments

We stayed in one of the double rooms which was OK – we had enough room for our luggage, and the bathroom was adequate.

However, our stay here was definitely strange.  First, the building is still under construction, including the lobby. So there is construction dust and it is not fully functional. For example, this is the landing on the second floor:

iceland-hotel-3
free instant coffee is thoughtful but who is going to iron here?

There was no front desk to check in but Leandra spotted our receipt and keys so she grabbed those and we headed upstairs to our room. Later that evening the owner(?) asked for her receipt back as it was her only copy. Considering others did the same thing we did, we wondered why she would leave out her only payment copy in the open lobby?

Second, the website still states “Free Wi-Fi access is available throughout the entire property as well as a washer and a dryer.” Wifi was available everywhere (although weak in our room), but a washer and dryer are only available in the apartments. We argued with the on-site person about this poorly worded statement on their website (who was using one of the rooms as the office since the lobby is still under construction) and they eventually let us use the washer in one of the apartments. A month later they still haven’t changed the wording on their website.

Third, for a brand new hotel there were a few small issues with paint, dirt, etc, that surprised us. The location was fine and although Selfoss isn’t a very large town the sidewalks aren’t great for walking so we just drove most places.  Overall, I can’t recommend staying here over the next few months given the continuing construction and experience we had.

Icelandair Hotel Vik

After our time in Selfoss, the comfort level definitely improved with the Icelandair Hotel Vik. Our room was comfortable and surprisingly spacious, and the bathroom was the nicest we had in Iceland with an amazing walk-in shower (and no rotten egg smell!).

iceland-hotel-4  iceland-hotel-6
our hotel from across the street; the lobby/bar area

Our rate included breakfast, and we enjoyed our experience each morning with a range of pastries, granola, meats, cheeses, and a waffle maker.

iceland-food-1

The one negative was a fairly territorial oystercatcher that insisted on pecking at his reflection in the window. Silly at 10pm, extremely irritating at 3am. Can’t really fault the hotel for it, but definitely try to get a room off the ground floor…

iceland-hotel-5
the guilty party with a friend at breakfast

Eric’s 40th: Kew Gardens & Richmond

To help celebrate my birthday Leandra treated me to an afternoon at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (better known as Kew Gardens). The District line took us within a few blocks of the entrance, and after scanning our internet pre-purchased tickets we were soon on the grounds. And wow, what grounds they are!

Kew GardensKew GardensWater Lilly House
water lily house

Kew Gardens  Kew Gardens

expansive lawns @ Kew Gardens  Kew Gardens

The azaleas and rhododendrons were in full bloom and putting on quite a show – I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a range in one place before.

bleeding heart  Eric enjoying the flowersKew Gardens

After several hours of exploring our feet were tired, and we only saw a fraction of this massive garden – it is well worth the ticket price and we will be back.

Next, Leandra’s Aunt Kim and Uncle Jules picked us up in an Uber and we headed to the nearby town of Richmond.


view from Richmond Hill

my aunt and I
Leandra and her Aunt Kim!

Richmond was a pretty part of London that we had never experienced, and it was a beautiful evening along the Thames.

Richmond Road Bridge @ sunset

We had a great diner at the White Cross, then after-dinner drinks at the White Swan a short distance away. Far too soon we had to head back to our hotel to pack for the next stage of our trip, Iceland!