Eric’s 40th: IcelandAir

How to celebrate my 4oth birthday – how could it not involve travel? When we noticed some nice fares on Icelandair to London we started thinking about a trip. Then I remembered that Icelandair allows stopovers as long as 7 days… So a long weekend in London followed by the rest of the week in Iceland hunting waterfalls? That sounds like a memorable birthday. Altogether we had a full day in Boston, 3 nights in London, and 6 nights in Iceland.

iceland_trip

A few points we noted about Icelandair:

  • Never left on time! But only arrived somewhat late…
  • The only time we heard boarding announcements was in London and that was fairly orderly by row, otherwise the mob of people in the gate area just started moving forward. Absolute cattle call in KEF, chaos in Boston.
  • TV screens in each seat, plus power
  • Decent legroom
  • Food for purchase is reasonably priced, can use points if you have your card with you. Unfortunately, IcelandAir doesn’t send your card until after you take your first flight, regardless of when you sign up for their frequent flyer program.

Eric’s 40th: a day in Boston

We had the option of a four hour layover or a ten hour layover, and since we hadn’t been to Boston, we choose the ten hour option. Because we would have carry-on bags we knew we’d need to store them somewhere and unfortunately, the airport doesn’t have a storage facility and there aren’t many easy options in the city either. Thankfully, Rowes Wharf Water Taxi will store luggage for passengers, so we grabbed a boat from the Logan Ferry terminal to begin our adventure by a unique route into the city.

waiting for our ferry to Rowe's Wharf  city views from the water
waiting for the ferry; our view of downtown on approach

Once our luggage was stored we set a return time, then began exploring the city. Since it was now lunch time we started at Stoddards. Leandra opted for six raw oysters and a brown ale while I got a Flemish red ale and basket of fries.

We were quite lucky to have a beautiful spring day, so we decided to walk through Boston Common to find the ‘Make Way for Duckings’ statue.

Make Way for Ducklings!

Across the park we saw the State House and State Library.

Boston State Library

From the steps of the Library we started along the Freedom Trail, which wound through downtown Boston including sites such as Faneuil Hall and Paul Revere’s Tomb.

Paul Revere's gravestone   monument to Irish immigrantsmural in Faneuil Hall

We were tempted by the produce of Haymarket, but instead opted for pastries in North End.

the most incredible cannoli ever.

bicycle in Boston   modeling a lobster hat in Quincy Market

Our feet were starting to get tired so we began our walk back to the pier. Along the way we stopped for an early dinner at The Merchant, where Leandra couldn’t help but get a few more oysters.

oystersatmerchant

We definitely lucked out on weather and enjoyed a beautiful day exploring Boston before heading back to the airport and on to Europe.

Eric’s 40th: where we stayed in London

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Tower of London – located a block from the Tower Hill metro stop, this hotel is well positioned for exploring Tower Bridge, Bermondsey, Shoreditch, and other parts of East London. Upon check-in we were given the famous Doubletree cookies and a voucher for a free drink in the lobby bar or the rooftop bar.

Our upgraded room was at the end of the hallway on the 8th floor, with a nice partial city view. Everything was quite comfortable – a comfortable bed, clean bathroom, handy outlets for charging, and plenty of space.

That evening we tried the rooftop bar and found it to have a swanky clientele plus an amazing view.

DoubleTree Tower of London rooftop views

Breakfast the next morning was quite busy at 9:30am, but after a short wait we were seated and enjoyed the range of buffet offerings, including a cafe latte for Leandra.

We would definitely consider staying at this hotel on a future visit.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – West End – located between the Holborn and Russell Square tube stops, this hotel is well situated for exploring central London, especially Covent Garden and the British Museum.

We were assigned a room on the 1st floor that was a bit tired with some furniture wear. The bathroom was fine, though there was little room for toiletries around the sink.

One problem was the temperature of our room – when we arrived the room was quite chilly, colder than than the outside air even, and remained so several hours after changing the thermostat. We asked the front desk to have someone look at it, but when we returned at midnight it was even colder. Of course the front desk staff had changed by then, so they didn’t know if someone had been sent, and all they could offer was a space heater. It helped some, but it was a poor interaction overall.

Leandra did manage to secure a bucket of ice from the front desk to chill a bottle of cava she had purchased on the sly for my birthday. Interestingly, that bucket with melted water sat in our bathroom for nearly two days until we checked out.

Breakfast was quite good with very friendly staff and a good array of choices.

Unfortunately, our experience was better at the Tower of London Doubletree than at this location, so we’d be hesitant to return here on future visits.

Eric’s 40th: A birthday in London

After breakfast we left our hotel and headed north to the Brick Lane area. As we came to the north end of the street we found a collection of street vendors selling delicious smelling ethnic foods, so we made a note to come hungry on Sunday next time. As we wound our way through Shoreditch, we visited some of the side streets hunting street art – some had changed since our last visit, along with a few new pieces worth photographing.

street art  x-ray handstreet artstreet art  I want it painted black

Our final destination was the Sunday-only Columbia Street flower market. It was a beautiful day in London, so it seemed like half the city was on this narrow street looking at flowers. We gave up about halfway down because it was so overcrowded that it was hard to enjoy.

Columbia Road Flower Market  Columbia Road Flower Market

Next, we took the overground train to Greenwich while being entertained by a aspiring comedian conductor. He was spouting dubious ‘facts’ for each stop which made the trip go by a lot faster. We exited at the Cutty Sark stop and got a quick photo of the ship before detouring through the Greenwich Market. Leandra spotted a biltong stand near the front, so she negotiated 2£ worth of venison biltong. I was admiring some T-shirts from one vendor, but at 30+ £ each, it was more than I wanted to spend.

Greenwich Park was unsurprisingly popular on this warm Sunday. After passing the Maritime Museum, we enjoyed the view from the top of the hill, and made sure get a photo on the Greenwich meridian line. The museum was expensive, so we skipped that option.

Greenwich from the observatory

standing on the mean line!  mostly in the western hemisphere
standing on the meantime line!

Further in the park was a lovely flower garden landscaped with different azaleas and rhododendrons, plus some irises too. There were a lot  of ducks and pigeons in this area as dogs were not allowed.

gorgeous blooms in Greenwich Flower Garden

selfie @ Greenwich Flower Garden

On the way back to the train we stopped at The Greenwich Union, Meantime Brewing’s pub near the park, to rest our tired feet over a beer (a very spritzy Lervig Fish & Cow Berliner Weisse for me, Meantime Porter for Leandra).

The Greenwich Union (serving Meantime beers)  beer-1

After switching hotels, we changed for my birthday dinner at Salt Yard. We ordered an Italian cheese board, Patatas Fritas, and several other tasty small plates. The selection of Italian and Spanish wines was also quite nice, with Eric enjoying a Rueda and an Rosato, while Leandra choose a Primativo.

beer-2

Our favorite beer bar in London, Craft Beer Co., was only a few blocks away, so we made that our final stop of the day. Over the course of several hours Leandra tried the barrel aged Outta Kilter (pretty good), the Partizan stout (very good), and the Siren Broken Dream (her fave).

beer-3   beer-4

Eric started with the Siren Calypso berliner weisse, a nice light sour with some hops, then the By The Horns Sour to the People berliner weisse. To top off his birthday night he tried the Talisker 2000 distiller edition, which was briny with light smoke and a mild fruitiness. As usual, we had a great time at Craft, especially to celebrate a birthday milestone!

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!

Memory Monday: Cocktails @ The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

I found this bar listed in an article on excellent bars several months before our trip and planned to surprise Eric here for birthday-eve drinks.

Upon arrival we grabbed an open couch near the door but were told that table was reserved and did we mind sitting at the bar? No problem. The house cocktail list is diverse and contains several unusual house-made mixers and infused spirits, including oak liqueur, samphire syrup and plum shrub to name a few. Also, the relocation really worked out for us because we got to interact with the bartender Max who described the experimentation they do and also gave us several samples of scotch, mixers and even their lovely rose negroni.

I started with a twist on a kir royale that was made with oak liqueur and champagne, while Eric chose the Priory Sour. My second cocktail was Dreaming of Salmon, simple, yet full of flavor. Eric put Max to the test with his second drink – something with Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition scotch and under 15£. He received a variation on an Old Fashioned that was fantastic.

cocktail menu @ The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell  cocktails @ The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

We both really liked the vibe in this semi-hidden and relaxed cocktail bar and would definitely return on future trips.

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