I Left a Piece of My Heart in Africa: Part 1

— Amanda Vallone

 

On September 21, 2017, of group of 19, including my family, and myself departed Daytona Beach for our very own African Adventure. None of us knew what was in store. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I watched every movie, read every lonely planet blog and article, spoke with my Salute Africa Rep more times than was humanly possible, and (tried) reading as many books as I could about the culture, destination, and trip… But the fact was: none of our 20 extremely well-traveled explorers had ever stepped foot in Southern Africa. Kenya, yes; Egypt, sure; Asia, a dime a dozen; Europe, almost everyone. But this African Adventure was a first for us all… In so many ways.

We were picked up in style from Roseborough Travel via luxury limo bus to make our way to the Daytona airport so we could have a nice and smooth departure out of our nearby airport.

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I won’t sugar coat this part; our flight was cancelled due to engine failure. We were extremely happy they figured that out while we were still on the ground!2

We were re-accommodated on a later flight, but we missed our first day in Cape Town because of the delayed flight and missed connection (thank God for travel insurance and pre-nights).

After many hours of flying, we finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, to a very cosmopolitan airport, that in my opinion was more streamline and even more lovely than most we have here in the states (this was my first pleasant surprise). As soon as we grabbed our luggage and walked out the exit gates we saw James, our tour director for Cape Town (our next very pleasant surprise).

The very courteous, pleasant, informative, and yes, handsome, James brought us to our home for the next 3 nights, the Southern Sun Cullinan, a waterfront area hotel in Cape Town with free shuttle access to the VA waterfront.

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The hotel was our third and most amazing pleasant surprise of the evening. Yes, I looked at every photo online. I read all of the trip advisor reviews.  But this hotel is rated a 4* hotel, and when you are going to another country, 4* is a different standard than we as U.S. travelers are used to. There is a sliding scale of the rating standards. OMG, we pulled up to the Taj Mahal of hotels (okay, I might be exaggerating slightly…). After spending 2 days on airplanes, though, this did feel spectacular.

The Southern Sun Cullinan gets its name from the largest Diamond in the world. It was found in the diamond mines in Africa, and when the diamond cutter went to make his first cut he passed out from the stress. This diamond now sits in England on the crown jewels.

Table Mountain

Prominently overlooking the city of Cape Town, this 600 million year old flat-topped mountain is one that is not to be missed. With its own rich diversity of plant life distinct to the Cape alone, it is no wonder Table Mountain is one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature.’ You can see Table Mountain from all over Cape Town, but you cannot truly say you have taken in all of its glory, or truly visited Cape Town for that matter, until you have stood on top.

So if the day is clear and you get out early enough in the morning, you must get to the top of Table Mountain. We had pre-arranged tickets thanks to Salute Africa and Roseborough, which cut our wait time down by over an hour and a half on that day. The short ride in the cable car was fun; it spun slowly so that no matter where you were standing you could see different views — and yes, we saw many mountain climbers making their way to the top (eeek!).

After reaching the top there was a nice coffee shop and a gift shop, plus a ton of area to walk around. From the top you could see so many beautiful sights including: Devil’s Peak to the east, Lion’s Head to the west, the dramatic backdrop of the city of Cape Town, Signal Hill, the City Bowl, and Table Bay Harbour. The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end and the views are simply fantastic.

Fun Fact: There are more indigenous plants on Table Mountain alone than in all of Great Britain.

And there were these little animals called the Dossie. They looked like a large rodent, but they’re actually the closest living relative to an elephant.

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If you’re a thrill-seeker but climbing up the mountain isn’t enough for you, maybe rappelling down the mountain is more your style? It’s actually abseiling off Table Mountain (backward rappelling) that you would be doing. And though no experience is necessary, it is not for the faint of heart. Our Adventurous Explorers looking to partake in this will have a helmet and be hooked to a cable with a harness and a pulley system as they take their 367 foot long controlled descent off of Table Mountain. Truth be told, I would totally do this (it’s my kind of crazy). But even to me it looked slightly unnerving. I mean it when I say, you really can’t say you’ve visited Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of Table Mountain, or abseiled to the bottom (and maybe left some of your breakfast there).

Is it wheelchair accessible? Yes! Workers took my mom in her wheelchair, as well as a few walking with canes, up an elevator ahead of the group so they would not need to stand in line.

Child friendly? YES! Especially if you dose your kid with hot cocoa like I did.

How to dress? You must wear clothes… hahaha. Okay, but seriously, Cape Town was fairly chilly and we felt it there at the top of the mountain — burr…

Hout Bay

Also known as ‘Wood Bay,’ Hout Bay is a town about a 30 minute drive from Cape Town, South Africa. At the southern tip of Africa, where two of the world’s greatest oceans converge, a total experience of land, sea and the rainbow culture of the Western Cape offer you the most exciting land based whale watching venues in the world! It is also generally referred to as the entire valley, and the boarding the Cape Peninsula. For the sake of this blog, I refer to Hout Bay as the general area or the entire Valley.

Chapman’s Peak Drive

The 30-minute scenic drive from Cape Town, known Chapman’s Peak Drive, is all about incredible scenery. It was most easily related to our amazing drives along Big Sur in California — by the way South Africa looks more like Hawaii and Northern California than any other destination we could relate it to.

Known as the “Chappies” to residents, Chapman’s Peak is the rocky coastal roadway overlooking Noordhoek and Hout Bay. It is also where we were able to see whales (humpbacks making their way with their young from Antarctica), boulders, seals, and baboons. And to our surprise Chapman’s Peak Drive also forms part of the route for the Cape Argus Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon. The winding cliff roads made our entire group think these people might be crazy, but who are we to judge?

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Seal Colony

When one thinks of Africa, she normally would think of the big 5 Game animals — specifically Lions, Rhinos and Elephants… But South Africa is home to many more species of quite amazing creatures. The South African Cape Fur Seals are the only species of seal to form permanent colonies in Africa. These Cape Fur Seals can be found in South Africa and Namibia.

We took a boat, the Nauticat, out into False Bay to see a colony of Fur Seals. There was at least 150 of them living on this big rock formation out there. The boat ride took about 30-45 minutes, and it was pretty rough and choppy.

I would highly recommend sitting outside and in the front of the boat — I know the front is not where one who gets seasick would normally sit, but this was where the best wind/breeze came from. Do NOT sit inside the boat, like my family did, unless you have a spectacularly strong stomach.

I sat in the back of the boat outside for most of the trip and had a nice ride, but once we arrived to the seals the front was so crowded that it was hard to capture the amazing pictures everyone else got. The seals were barking, jumping, going wild with anticipation (the probably though the tourists looked quite similar to them because we were all so excited, too). It almost seemed like they were putting on a show for us.

Boulder Beach

After a beautiful drive and quite full day, we made our way out to the next most unique animal, in my opinion, for South Africa. And it also just so happens to be one of my favorite animals — the PENGUIN!21

Boulder Beach is located off a picturesque drive in Simons Town, and is unique to an endangered land-based colony of African Penguins. This colony of cute little birds is one of only a few in the world, making the site famous to locals and international visitors.

There are only about 2100 penguins at Boulder Beach, which may seem like plenty for your one stop for the day, and it is quite enough in terms of a “tourist” hot spot to visit. But the sad yet harsh reality is that this colony of incredible animals was moved from the Vulnerable to the Endangered Species list for good reason. The beach was turned into an animal sanctuary in 1983 after seeing an 80% decrease in the population worldwide, which helped considerably for a while. The census of penguins had grown in 2005 to 3900, but then in 2011 decreased back down to 2100 birds. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to visit Boulder Beach and see these birds.

Fun facts about the beach & penguins:

Come one, Come all! – The beach itself is ideal for children as immense boulders shelter the cove from currents, wind and large waves. The Penguin walking area is also a great spot for the wee ones. Not only are you teaching your young about the beautiful birds of the world, but it really is just fun. I brought my very own mini-explorer Aurora, and she loved it!

Thou Shall Keep Thy Hands to Thyself! – Seriously, don’t touch or feed the penguins unless you want to be left with a nub. These birds may look cute and cuddly, but their beaks are as sharp as razors and if they feel threatened they have no qualms about nipping a finger or nose. And as mentioned earlier, you have 2100 of those beaks to compete with.

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Walkways, Parking, and Viewing – Within the park itself, the Boulders consists of 3 beaches, 1 penguin viewing area, and 3 boardwalks. The boardwalks were built to allow for safe and beak-injury-free viewing of these wonderful birds. There are specific viewing hours and limited parking, so depending on the season you go, be sure to arrive with sufficient time and the ability to search for parking. Parking is available at either end of the park, on Seaforth Rd and on Bellevue Rd.

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Wheelchair Accessible – Yes, kind of. So you will see that I often, especially on this trip, talk about wheelchairs or special needs. Though I in no way use a wheelchair or accommodation, my mom who travels with me quite often has been in a wheelchair since I was four years old. She can walk a little, but not long distances. So this is important for this area. Wheelchairs – YES! All the viewing areas have ramps and are on boardwalks so it is wheelchair accessible. Just be careful to park in the regular lot. There are regular parking lots, and then there is alternative parking pretty far out. If you go park further away, you will be directed down a beautiful walking path covered in sand. Anyone who has pushed a wheelchair before knows it is not easy to push one through sand (remember you are on a beach). So, as long as you park in the regular lots- you are golden!

Who are you calling a Jackass?!? The aquatic birds were formerly called Jackass Penguins due to their donkey-like braying. You have the biggest chance of really “getting this” noise and experience from March–May.

Cape of Good Hope

Known as one point with one million points of view, and home to the famous sign most people who visit South Africa get their photo in front of showing “furthest point South West,” Cape of Good Hope. Cape Point is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park. Cape Point is a narrow stretch of land that encompasses beautiful valleys, beaches, plant life, and over 250 bird species.  This really was an amazing stop for the day.

As we entered the nature reserve, we were greeted with troops of baboons lining the roadway. This was our first experience seeing so many all at once — they later turned into sightings for us like Sandhill Cranes in Central Florida, or even alligator sightings here or deer sightings up north (pretty common, yet still pretty freaking cool).

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Things to see:

Lighthouse – In 1859, the lighthouse was put at the highest peak above sea level to help protect the sailors coming into the bay.  By day, it was a navigational landmark and by night, and in fog, it was a menace plagued by violent storms and dangerous rocks that over the centuries littered shipwrecks around the coastline. The lighthouse still stands there today, and you can visit it to look out on the coast of South Africa.

What the Funicular? – We took an exhilarating ride on the Flying Dutchman, a funicular that departs the bottom of the mountain every three minutes. The Flying Dutchman Funicular is believed to be the only commercial funicular of its type in Africa, and takes its name from the local legend of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship. So what is it? It is like a tram ride, but rather than being suspended from above, this cart is run on a rail system. It’s pretty cool and it saves you from going up the many steep steps and through the endemic fynbos (meaning fine bush) on the hike to the top.

Wheelchair accessible? YES! Mom got onto the flying Dutchman in her wheelchair and I had a few others with canes or walkers that were accommodated with seats. 40 people can fit into this trolley-type car, and it is totally worth the ride.

Also Known As: In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias named the shipwrecked point, ‘Cape of Storms’. The ‘Point’ was treated with respect by sailors for centuries.

All these views, now I’m hungry! – No need to worry, you do not have far to go — the Two Oceans Restaurant is where we had lunch for the day, and it was incredible! We of course had group reservations and our meal was included in the tour — Thank you Salute Africa for recommending this! I got the fish, of course! And it was superb. Also, the wine, produced right in South Africa, was not only quite tasty, but extremely affordable. A glass was about $3 — HELLO! The Wine-o in me rejoices! Two Oceans even made a special kid’s meal for Aurora the Explorer. Oh, the views weren’t too shabby either. The whole back side of the restaurant overlooks the bay and is ceiling to floor glass, giving patrons the most spectacular views. The restaurant is as famous for its seafood as it is for its views, including a superb wooden deck that looks out onto one of the most stunning ocean views in South Africa.

 

 

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River Cruising with Rose

In May I was able to cruise the Rhone River in France’s Burgundy and Provence regions on AMA Waterways. My travel passion is enjoying fabulous food and wonderful wines and this trip did not disappoint!  
 
We began our adventure in Paris, where we spend 4 great days. Some of the highlights of our Paris stop was the Eiffel Tower, a sunset Seine River cruise, a 10 course 5 star meal and the Perre Lechaise Cemetery where famous celebs like Jim Morrison, Chopin and Oscar Wilde are buried.
 
We took a high speed train from Paris to Lyon, where out river ship was waiting for us. Stepping on to a river boat is a lot different than an ocean liner.  There are only 150 passengers on board with 3 decks.  The intimate setting makes it easy to get to know your fellow cruisers and you learn way around the ship pretty quick.
 
After spending the night docked in Lyon and touring it’s sights, we began our journey downstream towards the Mediterranean Sea.  We experienced 16 locks on our trip, as the river continually decreased and we needed to bring the ship down to sea level on the other side of the locks.  The tallest deepest lock we traversed was 40 feet down.
 
On our next ports of Viviers, Tournon, Avignon and Arles, we toured dozens of churches and architectural marvels- some dating back to the 12th century.  It was interesting to learn about the Popes of Avignon perfecting the wine industry in the region, which is how the red wine varietal region of Chateneuf du Pape gets it’s name.
 
River cruising is a great way to leave the planning to the tour director and explore the local culture up close and personal.  We docked right in the heart of the city allowing an easy walk to the most popular destinations.  But the best part is that Shore Excursions are Included in the price!  There were 3-5 excursions each day to choose from, each with a different level of effort- easy, moderate and active.  We chose most of the active excursions and got to see the cities on foot with hikes up and down steep mountains, fast paced city walking tours and bicycle tours. There are also bus tours for an easy view of the sights as well as for farther destinations that take you to Truffle Hunting with Dogs, Olive Oil Farms, Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tours and so much more.
 
I’d recommend this Rhone River Cruise itinerary for adults who love good wine, great food, appreciate renaissance, gothic and roman architecture and enjoy a bit of world history mixed with catholic and christian religious history.  You should be mobile and in fairly good physical health, as wheelchairs,canes and walkers would not do well on the ancient cobblestone streets and navigating the ramp to and from the ship . I would choose a different itinerary if you’re definitely not a wine drinker or if you are planning to travel with kids or teens, as they may be easily bored.  There are no kids programs on most river cruise ships which means they have mostly adults onboard.
 
I have done river cruises in Egypt on the Nile and in Germany on the Rhine. After this Rhone River Adventure in France, I am ready to take on the Danube for a visit to Prague and Budapest next.  
 
If you’re planning a river cruise, I’d be happy to share my experiences with you and help guide you to a great ship and itinerary that matches your travel personality.

Explorer Spotlight: Virginia Comella

Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia

The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:

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Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby.  Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.

We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive.  Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere.  Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building.   Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river.  The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.

 

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Surprises:

 

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The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived.  Many wanted to become Doctors.

 

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Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally.  They are ridden by women, men and whole families.  They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials.  Sidewalks are scooter parking lots.  Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.

 

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French Heritage.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of  French  Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market.  French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.

 

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Iceland – The Land of Northern Lights, Magical Trolls, and Mystifying Foods: Part 2

by Amanda Vallone

 

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center

 

Once the travel ban was lifted we went onto one of the most historic sites in most recent travel memory – Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center or E15 for short. You may remember a ton of flights in 2010 being cancelled due to the black soot let off by a volcano in Iceland. Well E15 was the culprit. IATA estimates over 107,000 flights in an eight day period were cancelled, affecting nearly 10 million passengers. Working in the travel industry, this was a HUGE deal and a vivid memory.

The visit to Eyjafjallajokull was intriguing because it showcased one family’s struggle of life during and after the dramatic events of the explosion of this infamous volcano that brought European air travel to a halt. The family that ran the visitors center told us about running a farm and living under an active volcano, worrying about it exploding, and life when it was about to errupt. We learned of how they had to move all of their livestock and how they nearly lost their farm…. we also learned of how they overcame such a crazy event. Interestingly enough, tourists from all over the world would come and help them clean up the black dust, volcanic ash, so that they could have a part of E15 to bring home with them too.  Most interesting to me was much unlike Hawaiian Volcanoes (that I had just seen in July of last year), the eruption of E15 occurred under a layer of glacial ice which chilled lava quickly. This is what caused the black ash to plume and turn the black cloud above for so long rather than hot flowing lava.

 

 

Reynisfjara

 

 

 

Reynisfjara is a black sand beach right outside of Vik. The sand is black due to volcanic ash and the beach is surrounded by basalt formations which is volcanic rock or lava exposed at the beaches surface.

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There are also great cliffs and caves to take photos in and of where you will see many birds and of course rushing waves from the ocean.

 

Geysir & Stokkur

 

From boiling mudpits to geothermal fields, the exploding geysers the Geysir Hot Spring Area is a wonderful stop along the Golden Circle that will get your clicker finger going for your chance to catch Geysir or Stokkur Errupt.

 

 

Blue Lagoon

 

The Reykjanes Peninsula is home to a rugged landscape, lava fields, numerous hot springs, and the world famous Blue Lagoon. Did you know the water in the Blue Lagoon is not really blue? It is actually clear to milky white. The blue hue is from the silica in the water.

Did you also know, you must have an appointment to go to Blue Lagoon?! You can even set up a layover appointment at Blue lagoon to save your luggage, get a spa service, then go back to the airport if you like. Well you can!

On that, it is a SPA! The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal heated pool that visitors may get massages, facials, enjoy fine dining, or just some time in the pleasantly warm bath. The mineral-rich waters of the geothermal pool are located in the middle of a lava field so it looks beautiful and natural – just the way any perfect spa should.

A few fine points for us Americans – you MUST shower naked prior to going in. (You do wear a swimsuit while in the lagoon.) I had a few people calling me on a weekly bases (you know who you are) worried that they were going to re-live their high school gym locker room days showering in public. Yes and No! You can if you want, and you will see many people unfazed by the human body, but if you are uneasy about showing off your fleshy parts, don’t worry, at the end of the locker room there are curtained showers.

Conditioner. Conditioner. CONDITIONER! Ladies, this mineral rich water wreaks havoc on your locks! The spa provides you some conditioning cream to use prior and after but be prepared – you will need more. OR you may bring a shower cap and put your hair up.

I would also recommend leaving your towel in your locker. I brought mine outside and because it was snowing my towel got wet sitting on the hook. You only get one towel at check in, so be careful with it!

Finally, bring a waterproof case for your phone or gopro for photos in the water. It is so beautiful; it is worth it.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Blue Lagoon. It was so much fun and relaxing too. We got a few beers while floating around in the waters, and did a silica mask to help with age defying and make our faces look like a cute baby’s bottom and then we paid for the Algae Mask to cool the slight sting left behind from the Silica.

 

 

Reykjavik

 

We stayed at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, a perfect location right in the center of the town and great for our evening of shenanigans.

Throughout Iceland you can enjoy some pretty amazing hotdogs, aka the Pylsa. I mean these things are gourmet! I am not much a fan of having hot dogs on a normal basis, but these were made of primarily Icelandic lamb with some pork and beef topped with fried onions, a creamy sweet mustard, bacon bits, and various other toppings.

The bun is steamed and the meat is actually cooked with some malt beer in the water. YUMMMM!

 

Have a Whale of a time!?! They Eat Whales too?

 

Yes, we did try some Whale while here. The concept that Icelanders serve you whale while at any restaurant was quite mind boggling to me. Before going on this trip I read that it was an Icelandic delicacy, but everything I always thought was that whales were endangered or that they were not food for the very least. It got me pretty curious. I would say do some research. I did try it. I didn’t think it tasted bad at all actually. But, I wouldn’t eat it on the regular.

 

They eat that too?

 

 

Nightlife in Reykjavik

 

George, Sherri, and I went out all night downtown Reykjabik. We started in the Drunken Rabbit which was super casual and has great live music. Loved this! You can spin the wheel and win up to 8 free drinks! Wahoo. The Drunken Rabbit was our “go to” every night.

We also went to the American Bar… which we felt was pretty hypocritical of all the things other people think “Americans” are. There were football helmets, jazz music, a picture of Jack Nicholson doing his the “here’s Johnny” face from the shining and it was pretty boring on this evening. We left pretty quickly.

Then onto a British bar- AMAZING!

And finally the “locals” bar- they sang Icelandic music, the menus were in Icelandic, and the vibe was dark & cool and super goth, yet great. Loved this one too!

Sherri and I felt like we could have stayed out all night long without George and we would have felt SAFE as two women bar hopping. We were so happy to have him with us, but we realized how safe we felt in ALL of Iceland.

 

All-in-all I LOVED Iceland. I would recommend going back in May to see the Puffins come in and to enjoy slightly warmer temperatures. But the views were extraordinary!

If the land of Fire and Ice is one you wish to see, feel free to e-mail me and I will be happy to share more with you.

 

 

Check Out Part 1 here.

Iceland – The Land of Northern Lights, Magical Trolls, and Mystifying Foods: Part 1

by Amanda Vallone

 

Every year we plan a trip for the first quarter to go somewhere “big” as a group. In 2015, we went to China; 2016 it was Germany. For 2017 we decided to visit Iceland. Automatically people ask, “Why in the world did you go to Iceland in February? Wasn’t it cold?” Well the answer is “Yes!”

Iceland in February is very cold. It ranged anywhere from 0 to 32 degrees, depending on where we were located and the day. But the temperature was not really that bad.  Being a native of Buffalo, New York, I grew up in cold weather; what got to me was the wind. The wind was freezing, bone-chilling cold. So, I suppose that make you want to stop reading and say, “ehhh Iceland isn’t for me!” Well WAIT ONE MORE MINUTE!!!

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To answer your question, we chose February because of the Northern Lights. We were on an Aurora Borealis trekking expedition. If you have read a blog by me in the past you may know my daughter’s name is Aurora, and though she may be a princess in my book, Disney’s Briar Rose was not her namesake! Rather the beautiful greens, purples, and blues of the northern lights were the inspiration for my child’s name – Aurora and our quest for viewing these lights everywhere we can. Many people travel to Iceland on a journey to discover these beautiful lights during the winter because there are few hours of daylight. Actually, sunrise is somewhere around 10am and sunset is somewhere around 6pm, so you have the largest opportunity to see the auroras during the winter months. Also, Auroras go in cycles. Aurora flares go in 10-40 year cycles and this year was the last year in the cycle. Quite honestly, Aurora is a bit of a diva – even on the best of auroral flares you may not see her in all of her beauty because she will hide under cloud cover.

 

 

On our recent trip to Iceland we did not truly see the Aurora Borealis the way we thought we would. We did however have a heck of a great time experiencing everything else Iceland had to offer. One evening in Reykjavik, we sailed into the darkness of Faxafloi Bay in search of the northern lights. My hubby George and best friend Sherri both saw a slight streak of green dance through the sky for a moment. But the even better part of that excursion was getting into these crazy outfits. It was one size fits most and for a 6’4 “retired” football player (offensive lineman) squeezing into this tiny red suit was quite the entertaining event for all of us to watch. And it was a great show that George put on.

 

 

So besides Northern Lights, why else visit Iceland?

Well honestly, the rest of the trip was the icing on the cake, it was spectacular!

From waterfalls to glaciers, volcanos to fun food this trip was superb. So I will just go stop by stop.

 

The Golden Circle

 

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This is a route that encompasses many of Iceland’s most renowned national wonders and some of the best stories.

We went to Thingvellir National Park – Iceland’s most historic area where in 930 A.D. Icelanders gathered and formed one of the world’s first parliaments.

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It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is where the North America and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The views were so magnificent here it was unbelievable. We walked along a very icy path to see each of these sights and the sun hitting the water and ice in the background was so worth the cold, wind, and walk. Simply stunning.

There was one section that was quite disturbing. Our guide told us a story that back in the 17th century public execution was part of Icelandic way of life. From beheading to hangings, there were multiple ways of punishment. But at Thingvellir there was one disturbing part in particular – the pool of shame. A stain on Icelandic history, it is now recognized by a plaque at “the drowning pool” where parents would bring their “loose moraled” daughters who got pregnant out of wedlock to this pool and tie them up and drown them L How Sad!

 

 

 

Gulfoss- aka the Golden Falls

 

Gulfoss is a spectacular double cascading waterfall that is simply stunning. You can view it from above and see the rush of the waters (as seen in the video clip here). OR view from below.

 

 

To view from below, be VERY careful! You must go down a very steep set of about 100 wooden steps. In the winter the mist from the waterfall creates ice on the stairs and makes it difficult.

*****Packing tip: This was the second place we noticed you really should have Yak Trax or something similar for traction. You will need them! ****

 

 

 

Seljalandfoss

 

Gulfoss may be the most popular of all the falls in Iceland, but Seljalandfoss was my favorite. We could actually walk behind the waterfall! This is again a place that you must have the proper footwear and rain jackets/waterproof jackets or you will not be a happy camper. In order to protect my water “resistant” jacket I wore one of those cheapie ponchos and I was happy I did. I still got soaked! Was it worth it? TOTALLY! Seljalandfoss is a MUST for an Iceland trip.

 

 

 

 

 

VIK

 

From there we went onto the southwestern-most village in Iceland, Vik. We stayed at Hotel Katla Hofdabrekka, in the “new” side. From the outside pulling up it was slightly worrisome. I was told it was somewhat like a compound by others who had gone before me. When I pulled up, I thought – OH NO, the 22 others I brought with me will hate this. Oh boy was I wrong! This place was spectacular! Truly amazing! The outside of the hotel looked slightly like a “compound” sure. But the rooms inside were very stylish and “ikea” inspired. The breakfast and dinner we had daily at the hotel were wonderful! And if you can get a room at the very end of the hallway it is even bigger than all of the rest. SCORE!

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While in VIK we experienced some very bad weather. All buses and drivers were grounded because there were gale-force winds in Southern Iceland and that same day 4 buses had been blown off of the road, as had a few cars. For our safety we actually missed some of our planned tour. So instead, we had a cocktail party. Because that is the way Roseborough Travel likes to make our clients happy. And honestly, the bar was the only thing that was open. The hotel brought in a speaker that told us the history of the area and land that Hotel Katla was built on.  We also took a hike up the mountain in the background.

 

 

 

YOU EAT WHAT?!?!?!?!

 

Have you heard of the local delicacy and culinary tradition – Hakarl –  fermented, putrefied, shark meat? It is Greenlandic Shark that is not only extremely ugly, but doesn’t have kidneys so it is toxic to humans to eat. So years ago the Vikings devised a technique to be able to eat this shark – squeeze out the toxins,  burry it, dig it up, hang the meat, and let it rot. When it smells nice and ripe – like rotten cheese and turpentine – it’s ready. GROSS! And they eat this stuff! It is on buffets in restaurants and offered to guests as a kindness in tradition.

So did we eat it? Of course we did! I am not one to pass up any crazy food while traveling to a destination. And we washed it down with a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic liquor with the taste of caraway seeds.

Now the question is: How would you say cheers to that? Skal! In Icelandic!

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Look out for Iceland Part 2!

Explorers Spotlight Part two: Debbie and Jim’s Adventure

jim in santorini

Today’s post is catching up again With Debbie and Jim as we follow along on their Grecian adventure!

Day 4: Santorini

Another great day exploring Santorini.  The island has similarities and differences to Mykonos.  First, where Mykonos has buildings beginning at sea level, Santorini is mostly inhabited at the top of the mountain.  Santorini was formed, along with some other pieces of land nearby, by a volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago.  The volcano’s top was blown off in the eruption and debris was sent everywhere. The last time the volcano erupted was 1956, so many areas were destroyed and had to be rebuilt.

santorini

In Santorini, we took a tender to the dock and then boarded a bus.  There are three ways to get to the top if you haven’t booked an excursion – walk a long way on cobblestone streets, ride donkeys (which was not recommended), or take the cable car.  We had an excursion booked so we had a bus.   The bus drove around the island as the guide told us things about Santorini.  We went to the highest point of the island, but it was foggy and we couldn’t see much.  We did notice that many wild flowers were in full bloom and it was very pretty.   Then we drove to Oia, an old village on the northern tip of the island on a steep slope.  On the way we saw beaches and views of both sides of the island.  One of the beaches has black sand because of the volcano.  Santorini has lots of land in between towns, and seems more spread out. (Maybe that is because we only saw certain parts of Mykonos.)  After Oia, we were driven to Fira, another town. There are lots of shops here, and the streets are narrow and made of cobblestones. (They were in Oia, too.) Even in the beginning of the tourist season, which is now, it is crowded and hard to get around.  Most of Santorini’s streets are cobblestoned.  Everything is not white and blue like Mykonos; there are other colors on buildings.

jim and debbie

Day 5: At Sea

There is much to do on this ship.  They have activities scheduled all day and night.  Most of the time, we are on excursions and are gone (or just aren’t interested – like games, trivia contests, parties, etc), but today I got to go to two art classes. I took a watercolor pencil class and an acrylic painting class.  The outcome was nothing to write home about, or even keep, but it was fun to get to do some art.  Jim spent some time at the pool talking with people (he met some people from UF), working out and walking again, and laying by the pool.  All in all, we enjoyed the day.

pool at night

Day 6: Malta

Today our port of call was Valetta, Malta.  It looks very different from the Greek islands we have visited.  On Malta, all the buildings are made of blocks of limestone (a little bigger than the size of a large concrete block) and are a honey color.  It looks like a fortress in some areas.  The architecture is a combination of Arab and Baroque design, and looks very majestic.  One interesting thing about Malta is the houses were originally built with balconies.  It is against the law to take them down, and owners are required to maintain them.  They aren’t all the same and are very interesting.

Our tour first took us to the town of Mosta, and we went inside the Mosta Dome church.  This church has the third largest dome in the world.  Everything is beautiful and ornate.  Then we drove through the countryside to a former World War II airfield that has been turned into a crafts village called Ta’Qali.  We went to a store that makes filigree jewelry.  It is such tiny, delicate work.  I think I would go blind if I had to do that all day. Our next stop was Dingli Cliffs – the highest point on Malta.  The views are great.  There is also a small, old church there with no windows, only the door.  The lack of windows was for protection from invaders.

cathedral in Malta

Our last stop was the ancient city of M’Dina, which is a walled city with narrow winding streets to confuse invaders.  Inside M’Dina are churches, aristocratic houses, and a few stores.  They are all connected, except for the streets.  Most of the architecture is Baroque, but in the middle of the city is a square with the Cathedral of St. Paul and St. Peter. The buildings here reflect Spanish design, Baroque style, and Neo-gothic, but all are of limestone.

Wanda’s Grand Voyage

Roseborough’s own Wanda Hamm talks about her Grand Voyage around the globe.

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How many days was your cruise?

111 Days. We left on January 4th this year and returned home on April 26th. It was round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale.

How many different ports of call did you go to?

There were 36 scheduled ports, but we missed two of them due to bad weather.
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Why did you decide to go on a grand voyage?

We decided to do the World Cruise to see as much of the world as we could without having to pack and unpack. The cruise ship was our moving hotel. Also, I don’t like to fly, so this was a perfect alternative.

What makes a Grand Voyage different from the other cruises you have gone on?

They roll out the red carpet on the World Cruise.  Holland has Gala Night with nice gifts such as luggage, Waterford Frames, Chocolates, World Cruise Logo Items, and Dinner with the Captain.  There are lots of parties for various occasions.  And the dining experience is above any other cruise I have been on.

What was your favorite experience from the cruise?

We loved all of the ports, but we especially loved Japan – the cities were extremely clean and the people were very friendly and helpful to us as visitors.  Oman was another favorite, we fell in love with the people. Kindness is very important to them.

Why should someone consider a grand voyage?

It is a trip of a life time and exceeds anything you could imagine.  The memories you create and bring back, you will cherish them forever.