Iceland (II): the Iconic Image of Mt. Kirkjufell

How to capture the iconic image of Mt. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellfoss

Mt. Kirkjufell together with the Kirkjufell waterfall has become the iconic image of West Iceland, taking this shot was on my list of must-do in Iceland.

Only when I got to the location, I learned just how particular this shot was.

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If you came from Snaefellsjokull National Park direction like us, Mt. Kirkjufell had no tip but a flat top.  The mountain displayed its iconic shape only at the angle after we passed it.

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Not only that, the Kirkjufellsfoss, the waterfalls, were on the other side of the road.

The waterfalls were not by the mountain at all.

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This shot was taken from the small bridge on top of Kirkjufell waterfalls; Kirkjufell mountain was on the other side of the road, left to the parking lot.

Only when you crossed the small bridge, standing on the left side (where all the people standing), then angled your camera to include both the mountain and the falls–Voila, you got the shot!

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Ideally, during the sunset is the optimal time of the day to shoot Mt. Kirkjufell.  You would have colorful sky as the backdrop. We were not lucky that day.

On the way to Mt. Kirkjfell, Grudarfjordur, we stopped at Olafvik for lunch.  There we found a local soccer field.

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And an ultra modern church by the soccer field.

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Mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, clean air and church, all must have somehow contributed to the outstanding performance of Icelandic soccer team in 2018 World Cup!

Iceland (I): Hiking the Glymur, the Highest Waterfall in Iceland

We just got back from 12-day trip in Iceland.  What a BEAUTIFUL country! If you love nature and outdoor, and photography, Iceland is for you!  

We just got back from 12-day trip in Iceland.  What a BEAUTIFUL country! If you love nature and outdoor, and photography, Iceland is for you!  For a country only the size of Virginia State, Iceland is packed with stunning beauty! In 12 days we circled the whole country along the 800-mile Ring Road, starting from the capital Reykjavik going clockwise to the west, the north, the east and ending at the popular south.

We hiked the Glymur waterfall (or foss in Icelandic) on the second day, it was a highly anticipated hike! 🙂

There was a description of the hike at the parking lot, and the signs were well posted at each critical turn.

The hike was flat but scenic on the first mile.  It was an easy strolling until we reached an open cave.  Through the cave opening we spotted the Botnsa river, this was the river we would trail along to get to the foss.

The glacier water from the Botnsa river was so clear and refreshing.  We filled up the water bottle, we would need it soon.

IMG_8110Both banks of the Botnsa river lead to the foss, however the right bank offered a better view of the foss.  A rope and a wood log were installed to help the hikers to cross the river.  The water was REALLY COLD!

After the river crossing, the path took a turn to strenuous ascension.  I had to hold on to the rope, it was quite steep.  At some area, we hike on the narrow dirt path right along the dropping cliff! I don’t know about you, but looking back down to the river we just crossed, the cave openings looked like a pair of eyes, watching us…

Soon we spotted the vapor from the waterfall in the distance. With the waterfall in front of us, we kept going, up and up.

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Occasionally we paused to see how much we had accomplished. Can you spot people crossing the Botnsa river way down there?  The up right corner near the fjord was where we parked our car!

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In the following hour, we hiked and climbed.  Can you see the tiny people on the top of the cliff on the right? We would be in their position, soon!

For most part of hiking, the waterfall was in view except a few zigzag sharp turns we lost track of it. Again ropes were there to assist the hikers, very helpful!  Some no-name waterfalls were spilling here and there.

Almost there!

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And we did it! We conquered the Glymur, the highest foss in Iceland, Hooray!! Look at the people on other side of the falls, we decided to join them.  We found a shallow area and trod across the Botnsa river again, this time at the upstream of the Glymur fall!

Beware plodding across the Botnsa river, the water was not as shallow as some suggested: it came all the way up to Arthur’s knees and to my thighs!

Now take a good look at the waterfall at this side of the bank before descending.  It was all worth it!!

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After another long hour, we finally saw that open cave! So happy to see that pair of watchful eyes again!

IMG_1919 The whole hike from the parking lot back to the parking lot took us 4 hours to complete.  It was four-hour well spent!

A few things about the hike:

(1) I am glad that we took the hike at the beginning of our trip.  We followed Rick Steves’ suggestion, going west first driving clockwise on the Ring Road.  We were quite energetic.  If we did south first and Glymur at the end of the journey, it might be a different story.  So keep that in mind when you plan your trip.

(2) Glymur is a little more than an hour in the west of Reykjavik, so it can be a good day trip if you stay in Reykjavik. We did the hike in the morning, when we were done the parking lot was full. So do it in the morning to avoid the crowd.  It took us four hours because we took a few breaks here and there, it could be done in a shorter time.

(3) According to Extreme Iceland Glymur used to be the highest waterfall in Iceland, with the height of 196 m, until recently a higher waterfall ‘Morsi’ in highland Morsarjokull glacier was discovered.  Because the new #1 is not well known and less accessible (I googled it but failed to find a photo of it),  people still call Glymur the highest waterfall in Iceland.

According to Google, there are more than 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland!!  I am a waterfall fanatic, we would be hiking Hengifoss,  the second highest waterfall (128m), when we reached Northeast Iceland.

 

A Bermuda Beach Day (II)

The beauty of Bermuda blows me away!  With blush pink sands, turquoise water and remarkable coves, there are nothing quite like the beaches in Bermuda!

We spent our second day in Bermuda at the beach.  We chose the Horseshoe Bay beach since it is one of the most applauded beaches in Bermuda.

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Most of the cruise people went there, consequently it was much more crowded than other beaches.

Facing the water to the right side of the beach is the Horseshoe Bay Cove.  There rocky terrain rising above the bay encircles the clear water to shape the cove,  it’s like a solitude within a retreat.

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When we arrived in the early morning, we were the only ones at the cove.

So to avoid the crowd, go there early and venture out.

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We also walked to the left side of the Bay.  It was even better!  So seclusive, some part of the beach felt like a private one because we were the only ones there!

One thing for sure, the further away from the Horseshoe Bay, the more striking the scenery, the rockier the beach.

If you want to venture out the beach area as I did, just remember to wear steady footwear.  The rocks were VERY sharp!  Arthur’s Chaco were perfect.  At one point I left my flip flops with my mother-in-law, and I ended up hurting my feet trying to climb across some rocks.

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The sands are definitely pink, much pinker near the area where waves smash the shore.

Of course, locals may not go to the Horseshoe Bay beach, it may be too touristy for them.

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On the bus tour of the first day, we passed by many pink sand beaches and coves.  Some coves were so small and cozy, just perfect as a romantic getaway.

The weather in Bermuda is mild with the highest in the 80s in the summer and the lowest in the 50s in the winter.  However with the humidity in the summer 80s can feel like in the 90s; with the gusty wind in the winter, the 50s like in the 40s.  While we were there in the early June, the daily temperatures were consistent in the range of 75–77 F.  Yes, it was not a typo, the high and low of a day were virtually the same!

There are various public transportation (buses and ferries) available leaving from the Royal Naval Dockyard to the City of Hamilton, the Town of St. George and different beaches.  Our taxi costed $32 from the cruise dock to the Horseshoe Bay one way, so it is a great value if you go with a group.

Before this trip, my knowledge of Bermuda was minimal; it was a mysterious place where boats disappeared for no reason. In reality Bermuda only takes up less than 4% of the Bermuda Triangle.  We are safe.  The thing might have killed us is not the vanish of our ship rather the high price tag of living there.  The island is VERY expensive, about two times more than what we pay in mainland US.  A gallon of gasoline costs $8! A gallon of milk $14! A mid-range meal for a couple $130!! Although it is understandable that virtually everything on the island has to be shipped here from the mainland. But still, ouch!!

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There are direct flights from major cities to Bermuda, so this little paradise can be an easy weekend getaway.  Oh, one more thing, don’t forget to pack a pair of Bermuda shorts to Bermuda!!

First time to dip my toes in pink sands! 😍🏖 #content #happyday

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A Cruise Getaway to Bermuda (I)

Recently we accompanied my mother-in-law to Bermuda boarding Royal Caribbean Cruise.  After only two days we fell in love with the island and convinced that we would be back.  And next time bring our children with us.

Our cruise ship left from the port Baltimore, we picked this cruise for the convenient location, this way my mother-in-law could skip the stress of flying on the plane.

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Bermuda is an independently governed British territory in North Atlantic Ocean.  Our cruise ship docked at the Royal Naval Dockyard at King’s Wharf.

There are museums and restaurants in the Naval Dockyard, and a craft market, a clock tower mall, swimming with dolphins, a snorkel park, even a fun golf site, you can easily spend a half day exploring the dockyard.  The one site on the top of the list should be the National Museum of Bermuda.

On our first day on the island we took a mini-bus tour. The bus picked us up from the Royal Naval Dockyard; it took about five-hour to tour the whole island.

The beautiful coast took our breaths away.  Right there we decided that our second day in Bermuda would be a beach day! (see part II for more)

This newly refurbished Gibbs Hill Lighthouse is one of Bermuda’s iconic attractions. There were 185 steps to the top! Just to give you a perspective–the Bunker Hill in Boston is 294 steps. ( I passed out while climbing the Monument, it was in the heat of summer and I was that close to the top. You won’t forget it easily after a humiliating experience like that🤣.)

DSC04931This is the island view at the base of the Lighthouse, just imaging the view from the top! However we were only given 20 minutes, not enough time to climb.  But one couple decided to climb it regardless for the Lighthouse was such an iconic destination!  You guessed right… the whole bus had to wait for them…

Every corner we turned was a photogenic view.  Golf courses there were world class.

The capital of Bermuda is City of Hamilton, lots of people go here for duty free shopping.  If you just want a few souvenirs to take home, our tour guide recommended this store–on the left hand side of the Burnaby Street as soon as we made a right turn from the Front Street, the cheapest T-shirt there was about $8 (on the cruise $10 on sale with fewer selections).

There are lots of churches on the island.  If you throw a rock randomly, you may hit the stained glass of a church! (Legend says so😉)

Here are a few of my favorites.  Heydon’s Chapel is the oldest church in Bermuda, and the smallest and most endearing.  The church was built in 1620.  ‘Sing to God,  Sing praises to His name; Lift up a song to Him who rides upon the clouds; His name is the Lord, exult before Him. Psalm 68:4.’

The Unfinished Church was planned as a replacement for St. Peter’s Church.  The construction started in mid-19th century, but left unfinished when running out of fund.  I wish we had more time to linger there, it would be a beautiful spot for wedding.

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And St. Peter’s Church in the Town of St.  George.  This is the oldest continuously used Anglican church in the western hemisphere, more than 400 years old!

St. George is at the eastern tip of Bermuda.  The town and the surrounding fortifications as a whole is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Lots of the sites were closed since our bus arrived after 5 pm.  St. George will be our #1 choice of lodging locations if we go back to Bermuda.

Things we might do differently:

Bermuda consists of more 180 islands, totally 20 square miles.  The Bermuda we refer to is the largest island.  You can get away from participating the cruise excursion especially you have friends and family travel together, just do your own tour.  Normally we prefer the freedom of doing our own things than taking tours since we always feel rushed with a tour.  However with a 89-year-old mom with us, bus tour was the next best thing.

At the Royal Naval Dockyard, right outside of our cruise, there were MANY taxis waiting for service.  You could pay the driver by hour, this way you have your personal driver and tour guide for your group.  Our excursion was $100/person, for the four of us we could have hired a driver for the day with a much greater amount of freedom, like climbing the Lighthouse and lingering longer at the Unfinished Church!

Happy first day of summer!! #sailing

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The Kentucky Castle

Slow down Spring, it’s not Summer yet. #sunnday #springtime #relaxation

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There are castles in Kentucky.  The most impressive one in my opinion is the one in Versailles, not that Versailles of Sun King Louise XIV outside of Paris, of course.  Nevertheless this castle of Versailles, Kentucky is quite fabulous, and no lack of fairytale story.

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Not far from the castle, there was a lovely orchard where you could pick apples and my favorite Asian pears.  So every time we passed by this castle to the orchard, I wondered out loud what could the inside like.  So my dear husband took notes,  a few years ago, he surprised me for an overnight stay in this caste for our wedding anniversary!

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At that time, the castle was called the Castle Post.  It hosted special events, only open to public occasionally.

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It was December, the castle was decorated for Christmas.

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Our suite was at the left turret, the Executive Terrace Suite with a huge study.  The suite was tastefully decorated in rich burgundy color with traditional furnishing.  It was classic and upscale.  The king-size poster bed was lovely!

The breakfast was not large, but delicious with pastry, eggs and my favorite smoked salmon.

The castle has gone through chances in management and ownership, it was open again last year after renovation.  On their Facebook, there were morning yoga on the roof top, weddings and various events, so we decided to go back to try their farm-to-table restaurant.

And we were impressed.

We stayed past sunset.  The castle was truly magical at night.

So pay a visit when you are in the area, you may discover a new spot of romantic gateway.

 

 

 

Spring Break in Washington D.C

Spring in Washington D.C for me is all about cherry blossoms!  If you remember the sad situation of Cherry Blossoms in Washington D. C. last year, you would be like me, anxious about the bloom this year.  But we got extremely lucky! We actually hit the peak bloom!

The peak was originally anticipated in late March, but kept being postponed because of consecutive winter storms in March and April this year, until last weekend!  And we got sunny day on Sunday! Despite the well below zero temperature, we got up at 5:30 and arrived at the north shore of Tidal Basin well before sunrise. There were a lot of people already there, with tripod setup, waiting.

The sunrise was beautiful, not exactly ‘spectacular’, but it was a great experience.  Chatting with fellow photographers and enthusiasts alike, figuring out optimal setting on the camera and sharing gadgets were the best part of the waiting.

It was a delightful day! The Sun was out, it got warmer.  We strolled along the Tidal Basin with crowded people, snatching shots after shots. Every direction your eyes could see filled with clusters and clusters of blossoms, from white to various shades of pink!

I am a cherry blossom fanatic, even you are not particular into bloom, walking among thousands of cherry trees, sprinkled by tiny flower petals is a happy feeling no one can deny.  The Japanese Pagoda (up right) locates outside of  Roosevelt Memorial, an gift from the mayor of Yokohama, Japan in 1957.

No cherry blossoms pictures are complete without the signature shots of the Washington Monument framed by the delicate blossoms.

Everything was coming up roses that day. We run into Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on Independence Ave.  While we were by the roadside cheering for the runners, we learned that it was rather hard to gain entry to the race, only 2500 random applicants got picked by lottery this year!

It is events like the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Ten Mile Run attracted me to this wonderful city. I love the vibrant energy of the city life. The sounds of the running steps and the fun costumes people put on when they run never cease to amaze me and put smile on my face.

We usually take metro to D.C. because parking near the National Mall can be hectic and hard to find.  However since we were there so early in the morning, there were plenty parking around the Tidal Basin area.  We parked behind Jefferson Memorial on the East Potomac Park, along Ohio Dr.  For sunrise shots you want to stay on the Northern shore of the Tidal Basin, that way you can include Washington Monument or Jefferson Memorial in the photos with the cherry blossoms.

In my previous blog I cited the best locations for Cherry Blossoms besides the Tidal Basin, I like to add one more to the list: the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  This basilica is the largest church in America and North America, one of the ten largest churches in the world.  It is located in the Brookland area of D.C. at the Catholic University campus, there are 150 cherry trees around the church, another great locale for cherry blossoms.

Romanesque style on the outside and Byzantine style inside, the amazing architecture alone is worth the visit.  And this magnificent church has over 70 chapels and oratories! The mosaic image of Christ in Majesty contains more than 4000 shades and colors,  unfortunately I couldn’t take picture of the mosaic because of the ongoing mass.  They offer six masses daily and many informative free tours.

Since its first mass on Easter Sunday in 1924, Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II had visited the basilica, you can check out their chairs and other items they used during their short visit displaying proudly inside the church.  Also Mother Teresa and many other famous spiritual leaders have also left their footprints there too.

Only two artwork in this massive church are from outside of America, the one on the top right “Our Lady of China” is one of the two.

While you are in the Brookland area, I highly recommend you to visit Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, only a mile away from the Basilica.  They have beautiful garden and the church inside is very impressive as well.

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Tours are offered daily at various hours, no reservation is needed unless for group larger than five people.  Garden tour is only on Saturday during summer time. You may have a taste of the Monastery through their visual tours online before you go.

So enjoy the wonderful weather and beautiful Washington D.C.; there is so much to see!  And the spring is finally here, to stay!

 

 

 

Puerto Vallarta Winter Getaway

It is very easy to fall in love with Puerto Vallarta (PV).  Warm weather, clear beach, great food and show, and extremely friendly people.  Here are the things we loved and things we could have skipped in PV.

Marietas Islands Hidden Beach tour is the #1 on my list, an absolute must-do! These groups of isles are more than an hour ride from PV, they are beautiful with rugged rocky shore.  Boats can’t dock there, you have to swim to get on the islands.  The tour company provides life jackets and gaggle gears for the swim.  The water is so blue and the islands very beautiful.

There is a hidden beach, you can’t see the beach from outside sea, have to swim over the low overhand to get on the beach, so check the tide table for low tides.  Only 80 people per day are allowed to get on the island, six people to get on the beach in any given time. Make sure to book early.

On the way to the islands we saw whales and many dolphins.

We also highly recommend the Rhythms of the Night Dinner Show! The show is on Las Caletas, an hour boat ride to the south of PV, a place of sporty recreation during the day and romantic candle-light dinner and entertainment at night.  There is no electricity there, four thousands lit candles were waiting for us when we reached the shore!

The food was great and the show was full of amazing acrobatic moments.  Each evening there are two dinners and one show in between, so make sure to specify which dinner you want for the evening when booking.  I wish I knew more about Mexican culture and language to understand the show.  What a wonderful way to spend the night.

Puerto Vallarta is a very artsy tourist town.  There are many wonderful art displays over every corner of the city especially the one-mile long El Malecon Boardwalk along downtown water front.  Every Tuesday morning there is a guided art sculpture tour, it costs $15. Although you can easily do a self-guided tour, just walk along the boardwalk you won’t miss anything.  The dance of the Flyers, Danza de los Voladores, is a preserved ancient Mesoamerican ritual.

If you have children, the Turtle Camp is a wonderful and fun educational activity with the whole family.  You learn about the life of turtles, at the end you can hold a baby turtle and release it back to the ocean.

The Puerto Vallarta City tour is suitable for someone who wants to see the whole city in one day.  It is too crammed in my opinion.  The bus picked us up from our hotel and everybody else, it was a bus-ful of tourists.  We stopped at many attractions briefly including Malecon boardwalk, the church of Our Lady Guadeloupe etc.

We had lunch at a family-owned restaurant near Mismaloya, very unique setting in the wood.  Afterward we walked to a nearby tequila distillery for tasting.  They even blocked big chunk of time for us shopping for souvenirs, twice!  It was a whole day tour.

We stayed at Marriott.  Everywhere we travel, I like to book Marriott for lodging, just love the bedding and pillows and their affordable price. This resort offers many water activities and have a couple of restaurants and nice pools.

I like the location, walking distance to food and market.  There is a public bus stop outside of the resort, the bus fare to downtown is only 7.5 pesos. (The exchange rate $1=19 pesos!)  Our bus ride was fun, we met many snowbirds from America and Canada on the bus.

And taxi is very convenient and reliable, about 80 pesos from hotel to downtown.

When we were in Mexico City two year ago we fell in love with the real Mexican food.  So this time in Puerto Vallarta we were searching for authentic seafood at the places where the locals went.  We tried a handful of the local favorites, and liked most of them, especially fresh seafood, even the food from street vendors and night market were excellent.

The Cafe des Artistes is on the top list of my recommendation. It is at the high end, about $50 per person.  Really romantic, perfect for anniversary or any special occasion.  The restaurant is beautifully decorated, the exquisitely prepared food is accompanied with romantically serenaded music.  They have the best pumpkin soup, the fish dish is so flavorful, and the dessert is to die for.

Another restaurant on my recommendation list is La Langosta Feliz (The Happy Lobster), a seafood restaurant.  If you don’t order the gigantic seafood platter (shown on the picture above), we didn’t, the price was very cheap–four of us spent about 1,500 pesos, less than $80!

We had quite adventure there, I had to share this story!

As I mentioned before, our love of food always push us to search for authentic local food.  One taxi driver highly recommended the Happy Lobster, so we decided to give it a try.  We left from Malecon boardwalk thinking it would be a pleasant walk, it turned out way too far to get there on foot.  As we were asking a local woman how much further we needed to go, we were approached by an elderly man who warmly volunteered to take us there.  Not only that, he also acclaimed to be the owner of that restaurant and offered us 20% discount!  Apparently he owned a couple of restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, the Happy Lobster we were going was currently managed by one of his sons! “Just wait here!” he said, “Let me go and get my car, I take you because I am going there anyway.”

What do you think?  If in your shoes, would you wait and go with him, in a city where you were a stranger?!

As soon as he left, we waved down a taxi.  We couldn’t get out there fast enough! It turned out we were only half mile away.

The restaurant was awesome! Seafood was great, fresh and tasty. Lots of locals and tourists like us were there.  The waiters spoke good English. The service was prompt and warm, the food portion was decent. I had octopus ceviche and freshly caught snapper (see the pictures above), loved both.  If I had to pick on something, the music was a bit too loud to our taste, especially the band came to the table side and played.

By the time we ordered and chewed on our appetizer, lo and be hold, that elderly man walked in and straightly approached our table, padded my husband’s shoulder “haha you made it.” !!!

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The manager (on the right) was indeed his son!!

We are so accustomed to not trust strangers; we teach our children that and we model those teachings ourselves.   We may be safer but how we miss otherwise great opportunity to make friends!   People are much more genuine and loving than we portray them! Especially in Puerto Vallarta!

So if you visit Puerto Vallarta, please go and eat at the Happy Lobster.  If you see him, ask for a discount, I guarantee you will get it.  (I didn’t get the discount he promised since I didn’t even want him to remember our prior conversation.)    His heart is made of gold.