Sólheimajökull Glacier

Sólheimajökul Glacier
Sólheimajökul Glacier

29 January

Slept very well after my afternoon of skiing. Got up early, had breakfast, and joined a group for a guided hike on Sólheimajökul Glacier. Drove about 2 hours southeast of Reykjavík. Mostly 2 lane road covered in ice and snow – the only indication one is on a road are the side markers and the packed snow from previous traffic (glad I didn’t rent a car). The guide showed us how to use the crampons and ice axes, then we headed onto the glacier for a 3 hour hike. It takes about an hour just to climb up onto the glacier. There we could see the blue ice often with steaks of ash from volcanic eruptions in years past. The weather would change from sun to clouds to snow seemingly within minutes. The glacier was covered in fresh snow but we could see many crevasses and other features of the glacier. It was a great experience for someone from California who rarely sees snow.

Sunny Sólheimajökul Glacier
Sunny Sólheimajökul Glacier

Blafjoll

Blafjoll Cloudy Horizon
Blafjoll Cloudy Horizon

28 January

I didn’t sleep well and it looked cold outside so I almost decided to skip Blafjoll. But I didn’t have anything else planned, so one step at a time I worked my way there, thinking I could always turn back if it looked too miserable. It was snowing and cold when we arrived at Blafjoll, and I didn’t have proper cold weather gear, but I went ahead and rented skis and went skiing for the first time in over 25 years. I’m so glad I went. I had forgotten how much fun skiing is, and I had an amazing time.

Blafjoll is just a 30 minute drive from Reykjavík, but once outside the city the landscape becomes otherworldly. Trees and all other vegetation soon disappear, and then there are just endless lava fields covered in snow. There are 16 ski slopes. I started out on one of the easier ones and slowly worked my way up to the scale of difficulty. Apparently skiing is like riding a bike in that it’s not something you forget how to do. In the afternoon the snow stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. From the top of the ski slope, the snow covered lava fields ran into the shimmering sea in one direction, and in the other they merged with the clouds at the horizon. One of those rare moments of absolute peace, where the body is loose, the mind asks no questions, and the world is a triumph, was mine.

Blafjoll to the Sea
Blafjoll to the Sea

I was having such a great time skiing that before I realized it I had been skiing for four hours, and I was in danger of missing the bus back to Reykjavík. The day ended with more snow and thick fog – the weather in Iceland is fickle. I’m having a really nice time here. I’m doing things I haven’t done in a long time or have never done before. Sometimes change is good.

Reykjavík

Reykjavík Sea and Mountains
Reykjavík Sea and Mountains

26 January

Landed at Keflavík Airport at 3:30am. Cold and cloudy, but no rain or snow – yet. The plane was 3/4s full, but only four of us are staying in Iceland. We saw the Northern Lights from the plane – a god thing since the Northern Lights forecast for is poor for the rest of my stay. It took about 3 minutes to get through passport control. No one was working at Customs so I walked through without stopping. Almost everything at the airport was still closed. Thank god there was a shuttle bus leaving in 20 minutes. Got to my hotel before 5am, and fortunately they let me check in early.

I booked this trip a few days before Christmas, which seems a very long time ago. I never got around to making any travel plans other than the flight and a hotel, and when it was time for the trip I was kind of dreading going to a cold, dark, dreary place – I felt more in the mood for someplace warm and sunny. But sometimes it’s good to have low expectations because it’s easy to exceed them. And I booked a hotel with a really nice fitness center and spa, and brought several books, so if it ended up being too miserable outside I could enjoy myself inside.

I slept very deeply for a few hours and woke up feeling very refreshed. I put on my polar gear and headed out to find something to eat and have a look around. And I had a very nice day. Reykjavík is a rather small city with a population of about 250,000. But there is a lot here – a beautiful location on the sea with mountains in the background, many parks, several museums, a gorgeous opera house, and an active fishing port. I had a very nice lunch and wandered around. I went to the visitor’s center and since I was the only customer they were able to spend plenty of time with me figuring out what my activity options are. Everywhere I went everyone was helpful and friendly. The weather was cold with rain and snow showers, but not oppressive.

Reykjavík Frozen Pond
Reykjavík Frozen Pond

Then in the evening I went to a geothermal pool near the hotel. There are several of these around the city. Laugardalslaug has two large outdoor geothermal swimming pools heated to around 86 deg. F. They are surrounded by several “hot pots” (hot tubs), a seawater pool, and a steam bath. And it was better than someplace warm and sunny. Swimming in a warm pool while it is snowing and seeing people wandering around in bathing suits when it is 30 deg. F out is a surreal experience for someone from California. I spent about three hours swimming and sitting in the various hot pots and had a really wonderful time.

To Barcelona 

From Southern Spain I worked my way north – Seville, Madrid,  Valencia, Barcelona. 

Valencia Opera House
Valencia Opera House
Parking Lot
Parking Lot

Science Museum
Science Museum
Valencia has an amazing Arts and Science City designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Revolution in Catalonia
Revolution in Catalonia
Las Ramblas Are Empty
Las Ramblas Are Empty

Catalonia has been in the midst of political unrest for the last month. There are a lot of protests, a lot of police, but very peaceful so far. There are fewer tourists than I’ve ever seen here in the last thirty years, which is nice.

Andalucia and Morocco 

From The Basque Country I headed south to Algeciras where I did some hiking along the coast and to the top of Gibraltar. 

Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Macaque
Macaque

Then I took the ferry 20 km across the Straight of Gibraltar to Tangier for a few days.

Tangier
Tangier

Tangier Medina
Tangier Medina
Back in Spain I spent a few more days hiking around Tarifa, then began heading g towards Barcelona for my flight home. 

Sandstone
Sandstone
Tarifa
Tarifa
Hills of Africa
Hills of Africa

Walking

On Thursday, 5 October 2017 I walked out of Porto and on Sunday, 15 October I walked into Santiago, Spain and stopped due to fire and rain, having covered about 250 km. The fires were large forest fires burning behind me in northern Portugal and western Spain (Galicia) that produced so much smoke that by Sunday afternoon it was difficult to breathe. Then on Monday morning it started raining, and once it starts raging in Galicia it doesn’t stop. 

Once one leaves the old town of Porto with its colonial atmosphere, everything is new. Beautiful sand beaches extend for 50 – 60 km north of Porto and the entire length is like a modern beach resort that has been built within the last 30 years. But with the foggy fall weather much of it was closed and shuttered for the winter, most of the people gone. A boardwalk extends along the beach for most of the distance. The occasional bar or restaurant was opened for the off-season crowd, naturally with loads of fresh seafood available. One of the specialties is a large pile of grilled fresh sardines with boiled potatoes and vegetables. Another is bacalao, salted and dried Atlantic cod.

Once the beaches and resorts end the terrain becomes more varied, first over dunes and then through rolling hills with eucalyptus forests. This entire area of Portugal and Spain is traversed by numerous “GR” and “camino” routes, so there are choices available each day of traveling closer to the coast or further inland. The routes are well used; there aren’t crowds of people but you see runners, trekkers, and mountain bikers each day.

At Caminha, Portugal there is a ferry across the Minho River to A Guarda, Spain, a picturesque little fishing village. From here the coast becomes more jagged, with fjords cutting inland from the coast. The path runs north along the Atlantic, through the village of Oia, then turns east along the Ria de Vigo to Baiona, which has a really nice recreational marina with more pleasure boats than I saw anywhere else along the coast.

Another day of walking through the hills and along the beaches of Ria de Vigo brought me to Vigo, a large commercial port city. It has a very well maintained old city with steep winding streets that was deserted when I arrived in the evening. The next morning the place was packed. This is unusual in Spain – mornings are usually quiet, and things never seem to really get going until at least 8pm. Then I noticed a lot of the people were wearing funny hats and spoke English, and when I looked out towards the water there were two cruise ships at the dock. 

From Vigo it is just a few more km to the end of Ria de Vigo, then there is a cross country trek to Pontevedra which is at the end of the next fjord to the north, Ria de Pontevedra. Another day of walking and I was at Caldas de Reis, Saturday at A Picaraña, and Sunday I had to stop at about noon in Santiago. After a couple of days of rain I gave up on the rest of the walk to A Coruña and took the train to Pamplona instead. I’ll spend a few more days in this part of the country, then head south.

Porto

Porto

Porto is best known for port. Port is made from about 30 unique varieties of grapes grown in the Douro River Valley which runs west from Spain, across Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean. The grapes are crushed, fermented, and barreled in the Douro River Valley, then after being fortified with brandy and aged for a few months, it is transported to Gaia at the mouth of the Douro River and aged in caves for 10 or 20 years. Gaia, on the south side of the Douro River, is dominated by wineries – Sandeman, Croft, Taylor’s. Porto is on the north bank on hills that rise steeply from the river. From the river it looks more colonial than Mediterranean, the building’s tile facades and tin roofs more reminiscent of Kuching or Jakarta than Malaga or Genoa. But as you make your way uphill into the old city it is more obviously European with cobblestone streets, tile roofs, many cafes. 

Gaia

I can’t think of any fine Portugues restaurants at home, so it is a bit surprising that the food is exceptional. There is a lot of fresh fish and very good wine, of course, but also unique flavors that must have been introduced from the Portuguese colonies in Africa and Asia. Even very inexpensive restaurants make outstanding frango asado, a spicy grilled chicken that comes with potatoes, rice, vegetables, and a glass of wine for about $3. Bakeries are also plentiful, most seeming to specialize in natas, custard similar to natillas in Spain but in a tart.

Like most places in the world the people are very friendly and helpful. Fewer speak English than in most other European countries, but they seem to understand my Portugues-Spanish-Italian-English gibberish, and I occasionally understand them.

Other than port the big tourist item is cork. You can buy cork purses, cork backpacks, cork wallets, cork jewelry, cork placemats, cork eyeglass frames, cork clothing, and yes, even cork corks. 

Douro River Bridge

I’ve had a very nice couple of days in Porto. Tomorrow I will start walking north along the coast. It has been foggy and cool so it should be nice walking weather. My map is here.

Rome

Piazza di Venezia
I had a nice stay in Rome. I had the best thin crust pizza I’ve ever had at I Suppli, and perhaps the best biscotti at Biscottificio Innocenti. I walked to the coast at Ostia.

Ostia Antica
Walked the Via Appia.

Via Appia Antica

Tiber River

Capri, Positano, Vesuvio

From Florence I took the train south to Naples and the ferry to Capri, where I spent three days hiking.

Capri Sunset
Sentiero dei Fortini

It’s a small island, so the trails aren’t long, but they are vertical. The views are spectacular, with rock cliffs dropping to bright blue water.

Capri Cliffs

Returning to the mainland, I hiked up Vesuvio and explored the ruins at Herculaneum.

Vesuvio View
Herculaneum and Vesuvio

I finished off southern Italy by hiking the Path of the Gods from Positano to Praiano. The trail itself is relatively easy, but one must climb 1500 steps to get to the trail from Positano, then descend 1000 steps to Praiano, then back up the 1000 steps and down 1500 to return to Positano. But it deserves its name and is worth the climb.

Sentiero degli Dei
Sentiero degli Dei Hiking Companion

I’m in Rome for a few days, then London and home.

Colosseo