Thursday, June 14, 2018

Stay Tuned...

I'm finding that with the extra daylight hours we're sightseeing until late in the evening and I'm too tired to upload pictures and compose a blog entry. So I think I will wait until we return to write the rest of the trip report. Check back next week for pictures and details about Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday's activities.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Iceland - Snaefellsnes

Tuesday morning we had a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I tried some skyr, an Icelandic dairy product similar to Greek yogurt, but not the same. It was good. After breakfast we returned to the room and prepared for a day of sightseeing on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

We headed out of Reykjavik and turned north toward Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord). We opted to skip the 6km tunnel that spans the fjord and instead made the 60km or so drive around the fjord. The scenic drive was definitely worth the extra time.

After completing the fjord drive we continued north around the top side of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, stopping at our first 'named' waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss. In fact we saw a number of waterfalls before even getting to Kirkjufellsfoss. Some impressive enough to be worthy of a name if they did not have one.

We stopped for fuel and lunch a little ways past the waterfall, then proceeded around the tip of the peninsula as we entered Snaefellsjokull National Park. Our weather had been good up to this point, but as we headed south along the western end of the peninsula a heavy mist pervaded the air. To our left was Mt. Snaefellsjokull, an active volcano capped by a glacier. This is the location that served as the entry to the subterranean world in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. I hoped to get a picture but it was shrouded in the mist. We stopped at Djúpalónssandur for some pictures of the black sand beach, then headed to the Vatnshellir cave. The hour wait for a tour turned us against staying since it was getting late and we had more stops to make.

Moving on we saw the Londrangar cliffs with hundreds of nesting fulmars. There were also supposed to be puffins, but we did not see any. We continued on to Arnarstapi to see more cliffs and the arch. We also saw the stone sculpture of the troll man Bárður. Finally we started back towards Reykjavik. This time we took the Hvalfjordur tunnel, saving some time but costing some cash.

We got back to Reykjavik in time for a late dinner at a restaurant next to the hotel. Janet enjoyed some fish & chips, and I had Icelandic meat soup with a salad. I washed it down with a mojito made with Brennivin. Tomorrow we visit the south coast.




Snaefellsnes Peninsula Pictures
(Click pictures for a larger view)
Distant waterfall

Faxafloi bay
Water cascade on the Hvalfjörður 
Water cascade

Water cascade on the fjord

Hvalfjörður 

Road hog sheep

Snaefellsnes peninsula

Unnamed waterfall seen from the highway

Kirkjufell mountain
In front of Kirkjufell mountain

Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufellfoss
Scenic Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Scenic Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Djúpalónssandur black sand beach
Djúpalónssandur black sand beach

Snaefellsjokull shrouded in mist

Londrangar volcanic towers

Fulmars nesting in Londrangar clifs


Londrangar cliffs with basalt columns

Longrangar cliffs

Bárður statue
Bárður statue

Arch at Arnarstapi cliffs

Sunlight finally breaks through on the return trip
Sunlit mountainside


Monday, June 11, 2018

Iceland - Travel Day

Sunday we left for our Iceland trip. We had a 6:15 flight to Frankfurt on United, followed by a 12 hour layover before our connection on Lufthansa to Reykjavik, scheduled to arrive 11:30 pm Monday night. The United flight departed and arrived pretty much on time. Passport control in Frankfurt took a long time, but after that it was a breeze to collect our bag and exit the airport.  We had a room reserved at the Sheraton hotel connected to the airport and checked in for some time to relax and nap. We had lunch in the hotel restaurant.

We returned to the airport and checked our bag for the Reykjavik flight then went to the Lufthansa airline lounge to wait for the flight. About 20 min before boarding we went to the gate to find another flight was still in the gate and our boarding would be delayed. When boarding for our flight was finally announced we lined up and made our way to what we thought was a jetbridge, but were surprised to find we were boarding a bus to take us to the aircraft. There were stairways to doors at both ends of the plane for boarding. The plane was not very full so boarding finished quickly and there were no issues with overhead luggage space. In fact we were asked to relocate to the exit row because it was empty and there had to be someone in each exit row, so we ended up with extra legroom to boot.

In addition to the delayed boarding, the departure for Reykjavik was also delayed so we arrived in Reykjavik at 12:15 am, about 45 minutes late. We collected our bag quickly and made our way to pick up the rental car, then drove about 45 minutes to the hotel. The hotel is very nice although a bit tricky to find. We were given a nice room overlooking the main street and an arrival gift of sweets was waiting for us in the room. The room has nice amenities including bathrobes and slippers, plus a tea kettle which always makes Janet happy. We settled in quickly. It was a long trip and we were ready for sleep.

Travel Day Pictures
(click pictures for a larger view)
Skyscrapers poke above the clouds as we fly over Chicago

Midnight sunrise as we fly north toward Iceland

Super size 'roomba' in the Keflavik airport

We're here!

Looking forward to sightseeing

Outside Keflavik airport in the middle of the night

Complimentary sweets

Hotel room

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Iceland Bon Voyage

We are about to depart for Iceland. It is the new hot tourist destination and United Airlines opened a new route there this year which piqued our interest. We're flying to Reykjavik (Rake yah vick) with a connection in Frankfurt each way. It's a roundabout itinerary, but it all adds to the lifetime premier status goal.

We'll have about four days of sightseeing, and have planned out the points of interest we hope to include. It's a new destination for us and sure to be an adventure.

Click for an interactive view

2018 Six Month Recap

It has been over six months since I've added anything new here. I mostly use this space for trip reports and I have had a few trips within the past 6 months. The first was to Maui in January. I don't usually report on our Maui trips since they've become an annual event, and anything I'd have to say would get repetitious. We did make this trip special by including a dinner at Mama's Fish House.

Maui Rainbow

Mama's Fish House
In February we made a quick trip to Las Vegas. This started out to be just a miles run, returning the same day without even staying at a hotel because the airfare was super cheap. However, weather turned bad in Chicago that weekend, and United posted a travel waiver which allowed us to re-book our flights for no charge so we actually ended up staying for 2 nights. To top it off I had a lucky streak in the casinos and came home ahead for a change.

Vegas Visitors
April was McDonald's biennial World Wide Convention which took me to Orlando for 2 weeks. While this was a work trip, and there was plenty of work; I also enjoyed company sponsored activities almost every night, including a visit to Universal Studios, and some nice dinner outings. After the convention was over we booked a few nights at a Disney resort and visited the Disney parks too.
Convention Visitors
Convention Visitors
In June I retired from McDonalds. Including my time as a consultant, I worked there in I/T for 25 years. McDonald's helped fuel my love of travel with business trips to Denver, Raleigh, Orlando and a number other places including international destinations like like Brazil, Germany, and Australia. The generous vacation allowance and the unique sabbatical benefit allowed for plenty of personal travel as well.

Soon we will leave for our first post retirement trip. It's refreshing to be able to plan an itinerary without concern for returning in time for work. As a result, some of our upcoming trips are longer than the 4-5 day overseas weekends we've done in the past; although the freedom to take advantage of last minute travel bargains may result in a few quick getaways. Watch this space to see what transpires.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Double Down on Bitcoin

Recently I was discussing Bitcoin's growth with some family members, each of whom have at least some vested interest in the cryptocurrency. It was pointed out that as of the date of the discussion, Bitcoin had doubled in value 5 times in a little over 2 years. The question was posed as to when (or if) it would double again. We each made our guesses and second guessed as well. We've yet to know who guessed best.

But I started wondering about how often Bitcoin actually has doubled. I didn't go back all the way to the first recorded price on an exchange, although that might be interesting to try. Instead I chose a date around the time I first heard of Bitcoin which was in September of 2012. I got my dates and prices from https://99bitcoins.com/price-chart-history/

On September 1st 2012, bitcoin was selling for 9.99.  By the time I actually bought some in April of 2013, it had doubled 3 times and was selling for more than $80. It continued to double 3 more times in 2013, passing $640 on Nov 18. Prices continued to rise that November, but fell off before crossing the $1280 hurdle. It took over 3 years before it doubled again on April 26, 2017. Since then it has doubled 3 more times when it crossed $10240 in November of 2017.

So that's 3 doubles between when I heard of Bitcoin and when I bought some, 3 more doubles from when I bought it through the end of that year, 3 years until it doubled again, and 3 more doubles from then until now. I've done some calculations based on my Bitcoin holdings and believe that I would be willing to cash it in if it doubles 3 more times.

Seems like something almost divine about the number 3. 😇

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Shanghai

Here's a report on our recent trip to Shanghai. This time only 3 weeks ex post facto.

Day 1 Nov 3
We always leave early for the airport. You never know if there will be unexpected traffic, trouble parking, or other unpreventable delays. Then there are also the preventable delays that sometimes happen anyway. We've experienced a few of those as well. This trip we arrived early with plenty of spare time. During the check in process, we had to show our China entry visas. That's when we discovered that one of the visas was affixed to an old passport that recently expired and was replaced. A visa attached to an old passport is still valid, but the old passport was at home, not with us. The agent said she could put us on the following day's flight, but we had hotel and tour deposits we would lose if we arrived a day late for our already short visit. For a few panicked minutes we debated if there was time to go back for the old passport and decided to try. I stayed at the airport while Janet drove home for the document. She shrewdly enlisted our grandson Austin to go to our house and find the passport, after which he drove it to a meeting point near the tollway exit. Janet made the turnaround and got back to the airport as fast as she safely could. She notified me when she was parked and the kind ticket agent began the check in process, completing it barely minutes before the cutoff. We made it through security and arrived at the gate halfway into boarding. We were relieved to be in our seats. The rest of the flight was uneventful but long.

We landed in Shanghai and got smoothly through immigration and customs. It was comforting to find our late checked bag made it to China with us. A Shangri-La hotel representative met us in the arrivals area and took us to the car. It was a very comfortable black sedan car. The ride to the hotel took about 45 minutes. We checked in to our room and found it had a nice view of the Oriental Pearl Tower. We went to the club lounge for drinks and dinner then returned to the room to turn in early.

Day 1 Pictures
(click for a larger view)
Room at the Shangri-La

Shangri-La

Shangri-La

Oriental Pearl Tower from hotel room window

Shanghai World Financial Center and Jin Mao Tower

Illuminated building from hotel window

Evening Pearl Tower from hotel

Snacks in the Horizon Club

Horizon Club

Horizon Club fruits

Day 2 Nov 5
We slept well in a comfortable bed. Around 6:45 we woke up and got ready to go to breakfast. Our table was by a window and had a nice view of the Bund. After breakfast we returned to our room until it was time to meet our tour guide in the lobby.

Our first tour stop was the Jing’an temple. It is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in the middle of a busy commercial district. The temple has 4 Buddhas, one on each of the 4 sides with a large courtyard in the center. Worshippers in the courtyard buy incense sticks and bow 3 times in each direction with the lit incense held between their palms. Then they toss the sticks into an incense burner.  We walked through the courtyard and then visited each of the Buddhas. Our guide Ruby told us the story of each of the Buddhas. We also saw the huge temple drum and bell.

Our driver picked us up near the temple and drove us to the old French Concession area. We walked around this neighborhood that once was occupied by affluent families in houses that had a stone rectangular arch at the entrance, known as stone gate houses. These houses eventually came to be occupied by multiple families that lived there in poor conditions. Now most of the stone gate houses are gone and the area has been redeveloped into a restaurant and shopping district.

Next we drove to the Bird and Flower market and walked the aisles between the many vendors of birds, flowers, fish, and most of all crickets. You can buy a large cricket in a jar to take home filling your house a peaceful(?) chirping sound. Of interest were the several cats that were perched at some of the vendor booths as if they were guarding the wares.

From the bird market we took a short walk through the Yuyuan Bazaar with many intersecting streets of shops and street food vendors and came to the entrance of the Yu Garden.

Yu Garden is a classic Chinese garden with water, plants, buildings, covered walkways, and rock formations. We walked all around the garden and enjoyed its beauty while our guide pointed out specific items of interest like the dragon wall and the jade stone rock.

After Yu Garden we walked through Shanghai Chinatown and did some shopping. Janet found a nice china teacup and I bought 2 hats. Our driver picked us up in Chinatown and took us to the Bund where we walked along the river promenade and had nice views of the old western style buildings on one side of the river and the futuristic skyscrapers across the river in Pudong. Then we got back in the car to ride to the other side of the river where we said goodbye to our driver near the Oriental Pearl Tower. Our guide took us on the short walk from there back to our hotel.

It was mid afternoon when we got back so we decided to head out on our own to see if we could visit the Pearl Tower observation floor. We found there was a 2 hour wait to visit the tower so instead we walked to the Shanghai World Financial Center building and visited the observation floors there. The SWFC building has a rectangular hole at the top, and the highest observation floor has a glass floor that looks down through the hole. We had some nice panoramic views of Shanghai and enjoyed the sunset from the top. After having a fun picture taken in a green screen booth, we made our way down and back to the hotel in time for drinks and dinner in the club lounge. We adjusted a little more to the time change and so were able to stay awake a bit longer.

Day 2 Pictures
Huangpu River and The Bund

Horizon Club

Breakfast fruits

Jing'An Temple

Jing'An Temple Court



Jing'An Temple

French Concession Area
French Concession Area

Flower and Bird Market

Live fish vendor. Can you find the cat?

Flower and bird market
Crickets in the flower and bird market

YuYuan Bazaar

YuYuan Bazaar

Yu Garden Entrance

Yu Garden

Dragon Wall in Yu Garden

Yu Garden

Shangri-La Hotel

Bund Promenade
Pudong Skyscrapers

Shanghai Disney Store

Left to right:
Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai Tower, Jin Mao Tower

View from top of Shanghai World Financial Center


Shanghai Chinatown, (or maybe just town?)


Oriental Pearl TV Tower


Day 3 Nov 6
I got up early (5:30) and showered while Janet made her chai tea. The day started out clear and we enjoyed watching the sunrise from our hotel window. We had breakfast in the club again at a nice window table, then returned to the room to get ready for the day's tour.

We met Ruby in the lobby and got into the car for the 1 hour ride to Zhujiajiao Watertown. Traffic wasn’t too bad but our driver was constantly weaving between the left and right lanes to pass slower traffic. We arrived at the Watertown and walked around with our guide Ruby. The watertown has a network of canals between groups of buildings with stone footbridges occasionally giving access to the opposite side. Ruby mentioned a few facts about the watertown history but mainly just guided us along the narrow streets bordered on both sides by shops. There were many shops offering food items ranging from something called Stinky Tofu, to what looked like smoked pigs feet. I sampled a crunchy rice snack that tasted like Rice Krispies. We did some shopping in the Watertown since that seemed to be the main purpose for being there other than taking pictures of the charming canals and buildings. After a couple of hours of walking around we returned to our car and driver and made the trip back to Shanghai. Traffic was heavier on the return trip and it took a little longer. We got dropped off at the hotel door this time and said goodbye to our driver Kola and guide Ruby. We stayed in the hotel room till a little after sunset, then walked to the ferry terminal a short way from the hotel. For 2 RMB (30¢) we rode a ferry to the other side of the river. We walked along the other side until we found the river cruise operator recommended by the concierge. We bought our tickets and stood in line waiting to board. There was a group of Chinese ladies in front of us and they asked if they could take pictures with Janet, so Janet posed for several photos and selfies with them.

We boarded the boat and grabbed a space along the railing on the top deck. We had a nice view of the Bund side  for the first half of the cruise and of the Pudong side on the return half. After the cruise we walked back to the ferry terminal and ferried back to the hotel side. Again a group of young Chinese girls wanted pictures with Janet. We walked back to the hotel and had dinner in the Yi Café.

Day 3 Pictures
Watertown Canal
Canal boat
Canal and buildings

Watertown buildings
Watertown

Watertown bridge

Watertown bridge

Covered wooden bridge

Clever art

Our tour guide, Ruby

Watertown shopping street
Stone footbridge
Shanghai Tower from ferry

Huangpu river cruise: The Bund
River Cruise video: The Bund

River cruise illuminated buildings

River cruise: Pudong

River cruise: Our hotel - Shangri-La

River cruise boat

Janet's groupies

Day 4 Nov 7
We had breakfast in the Horizon club again. I tried the eggs Benedict. Janet's eggs were under cooked and they forgot to bring her crepes. Everything got corrected though. After breakfast we returned to the room to pack. We weren't leaving until 12:30 so there was plenty of time. About noon we checked out and had a hotel car drive us to the Shanghai Maglev Train station. The Maglev train is a high speed train that travels 300 km/h and gets to the airport in 8 minutes. It was an exciting ride. Walking through the airport we saw a child playing in front of a large augmented reality screen. After we checked our bags and got our boarding passes we went back to try it. We couldn't get it to work but another young boy came over and it worked for him.  We checked in for our flight and got through security with a couple of hiccups since we both forgot we had umbrellas in our carry on that were supposed to be removed for the X-ray. We went to the Star Alliance lounge to relax until boarding time then went to the gate. Take off occurred without delay even though it was foggy. It was another long flight home but our economy plus bulkhead seats allowed us adequate comfort.

Our impressions of Shanghai were that it is an interesting modern city with preserved references back to older times. We were happy to have booked a guided tour, but we felt comfortable enough there to strike out on our own. That was a contrast to our experience in Beijing. We did not experience the traffic problems of Beijing either. We feel like we experienced a fascinating fragment of what Shanghai has to offer and are glad we went. We would likely return if an opportune airfare presents itself.

Day 4 Pictures
Maglev train

Maglev Train

Airport augmented reality game

Airport augmented reality