Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Vacation: Iceland, Day 10

Iceland, Day 10

We woke up on our last day to discover that we didn't get up early enough for a last-minute whale watching tour, so I was disappointed, but I was also well-rested, so I couldn't be too sad.

We had some time to kill, though, so Birk wanted to go eat some puffin. Yes, that's absolutely a thing in Iceland. I know they're cute, but they're probably delicious. (Think about it... ducks have more fat than chicken and they're more delicious. Puffins must have a ton of fat because of the climate they live in, so they should be even more delicious!) Based on the fact that I'm still conjecturing about what they taste like, you can probably guess that we didn't get to eat puffin. It was on the menu at a place around the corner, but (1) it was closed that early in the day, and (2) it was only on the dinner menu, not the lunch menu.

We did a little shopping and wandering, and saw Hallgrimskirkja from down the street (a big beautiful church):

We reconvened at the van, drove back to Keflavik, and got onto the plane to come home. (I watched Argo, which was very good, and most of A.I. which I've seen dozens of times before.)

In DC, we went through the slow customs process (something we didn't do ANY of at the other airports... take whatever you want to France and Iceland, apparently, but be careful bringing that jelly into the States). You declare as a family, so I declared separately, since I'm not legally family to the rest of our group (yet!)... I got straight through, then had to wait because Elaine had a sandwich. (China has H7N9 right now, so they had to go through the rigorous task of... asking her what country it came from, not hearing "China," and waving them through.)

Sultan picked up Sarah, we got back to the van, and we drove home. Except... It isn't exactly a Birk family vacation until something goes very wrong.

Yup, that's a busted-up tire. It started flapping about 4 miles before the HRBT, and went ka-chunk about a mile before it. Birk pulled over, and before we could even open a door, there was a VDOT assistance vehicle pulled up behind us. The whole process of changing the tire didn't even set us back 15 minutes, and they said they'd watch us on the traffic cams through the tunnel just in case. So, as far as vacation disasters go, it doesn't get much better than that.

We were back in the apartment (and snuggling Gimli) by 1am, happy to be home but happy to have gone on such a great vacation! Back to real life now...

The Vacation: Iceland, Day 9

Iceland, Day 9

(Again, that's day 9 of the trip, which is day 2 of Iceland.)

We spent the whole day wandering around Reykjavik, which is such a neat city. It's a perfect halfway point between Paris and home, I think. Everyone speaks English (but among themselves, they spoke Icelandic), stores let you use their bathrooms whether you buy anything or not, all the housing we saw was apartments... etc.

Yup, that's an internet meme in a sushi ad in Iceland.

If I'm not mistaken, that's the Arctic Ocean.

Still think that's the Arctic Ocean.

And that is a Lebowski Bar.

Street art is awesome in Reykjavik! (To be fair, it's also awesome in Paris.)

We were taking pictures of each other and a woman sitting in a car
in the parking lot of a fast food place called out the window to us,
asking if we were tourists and if we wanted her to take our photo together.
It was very sweet of her, and she took about a dozen for us to choose from.

Viking boat statue

The road is blocked to cars in several spots with these neon bike gates.
Also up and down this street were neon-painted benches and picnic tables.
We went to dinner at a place called Snaps (where I had the catch of the day, which was salmon, and delicious, with mashed cauliflower which was more delicious than cauliflower has any right to be, and a cabbage-and-beet slaw type of salad, which was a lot like the one you can get at Busch Gardens in the Festhaus... and therefore delicious).

Birk made me stay up til midnight so we could get this photo of the midnight sun:

The color is almost exactly right; that's what the sky looks like at
midnight in Reykjavik in July (8pm at home... I love that my phone
wanted to make sure I knew what time it was at home while I was roaming).
And thus ended our last night abroad... One day to go!

The Vacation: Iceland, Day 8

Iceland, Day 8

(To clarify, that means day 8 of the vacation, not day 8 of Iceland. We only spent two days in Iceland. You didn't miss something.)

So we got up in Paris, packed up, hopped on the shuttle van, got to Charles de Gaulle, and boarded a plane to Keflavik, Iceland. There wasn't much to photograph until we saw our apartment, so here's that.

It was impossible to describe via photo, but I'll try with words. If you walk in the front door and turn left, you work your way clockwise through the living room, bathroom, kitchen (back of the apartment), bedroom 1, bedroom 2, and you're back at the front door again. You can only move around this apartment in a circle. Halls do not exist. It was weird and unusual and very expensive because this is Reykjavik so of course it is.

On our way to dinner, we saw this! Spelled the same and everything!
I don't know what this building is, but I prefer to keep it a mystery.
We went to dinner at a seafood place called the Sea Baron, which was in a credit card commercial a while back, and the old man who owns it (and was in the commercial) is really milking that for all it's worth. He handed out postcard photos of himself from the commercial (signed on the back!) and was clearly very proud of it.

We had an assortment of foods, including their famous lobster soup (which, for someone who doesn't eat soups and isn't a big fan of lobster, was quite good) and char (a fish similar to salmon) and scallops (which I tried for the first time... not a fan, but they aren't terrible, I guess) and... WHALE. It was minke whale, and it tasted like very iron-rich steak, and it was done medium-rare, and it was delicious.

It looks like steak! Partially because of the color, partially because
of the texture, and partially because it's on Birk's plate.

The Vacation: Paris, Day 7

Paris, Day 7

Day 7 was our last day in Paris. We took it easy, sleeping in and wandering around Montmartre again.

We found this shop called Alexine... it was closed,
with a notice on the door that said something about
non-payment of some kind of bill or tax or something.

That evening, the entire family went to a cooking class. First we went to the various markets (fromagerie, boulangerie, poissonnerie...) to collect our fresh ingredients.

We took our ingredients back and started cooking!

We made a salad with haricots verts, artichoke, a yummy dressing with shallots, etc... poached then pan-fried skate with wilted spinach, Grenoblaise style... cheese plate (below)... and dessert was minced mango with ginger, sauteed pineapple with vanilla and rum, whipped cream, and crispy coconut wafer cookies. Yum!

That bright orange cheese is actually illegal in the USA, because
the thick rind is aerated by mites who tunnel through it.
After the class, we met up with Dana, who was in Paris for the weekend to see family.

And then we took our last photo in Paris:

The Vacation: Paris, Day 6

Paris, Day 6

To get some different shots of the Eiffel Tower, we started at Trocadero Gardens.

On our way to our next stops, we went through the Concorde metro station, which - on one platform - looks like this:

Check out the letters to the right of my head.
I honest-to-goodness don't know if the tile right behind
my head is an A, but let's pretend it is.
Outside of that stop is the Obelisk, which was originally erected at the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Louis-Phillippe had it brought to France, and it was placed in the Place de la Concorde in 1833. (Birk bought the beret for his international hat collection. I told him to put it on for the photo. I think he wanted that on the record.)

From there, we entered the Tuileries (gardens, not the palace) and wandered around that for a bit. We got to the other end and realized the Louvre was right there (I thought it would be further down the Seine).

No, we did not go into the Louvre. It wasn't high enough on our priority list to make the cut this time, so I guess we'll just have to go back to France! Darn...

We went back through the Tuileries to get lunch at a little stand (sandwich and Coke) and we both used a pay toilet. (Not something I would normally mention but... pay toilets. Not my favorite thing in France.)

We left the Tuileries and walked down the Seine, stopping to check out Pont Neuf and Pont de l'Archeveche (the new most-popular place for love locks).

We did not add one, but I considered it.
Then we continued on to the Ile de la Cite, where we found the Conciergerie. That's the prison that has held lots of famous people, but most notably, Marie Antoinette before her beheading. (I promise that I tried to take a photo of her cell, but I couldn't get it quite right, and it's all done up as a reconstruction which I never like anyway.)

Birk said the hall of the Conciergerie looked like Moria.
I don't disagree with that statement.
Right next door to the Conciergerie is the entrance to the Palais, inside of which you can find La Sainte-Chappelle (the Holy Chapel) which holds the most stunning display of stained glass windows you can find anywhere. My photos really don't do it justice, and you'd be better off finding Elaine's photos or just Googling it. It's just incredible.

It doesn't look half as impressive here as it does in real life. Not even 1/4 as much.
(This was the number four thing on my must-see list, and I'm so glad we went. It was soooo beautiful.)

Then we went to see the Notre Dame, which is of course large and beautiful and the bells started ringing after we got there, which is pretty cool.

The very eyes of Notre Daaaaaaaaaaame!
(Don't get it? Go watch Hunchback of Notre Dame. RIGHT NOW. DO IT.)
We went back to the apartment after that, and went to dinner at Pain Quotidien on the corner. (It's a chain that can be found in the US too, but it was still very French.) We both had tartines (open faced sandwiches). Birk had a very good beer that I swear I only photographed to see if we could find it when we got home:

 And we finished the night with Christopher's recommendation of crepe: beurre et sucre (butter and sugar)!


The Vacation: Paris, Day 5

Paris, Day 5

Okay, buckle up; we got a LOT done on this day.

First, we went to the Musee de Rodin, which was one of my top three "must-see" things on the trip, because I love Rodin's sculptures.

Birk isn't unhappy to be here; he's imitation the guy just over his shoulder.

One of my favorites (took forever to get a photo without people all up in it)

There were lots of varieties of pretty roses

I argue with a statue about his public nudity

"Sir, I really must insist..."

Birk turned into an art student for a second and took this awesome photo of Le Penseur

M. le Penseur... qui pensant

Birk with what I can only guess is the Gate to Hell

...and a tiny baby on the side of it

I couldn't take photos of The Kiss, unfortunately (it's inside, with signs about photography, and how you can't do it, and it's guarded...) So, having had our fill of sculpture, we moved on past Les Invalides.

It's a veteran's hospital that was built because Louis XIV wanted to
take care of them, but out of the public eye (because wounded vets
sort of contradict the appealing view of war he was trying to use
for recruiting). Napoleon is buried here.

Moving on from there, we found the Eiffel Tower.

So that's what it looks like.

And then Birk picked it up with his mighty grip

From there, we walked over to the Seine, crossed a bridge (I never was entirely sure which one... the next one closest to the Eiffel Tower from Pont l'Alma, I guess) and went to see the Flame of Liberty. It's a replica of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty in New York, installed as a symbol of the good nature between our two countries.

It happens to be right over top of the tunnel where Princess Diana died, so there's a lot of graffiti in her name.

When we got back to the apartment, we decided to get sushi from the place across the street (Sushi Shop) for dinner, to see what French sushi is like. (Spoiler: It's just as good as home, with their own unusual "weird" rolls, like the Fried Chicken and the Caesar.) They do delivery, but since they were right across the street, we walked over and picked it up.

Fun language story: At the bottom of the online order form, it tells you the things you can have for free (ginger, wasabi, etc) and asks how many you want of each. One of the things was "pairs of baguettes." This being France, I figured it's just because they put bread with every meal, regardless, and I couldn't understand why they'd be in pairs. So I added a pair to the cart just to see what they were like. Hey, they were free! Well, we get our food, and take it back, and discover that we only have one pair of chopsticks... Yeah, that's what they meant. Anything long and skinny is called a "baguette" there.

Pictured: baguettes. (Also, the cutest little soy sauce bottle I've ever seen.)
Later that night, we decided to check out the Musee de l'Erotisme. Yes, that's the Museum of Eroticism, appropriately placed on the street (Boulevard de Clichy) full of sex shops and strip clubs. It was very interesting... the first couple floors were artifacts and ancient art and things like that. Then there were three floors above that, each dedicated to a different artist (one photographer, one who does pencil drawings, and one - not my favorite - who did what I can only describe as crude humor in lots of different mediums). (Fair warning: the next two photos are MILDLY inappropriate. MILDLY.)

If you can't figure out why Birk's doing that, look at the small statue to the left of him.
(Your left, not his.)

There were a couple of collections of these sculptures on the walls of the first couple floors.
Caption: Phallus jardinier, arrosant sa plantation de trous de culs. Too cute.
And that is finally the end of Day 5! We got a lot done that day. Stay tuned... Day 6 was also pretty busy!