January In Iceland, Part II, Snorkeling the Silfra Fissure

On our second day in Iceland, we dove right in (pardon the pun!) and took the trip out to Thingvellir National Park to go snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, a crack in the earth where two tectonic plates – North America and Eurasia are ripping apart at a rate of 2 cm a year.

When you think of snorkeling, it is probably an image of some place in the Bahamas. Warm, tropical, and bathing suit clad. We were in long underwear (mine were pink! They were on sale…) and wrangled into an under layer with a thick dry suit over layer that had latex fittings around the wrists and head. Pushing through that latex smashed my nose flat, and I was completely out of my comfort zone as the gear went on. The latex gripped around your neck so tightly, as to not let in any water. They call it a dry suit for a reason! I have no fear of water, so the physical part of snorkeling was going to be fine. Mike is more comfortable on top of an icy mountain than in the water, so this was his first time, and it turned out that he was an immediate natural!

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We suited up in the bitter cold, my hands in so much pain from the wind chill, and waddled out to the entry area, lined up with other groups, awaiting our turn to get on the platform. We moved slowly down the platform stairs and put on the flippers, had some instruction from our guides, and were all amused when we had to spit in our masks to get out the fog.

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It was go time. Heel walking down the steps, we submerged. The first few seconds were an adjustment. The water was someplace in the mid 30 degrees F. The suit felt bulky, and my forehead, exposed, felt like an “ice cream brain freeze” but just then, at that moment…. I relaxed and looked down, and focused on the beauty that surrounded me. In that second, all of the previous awkwardness slipped away and the pure rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins!

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We slowly moved along in our group, through the shallows, looking at beautiful rock formations and layers of color, so very different from those Caribbean waters, but just as spectacular. Knowing that we were looking at this special and unique place on Earth was so exciting, and its significance was not lost on us. Glacier waters, filtered by lava and so pristine that you could drink the water while swimming. I didn’t drink intentionally, but got water in the snorkel when I was being overconfident, and doing some fancy moves in the water 🙂

Moving on, the shallows opened up to an area called the “Silfra cathedral” and the bottom dropped out from underneath us, vast and beautiful. The visibility is 100 metres. There are no fish swimming in the fissure – they stay in the big Thingvellir Lake, where the fissure feeds. We did not snorkel out there, therefore saw no fish, just the ancient rock formations and limited growth of algae and “troll hair” (I love that description!) By turning your head in the water, you could observe vibrant layers of color. I popped my head up a few times for photo ops, I stole a few moments to look around and really soak in where I was. If ever I “lived in the moment,” it was right then. Check out the video:

Silfra Fissure Snorkeling in January

After about 35 minutes, we exited the water with help, as our limbs were pretty chilled, and walked back to the staging area, cold and wet. Our tour company was wonderful and obviously prepared, with a warm trailer to change in, and provided us with hot chocolate and cookies, which were sweet and delicious. I felt like a little kid coming in from the winter snow, enjoying that small pleasure. Getting the chill out took a while, and I fought the shivers for a bit, but getting out of your comfort zone is what it is all about! On a funny note, the Aussie woman that was part of our group, turned and looked at me with a wild-eyed look and exclaimed “What the F&%# were we thinking!!??” (Say that with an Australian accent.) Priceless! I laughed so hard at that one! Our guides were Icelandic transplants from Milan, Italy and Namibia. Stefano (Stefanino…little Stefano and Luis.) Two places that seem so foreign from both Iceland and scuba diving, but here they were, and certainly the real deal, as they were effortless pros! They told historical tales on the drive out, and were jovial and quite patient with our equipment fumbling.
We’d worked up an appetite and asked our guides where we could get an Icelandic lunch and a hearty soup…authentic stuff! They’d dropped us off at Kaffi Loki right across the street from Hallgrímskirkja and we took a second floor table to get a great glimpse of the church during lunch.

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I had mashed fish, herring, and rye bread ice cream (yum!.)  Mike had a meaty, stick to your ribs soup and we shared a Viking beer.  We took the plunge and ordered the fermented shark, and our sweet server strongly recommended chasing it down with a shot of Brennivín – A rye/licorice tasting (found out that it’s actually flavored with caraway… which now makes sense!) Icelandic schnapps. Ok… the shark. Tasted/smelled like solid nail polish remover and was horrible! HA! We had a lot of fun with that. We started noticing the lanterns everywhere… on the steps, windows. So cozy and romantic…every corner filled with light.

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Out of the Kaffi and back to take some photo’s of Hallgrímskirkja in the light, and a hand in hand walk back through town. We ate like Vikings!, we exclaimed, and kept shouting out “Valhalla!” during the rest of our trip. It was our battle cry!

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We felt so incredibly present. A perfect day in Iceland.

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Recommendations:

https://www.dive.is/ Book with Dive Iceland. Tell them Travel Debutante sent you. I will definitely go back and do it again. They were well organized and the guides were great. The entire team was helpful and upbeat.

http://loki.is/    Kaffi Loki   28, Lokastígur, Reykjavík, right across the street from Hallgrímskirkja.

Little things:

  • Eat a decent breakfast. Our guide told us he only gets cold when he doesn’t eat. Fuel the furnace!
  • Don’t skimp on the under layers. Get good long-underwear. I skimped, but got lucky. Don’t be me!
  • Wear two pairs of wool socks. Saved me!
  • Bring dry clothes just in case
  • Go-Pro… A must! Look at Mike’s footage! You’ll never get the shots underwater without it.
  • Hand-warmers. Didn’t have them that day. Would have helped
  • Gloves: Keep them on as long as you can. It is the wind whipping exposure that makes it painful. The temperatures weren’t that extreme.
  • Don’t wear earrings or jewelry.
  • Be patient while getting on the gear.
  • Order the fermented shark. You have to! Make sure to video your reactions

 

California in Two Days

There are places we find pleasant and enjoy visiting, and there are others that touch our soul. The South Bay area of southern California is such a place for me. South Bay is defined geographically as the area between El Segundo down the Pacific Coast Highway, as far south as  San Pedro, on the southern end of the Santa Monica Bay.  I’d been tasked over the last 6 years to visit for my job. For all of the stressful work days, my ultimate reward was finding this area, and the gift to be able to explore it.

It had been several months since I’d visited and was glad to be back. I resided for two short nights at the Portofino Hotel and Marina. www.hotelportofino.com. This boutique hotel sits on an outcropping of land between the pacific ocean and King Harbor in Redondo Beach. I’ve stayed here many times, and each time I’m filled with wonder as if I’ve stepped into a daydream. Walking into the lobby, your line of sight is filled with what is called “the living room.”  Soaring ceilings, a fireplace that is always lit, dreamy colors in various seaglass hues, are a warm hug to the travel weary corporate soldier. A diamond patterned wall treatment with lighting gives the effect of living inside a jewelry box. I’ve spent many an evening curled up in the cushioned window seat, with the cool pacific breeze blowing through the open windows.

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Just down the ornate hallway, was my cozy room. A mix of sunny and nautical colors and decorative mouldings and textures make the rooms feel opulent and sweet at the same time. Graceful. One of the real reasons I come back, time after time, is to experience the very vocal neighbors just over the sea wall…the sea lions. The Portofino embraces their relationship, and the beds are dressed with not only comfy pillows but a sea lion stuffed animal, available for purchase, with a portion going to an organization that benefits the sea lions. I immediately change clothes and slip into their white, plush robe and sit on my little balcony and watch the sea and listen to the serenade from my barking and croaking friends out in the water. Truly, there is nothing more gorgeous than  a sunset over the pacific ocean.  This time around, it was raining and the sky was grey and mercurial, which made the landscape very dramatic.

While I am there for work and not much play, I maximize my off hours with wonderful experiences. “Thumbnails,” I’ve dubbed them. During my expedited trip this time around, I caught an early dinner at Kincaid’s www.kincaids.com  on the pier, in Redondo Beach. I was spoiled with clams and calamari and their basil gimlet which I would equate to a spa treatment. The herby goodness of the basil assails the senses, and the seafoam color of the cocktail evoke a zen feeling after a long travel day of late flights and long hours.

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My co-worker and I went to Baleen Kitchen for a nightcap to warm up…. The weather being a little blustery. Baleen Kitchen is the Portofino Hotel’s restaurant and lounge. It is  a mix of funky lounge music, dark wood accents, light fabrics, Plush wing backed chairs and another roaring fire. We immediately grabbed the vacant wing-backed chairs that flank the fireplace, and had a fireside business chat over Irish coffee. A perfect ending to the evening and a short walk across the driveway to the hotel.

We began our next day at Baleen, as well, with breakfast overlooking King Harbor. One of the most relaxing ways to start a day. Just watching the water from a window side table, and the play of light from the cloudy sky is a meditation in itself. I ate hard poached eggs over arugula. A simple, delicious pleasure.

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right-oneWe repeated our second day and evening routines, with the addition of a dinner in Los Alamitos, www.originalfishcompany.com with our vendor, and I greedily ate a bowl of Prince Edward Island Mussels, with more bread than I care to confess!!

I drove back to the Portofino and on the walk back from the car, spotted three sea lions in the harbor and stood there for a while, making croaking and barking sounds back at them. We’d communicated! The translation was – thank you for visiting us, you must come back, darling! I will gladly oblige my sweet marine bound friends. This place has a piece of my heart and it always feels like home.

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As I do every time I visit, on the way to the airport, I don’t take the freeway or the main roads. I drive up the coast through Hermosa Beach, to Manhattan Beach, and pull over and snap pictures of the most picturesque pier. I take five minutes to reflect on the beauty of the pacific and the interesting mix of life in my small slice of California. Until next time, my South Bay!
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Wanderlust

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Wanderlust is such a juicy, beautiful word. Appropriate to kick off this blog. My favorite definition: “a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering.” Wandering doesn’t have to be a grand tour of a far-away place. Wandering can be a meandering of back roads, and picking up a bushel of fruit at a farm stand, or a deep, dark coffee and a sugary pastry in a café or small town eatery. Most definitely, wandering can be a big scale, multi-airport soiree, too. The deliciousness of planning the trip, with research and maps and pictures…modern day explorers!

I’m a seeker. Whether it be my own personal dream vacation, or a mandatory corporate trip, there is never, not once ever, a time that I have not taken a little slice of the local flavor home with me. A memory. If that could be my one piece of advice to the world… it would be this: experience one real thing about everywhere you go. Don’t eat in the chains and go to the mall, or take the tour bus. Don’t play it safe. Eat the squid on the stick (more about that later) and visit the small shop, have a quick drink in the corner pub, walk down that side street and peek at the houses and dream about what it would be like to live there, and pick your favorite things. That is your gift. Not the T-shirt or the selfie. It’s the moment that you dared to live a little bit outside of your herd, outside of your comfy bubble. Do it wherever you go.

Thus, I kick off this blog with a photo of the water in Venice, circa 1984. I paid for my own trip to Italy by checking coats in a restaurant. I earned it a dollar at a time. A silly 14 year old girl that was worried about boys and clothes and superficial things, and yet somehow, through that haze of American teendom, was bulldozed over with wanderlust. My cappuccino at St. Marks Square in Venice has clung to me like an exotic perfume,  all of these years later. I can see the silver tray, the white cup, the frothy milk, and feel the April sun in the medieval piazza. The quest began on that trip, and has never ceased.