Reykjavik – World’s northernmost capital

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND: My 62nd country to visit – Iceland is a country of the Vikings, where trolls and elves live in the mountains and where Norse Gods like Odin, his powerful sons Thor and Loki were once worshiped. This modern Nordic island, in the North Atlantic Ocean in between Europe and North America has dramatic landscapes and extreme geological contrasts. On one hand, Iceland has some of the largest glaciers in Europe and on the other, it has some of the most active volcanoes in the world. This is a land of “Fire and Ice”. 

Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland

Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe with a population of only 350k and most of them live in the capital, Reykjavik. The country is big on exporting fish. Over 80% of the houses and buildings are heated by geothermal energy. 

Contemporary art by Trjonin Lake in Reykjavik, Iceland

Contemporary art by Trjonin Lake in Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, which means smokey or steamy bay, is the capital and the largest city of Iceland; also a focal point to start your journey in this island. Keflavik International Airport is a little less than an hour drive from the city center of Reykjavik. Flybus is a cheaper way to reach the capital. We took a taxi from the airport and paid about $130 USD one-way for 4 of us. Renting cars or camper vans are very popular here, especially if you are planning to explore the Ring Road. 

Walking around city center in Reykjavik, Iceland

Walking around city center in Reykjavik, Iceland

Few things to keep in mind while traveling to Iceland: currency here is Icelandic kronas or ISK. U.S. citizens don’t need visas for a short stay. Visiting this island nation can get very expensive, a lot more than mainland European countries. Good thing is tipping is not a popular culture here, in restaurants or in excursions. I didn’t see anyone tipping anywhere. For public transportation, Straeto mobile app for public bus is pretty handy where you can pay ahead of time, look at the map, and schedule for each route.

TIME of TRAVEL: It was during my kids’ summer break (end of July to be specific) when we flew to Iceland. My sister flew in from the East Coast. We met and stayed together in Reyjkavik during our whole stay. We were in Iceland for 5 nights. Although we were prepared for rain and sun with waterproof jackets, hats, rain boots, and hoodies, it barely rained during our stay…nothing we couldn’t have handled with just a t-shirt. But it does get chilly and windy in some places. So, being prepared doesn’t hurt, especially if you are traveling with children like I was. 

The sun used to set around midnight when we were there and it was out before 3am again. It didn’t get completely dark outside even with those couple hours without the sun. To see the complete midnight sun, June is the best time to visit Iceland. It only lasts for 2-3 weeks around that time. Summer is definitely the best time to explore since chances are that all of the sites will be easily accessible. It was a bit cloudy, gloomy, and drizzled a few times those few days. But I can imagine winter in Iceland would be very magical with snow covered mountains and landscapes. 

EATING and SHOPPING: Since Iceland is very expensive when it comes to…well, everything, my sister and I brought package food with us, like pre packaged udon soup from Costco, Ramen/cup noodles, tuna cans, and some snacks. We also made a trip to a 24/7 small grocery on Laugevaur to buy basic things like eggs, bread, oil, mayonnaise, fruits, and etc for breakfast where I paid around $60 for just a handful of few stuff. We still ate out for a few meals and the cost for some of those plates were A LOT. But when you are in Iceland, you have to try their lamb and seafood. There are lots of American chain fast food restaurants also, like Subway, Taco Bell, KFC and etc. Even the 6 inch Subway sandwich we had for one meal, I paid about $12. 

Laugevaur Street is packed with a variety of restaurants. Our first lunch was at Shanghai, a small Chinese on Laugavegur strip. Do stop at Sandholt for coffee and pastries. I loved its contemporary looking interior and lots of desserts options. Another awesome place to dine in Reykjavik is Icelandic Street Food on Laugevaur street…while I wasn’t a big fan of their “Volcanic Soup”…a smokey tomato based soup, the pan-fried cod was perfect. 

For one of the lunches, we came to Messinn’s…few minutes walk from the Trjonin Lake. Saltfish mousse with rye bread for appetizer is something I’ve never tried before and was tasty beyond expectation. For the main course, we all had Icelandic fish. All the dishes came with potatoes and spinach. Lastly for dessert, apple crumbles with ice cream was a yum. Icelandic lamb and seafood were my most favorite items here. I could eat seafood here at every meal if the price wasn’t like $30 per plate. We had lamb only once …it was exceptionally flavorful and perfectly cooked. 

Our lunch at Messinn’s in Reykjavik, Iceland

Our lunch at Messinn’s in Reykjavik, Iceland

For souvenirs, Laugevaur would be a great choice. Icelandic wool products, like socks, hats, gloves are definitely popular souvenirs. We bought a few wool products from the Icelandic brand store, Icewear. These items run very expensive….woolen sweaters can be a couple hundred dollars. Miniature Viking ships, beer-mugs, trolls, and elves are fun items to bring back home. I bought some lava soaps, Icelandic chocolate bars, a photo book of Iceland, and bracelets made from real volcanic stones. 

Trolls of Iceland

Trolls of Iceland

MY HOTEL: We stayed in Sif Apartment, very close to the center of Reykjavik. You will find lots of apartment style hotels in the capital. Sif Apartment is a newly renovated stylish, Scandinavian looking building with new furniture, features, and everything. There was no front desk on site but their great communication and accurate instructions made it very easy for us to check-in and to store our luggage in their facility before our check-in time. The apartment is located only 15 minutes walk from the city center and the big touristic spots, like Sun Voyager or Harpa. Hlemmur, one of the main bus stations in central Rekjavik, was only 2-3 minutes walk away from our hotel. 

Sif Apartment in Reykjavik, Iceland - our hotel

Sif Apartment in Reykjavik, Iceland – our hotel

PLACES I’VE VISITED: We had about a day and a half to really explore the capital. While Reykjavik is very scenic and ready to entertain its guests with different tastes, the most fascinating part of Iceland is outside the capital. There are lots of excursions that you can take from Reykjavik with different options and price ranges. The best and cheapest way to roam around is renting a car with a GPS and go around the Ring Road. Good thing is that most of the sites here don’t have entry fees. 

The actual downtown area is pretty small and the focal point of tourism. Walking around the city center which is characterized by Scandinavian style colorful houses is nice and highly recommended, since most of the attractions are within walking distance. 

Here are all the places we’ve visited in Reykjavik:

  1. LAUGAVEGUR DISTRICT: Laugavegur street is where we headed on our first day. It’s the main shopping street and the primary commercial hub of downtown Reykjavik…also, one of the oldest shopping strips in Iceland. After our lunch at Shanghai Chinese restaurant, we kept walking on Laugavegur. Options for souvenir shops, boutique or designer stores, cafes, and restaurants on Laugavegur are endless.
Laugavegur District in Reykjavik, Iceland

Laugavegur District in Reykjavik, Iceland

2. SUN VOYAGER: From Laugavegur district, it’s about 5 minutes walk to Sun Voyager. It’s a huge steel boat sculpture set on granite by the sea. 

Sun Voyager in Reykjavik, Iceland

Sun Voyager in Reykjavik, Iceland

3. HARPA: You can see the glass made honey-comb concert hall, Harpa, while walking by the water from Sun Voyager. It’s the home of national opera and symphony. The building opened back in 2011. It’s free to go in and look around. They also have few guided tours inside the building. We spend about half an hour walking around and checking out couple stores inside Harpa. 

Harpa in Reykjavik, Iceland

Harpa in Reykjavik, Iceland

4. HALLGRIMSKIRKJA or CHURCH of HALLGRIMUR: After our Golden Circle and Snaefellsness excursions, we spent a full day in Reykjavik downtown again. And this was our first stop. It’s about 10 minutes walk from Laugavegur street. 

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja is a striking architecture with 73 meter high tower, inspired by Icelandic traditions. But unfortunately, they were preparing for a concert and the church was closed to the public when we were there. The tower was open and visitors can climb it for a fee (although we didn’t do it). This is an iconic landmark of Iceland for its artistic and modern edifice.

5. AUSTURVOLLUR SQUARE/ICELAND PARLIAMENT/THE CATHEDRAL of REYKJAVIK: This is a tiny square in the heart of Reykjavik. Both the parliament and the national cathedral stand by Austorvollur square. 

Austorvollur square and the Icelandic Parliament in Reykjavik, Iceland

Austorvollur square and the Icelandic Parliament in Reykjavik, Iceland

The Icelandic Parliament is a classical 19th century structure built in 1881. Don’t let the size fool you…it is one of the important buildings in Reykjavik. Opposite of the parliament near Austurvollur is the Cathedral of Reykjavik. This is the seat of the Bishop of Iceland. Recent renovation reflect its original 18th century design. 

Cathedral of Reykjavik in Iceland

Cathedral of Reykjavik in Iceland

6. TRJONIN LAKE and TOWN HALL: This is a small but a prominent lake in central Reykjavik with the City Hall on one side. We passed along its shore and spent a few minutes. Few museums are close to this lake. There is also an outdoor restaurant right by it. 

Trjonin Lake and the Town Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland

Trjonin Lake and the Town Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland

 

7. OLD HARBOR and PUFFIN EXPRESS TOUR: This trip was put on our itinerary specifically for my 9-years old daughter. She loves animals and birds…and this was a perfect opportunity to get some real life education. We learned a lot about puffins and their history in Iceland. The short boat ride to the puffin island was enjoyable too. 

Old Harbor in Reykjavik, Iceland

Old Harbor in Reykjavik, Iceland

It was $57 per person for one hour boat ride to a nearby island where puffins live. It departs from the old harbor There are other places in Iceland where you can go puffin watching but this was something closer to Reykjavik that we could do. 

The Old Harbor is a starting point for most (if not all) of the water cruises/excursions to nearby sites. Few restaurants and cafes are here with different tour companies. 

From the Puffin Express Boat in Reykjavik, Iceland

From the Puffin Express Boat in Reykjavik, Iceland

IF I VISIT ICELAND AGAIN: If I come to Iceland again, which I probably will, I would stay in the same Sif Apartment for its location. I would also like to rent a car or a camper van to go around the Ring Road and visit some secret lagoons, beaches, hot springs, small villages, and especially some ice caves. I still regret not buying a woolen sweater or a wintry jacket from Icewear or 66 North. Finally, I wouldn’t miss eating more of their fresh fish. I do want to see the northern lights too, but I’m not sure if I can take the freezing temperature here…let’s see. 

 

Journey to Old and New Singapore

It is easy to agree that Singapore is a developed country with state-of-the-art infrastructure, fast internet and amazing tourist destinations. An aerial tour of the current Lion City will reveal a little heaven on earth especially if you pass by Universal Studios, Marina Bay or Sentosa Island. Many people from different parts of the world have been looking at https://www.singapore-visa.net to know how they will find jobs and business in this city-state. But most people do not know the history behind the country and the journey it has taken. So let us look at the journey from the old Singapore to the new one that is exhibited today.

Ancient Features of Singapore

Evidence of the old Singapore still remains all over. In addition to the numerous historical sites and museums that are available in Singapore, there is still more than any person can enjoy. Here is some of the evidence of the old Singapore.

  •         Sri Mariamman Temple – this temple illustrates the old Singapore where people used to worship a Hindu mother goddess. It still stands strong today despite the many years.
  •         Chijmes – the site dates back many years and has a rich history. People who appreciate excellent food can enjoy it here.
  •         National Gallery Singapore – this gallery has one of the largest art collections in the state. You can appreciate the collection of cave paintings all the way to the modern-day art.

Gaining Independence

The city-state was a British colony. At one time in World War II, the Japanese Empire took over but only for a short time. By 1965, the state gained independence from the British Empire.

By the late 60s, the government was determined to tackle the crisis of unemployment, housing challenges, health concerns and many other issues that were already facing them. One of the strategies laid down by the authorities was to start the modernization program, industrialization and the building of houses for its citizens.

Modern Singapore

Throughout the 20th century, Singapore has seen a significant evolution. This is when most of the amazing architecture, installation of the current infrastructure and technology occurred. Modern Singapore boasts these wonders among many others.

Marina Bay Sands – it is one of the most expensive casinos ever built in the world. Although the three buildings have other businesses like restaurants and shops, the skyscrapers’ exterior is the most amazing feature.

The Helix Bridge – indeed, this a modern architectural wonder that has amazed many people in the world. It connects Marina South with the central area.

Finally, Singapore, in the modern day, is an amazing country. If you research the history of the country in depth, you will also get to appreciate the multicultural influence that it enjoys. Today, Singapore is a cosmopolitan city with a strong economy, excellent business environment and fast internet. The real estate sector has played a significant role in removing the old houses to erect new ones. Most of the land in the city has been developed fully to make it what it is today.

 

Advice For A First Time Tourist of Japan

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Image By Jason Goh

If you’re planning on visiting Japan, it’s likely that you already know that it’s one of the best parts of Asia, with its elegant architecture and amazing technological feats. However, without proper knowledge of the country, you are at risk of getting stuck in a situation you don’t know how to get out of, or completely over spending when it’s simply not necessary. To avoid this, here’s some of the best advice I can give for traveling to Japan for the first time.

  1. Eat At Fast Food Restaurants

Most people associate the phrase “fast food” with a grease filled burger or some variation of fried chicken, but in Japanese fast food restaurants that simply isn’t the case. Here you can order miso soup, dumplings, bowls of rice, and many other typical Japanese foods, often at a price cheaper than the processed junk from back home.

  1. Bring Cash

A lot of places in Japan don’t accept bank cards, and many ATMs don’t accept foreign cards even in Tokyo, so money really will be your friend on your trip. Because of this, you will have to make sure you either have enough cash or know of an ATM that will accept your card.

  1. Carry Hand Sanitizer

Strangely, most public bathrooms in Japan don’t have any dispensable hand soap, so if you want more than a simple rinse of warm water, you should probably carry sanitizing hand gel.

  1. Learn Japanese

You don’t necessarily need to learn Japanese fluently, as many people in Japan do speak English quite well. However, it’s always best to have a few key Japanese phrases memorized, in case you get stuck in a situation where there isn’t anyone that can speak English. It’s also polite, and many Japanese people would probably appreciate being asked if they can speak English in their language.

  1. Print Out Hotel Address In Japanese

Much like above, if you get stuck in a situation where you can’t find anyone that speaks English, it’s always best to have your hotel address written down in Japanese, to give to a cab driver to help you get back. This tip is useful in any foreign country you visit.

  1. Rent A “Pocket Wi-Fi”

A “Pocket Wi-Fi” is a wireless internet router that allows several different gadgets to connect to it and use its unlimited internet. They are available to rent at most airports in Japan, at a fraction of the cost of data roaming charges.

  1. Find Your Nearest Konbini

A Konbini is a Japanese convenience store that often sells anything you could possibly require, from hot meals, to gadget chargers, to socks. They also often have ATMs that do accept foreign bank cards, so it really is a refuge, if you get into a pickle.

  1. Get A Japanese Rail Pass

If you plan on visiting several different cities during your trip, a JR Pass could save you a lot of money, especially if you plan on going to another one of the four main islands.

Japan is a beautiful and elegant country, but it can get confusing if you don’t know the language and customs. Hopefully, this advice will help you navigate the country with a bit more ease, and allow you to have a completely stress free, and memorable getaway.

The Quick Paris Travel Guide

Paris is a great city, which has a little bit of everything. There is shopping aplenty, much history, culture, and it has a fine cuisine all throughout. It can be enjoyed through all times of year, though the Spring and Summer are the best times to visit as it can get quite cold during the winter months. You can visit it as quick weekend getaway or travel for a more permanent visit to ensure you can take in everything and see what you need to see. This guide can give you a quick overview so that you can check up on what the city has to offer, though further research is required for deeper knowledge basis and indeed recommended it you wanted to find out about the specifics of wider France. Enjoy your trip!

You can get to Paris in all manner of ways. Charles De Gaulle airport receives flights from the majority of countries in the world and the Paris train station and metro offer another great option. Driving can get a little chaotis, especially around rush hour, car parking in Paris can be easily done too, just so long as you book ahead in some way to ensure you get the places you want.

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The city is great for romance, with the eiffel tower the main attraction. Walks up it can be quite daunting, but there are many restaurants around so you can enjoy the sweet ambiance the tower provides.

For culture buffs, there is more than enough. Places of history and importance such as Notre Dame give a vivid look back into the history or Paris where places like the Louvre leave you stunned by the pictures and paintings of some of the best painters in the world. There are other museums too of course, yet the Louvre takes precedence due to its wonderful construction and glass facade.

There other points of interest, the arc de triomphe a harken back to days of Napoleon and French greatness. If you fancy some shopping then the champs-Elysees is a great place to take your partner to pick up a souvenir or two. There is something for everyone here, the Les Invalides offers another great museum for you to check out. There is also the mighty Paris St Germain football team, which you can go and watch at the parc des princes for a thrilling night or even day out. The are blotches of culture all throughout. The latin quarter is full of bistros, interesting stores and stalls with beautiful carved architecture dating back hundreds of years.

The place is great for youngsters too, as Disneyland Paris is a short ride away. The park is full of rides and entertainment, including shows and parades which will leave you happy and full of excitement. There are wonderful places to eat as well as constant entertainment for the little ones. There are all manner of rides too, so whether you like the super fast roller coasters or the slower rides it can be the great.

 

Canada: A Historical Treasure Trove That Rewards The Traveler

Traveling the world is often tiring but always rewarding. This planet we inhabit is full of variety, and each country has its own ways. What separates France from Germany from Holland, and Europe from Asia, among others, is those differences. In no small part, those differences have come from the identity that history has forged. For example, visiting London gives you the chance to see its landmarks, testament to its history of monarchy and democracy.

Seeing a country in all its glory comes down to two major markers. History, as mentioned above, and geography. While the latter gives each country its shape and its contours, history gives countries their character. This is why Canada, for example, is very different from its neighbor, the USA. They may be similar in climate and terrain, in large part, but their histories, though overlapping, are different.

Historical Locations of Canada: What To See

Montreal and Quebec City

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Flickr

Quebec as a province is simultaneously Canadian and French. Montreal is the largest French-speaking city outside of Paris, and the French influence is clear here. You could never, however, mistake it for France. It is Quebec, and has its own identity.

See Montreal City Hall, where then French President Charles de Gaulle gave a speech in 1967. During that speech, he made a statement advocating independence from Canada for Quebec. See also Quebec City, which has historical tours tracing the French influence in Quebec through centuries.

Toronto

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Wikipedia

Although Canada’s largest city, and most modern from an architectural point of view, Toronto is also a historic city. As a front of the Anglo-American war of 1812, Fort York is a location worth seeing. Visit in summer, and you can watch re-enactments of the battles that took place here. Dotted around the city are museums for the city’s – and country’s – political and cultural history.

Ottawa

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Wikipedia

Worth the Canadian via application all on its own, Canada’s capital city is often ignored for the quirks of Montreal or the lights of Toronto. The Museum of Canadian history and Canadian War Museum are both reason enough to visit. The historic town of Ottawa is best represented by the preserved Byward Market. Shops and restaurants offer the chance to drink in the charm of old Ottawa while enjoying the sophistication of the new.

Vancouver

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Flickr

One thing that bestows history upon a city is its significance as a port for travelers. Hence why London is so important in the UK, Calais to the French, and so forth. As Vancouver provided a landing point for the early visitors to Canada, it developed a strong multicultural identity. That is still in place today, along with museums such as the Museum of Anthropology. A particular attraction for those with an interest in First Nations, it will inspire and educate in equal measure.

With all of the influences that have been felt in Canada, there is never going to be a shortage of historical locations. One of the most beguiling things about the cities of this nation is that they may be looking to the future, but they showcase the past perfectly.

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