Happy (Retirement) Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that one year ago today, marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives called Retirement.

In the course of a year, our bags have been packed as we’ve traveled like never before. In addition to our numerous, traditional day trips, we’ve crisscrossed the continent and got our feet wet in Europe. Looking back, it’s been a wonderful year.

Omaha: College World Series

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Northwest Coast: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver

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Jacksonville: family weekend

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Miami: first week of school celebration

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Fall toad trip: stops in Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont

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Birmingham: 90th birthday celebration

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Miami: college baseball opening

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South Florida: National Parks & Keys

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Netherlands: bike tour

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Iceland: camping

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Today, as we begin year two, we fly to Buffalo for another Canadian adventure. First, Niagara Falls and then off to Toronto.

We’ll be keeping our bags packed and go wherever life takes us.

 

Iceland’s Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular areas for tourists to explore in Iceland. Most join one of the tours and see the sites on the schedule of the tour bus operator.

But since we rented a camper van we set the pace, and since we camped in the geothermal area our first evening in the country, we had the place to ourselves the next morning.

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Strokkur, erupted every seven or eight minutes spraying 100° water more than 100 feet in the air. The geyser’s surrounded by mud pools, fumaroles and mineral deposits, and the boiling hot water churned up by the Earth produces that unpleasant sulphur odor, often associated with rotten eggs.

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The original geyser, Geysir, hasn’t erupted in years, but on the day we were there, a couple dozen people gathered around the steaming Geysir and tried to coax it into action by playing drums and bells while chanting. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.

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Our second stop on the Golden Circle was the waterfall, Gullfoss. The wide and fast Hvitá River falls some 100 feet in a crevice producing a thick mist.

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Again, we beat the crowds so we were alone on the pathways along the edge of Gullfoss. It’s always suggested that visitors wear a raincoat to avoid getting wet from the mist, but since the temperature was hovering around 40°, down jackets instead of raincoats were the dress of the day.

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Thingvellir National Park was the final Golden Circle stop. This is the place where the American and Eurasian Tectonic plates come together. We passed on scuba diving or snorkeling between the plates something that requires multiple layers of wet and dry suits before entering the icy 35°F water.

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Instead we walked the trails observing the plates as well as waterfalls and a distant snow covered volcano.

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Thingvellir National Park is a World UNESCO site, not only for its unique geography, but for its historical value as well since Iceland’s first Parliament met at this location in 930 CE.

Some travelers suggest skipping the Golden Circle calling it too touristy. However, I disagree. The geysers, Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park provide a snapshot into Iceland’s diverse landscape, and with a rental car and an early start, it’s easy to miss the crowds and tour buses so you can take in the country’s natural wonders.

Happy or Not

What a pleasure moving through Keflavik Airport! Although security measures are in place, arrival and drop off at the front door was a breeze. Like the Sanford International Airport, its small size makes it possible for a more laid back drop off without fear of being mangled by cars dodging in and out  of the drop off lane.

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I dreaded the check in process because Icelandair rejected my early, online check in with a message: Report to Icelandair desk at airport to resolve issue.

Before going to the desk, I tried the self check kiosk only to get the same message. Airline personnel would be required to obtain a boarding pass. What a wonderful surprise when I realized that the dreaded long line consisted of only the two of us!

I’m not sure why the hold up but in less than five minutes, the problem was resolved, luggage checked and boarding passes in hand. That’s when we passed the first Happy or Not rating kiosk. How was your check in?

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After Security (with no need to remove boots), another Happy or Not kiosk.

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Then, a third chance to rate the experience after Passport Control.

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I’m not sure how (or if) this information is used by the airport, but I noticed most passengers providing feedback and all of it positive. And despite construction, flying at Keflavik couldn’t be easier. Maybe they’re on to something.

Do You You Know How to Shift?

When I called Segrud at Snail Motorhome Rental in Iceland in January, her first question: Do you know how to shift? You know, a manual transmission?

It seems this is the determining factor as to whether you are qualified to rent one of their vehicles.

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Fortunately, I could answer yes. Both John and I bought our first cars in the 1970s when gas prices soared, more than tripling in just a few years. We both chose manual transmission cars as more fuel efficient options. He drove a small Toyota pickup, and I relied on a VW Rabbit.

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Our experiences with those vehicles more than thirty years ago insured we qualified as drivers of a Snail campervan. And like riding a bike, driving a manual transmission is something you never forget. A couple of wobbles, but otherwise, off to see the Icelandic countryside.

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Before you head to Iceland, brush up on your shifting skills or if needed, learn how to drive a manual transmission. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuck on a bus with dozens of passengers clogging your route instead of standing solo watching a geysir erupt.

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Urban Camping

It’s not cheap to stay in Miami in February. What with all the snowbirds and events like the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. But we were determined to cheer on the Canes baseball team the final weekend in February as they hosted the Gators, without spending a fortune.

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With no state park campgrounds in south Dade, John found a county park, Penny and Larry Thompson Campground. The reviews looked good and he remembered his aunt and uncle camping there in the ’60s and ’70s so we decided to give it a try.

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For $17 a night (tent site), we paid less for our two night stay at Penny & Larry Thompson Campground than the daily $35 parking fee in Coconut Grove where we usually stay. And with nearly 300 sites, a community center, pool, showers and a laundry, it provided more facilities than we needed.

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We set up in the area designated for tents in less than thirty minutes and then we were ready to hit the road for a night of baseball.

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The campground is carved out in a residential area, and while it’s a little farther west than we’d like, at such low rates, how can you complain? We won’t be camping here in the summer months, but we’ve already scheduled another three days at Penny & Larry Thompson Park in April.