Iceland Road Trip Basics

Island nation’s narrow but well-marked and well-signed routes.

IcelandHighway-mapYou might think that national highway #1 in a technically sophisticated roadway, but in Iceland, that’s not necessarily the case. Highway 1 along the south coast is generally a two-lane road with one-lane bridges, minimalist shoulders and efficient marking that take long dark, damp winters into consideration.

The highway is lined on both sides with yellow reflective stakes every 50 or so meters apart. Bridge approaches are also well signed and have vehicle pull-outs on both ends to provide passing areas. Visitors who rent cars soon become accustomed to these markers, and locals know to depend on them in low visibility. Unless posted otherwise, the speed limit on the open road is 90 kilometers per hour.

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Highway signs alerting drivers to  temperature, windspeed and avalanche conditions are updated in real time.

Highway signs alerting drivers to temperature, windspeed and avalanche conditions are updated in real time.

And at each periodic exit is a map diagramming the small roads and sites available. This one, from Flickr, shows a busy exit. Some exits access just one or two really little country roads and perhaps a guesthouse or farm that accommodates guests.

And at each periodic exit is a map diagramming the small roads and sites available. This one, from Flickr, shows a busy exit. Some exits access just one or two really little country roads and perhaps a guesthouse or farm that accommodates guests.

We just traveled from Reykjavik on the southwest coast to Hafn on the southeast and back — unable to fly  because the small commuter planes were grounded due to dense fog, intermittent rain and wind gust. The landscape is a succession of grazing land (cattle and sheep), grassy meadows, occasional wetlands, rivers and views north toward mountains and the sea.

A Day in Reykjavik

Iceland’s beguiling walkable capital

IcelandTravel-tiny logo.-jpgThe Society of American Travel Writers 2014 convention is coming up in Reykjavik in a couple of days. My husband and I are booked on a pre-convention tour, but we came a day early to explore Iceland’s compact, walkable capital. Here are some snapshots:

Hallgrímskirkja, a massive Lutheran church on a hilltop in Reykjavik, is a pared-down Gothic-style concrete church -- all the bones but no interior ornamentation.

Hallgrímskirkja, a massive Lutheran church on a hilltop in Reykjavik, is a pared-down Gothic-style concrete church — all the bones but no interior ornamentation.

Colorful buildings, many faced with corrugated iron, line old Reykjavik's narrow downtown streets,

Colorful buildings, many faced with corrugated iron, line old Reykjavik’s narrow downtown streets.

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A Tale of Inflight Meals

United wins the lousy food stakes.

BadAirlineFoodI used frequent flier miles to travel from Denver to Frankfurt and back. Because United’s MileagePlus is not especially friendly, could I book the nonstop between Denver and Frankfurt and add on two intra-Europe flights (to Prague and back from Vienna)? No-o-o-o-o. Each required three flights on three different airlines. Eastbound I flew Denver-Toronto on United, Toronto-Frankfurt on Air Canada, Frankfurt-Prague on Lufthansa. Westbound I flew Vienna-Frankfurt on Tyrolean, Frankfurt-Chicago on a vintage United 747, Chicago-Denver again on United.

There were two long transatlantic flights with service involved. Eastbound, the food was unexciting but edible. Westbound it was largely inedible. First off, United is using some kind of compartmentalized tray that rocks on the tray table. That’s annoying, but the food was indescribably awful. With a choice in steerage (which airlines prefer to call Economy) between chicken and pasta, I usually select pasta, which is usually more reliable and less easily ruined.

Usually. The pasta was either lasagna or ravioli or something like it that was filled. However, it had deteriorated into one unrecognizable gummy mess, so it was impossible to tell what it was supposed to be. Accompanying it was a warm salad — that is, a green salad of iceberg or similar lettuce that was as warm is if it had been heated. The pre-landing snack featured a cellophane-wrapped turkey and gouda sandwich. The wrapper said that it could be oven-heated. It hadn’t been. It was ice-cold — just a few degrees above frozen. I asked the flight attendant if it was supposed to be like that. She replied that there was nothing to heat it with. I restrained myself from asking whether they used up all the heat on the lunch salad.

Oh, and unlike foreign carriers, United charges $7.99 for a wine, which might have taken the misery out of the meal.

Float Toward Fall on a Colorado Raft

Outfitters running trips into September.

raftingraftingraftingCROA-logoRaft outfitters will remember 2104 as an epic season. The season started strong with high waters — and thrilling wild ones on some stretches — and it is still going. The Colorado River provides prima late season rafting, and guides tell of fascinating history of Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River and point out things you don’t see from I-70 or other roads. The Colorado River Outfitters Association shares info about some raft trips that keep floating toward fall, when the water is at its warmest and the cottonwoods begin to show the colors of fall.

Colorado Whitewater Rafting’s most popular trip is a three-hour, half-day adventure in Glenwood Canyon. It kicks off with exciting rapids and eventually mellows enough for a stop and soak where natural hot springs flow into the river. It operates through September 16.

Arkansas Valley Adventures’ Shoshone Rapids trip also makes its way through 1,500 foot-high red rock walls, splashing through the Shoshone Rapids. Groups often spot mountain goats grazing on the Shoshone’s banks or balancing on the rock walls. Whitewater sections include rapids called the Man Eater, The Wall and Tombstone.

Adventure Bound USA offers a two-day, 25-mile scenic trip down the Colorado through the end of September for breathtaking views of dramatic canyon vistas, wildlife sightings and hiking. It’s common to see lizards scurrying along the sandstone and black rocks, bald and golden eagles soaring overhead and even otters playing along the riverbanks.

Blue Sky Adventures’ most popular trip also runs through the end of September. The Half-Day Adventure trip is another that splashes through the famous Shoshone rapids and winds through the majestic walls of the Glenwood Canyon.

Mild to Wild’s full-day trip on the Lower Animas through Durango offers “wet and fun” action through Class III rapids, several Class II “splashes” and some relaxed floating. To step up the adventure experience, paddle an inflatable kayak at the same time as the raft trip. It includes a tasty delicious and scenic riverside lunch.

Frontier’s New ‘Unreward’ Policies

EarlyReturns getting more restrictive & expensive.

Old Frontier logo as a tribute to old policies.

Old Frontier logo as a tribute to old policies.

Frontier Airlines’ EarlyReturns “unrewards” members with booking fees and other restrictions. Most galling, IMO, customers will now be slammed with a booking fee for travel using their hard-accumulated frequent flyer miles unless they do so at least six months in advance. Six months!

It recently overhauled its elite status tiers, so the new fee is — as the saying goes — adding insult to injury. All award travel is assessed federal taxes and U.S. Transportation Security Administration fees, and Frontier becomes the latest  to impose an additional fee.

As the Denver Post noted, “Frontier is presenting the change as a new perk for elite members who will have the fee waived, while also pointing to its competitors at Denver International Airport — including United Airlines and ultra-low-cost Spirit Airlines — both of which already charge passengers similar fees.”

United has gotten ever unfriendlier. I am currently in Europe on miles. I redeemed 60,000 miles each way in steerage. Not long ago, friends traveled to southern Africa in business class for 65,000 each way, and Spirit’s policies are so appalling that I just warn everyone not even to consider them. Many locals have been flying Frontier to support this Denver-based airline over Dallas-based Southwest, but with such changes, I’m betting that fewer will bother.

In Praise of Prague’s Public Transport

Streetcars and buses and subways and ferries, oh my!

PragueCoatOfArmsEvery European city has public transportation that puts American cities to shame. Prague’s system comprises three Metro lines that reach all corners of the city. Of course, there are streetcars and buses on the surface. A few ferries across the Vlatava River, which in German and English is known as the Moldau, thanks to Czech composer is Bedřich Smetana’s Romantic symphony. Also, an open-air funicular shuttles up and down Petřín Hill, where a replica of the Eiffel Tower perches and the views are grand.

Prague's impressive public transportation map Service begins at 4:30 a.m. Most lines operate until midnight, but crucial ones run 24/7.

Prague’s impressive public transportation map Service begins at 4:30 a.m. Most lines operate until midnight, but crucial ones run 24/7.

At the airport on arrival, I bought a 5-day card for about $22 that included all that public transportation plus free or reduced admission to numerous fee-charging sites all over the city — including the famous Prague Castle. I always buy such unlimited-use cards, which is not only economical but flexible. In Prague, you validate the card at first use, stick it in your purse or pocket and never take it out unless some official comes around to check.

I love walking around cities, poking into small streets and quiet neighborhoods, but I often just hop on and off a streetcar or bus at will. Sometimes I get tired or hungry and want to ride just a short distance, or sometimes the weather turns — or sometimes I like to ride to the end of the line just to see what’s along the way.

 

Food & Wine Event in Los Cabos

Sabor a Cabo coming to southern tip of Baja California.

SaborACabo-logoOne way to deliciously fill part of the gap between the Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year’s holidays is at the ninth annual  Sabor a Cabo (Flavors of Cabo) food and wine festival in Los Cabos from November 30 through December 6. For the first time it includes a weeklong series of ticketed events highlighting the renowned regional cuisine of Baja California Sur and the wines of Mexico’s celebrated Baja wine region. And did I mention that high-season lodging rates are not yet in effect then?

These schedule features Country Side Taste, November 30; Sunset Gourmet Gala prepared by Michelin Star Chefs and served aboard a luxurious yacht, December 2;  Oktobeer Fest showcasing artisanal beer, local cuisine and music,December 3; Wine & Art Walk in San Jose del Cabo (my favorite town in Los Cabos), December 4, and a Star Chef Dine-Around, December 5.  The main event on December 6 from 5 to 11 p.m. in the Sculpture Garden in Puerto Los Cabos features 50 participating restaurants putting out what organizers call the “best-of-the-best” of international cuisine and wine beneath the stars.

Confirmed are such world-renowned chefs as Federico Zanellato, chef and partner of Copenhagen’s NOMA Restaurant (ranked No. 1 in the world), and Richard Sandoval, whose 35+ restaurants world-wide include Zengo, Tamayo and two La Sandias in the Denver area and Venga Venga in Snownass. Also, Dieter Koshina, owner of Portugal’s Vilajoya Restaurant (ranked No. 22 in the world); Roberto Alcocer, chef/owner of Malva Restaurant in Ensenada, Mexico; Najat Kaanache, chef/owner of Souk Restaurant, Dallas and former chef of Spain’s sadly shuttered El Bulli Restaurant; Thierry Blouet, chef/owner of Restaurant de Los Artistas, Puerto Vallarta, and Eduardo Osuna, founder of non-profit organization Chef to the Rescue in Mexico.

Festival tickets, which are available online, are $100 for general admission tickets prior to September 30 and $125 thereafter. Special lounge area access tickets are $150, and seats at VIP tables are $1,000 per person.  All the money raised during the Saturday, December 6 gala are to l be donated to the Fire Department, the Red Cross and Children’s Foundation of Los Cabos.

Cross-posted to www.culinary-colorado.com.

AirBnB: First Time But Not the Last

Prague apartment more than meets expectations.

AirBnB-logoThe AirBnB listing promised an awesome view and a great location in central Prague. The photo looked good. The price was right (under $250 for four nights). There’s WiFi in the apartment. So after checking with friends who have not only stayed but also hosted via AirBnB, I was in. I corresponded a bit with Katerina, my hostess. When I arrived, her friend Martina let me in, showed me around and gave me the keys. Katerina, it turns out, is in Barcelona. That means that I have the whole apartment to myself — except, of course, Katerina’s own room.

The baronial door between two skateboard shops pretty much symbolizes Prague today --- a co-existence between the traditional and new.

The baronial door to Katerina’s apartment building is between two skateboard shops, which pretty much symbolizes Prague today — a co-existence between the timeless and the hip. The concrete rectangle with the steel railing is the entrance to the Metro.

The apartment is on the third floor. Since Europeans label the ground floor as 0, it is on what we would call the fourth floor. Taking into account that the ceilings are 10 or 12 feet high, it is like being on an American fifth or sixth floor. There is no elevator. I travel light, especially in summer, and had just one small roll-aboard, a small purse and a daypack for my netbook, assorted battery chargers, electrical cables and adapters. Still, I was grateful that Martina, who is probably half my age, offered to take my little suitcase. The ascent is worthwhile for the apartment’s artsy ambiance and great river view.

My room features high ceilings, a comfortable bed, a small desk and a bathroom that I might have had to share with my hostess if she were here.

My room features high ceilings, a comfortable bed, a small desk, fresh flowers and a bathroom that I might have had to share with Katerina if she were here.

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Luxury ‘Camp’ High Above The Broadmoor

 Luxury & comfort without opulence at 9,200 feet.

020The Broadmoor, the Five Star, Five Diamond luxury resort in Colorado Springs, has developed its rustic side. Cloud Camp is a new mountain aerie at 9,200 feet occupying one summit of Cheyenne Mountain. It opened on August 15, and I was lucky to be one of the first guests.

Its main lodge has but six guest rooms on the second floor. Eleven intimate cabins are tucked in among the trees, and some are cantilevered over the steep slope, giving guests the feeling of floating. The last accommodation to be completed will be the Fire Tower Suite, requiring an ascent of 153 steps. The bedroom occupies the entire top floor of the tower, with a living room below. It is an aerie above an aerie.

Intimate cabins among the trees and rocks. The landscape has been left as natural as possible.

Intimate cabins among the trees and rocks. The landscape has been left as natural as possible.

The 8,000-square-foot main lodge recalls the grand historic timber and stone lodges of the American West, with massive public spaces, soaring ceilings and rough-hewn beams. Designed for both relaxation and contemplation, it manages to feel both baronial and intimate. Comfortable sofas, armchairs and rockers encourage conversation, board games, reading and general socializing. Stone fireplaces on each end, enormous ceiling fixtures overhead and Western art and Indian artifacts on the walls create an ambiance of relaxed elegance. The enormous table in the center can seat 30. Smaller tables for two or four are in an adjacent dining area, and there are additional tables outside as well.

Opening staff on the stairs of Cloud Camp.

Opening staff on the stairs of Cloud Camp.

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