We spent three days in Reykjavik (well more like two and half due to jet lag), but we found it compact and easy to maneuver. We saw several interesting sites all within easy walking distance from our hotel. If you are passing through the beautiful Icelandic city of Reykjavik, we recommend the following – Reykjavik on foot.
Take a Stroll and see Reykjavik on Foot
Consider picking up Rick Steve’s Iceland Guide, as we found it very helpful and on our first day we did his self-guided walking tour in the downtown core. It’s compact and very easy to do this walking tour in just a couple of hours. If you don’t have the book, Reykjavik on foot is easy with our suggestions;
Start at Ingolfstorg Square – location of the original Reykjavik farm. Currently a gathering place, although somewhat drab, there are a few historic buildings near by, as is Vestiurgata which is the original shoreline. This area was filled in but a brass marker in the sidewalk marks the spot.
We enjoyed wandering the back streets and seeing the local homes. Most of the homes today, even the historic ones, are covered with galvanized steel siding that protects from Iceland’s rough climate. Homes are small and tidy and often very colorful and patriotic. Two streets we recommend are Mjostraeti and Athalstraeti.
A fascinating relief map of Iceland is available for viewing inside Reykjavik’s City Hall. We definitely recommend this if you are in Reykjavik on a week day. It’s free and really interesting.
Adjacent to city hall is the Pond (Tjornin) where on a nice day residents stroll and relax and feed the ducks. Across the pond you can see the University of Iceland and the National Museum which we recommend below. For more exercise you can extend your Reykjavik on foot tour with a walk all the way around the pond, about 2 miles.
Head away from the pond to see Austurvollur, Iceland’s Parliament Building and Square. Both historic and modern it is another gathering spot with lots of history.
Main Street Reykjavik on Foot
If you can, we recommend booking a hotel near the main street of Reykjavik known as Austurstraeti. We stayed in the very modest Hotel Fron. Nothing special, but comfortable and included breakfast for about $150 a night. The location however, is excellent for enjoying Reykjavik on foot, on one of the main streets called Laugavegur.
The Main Street area known as Austurstraeti is great for strolling and shopping. From our hotel we could head down the hill to several sites including Laekjartorg Square.
Angling off up the hill from Laugavegur is Skolavorthustigur Street, lined with a rainbow. Many shops and restaurants line this historic street. From the bottom of the street you have a great view of Hallgrimskirja Church. Head up the street to see this iconic landmark.
In the neighborhood of Hallfrimskirja you can also enjoy the Leif Erickson statue as well as Einar Jonsson Sculpture Garden just across the street.
Museums and Exhibitions
We did not see all the museums in Reykjavik but we were so glad we visited two. Both gave us a wonderful introduction to the history and geology of Iceland, prior to embarking on our camper van trek.
We highly recommend The National Museum of Iceland, just across the pond near the university and an easy walk from town. About $18 entry fee. The exhibit takes the visitor through ancient Iceland history and up to the 20th century. Superbly done and fascinating.
A bit further walk but still doable is the brand new experience known as the Perlan. The first fascinating thing about this is that it is built into two old water tanks (great use of a former eyesore). Entry fee is just under $40 but for that price you explore a variety of exhibits about the natural aspect of Iceland as well as enjoy a really well done movie about the aurora borealis. In addition you can walk through a very authentic ice cave. Upstairs don’t miss the coffee shop with the best view in Reykjavik.
On the Harbor
Just a quick mention of two sites of interest on the waterfront. If you have time take a walk through the Harpa Concert Hall, a architectural wonder. Check the schedule online for performances.
We also enjoyed a brief stop at the Sun Voyager sculpture. You will probably recognize this metal sculpture of a Viking Boat, particularly beautiful at sunset.
Eating in Reykjavik
Next week I’m going to explore more in depth the foods we discovered in Iceland, but today let me touch on a couple great places to eat. Thanks again to the Rick Steves guide we learned about the Hlemmur Food Hall – a converted bus station now housing several restaurants. We walked in and sat up at the bar of Skall without knowing anything about it. An excellent decision. Absolutely delicious and unique variety of small plates from cod to tomatoes, lumpfish roe to cauliflower.
We also had a fantastic meal at Rok. Reservations are a good idea here, but we arrived early enough that we were able to squeeze into a table. Rok is in a historic old house with beautiful wood beams and we again did a selection of small plates, sharing everything from langoustine soup (divine) to Icelandic char, reindeer and green salad. I’ll talk more about all these next week.
One thing I really recommend is to consider either a food tour (which we did) or a history tour with Your Friends in Reykjavik. Our food tour opened our eyes to some of Iceland’s most traditional (and a few bizarre) dishes. I’ll tell you about that next week.
Reykjavik on foot. Compact and easy, this city is interesting, maneuverable, colorful and delicious. I hope you will visit soon.
Have you ever considered visiting Iceland? Well, why not? Seriously, it was on our travel list for a long time, but we never managed to get there for more than a quick layover. That is until last month when we spent two weeks in this surprising island nation, about the size of Washington State. So join me as we explore Iceland by the Ring Road.
This is the first of three blogs I plan to write about our fun trip to Iceland. Today I’m going to tell you about touring remarkable Iceland by the Ring Road, (Route 1) that circumnavigates this arctic island. Next week I’ll talk about visiting Reykjavik and after that I’ll write about the Icelandic cuisine. I hope to inspire everyone to go see Iceland.
Iceland by the Ring Road
But first, Iceland by the Ring Road – after three days in Reykjavik we picked up our camper van from KuKu Caravans. We rented the medium size camper van. I knew I would not be happy in the small size, which is basically a regular soccer mom van converted with a bed. Our KuKu was larger, about 17 feet long with a tiny kitchen and a table that folded down into a bed. We were able to stand up in the van, which was really important for us. It wasn’t very comfortable but we made do. It did not have a bathroom. You see some people on the road with small RV’s and many locals have trailers. But the self-drive camper van is very popular. Our van cost about $200 per day. Diesel runs about $7 a gallon.
Pros and Cons
Pro’s and Con’s – If I did it again I’d spend more time looking at the total cost of the camper van including petrol and campground fees (around $30 a night for two people) and doing some comparative research to renting a car and staying in a hotel along the Ring Road. In hindsight I don’t think the hotel/car option would have been all that much more. However, we did save money cooking in the camper van, which we did 7 of the 9 days.
Another thing I would do differently is stay a few extra days in Reykjavik and do the Golden Circle and the Snaefellnes Peninsula as day trips from Reykjavik with a car. This way you could do the Ring Road in 6 to 7 days. Although this would mean renting a car to do the day trips, but for what we paid for our transfer from the airport ($150!) it would have been worth it.
Also consider your clothing, no matter what time of year, nights are chilly. I slept in my fleece lined leggings or my silk long underwear each night. Some nights I even wore a stocking cap to bed. The camper van does have heat, but temps in the 30’s Fahrenheit overnight were brisk. We brought our own sleeping bags but you can rent them from the camper van company. Bring lots of layers, even on sunny days the wind can be bitter. My down jacket was a lifesaver and a stocking cap a must.
So, before embarking, figure out what is most important to you, what your budget is and what your comfort level is. Iceland is expensive, but with some planning, you can make it work. Use what we learned to help.
After three days in Reykjavik we headed to pick up our KuKu and were on the road about 11:00am. We headed first to the Golden Circle, the closest area to Reykjavik. I should mention we chose not to go the Blue Lagoon, because we have visited there on a quick layover a few years ago.
The Golden Circle offers some fabulous introductions to the wonders of Iceland and its geothermal magic. Here you will also witness the first of thousands (no seriously, thousands) of waterfalls throughout the country.
Golden Circle Highlights
I recommend these five things on the Golden Circle for your planning purposes;
Thingvellir Rift – where the North American and European continents are slowly being pulled apart. Walk through the tectonic rift where ancient Icelandic chieftains met for annual governance.
Church and Cemetery – an easy walk across the river also gives you a great view back to the rift.
Oxararfoss Waterfall – easy walk to a beautiful falls in the Thingvellir area.
Geysir and the Strokkar Geyser – the word Geyser comes from the town of Geysir, a village sitting on a geothermal hot spot. Right off the road you can walk to the Strokkar Geyser, to watch it spew every three to four minutes.
Gullfoss – meaning Gold Waterfall, Gullfoss’ thundering falls can be heard from a long ways away, and the mist can be seen well before you actually make it to the viewing area at the edge of the falls. Come prepared to get a bit wet.
South Island Highlights
We left the Golden Circle and drove south to the teeny town of Vik for our first night in the camper van where we stayed at the Vik Tjaldsvaedi (this word means campground, you’ll get used to seeing it!). On our first night we enjoyed some homemade chili then bundled up and walked to the beautiful beach to see the low sun in the sky and the lava formations. We spent two nights along the south section of the island and these are our favorite things:
Black Sand Beach at Reynisfjara is stunning with giant basalt cliffs raising up from the black beach. This is where you might see nesting Icelandic puffins. Caution – the surf here can be very high and dangerous.
Svartifoss (Black Waterfall) is a great little hike with about 850 foot elevation gain. We did the 2.5 mile round trip in a downpour, but we still were glad we did it as the 60 foot waterfall that cascades through the black basalt columns was beautiful.
Skaftafell National Park is where we spent our second camper van night…a very rainy and windy night. We got cozy and ate homemade tacos in the van and went to sleep early. We woke up to a bright sunny day.
Jokulsarlon Lagoon is one of the top sights in Iceland and it’s easy to see why. The glacier lagoon is full of floating icebergs the color of turquoise. Just beautiful. You can wander around and also visit the black sand beach known as Diamond Beach where the icebergs get “beached” in the sand before melting or floating away.
The drive from here continuing east and eventually north is full of a jaw dropping beauty. Each mile presenting bucolic views with sheep and horses and cliff side coastal vistas and mountain scenery.
East and East Fjords Highlights
Our third night in the East was spent in tiny Atlavik campground on Lagarfljot lake. It was a bit out of the way, with no services anywhere near, so I was glad we stopped and picked up a few essentials. Spaghetti on the menu this night. A very quiet campground too.
Hengifoss Double Waterfall Hike – we were up very early and the first ones on the trail for this beautiful hike, across the lake to Hengifoss Waterfall. It’s a two-fer waterfall and for me one of the prettiest hikes we did. Leaving we took the road on the other side of the long lake and enjoyed beautiful views of forests and fields of lupines.
Seydisfjordur was our next destination, about an hour detour off of the Ring Road. This tiny village is home to the ferry terminal to Denmark. Getting there you drive over the top of a mountain with a moonlike landscape then drop down into the stunning narrow fjord where Seydisfjordur sits peacefully minding its business. It’s a fun detour to see life in a small Iceland Village. We walked around and enjoyed lunch then drove back over the mountain to the Ring.
Fourth night we stayed in a campground that was on a farm called Modrudalur. It claimed to be the highest altitude farm in Iceland. Driving there we went through another moonlike landscape, sitting inside a vast gray crater. The campground was quaint and quiet. There was a tiny restaurant and some cottages, but we cooked a frittata for our dinner in our camper van.
We headed out early the next morning as we had a long drive today, but the sun was shining and the landscape was incredible.
As we swung to the west and north we were now at the furthest north section we would travel, only about 63 miles from the arctic circle. At this point we were having 23 hours of sunlight each day, and even during sundown it never got dark. At night we would black out the windows in the camper van with coats and clothing as it never got dark the entire time we were in Iceland.
Dettifoss detour – an hour on a gravel road we were wondering if it was going to be worth it as we bumped along rattling everything in the camper van. But oh yes. It was worth it. Only a couple of other people at this site, and on this crystal clear sunny day we not only got to see the spectacular waterfall but a glorious full rainbow over the falls as well. Stunning.
Namafjalal Geothermal Area is right on the Ring Road just as you approach the Myvatn Lake area. It’s kind of like a miniature Yellowstone. Lots of midge flies here too, so if you have netting wear it. It’s also very stinky. The sulfur fumes can be overwhelming. But it’s also interesting and unusual.
We learned a lot about the geothermal and volcanic history of this region with visits to both the Skutustadir Pseudocraters and the Dimmuborgir Lava Formations area. Easy hikes at both give you views to both the ancient and the ever evolving Icelandic volcano activity.
Myvatn Geothermal Baths is one of the best and most popular baths in Iceland. This is a great option to experience bathing in a geothermal pool. We had planned to come back to the baths the next day…but unforeseen weather kept us from it.
We arrived in Akureyri at the end of this day and we loved our large and beautiful campground called Camping Hamrar where we planned to stay two nights. We finally got to do laundry here so I was very happy about it! On our first night we ate Pesto pasta in the camper van and headed to bed early after our full day.
The next day we received an email from the Kuku folks asking us to not drive this day, and all of Iceland was under an extreme wind watch. The government was asking folks not to drive on the Ring Road until the storm passed. Luckily we had some flexibility in our schedule so we took this day to enjoy the town of Akureyri with a few fun activities that didn’t require a long drive.
Akureyeri Botanical Gardens – it was very windy, but this beautiful, free city-owned park was a highlight. So unexpected. I have seen a lot of botanical gardens in my day and it was one of the best. Highly recommend.
Bjorbordin Beer Spa – since we weren’t supposed to drive very far, and I was nervous about it, we only traveled about 45 minutes north of Akureyri to this beer spa. It wasn’t something we had planned to do, until we had a day with nothing scheduled so we took the “plunge”. At $80 a person it was extravagant for us, but it was also really fun. The price includes all the beer you can drink.
In the camper on this night we cooked a delicious dinner of local Icelandic scallops and couscous.
Day Seven dawned bright and beautiful and the wind abated. We started our day getting a Covid test at the local medical center…still required for our return to the USA. It was well organized and we were done in a jiffy. The windstorm had passed so we took a hike in the mountains outside of Akureyri before heading west. About a five mile hike on the Lambi trail gave us some of the most spectacular views we had anywhere in Iceland. And we didn’t see another hiker the entire time.
West Iceland Highlights
After our hike we spent most of the day driving west and south, as we headed to the Snaefellness Peninsula. The drive was so beautiful. We stopped at a tiny campground/hostel called Saeberg, right on the fjord, and enjoyed both a geothermal hot tub and a wonderful conversation with a local woman who was a guide for a group on horseback who were staying at the hostel. We ate in a restaurant on this night, enjoying wonderful local Icelandic lamb chops.
Day 8 we arrived on the Snaefellnes Peninsula. We spent a leisurely two days seeing the sights here, some of the most beautiful in Iceland. It would be easy to see the Snaefellnes in one day, but we were happy to not be in a hurry.
Stykkisholmur Fishing town – this tiny town is another great example of how the locals live. Most Icelandic homes are modest one story houses. Near the port are the majority of the historic buildings and we enjoyed a coffee and croissant in a sidewalk cafe in the sun. The port is home to the ferry that goes across from the Peninsula to the West Fjords.
Beserkjahraun Lava Fields – you will drive right through the middle of this vast ancient lava flow of unusual shapes covered in a pale yellow lichen. Formed more than 4000 years ago, Icelandic folklore tells a tale of Viking warriors going to battle without armor, that the lava fields are named for.
Kirkjufell View Point – Kirkjufell Mountain and the waterfall adjacent to it is one of the most picturesque views in all of Iceland. In fact, this photo often graces guidebooks and websites. Be sure to stop and see it, even if it’s not a good weather day. It’s stunning.
We stopped in the teeny fishing village of Rif where we had a delicious early dinner of Fish and Chips, Icelandic Potato Salad and Coleslaw.
Skarthsvik Yellow Sand Beach – worth a quick stop if only for the uniqueness of the color of the sand against the black basalt cliffs. This is the only beach we saw on the island that was not a black sand beach.
Saxholl Crater – is a nearly 400 foot crater that juts out of the landscape very close to the road. It’s red and black conical shape is impossible to miss. A set of rust colored steps lead you to the top where you can peek into the crater and enjoy a remarkable 360 degree view. If Snaefelljokull Mountain is out, this is place to enjoy it.
Our campground on night 8 was a tiny but brand new spot in the town of Hellissandur called Hellissandur Camping, with sparkling clean bathrooms and common area. It was a treat. We woke up in the morning to a crystal clear view of Snaefelljokull Mountain (the name means ‘snow mountain glacier’), which we never expected because it is usually hidden in clouds. Special treat.
Hellissandur Murals – the teeny village of Hellisandur is all residential with almost no services, but it is proud to be Iceland’s Mural Capital. If you have time take a stroll through the tiny village and look at the many murals.
Djupalonssandur Black Sand Beach – worth a stop and walk through the lava formations out onto the beach. This used to be a thriving fishing spot where hopeful fisherman had to do a strength test by lifting stones from the beach. You will also see the remains of a British fishing trawler that crashed in 1948.
Hellnar to Arnarstapi walk – this was one of the funnest things we did on our trip. A short four-mile round trip walk along the fascinatingly beautiful ocean side basalt cliffs. The cliffs are home to thousands of nesting seabirds as well as an abundance of wildflowers. If you start in Arnarstapi you can take a break at the tiny historic seaside cottage turned small cafe called Fjoruhusid at the halfway point in Hellnar. Enjoy a pastry with coffee of tea, or order the authentic and delicious Iceland Fish Soup which is what we did. With fantastic bread too. We splurged on the “cheesecake” made from Skyr, a popular yogurt/sour cream-like favorite of the Iceland people.
Rauthfeldsgja Gorge – A literal gash in the side of the mountain is a short walk from the parking lot. Crawl over a few boulders and across a tiny creek to walk into the mouth of this gorge and look at the green moss and beautiful light.
Budir Black Church – a tiny settlement is home to one of the most distinctive church landmarks in Iceland.
Gerthurberg Basalt Cliffs – fascinating interlocking row of basalt pillars that look like a row of black piano keys. Worth a quick stop for a photo, or with more time climb to the top.
We spent our final night in a facing the beach in the Akranes Campground about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik. We returned the camper van the next morning and took the shuttle to the airport.
Final Thoughts Iceland by the Ring Road
We did not tour the West Fjords, which are off the Ring Road. With two to three more days you could add the West Fjords, but the roads are rough and winding and you can not be in a hurry.
The Ring Road can get crowded during peak season with camper vans, cars, cyclist, hitchhikers and sheep! This two lane road has no shoulder and certain sections of the road are gravel. You will cross countless small bridges, many of which are one lane. You just can’t be in a hurry. Take that to heart and plan some extra days for bad weather or potential mechanical difficulties etc. Take it slow when doing Iceland by the Ring Road.
We did not see everything…not even close, despite our 13 days. So good planning is important to see the things of most interest to you.
The photos don’t do it justice…one of the most uniquely beautiful places I’ve been. See it now before the word gets out. Check out Rick Steve’s Iceland Guide – we found it very helpful. And visit www.visticeland.com the official tourism website for Iceland.
Be sure to check in next Friday for our Reykjavik recommendations.
We welcome questions if you are considering visiting Iceland. Ask away in the comments. We promise to respond.
Not everyone is ready yet to travel….and not every country is ready to accept international travelers. But after 13 and a half months stuck in the USA, we are ready to go. So many of you have been asking about our plans, so today I thought I would share with you how we are restarting the Grand Adventure.
The Grand Adventure which began in 2016 has evolved over time and will continue to evolve as we mitigate a new world. We may never again be able to flit from country to country the way we did before, but with planning, caution and ingenuity we think we can have a travel life full of adventure and intrigue.
Restarting The Grand Adventure
After abandoning our travels mid-itinerary in spring 2020, this week we embark on our first international trip. During our time in the USA we have done a lot of travel to eight different states. But this will be our first trip out of the USA since April 30, 2020.
We fly this week to Iceland for a two-week adventure. No tour, just on our own, using the Rick Steves Iceland Guide. Our visit includes three days in Reykjavik, then nine days in a camper van exploring the island. We have visited Iceland before, but only for two short days so we have always wanted to go back. Iceland seems like a safe place for restarting the Grand Adventure.
Summer and Fall
After two weeks in Iceland we will return to Washington State for the rest of the summer, as summer is the best time of year to be here in the Pacific Northwest. We have a couple of short excursions planned within the state as well as a trip to Maine in early September.
On September 20th we fly back to Maui where we will stay in the apartment of a friend who will be off island for six weeks and then two additional weeks in an Airbnb. Then we fly to Los Angeles before heading on to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Next we have a trip to Mexico City for a Taco Tour (no joke, a whole week of eating tacos with a guide) and on to Oaxaca before returning to Washington to spend Christmas with our family.
2022 Away We Go
January and February will be spent in French Polynesia. OMG yes it will. First time there so I’m really excited. We will spend two months on the island of Moorea as a big step towards restarting the Grand Adventure.
March is still unplanned but we tentatively hope to fly back to Washington, say hi to the fam, repack and reorganize and then, embark to Israel and restart the itinerary we abandoned, almost two years to the day in March 2020. We have not booked that yet…we will wait and watch and keep our fingers crossed that the world will find its way and we can find our way back to the retirement life we were living and had always dreamed of.
I plan to continue to blog until its not fun anymore so keep following and we will tell you what we are doing. Finding us on Instagram is a great way to get daily updates and beautiful and fun photos and videos. We love your interest and are grateful. Cheers to all of you for your continued support!
I’ve learned a lot of things from living in the PanDamit, mostly to be more patient and flexible. Additionally I’ve learned there are a lot of crazy people and I just need to keep my head down and do the things I believe in, without judging even when I am being judged. Like I’ve said before, I absolutely refuse to be a victim in all of this. Instead I am searching for the learning opportunities and growing each and everyday from this life we are handed. It is still a fabulous life. And if our adventures help others make the step forward cautiously into the brave new world, then our work here is done.
This is a repost of one of our favorite blogs from 2020. Enjoy again or for the first time.
We spent seven weeks on the island of Cyprus – 37 days longer than we thought we would be here. During that time we were basically under house arrest so there was very little sight-seeing. Fortunately we are allowed to go out to the grocery store (with advanced permission) and the stores were bursting with wonderful fresh produce; avocados, citrus of every kind, carrots, eggplant, zucchini, pomegranates, lots of greens and potatoes and cucumbers. Just about anything you can think of to use in my Cyprus test kitchen.
I’m very grateful that one of the first things we did on arriving in Cyprus in early March, (before all hell broke loose and quarantines and lock downs became the norm), was take a cooking class. By doing so during our first few days, I was introduced to the incredible cuisine of Cyprus; a little Greek, a little Turkish and a bit reminiscent of Eastern Europe. The cuisine is hearty with pork, beef, lamb as well as middle eastern spices and lots of beans, rice and local produce. There is also seafood, although we unfortunately did not experience it.
Since the island was on lockdown during our visit, we were unable to go out and taste the cuisine at the hundreds of restaurants and tavernas dotting the island landscape. So I decided to use all that time I had on my hands to bring the cuisine to us, creating a personal Cyprus test kitchen. I did a similar thing when we spent three weeks on the island of Antiparos a few years ago. We were there in the off-season and almost everything was closed. So I taught myself to cook Greek (see it here). And that was my attitude and goal here in Cyprus. It’s been one of my favorite boredom-buster-in-lockdown activities.
Taste of Cyprus
Before the lockdown began, during our first few days on the island, we signed up for a full-day tour with Cyprus Taste Tours, a local tour company and we were so blessed to meet Liza (Lee-zah) a Cypriot who loves food and loves introducing it to visitors. Our day included a beautiful drive through the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus, a visit to the Vouni Panayia Winery and a visit to the Loukoumia Geroskipou candy making factory. We also made a brief stop at the Chrysoroyiatissa Monastery to learn a bit about the ancient ways of making wine.
But the best part of the day was the four hours we spent at Mrs. Sofia’s Traditional House learning and eating several of Cyprus’ most traditional foods. She has a perfect Cyprus test kitchen and I was infatuated.
Cooking with Mrs. Sofia
As you know, I love taking cooking classes in every country we visit, and it’s always my favorite when I am cooking in a local home with a local family. That’s what happened at Sofia’s Traditional House.
We were at the family home of Sofia and Andreas, the home Sofia grew up in. The original part of the home has been preserved in a way that guests can see how a traditional Cypriot home was in the past. Sofia and Andreas have added a cooking kitchen on to create a space for classes (only through Cyprus Taste Tours) as well as serving meals to tour groups that come through.
We learned so many things during our time with Sofia. First she pulled fresh bread out of the outdoor oven and fresh halloumi out of the outdoor cheese maker. Wow. Delicious.
Next we watched the interesting process of making traditional Cypriot Coffee in a special machine where the coffee cooks in hot sand. Amazing.
Then we began to prepare the ingredients for our feast.
Six Famous Cypriot Dishes
During our time with Mrs. Sofia we learned to make the following dishes;
Halloumi Cheese – famous cheese of Cyprus is fantastic eat fresh, boiled or grilled. Squeaky texture with a very high melting point give it an unusual variety of cooking and eating options.
Koupepia – stuffed grape leaves, very similar to Greek Dolmades, the Cypriot version is filled with rice, pork, tomato and parsley and simmered in a tomato broth.
Keftedes – a word that means meatballs and can refer to many kinds but the most popular are a minced pork, grated potato, onion and parsley with a hint of cinnamon.
Pligouri – which is a pilaf of bulgur wheat. Bulgur wheat is what you might know in tabouleh. Pligouri is considered a poor man’s food, but is delicious, quick and easy to make.
Spoon Sweets and Anari Cheese – Anari Cheese is the fluffy white byproduct of halloumi cheese made by adding fresh raw milk to the whey after the halloumi curds have been separated. Spoon Sweets are spoon size bites of usually fruit but sometimes vegetables, usually the rind preserved in a sweet syrup.
Things I Tackled at Home
After going in to quarantine then followed by lockdown, I realized I wasn’t going to be eating in any local restaurants. So I set out to teach myself in my own Cyprus test kitchen, how to make several more of Cyprus’ most famous dishes. Here is everything I tackled during our weeks of solitude with recipe links when possible;
Sheftalia – a type of sausage without skin its held together with caul fat. Very popular taverna meze. I was able to buy the Sheftalia already prepared at the butcher and grilled it up at home.
Kolokouthkia me ta afka – is a traditional scrambled egg and zuchinni dish often eaten as a mezzo.
Fried Halloumi – this cheese is really amazing, with a very high melting point so it’s perfect for frying…but I also love it’s dense saltiness just to pop in my mouth.
Macaronia Tou Fournou (similar to Greek Pastitsio ) this deep dish casserole was delicious and I plan to make it again. Layers of macaroni pasta, Bolognese sauce, bechamel sauce and grated halloumi it was comfort food at its finest.
Melitzanosalata – smashed eggplant cooked and mixed with garlic, lemon and parsley and usually served as a mezzob.
Avgolemoni Soup – Lemon and Egg Soup. Simple and absolutely delicious. What a refreshing surprise this treat was. I will certainly make it again.
Lamb Chops – for our first Easter dinner we had lamb chops fresh from the butcher, marinated simply in olive oil, lemon and rosemary.
Kleftiko – Lamb Shank. This is the most famous dish on this island, and I wasn’t sure about tackling it. Usually cooked in a traditional outdoor oven for hours and hours, I took my chances cooking it in the oven in my kitchen. This was our Easter dinner on the Cypriot Easter Sunday and it was amazing.
Souvlaki – I’ve eaten souvlaki in Greece and the USA and I love it but I wasn’t sure about making it myself. But on one of our final days in Cyprus I went to the butcher and bought beautiful piece of pork tenderloin and made the most mouth-watering meal! We had a lot of meat left and we enjoyed it again on day two.
Fresh Lemonade – we were up to our ears in both lemons and oranges and we loved having fresh squeezed OJ each morning. We put our fresh lemonade skills to the test and what a refreshing afternoon pick me up.
In addition we learned to make Cypriot coffee in our Cyprus test kitchen, just like Turkish coffee, dark and strong.
Things We Ate Elsewhere
Our lovely Airbnb host kept us in delicious baked goods, including one of Cyprus’ most famous desert flat breads called kattimerka, very much like lefse. She brought us a local molded pudding (cake) made from semolina flour called Halva as well as orange cake. And she also made us our favorite, the traditional Easter bread called Flaounes.
We bought Galaktoboureko at the local bakery, a very dense custard, phyllo, and honey pie.
From the grocery store we enjoyed excellent local olives and olive oil as well as wonderful wines from Cyprus including Commanderia, the Cypriot favorite. As well as Tahini, Hummus and Tzatziki.
At the local butcher we sampled the traditional Tsamarella, a sausage made from lamb or goat and served like an appetizer with cheese and bread.
Things I Didn’t Have
We missed out on one famous Cypriot specialty, a slow clay pot cooked meal called Ttavas. We also didn’t get to experience the cultural tradition of mezzo meals, either a meat mezzo or seafood mezzo at a traditional taverna. This is the most popular way to eat in company, sampling dozens of small dishes while drinking and enjoying each other’s company. So sorry we never got to do that.
Cyprus will always hold a special place in my heart…what a remarkable place to be in lockdown. Even though we missed so much, I still feel a great emotion to the people and the place…perhaps we can return when times are better.
I am so grateful to this country for the love they showed us. EUCARISTW POLU. Thank you very much. You will never know how much it has meant to us.
It’s Orthodox Good Friday here in Cyprus…the start of a four-day holiday, the biggest holiday of the year – one week later than other Easter Celebrations. But not this year. Yes the dates are still the same, but the celebrations have all been called off. In 2020 the story of Easter in Cyprus is on pause.
The President of Cyprus has declared the island people will celebrate a “postponed” Pascha in May. Let’s all hope it will happen. As Cyprus continues it’s lockdown, we all hold our breath and wait.
It’s disappointing not to be able to witness the faithful on this day here in Cyprus, a place I am beginning to feel is my home. Last April we were flabbergasted at the spectacle of Semana Santa in Antigua Guatemala…one of the most wonderful things I have every experienced. I have no doubt the Orthodox Easter Celebration would be just as amazing. Perhaps we will still be here in May when and if it happens.
Meanwhile I’ve been in touch with the local website called Choose Cyprus and they have agreed to let me share this amazing blog that describes the story of Easter in Cyprus and how the people come together in their communities each Pascha.
I hope you can take the time to read it in the link below.
Here we are. Walking our second Camino de Santiago. Why you ask? Why not? It just seemed like we should. Six months ago when we were planning our fall itinerary we were looking at being in Madagascar in October. Until we looked at the airfare. Yikes. Madagascar will need to stay on the bucket list for a while longer. So we turned our attention back to one of our favorite countries, Portugal. And well, here we are.
Having completed the 486 mile Camino Frances last September, I wasnt sure if the Camino Portuguese would be different.
It is different. While also being somewhat similar. One week into the Camino Portuguese, I don’t think I can say I prefer one over the other (yet), because each is special in its own way. But I have found myself during week one on the Portuguese Way comparing it to the Frances Way.
Here are my thoughts so far after one week of walking;
Distances are Different
Of course the biggest difference between the two walks is the distance. When setting out to walk the most popular Camino Frances many people begin in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France. This is where we began on September 1, 2017. Forty-one days and 486 miles later we arrived in Santiago, Spain.
On the Camino Portuguese we started in Porto, Portugal on October 21, 2018. We plan to walk to Santiago and then beyond to Muxia on the Atlantic Ocean. This walk will take us about 15 days and will be 217 miles.
It is a significant difference in distance and days walked – making some of the comparisons here not really fair.
We are Different
We are not the same people we were a year ago. And so this is another major difference. A year ago we had never tackled anything like walking the Camino de Santiago. We were a bit frightened, naive and apprehensive. I think we over trained and over planned and over stressed. I spent too much time reading what other people thought was best. Ultimately most of that wasn’t best for me.
This time we hardly trained, barely planned and did almost zero research. In fact I stayed away from the Camino Facebook pages (which I found last year too judgmental) and just went with what felt good for us. We did use the John Brierley books again – a valuable resource for any Camino pilgrim.
We also don’t feel any pressure this time to “succeed”. We are just enjoying it. If we don’t finish – no worries. If it pours down rain and we hop on a train, so be it. If we get sick or tired and decide to sleep all day – well Buen Camino. Our Camino, our way.
Our Bags are Different
Last year I walked the first 100 miles with a 15 pound pack. But eventually it was too much for my plantar fasciitis and I began shipping my pack ahead each day. This year I decided to do it from the very start. It’s so much better. I last longer and feel better at the end of the day. My Camino, my way.
The Terrain is Different
Over these past six days we have seen quite different terrain than what we enjoyed walking across Spain. We have spent a lot of time in beautiful wooded areas of eucalyptus, cork and pine trees. We have also spent a lot of time on rocky paths climbing over mountains. In Portugal in the suburban areas, and even on country roads, we were forced to walk on difficult cobblestones – both ancient and new.
Similar to the Frances we have also spent a lot of time in bucolic farmland with cows, sheep, horses and goats (there is a distinct Camino aroma!). Most enjoyable is passing miles of vineyards, corn fields, chestnuts, vegetables of all kinds and many fruit and nut trees. Here along the Portuguese way these things are grown altogether. In Spain there were more distinctive sections of types of agriculture.
We left Portugal and entered Spain on day five. Here the path meandered through lovely creek-side shaded paths before we had a major climb with a very steep descent into Redondela. We are now in Spain’s Galicia region, one of our favorite areas last year on our walk. The mountains bring cooler weather, and marine air from the ocean just 8 miles away.
On both routes we enjoy the incredible medieval villages, most fully functional and still living, breathing towns – on the Camino Frances it felt like many of these towns were only there because of the Camino – not so much on the Portuguese. For someone from the USA where old is 200 years, seeing 900 year old villages and 2000 year old Roman bridges and roads still in use is just mind-boggling.
The Portuguese People are Different
Perhaps because the Portuguese Way is not as popular as the Frances, or perhaps because the Portuguese people are only beginning to learn how to be Camino entrepreneurs as The Way becomes more popular; for whatever reason there just are not as many businesses catering to pilgrims.
The accommodations are fewer, the food is definitely not as available and we never encountered anyone just trying to make a buck off of the pilgrims. Last year in Spain it was a normal sight for someone to be set up on the side of the road selling things to pilgrims. Restaurants, bars, cafes were abundant.
But we have found the Portuguese Camino much less developed for pilgrim services.
The Portuguese people are a bit more shy and quiet. They nod and say Bom Dia but keep more to themselves than most of the Spanish we encountered on the Frances.
We expect this to change now that we have arrived in Spain.
Vandalism is Present
The first day we entered Spain our guide-book gave us a choice on routes. We could take the shorter “industrial” route or the slightly longer “scenic” route. We chose the scenic route.
Immediately, and for the first time on either the Portuguese or the Frances, we began to see a clear effort to vandalize signage, misdirect pilgrims and disrupt progress on the “scenic” route. Beautiful granite markers splattered with paint, arrows blacked out and other arrows trying to get walkers to go another way. We stayed the course using the map on our phone.
Our assumption is there are locals not wanting pilgrims to go this way. I’m sure it’s not all locals, but it was a disappointment to us. On the Francis we always felt welcome.
The Pilgrims are Fewer
The most striking difference to us in week one is how few pilgrims there are. Last year we found ourselves on the Camino Frances during its busiest September ever. We had chosen to walk in September because we had read it was a time with fewer pilgrims than in summer but still with good weather.
Well clearly we were not the only ones who had read this recommendation. It was very crowded.
Most days it didn’t matter, but as we got closer to Santiago it was busy and not very peaceful. Rooms were hard to come by and so we started booking several days and even weeks ahead.
Late October on the Portuguese Way is very quiet. On our first day we did not see any other pilgrims. That night at dinner we met a man from Holland. We have now seen him several times. We also have often seen a young couple from Italy/Australia and few others along the way. But until day five the total number was only about a dozen.
On day five we began to encounter more Pilgrims. We learned many start walking in Valenca, the border between Portugal and Spain. We met a woman from Seattle (who had heard about us), another woman from Ottawa and another woman from Russia. We met a group from Australia, a couple from Germany and a couple from Mexico. We have also seen two young men walking with a dog, several cyclists and a handful of people walking the other direction. The Portuguese Camino also supports the route to Fatima going south. Some people walk south from Santiago to Fatima Portugal, a town between Porto and Lisbon where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was considered a miracle and brings pilgrims.
We have enjoyed week one. We feel healthy and capable. The forecast for the week ahead has much rain, and we will take it day by day to see how we proceed. Meanwhile, I am very happy to be here, experiencing once again the magic of the Camino de Santiago.
More soon, from the Way of Saint James. Buen Camino!
What a wonderful decision it was for us to spend three weeks on the tiny island of Antiparos in the south Aegean. We have truly loved our time here.
Using Antiparos as our home base for island hopping wasn’t really what we set out to do, but it worked out well for us to take short day trips to some of the other islands around the area. However, something to note – because of the unusual weather pattern (around the world) the ferry from Antiparos to Paros was shut down for two days due to wind while we were here. Something to think about if you plan to stay only a short time. We had lots of time so it did not affect our plans.
You can hop to Santorini from here, but the off-season ferry schedule makes that tough. During the summer more boats run. But we had already spent three days there so no need to go back. But if you visit and want to do a day trip to Santorini check out both the ferry schedule as well as the privately operated tour boats. The private boats run more frequently. When we took the ferry from Santorini to Paros it costs us 58 Euro for both of us (one way) and took three hours, stopping at Ios along the way. We used Minoan ferry line for this trip.
Mykonos and Delos
We used a private tour boat to visit Delos and Mykonos together on one day. We took the ferry from Antiparos to Paros and we got on a van that transported us to Naousa (the van transfer was included in the tour price). Here we hopped on a boat that could carry about 200 people. It wasn’t full, but perhaps 100 people. It was an hour ride to Delos where we spent three hours touring this amazing island and its significant ancient ruins. Guided tours were available but we did the tour on our own and really enjoyed it.
Back on the boat we motored 15 minutes to Mykonos. We had three hours to wander here. We had a fantastic lunch at Salparo, sitting on the rocks overlooking the harbor. We then enjoyed sauntering around the historic blue and white village, visited historic sites and looked at shops. Three hours was just enough, since we had been to Mykonos once before eleven years ago.
That trip to Delos and Mykonos was an all-day adventure and costs us 50 euro each. We booked this through Polo Tours in Paros.
We visited the island of Paros twice. The first visit we had a car and we headed to Naousa in the north part of the island. The weather wasn’t great but we still enjoyed exploring the tiny alleys and hidden shops and homes in the old chora (village). Naousa also has a charming and picturesque port. We drove up into the mountains to visit the teeny village of Lefkes. This ancient town, far from the water, is unusual in how green it is, unlike most of the brown island landscape, and is home to a small agricultural population. Lefkes is one of the few remaining chora that retains its authentic roots.
The next time we visited Paros we spent several hours discovering Paroikia, the port town where the large ferries come and go. The port area is bustling and noisy, but hidden back behind it is an incredible old chora that many people miss. It once again had some fascinating buildings, tunnels and passageways, a spectacular old castle and temple of Athena, many lovely shops and of course, cats.
We traveled on the lovely Blue Star Ferries to the island of Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades Islands, about a 45 minute ferry ride from Pariokia. We paid 42 Euro total for both of us round-trip. It was a very windy day and I worried about the boat ride, but the Blue Star line runs large, almost cruise-ship style boats, and I did fine with my motion sickness issue.
It was also very windy in Naxos, and this port town is very exposed, so we spent a lot of time wandering the old chora up to the ancient castle and trying to stay out of the wind. It’s another beautiful ancient town. We enjoyed having a drink at the rooftop of 1739, which was out of the wind and offered a spectacular panoramic view. We had a nice lunch of simple souvlaki at Yasouvlaki. We then braved the crashing waves to cross the pedestrian manmade causeway to walk out to the famous ancient portara (door), site of an unfinished temple from 530BC. We got wet. Like I said, it was very windy. But it was worth it. The Naxos Portara was worth it.
At the end of the day in Naxos I told my husband that I have really enjoyed visiting all five of the islands, but in the end, I am so glad we stayed three weeks on Antiparos. It has everything we want; quiet and peaceful, small village, beautiful secluded beaches, a handful of shops and is still close enough to visit the surrounding islands.
I do hope to return here someday.
Where to next?
But now its time to leave. Next stop – ten-day tour of Egypt and Jordan. A definite bucket list destination for me ever since I was a child. We hope you will continue to follow along on our Fab Fifties Adventures.
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