Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Iceland: Days 9 & 10

Day 9 was another windy day! We stopped at Gullfoss on the way back to Reykjavik, an incredible two-tiered waterfall. Here's Robyn leaning back into the wind:

Here's a 16-second clip just to show you the magnitude of the falls, as well as how windy it was outside!

We drove through Reykjavik and tracked down a super-cheap lunch at the IKEA. I don't understand why Iceland, population 330,000, has an IKEA when Saskatchewan, population 1,000,000 does not!
After we were done eating, we walked down some stairs that led us into the IKEA maze! We wanted to go right away but we had to walk through the whole store. We managed to escape without buying new kitchen chairs and a lamp.

Next, we went to the Bridge Between Continents. As it turns out, the volcano that made the island of Iceland straddles the North American and European tectonic plates, and in some places it is quite visible where the divide is.

We did a lot of driving on Day 9, and decided to end it by visiting the Blue Lagoon, about 45 minutes outside Reykjavik. This was a "must see" attraction on every tourist list, but I had a bad attitude about it because the water in the other spa we went to was insanely hot and I thought this would be the same. I was wrong! Perfect temperature, really cool facility:
There were buckets of white silica mud at various points in the pool that you could slop on your face for a mineral facial. There was also a bar in the pool that served drinks and fudgesicles. We really could not think of anything grosser than creamy fudgesicles that could be served in a pool. Well, except maybe salad - getting a slimy piece of spinach on you while swimming would be gross.

The pools outside were much bluer! But they weren't heated. We suspect they were man-made, they looked too perfect to be natural.

We headed back to Reykjavik to wander around that evening, and the next day before we had to catch our flight. I liked this useful advertisement on a building on the main street:

We returned our rental car on Day 10 - it had 22 kilometres on it when we received it (fresh from the factory!). We returned it after putting on exactly 2600 more clicks:

Downtown Reykjavik was really neat:

And we went to this little place called Te & Kaffe that I absolutely fell in love with... all the pretty cappuccino machines and coffee mugs and tea cups! I didn't want to leave!

And that was it! We hopped on the airport shuttle, waved goodbye to Ed Force One, and headed back to Canada!

We both loved the trip and we'll always, always remember it. It's such an incredible place - the pictures barely do it justice. Check out all my posts about Iceland with this link, and we highly recommend contacting Nordic Visitor if you're interested in a Scandinavian adventure of your own. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011


This happened a year ago.

This happened last night:

Text from my roommate before I rushed over: "OMFG! The bathtub is filling with shit! What do I do!?"

I ran over and thankfully it was just dirt. Lots of dirt. And it didn't go over the edge of the tub. Very lucky, compared to last years' big flood (see link in first word of this blog post).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Iceland: Day 8

Day 8 was Action Day because we did so many things!

The first thing we did was go on a short hike to see a part of the Vatnajökull glacier (the largest in Iceland). Kind of like the one we saw on Day 7, but it wasn't breaking off big chunks that were floating into the ocean. This one was inland, and was still covered in ash from the May 21 eruption.
It's... that big black thing. It was cooler in person, but the beauty was diminished by the ash cover.

As we were driving, some of the landscapes were just crazy. Here's a picture I snapped out the car window of (what I believe to be) old lava bumps covered in old moss and recent ash.

Next we went to Dverghamrar, a small formation of hexagonal lava shafts. Very neat!

This wasn't really a waterfall but a double waterslide behind a town. I forget where exactly this was.

Next: one of my favourite parts of the trip: Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon! We hiked along this ridiculously immense canyon/ravine with a river at the bottom. The further we went, the higher up we were - we were at least a few hundred feet above the bottom of this STEEP canyon by the time we got to the end. Here are two shots that illustrate that:

I shot a little 24-second clip of what it's like looking over the edge:

We saw a black sand beach next! It was far from beach weather so we just walked out, snapped some shots, picked up some rocks, and walked back to the car. This was very close to a puffin nesting area - we tried to go there next but there was a whole area of the island closed during May-June for nesting season. Oh well! Next time.

Another big waterfall! Skógafoss, this time.

The last stop of the day: Seljalandsfoss! One of the coolest waterfalls because we could actually go behind it!!

After: a bit damp:

That's it for Day 8! STAY TUNED for a massive double waterfall, IKEA, a bridge between two continental plates, and the Blue Lagoon!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Iceland: Day 7

On Day 7 we hopped in the car and started driving. It was a bit of a grey, misty day which made for some beautiful scenery:

Our first main stop was at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, a spot where one of Iceland's glaciers meets a lake that feeds the ocean, creating the largest glacier lagoon in the country.

All of the glacier chunks/icebergs were covered in black ash from the eruption a few days prior. However, the freshly flipped icebergs gleamed a brilliant blue in contrast:

We debated on going on a boat ride through the glacier lagoon - we thought it might be hokey, or expensive - but it wasn't too pricey and it was a lot of fun. I managed to snap a quick video of when we took our boat RIGHT BESIDE an iceberg:
This conversation happened:
Guide: "Only 10% of an iceberg is visible on the surface, the other 90% is probably under the boat right now! Eventually parts will melt, the weight will shift, and the iceberg will flip"
Me: "Since we're right beside it, how do we know when it will flip?"
Normally-quiet boat driver with strong Icelandic accent: "We don't."

Robyn captured some incredible shots, I'm so jealous of her camera. Everything I took was only 1600x1200 on a puny 1GB card. When I was your age, I paid $130 for a 128 MB USB stick at Staples!

But a point-and-shoot has its advantages as I captured DOGS ON BOATS

We didn't really want to leave the glacier lake - we spent a lot of time just watching icebergs slowly drift, hoping that we'd see one flip. No flips, but a few bumps, crashes, and disintegrations. It's hard to rank and shortlist the BEST things from the trip, but this would definitely be in the Top 3 sights to see.

Next up was Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park. I think we checked into our hotel and ate supper first, and made this an evening hike because we knew Day 8 would be very busy.

We hiked up to this view from the flattest part of this picture:

This is Svartifoss. Click to see the big version, it's worth it! Check out the unique basalt columns. Very amazing.

We went back to the hotel and that was it for Day 7! STAY TUNED for Day 8, where we explored more unique geology, saw a huge glacier covered in ash, TWIN waterfalls, a black sand beach, another waterfall, an insanely cool and terrifying canyon, and another waterfall that we go behind! Day 8 was very busy compared to Day 7 (but the sights to see were closer together).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Brahm's Yellow Dots" Blog Linked & Quoted in PC World!

A few years ago I learned about the secret matrix of yellow dots that colour laser printers embed on every single page you print on colour laser printers - even B&W-only pages. The key word here is laser - traditional colour inkjet printers don't do this (at least that we know of).

Don't believe me? Print anything from a colour laser printer. Scan it at the highest resolution you can. Now look closely. Here's what I found on my printer and here's some further analysis.

Anyway. I blogged, and I blogged, I wrote letters and made phone calls to Lexmark Canada until they finally admitted to making their printers include the secret yellow dot pattern. This pattern is unique to every printer and can be used to identify from what printer a document is printed - which is, in my opinion, a privacy issue. My motivation was exploring the issue from the consumer side and seeing how a company would respond to a consumer challenge of the technology.

Eventually I got a letter from the president of Lexmark Canada, offering me a refund for my printer. I didn't want the refund (I still liked the printer, despite the privacy issue), but in my mind the story was done. Mission accomplished - consumers who were willing to be vocal enough could at least achieve a refund. The blog didn't get any attention during my adventures, so I left it online for others to find... eventually.

Fast-forward to earlier this week. I get an email from a senior editor at PC World asking if they can link to the blog for an article they're writing on the yellow dots issue! I sent a reply back saying "absolutely" and some reasons why I left the blog online.

PC World published their article yesterday and even quoted my email! Here's an excerpt:
Consumers who discover the dots are understandably surprised. Brahm's Yellow Dots, a blog dating from 2008, chronicles the efforts of Brahm Neufeld, a student at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, to communicate with his printer's vendor, Lexmark, after a friend told him about the yellow dots. To Lexmark's credit, the company eventually acknowledged what was going on and even offered to refund Neufeld for his printer. Neufeld, now an electrical engineer, remains concerned about the technology and the extreme discretion that printer vendors are exercising around it. "My motivation was always to document my experience--as a consumer--trying to get printer companies to fess up to this somewhat-shady practice."
How cool is that! I am curious to see if this makes it to the print version of the magazine.

I took a peek at my blog's analytics and I've netted about 1,000 new hits from the article. Not bad!
(for the Yellow Dots blog, not this one)

Cheers to PC World who is keeping some momentum on this issue going!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Iceland: Day 6

On Day 6 of Supertrip 2011 Robyn and I set off to find Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe!

It was encouraging to see the trail started like this:

And later on, the trail looked like this:

After hiking through mostly-unmarked trails and - seriously - thigh-deep snow drifts, we finally encountered a waterfall. "Dettifoss!" Robyn exclaimed:

'Twas a magnificent waterfall, but it wasn't Dettifoss! It was Selfoss, a feeder waterfall to Dettifoss.

THIS is Dettifoss, discovered about 30 minutes later after hiking along the edge of the cliff pictured above:

Due to the snowdrifts, we couldn't navigate down to a better spot to capture a photo of the magnitude of Dettifoss, but I highly recommend watching the short clip above to get a sense of how monstrous this waterfall is.

After Dettifoss, we had a long stretch of driving to do - we didn't see any more "attractions" on this day. We still saw some cool things though! We drove through a lot of fjords and saw some great mountain scenery, shown further down.

Here is an N1, the only gas station in Iceland that accepts a VISA pin number longer than 4 digits (mine is 6, schmehhh). Some N1 stations had tasty restaurants inside (hot dogs, the most popular fast food in the country).

We got to go through another TUNNEL!! I love tunnels.

Neat shot of tiny farmhouses/barns and a cool "striped" mountain.

Here's the same type of striped mountain but erosion has caused the stripes to turn into steps! So cool!!

Finally, we got to Djúpivogur, where we were spending the night. Fun fact from Wikipedia: the highest temperature ever recorded in Iceland was recorded here in 1939 - 30.5 degrees Celcius!

At we were past the half-way point in the trip, suddenly the meals at the hotels seemed alarmingly expensive. $40 entrées every night (per person) were adding up in our heads. We started our plan of eating more frugally, which this night included buying groceries and making sandwiches in our hotel room. This was my favourite discovery on the trip:
It's basically cream cheese.... mmmmm, bacon.

STAY TUNED for Day 7: Icebergs and glacial lakes, dogs riding boats and a really amazing basalt rock formation on a waterfall!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Iceland: Day 5

"Good morning Brahm!"
"Good morning Robyn!"
"What do you think we should do this morning?"
"Umm, maybe climb a VOLCANIC CRATER because we're in Iceland!?!!"

This conversation may or may not have happened but it is how we started Day 5 of our trip - scaling the Hverfjall crater. It's 1km in diameter and right beside the Dimmuborgir lava fields we saw on Day 4.

Here's what it looked like from the bottom:

Here's a stitched panorama view from the top (click for big!)

Next we went to look at an area called Hverir - an area of intense geothermal activity. Here's me standing right beside a geothermal steam vent:
Robyn captioned this "Iceland: go as close as you want, just don't get burned".

These steam vents were LOUD. See video:

Also, there were tons of bubbling mud pots! So cool! Video:

Next we went to look at a geothermal power plant. Apparently they let people wander around inside and ask questions BUT there was no clearly marked way for tourists to go inside and gawk so we decided to stay off the site.

Robyn found a baby horse

We found a hidden little park area on a trail somewhere. Kind of strange because there are so few trees in Iceland. 

We went to a geothermal "nature bath" to relax at the end of the day. 
(I was wearing swimming trunks, I swear!)

Chaos on the road! Sheep have the right of way in Iceland - it's the law. 

That was about all the action for Day 5! Stay tuned for Day 6: The most powerful waterfall in Europe, beautiful scenery, and bacon cheese spread!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Iceland: Day 4

 Day 4 of Iceland! You can see all of my posts in the Iceland series of blog posts by clicking here, and don't forget to check out Robyn's blog too.

Click on the images to see the big versions.

Day 4 was an action-packed day - we did a lot of stuff! We started off my driving around quiet peninsula on a gravel road, North of where we stayed on the previous night. We stopped to look at some Icelandic horses/ponies and they were interested in us!

On the west side of this peninsula was a viewing point to this neat rock formation beside the ocean, called Hvitserkur

We continued on the gravel road and saw a neat "fort" called Borgarvirki that is on top of a volcanic plug. The way the rock formed made it brittle and it breaks off in sheets. Sometime in history, Icelanders/Vikings used the brick-shaped rocks to build a fort! No one really knows anything else about this place.

Okay.. the unhealthiest thing I ate on this trip. We stopped at a little gas station in Akureyri (referred to as "the Capital of Northern Iceland" and got hot dogs - a national favourite. All of the signs were in Icelandic, and I always like to try new and possibly gross things when I have the chance, so I pointed and ordered at something that had chicken and fries on it. This is what I got:
It was.... greasy. Technically flavourful from some sort of chipotle sauce on it, but after 4 days of pretty healthy eating this was a system shock.

In Akureyri I bought fish chips, which is either a popular Icelandic snack or something that every store carries to humour tourists like us.
Opening the bag made the car reek like fish. Robyn made me keep them in a ziplock and I was only allowed to eat them outside, far away from the car. Jeepers!

Next stop: Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods!
Because there are no fences or anything keeping people far away from the natural attractions in Iceland, we walked over some rocks and peered over the edge of the falls - just feet away from a 12 metre drop!

Next, we checked into our hotel in Reykjahlíð. This is a small, 300-person town beside Lake Mývatn, an area chock-full of attractions - so much that we were spending two nights in this hotel. The night was still young so we decided to check out Dimmuborgir after supper.

Oops! We didn't check out Norwegian symphonic black metal sensation Dimmu Borgir, we checked out a natural lava formation called Dimmuborgir, which translates to "dark castles".

Here's Robyn inside a huge lava cave called "the Church" after it's steeple-like entrance on one side.

Here's me in front of the entrance:
"Kirkja" translates to "Church".

That was it for Day 4! Well, not really, there were so many more pictures.. but we can't share all of them!

STAY TUNED for Day 5: Climbing a huge volcanic crater, checking out geothermal steam vents and mud pots, a nature bath, and more!