Iceland – driving the Ring Road

I finally made it out to Iceland! Even though it was winter, it was much warmer than I expected. The temperature hovered around 0 °C, so I didn’t need to layer up that much. Too bad, it was cloudy the entire time, I would have liked to see the northern lights.

On my first day of the trip, I headed out along the southern coast of Iceland along the Ring Road. My flight landed early in the morning and because of my poor planning, I would be driving six hours along the Ring Road after 7.5 hour flight. At least the drive was quite scenic during the day!

This was my ride.

Seljalandsfoss

A lot of people come to Iceland to see nature, and waterfalls are among the sights. It reminds me of the kind of waterfalls you’d see in the Pacific Northwest.

Skógafoss

Another waterfall along the Ring Road that’s easily accessible. I’d say it’s even more impressive than the previous one!

There’s also a staircase that takes you to the top of the waterfall, but the view from up there isn’t as interesting.

Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

This place is a bit out of the way. It’s an actual plane wreck of a US navy plane that crashed landed in 1973. It’s on private land and the owners didn’t want to allow vehicle traffic to go there, so it’s a 45 minute walk (one way) from the parking lot alongside the Ring Road. The walk is PRETTY BORING since there is nothing interesting the look at along the way, but it’s pretty worth it when you get to the actual plane wreck. You can even go inside it!

Reynisfjara Beach

This palce is well known for having black sand, and its basalt columns, formed after volcanic activity.

The rest of the drive

It was starting to get dark as I passed the town to Vik, and I ended up spending the night near Diamond Beach, in preparation for the glacier cave tour that I would do the next day. By the time I got there, the roads were pretty much pitch black.

The only place I didn’t get to see that was a part of my plane was Dyrhólaey, which is a small peninsula just off the Ring Road with a view to the ocean with a stone arch on the water, and a lighthouse.

Photos along the Ring Road here

The SkullStore Oddity Shop

I thought that this place was so crazy, it warranted its own post. I can’t remember how I found this place, but this place is DEFINITELY a place less travelled. It’s kind of out of the way from the rest of other tourist attractions, but going here was one of my goals for the trip. I had to see what it was all about.

Here are real human skulls for the low price of $1250!

Why not other bones if not a skull?

Or maybe a walrus skull?

Or maybe if bones aren’t your thing, you can get splices of human brain instead.

They have other stuff that isn’t bones or brains too. Like the skin and pelt.

Aside from the store, there is also a museum section full of more weird things – the only difference being that these items are not for sale. Like this two-faced goat for example.

I don’t even know how they find this stuff.

I gotta say that this place was one of the biggest highlights of the trip. Most of the places I went were standard tourist attractions, but THIS place definitely takes the cake as far as how bizarre and interesting it was. I think a lot of people would be interested to look at stuff like this, it’s just that this place isn’t that well known.

Toronto

For the next leg of my trip, I went to Toronto to visit some friends and some extended family. The first time I went to Toronto, I was only a small child, and when I went back in 2012, I didn’t get to do much as I was only there for a day or two. This time, I got to do a bit more exploring. Here are some of the highlights from my trip to Toronto.

Before my trip, I had no clue what there was to see in Toronto except the CN Tower, and Niagara Falls, which I had already been to. Luckily, this reddit post helped me find few places less traveled

Royal Ontario Museum

It’s a museum that displays different elements of world culture, art, and natural history. Think British Museum, but much much smaller. One thing the ROM has that a lot of museums don’t are dinosaur fossils! There other exhibits showing world history and culture as well.

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

Located on the University of Toronto campus, this library is Canada’s largest repository of publicly accessible rare books and manuscripts in Canada. Among its collection is a copy of Isaac Newton’s Principia from 1687.

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

This aquarium is exactly what you’d expect. Lots of different kinds of exotic sealife, sharks, manta rays, etc. The main exhibit is a giant water tank that contains these animals, and a giant conveyor belt takes guests all around. It’s a pretty good aquarium for those who are into that kind of thing

Casa Loma

This is one of the few “château”s in Canada. It was the largest private residence ever built in Canada and was the former residence of Sir Henry Pellatt, a former Major-General in the Canadian Forces. Now it has turned into a tourist attraction. The museum shows off similar things to what one would expect at a European castle: cool architecture, fancy decorations in just about every room, paintings and other art, antiques, and a garden.


And of course, a giant wine collection.

SkullStore Oddity Shop

This place is SUPER out there. This is a store that sells the skeletons of random animals, the skin of snakes, human remains (bones, preserved brain, etc.), taxidermy, preserved bugs, etc. All cruelty free and legally harvested apparently. Half of the store is an actual shop selling these strange items, and the other half is a free museum of even more weird things that aren’t for sale

The Half House

This half a house just sits on the side of the street like any other building. There isn’t a sign explaining why this is, what it’s doing there or anything like that. According to this site, it’s part of the remnants of the neighbourhood that once was here, where the owners at the time sold only half the house, and so the rest of the community developed around it.

St. Lawrence Market

This place felt similar to something like Granville Island in Vancouver, or Pike Place in Seattle – a farmer’s market positioning itself on selling fresh local meats, seafood, produce, etc. It’s a bit out of the way from the downtown core, and when I went, it was almost closing time, so it wasn’t very busy.

The one thing this place has over other farmer’s markets I’ve seen (at least in Seattle and Vancouver) is the variety. If you zoom in on that picture, below, you’ll see what I mean.

Restaurants

Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and therefore has a lot of offer in terms of food. Of all the places I ate at, these two places were definitely the best.

La Palette

This is a French style restaurant near the Kensington district of Toronto. It’s got an interesting selection of game meat, which was the reason why my buddy and I went. They’ve also got a good selection of wine and staff that are knowledgable about it.

Horse carpaccio (top left); horse tartare (bottom right)
Elk tenderloin

For those wondering, horse doesn’t have a strong flavour like beef does, and it chews like super tender beef. Elk on the other hand, tastes kind of like steak with a bit of gaminess, and is actually quite hard to tell the difference unless you’re someone with really sensitive taste buds

Diana’s Seafood Delight

This place is known for their quality oysters and sea urchin, and also precisely the reason why we were there. They have a selection of different oysters from different areas, but if you gave me a blindfold and asked me which oyster was which, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Sea urchin (left); steamed mussels (right
Raw oysters

Photo albums:

Montreal: Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Old Montreal and the Underground City

During the American Thanksgiving week, I visited some family out in Montreal. I spent most of my time with family, so I didn’t do as much touring around as I had liked to. Besides, this wasn’t my first time in Montreal (here and here).

For one reason or another, I never made it out to Saint Joseph’s Oratory the other times I visited. According to my cousin, “it’s one of the best free attractions in Montreal”.

Saint Joseph’s Oratory is Canada’s largest church, and it enshrines a statue of Saint Joseph within it, I wasn’t able to take a good photo myself of the the oratory in all its beauty, so here’s one from Wikipedia.

By Paolo Costa Baldi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17469968

We weren’t allowed to go inside the main nave (where the people sit in church) of the basilica since it was closed for an event. But we were able to go to the Crypt Church on the floor below.

The statue of Saint Joseph is located in the Votive Chapel. People all over come here as a pilgrimage to pay their respects.

Since Saint Joseph’s Oratory is located on Mont Royal, there is a viewpoint nearby to look into the city.

Someone had some fun at the nearby chalet!

A short hike from there was the Mount Royal Cross. The temperature was only slightly below freezing, so it wasn’t as cold as I expected Montreal to be. I was told that it’d get much much colder in January and February.

The next place we went to was Old Montreal. It was pretty dead, even for a Sunday afternoon. It makes sense since I’m way past the busy tourist season! In the summer, all the restaurants set up patio seating outside, but it was too cold to do any of that in November.

Lastly, I went to the Underground City. Like a lot of cities that get really cold, the city has built a network of underground tunnels so that people can avoid walking outside in the cold winter. Some parts of it are actually really nice!

A piece of the Berlin wall appears in the most unlikely of places..

One of the places I wanted to go on this trip was the Biodome, which tries to recreate different ecosystems in the world to display various plants and animals that live there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reopen until summer 2019.

Photo album: here

Utah and Arizona National Parks

I finally got the chance to explore some of the nature in USA (that isn’t what I’m already used to in the Pacific Northwest).

I think the most famous place around here is Antelope Canyon. It is part of the Navajo Nation Reservation so all the tour guides there were Navajo people. I had never seen such rock formations before so this was cool to see. This rock formation looks like a lady with flowing hair.

And this one looks like an eagle.

Nearby was a giant coal plant that employs a lot of Navajo people. But what will they do when the coal jobs run out? Oh wait, Donald Trump is going to bring them back /s

Next did a super short hike (not sure if that distance even counts as a hike) in the blazing forty something degree Celcius heat to the Horsehoe Bend. The colour of the rocks and the water work so well together.

Kind of near the Horsehoe Bend was the Glen Canyon Dam. A great juxtaposition of natural and the artificial. On the gamer nerd side of things, it also reminded me of the level in Half-Life where Gordon Freeman has to fight through all the soldiers on the dam (video)…

We also went to Bryce Canyon. The pictures don’t really do justice in showing how big the whole canyon is.

On the drive, we saw a ton of cows…

We stopped in Vegas on the way to San Francisco and got the best meal of the whole trip at the Bachannal buffet at the Caesar’s Palace. This was much better than the random fast food we had been having for the few days out in the national parks. I didn’t take many pictures of the buffet, but my friend sure did when he visited a few months back, so check out his video if you want to see what delicious goodness is at this buffet…

That’s pretty much it for this trip.

Photo albums:

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