Iceland, Copenhagen, Windsor Make for a Fantastic Break

Friday 21 August to Tuesday 8 September 2015

travellingross rating = 10/10

After another short busy rotation, I was off again. This time to Europe which is the best flight as it is direct to Amsterdam, on a good airline (KLM) and leaves in the late afternoon rather than the usual 6am or thereabouts. With the shorter time on site, it was hectic (but still enjoyable and challenging in the right ways), so I had limited time to plan anything for this break. Fortunately I was meeting 2 friends who shared the planning work load. And it helped having a day off in Parbo before flying out (to get the KLM flight, rather than fly questionable Surinam Air).

Iceland

Landing in Amsterdam, I had a five hour layover which was enough to get my McDonalds fix, then meet Amy who had flown in from South Korea a few days earlier to catch up with cousins in Rotterdam. I spotted her in the WOW (yes, that’s the Icelandic budget airlines name) line and it was our first time in person for 18 months. Amy and I did more research for Iceland while reading the wow airplane magazine enroute from Amsterdam. Very informative and we quoted from it throughout the trip.

We arrived a couple hours ahead of Chiraag (a mutual friend from Perth) and then set off to collect our Renault Captur rental car before heading east. Iceland is only 330,000 people but the rental car guy said they have had 1.5 million tourists this year so far. the rental car guy gave me the low down on random things to beware of renting a car in Iceland – sand storms, wind so strong it could flip your door off, ash damage, the speed limit is max 90kmh. So throughout the 7 day trip we would remind each other “hold your door” when getting out as the wind was truly the strongest I have experienced. It was also cold for summer and I was very glad to bring my thermals. As I expected, Iceland is overall quite expensive, especially on the food side since most of it is grown in glass houses due to the cold and infertile volcanic soil. A soup for instance is around $23 AUD (but some places have refills). But this is offset by free entry to every sight that we saw (expect Blue Lagoon). The 3 of us all have similar travel interests and Iceland is full of natural wonders which is my travel turn-on so we all rated the trip as one of our best ever. We laughed a lot and it was an excellent setting to catch up. Chiraag had roaming data on his phone and that made a world of difference so we could search places to see if worth a stop as we drove by, navigate, review restaurants ratings before deciding to walk in etc.

The photos speak for themselves and show the beauty of this country. Highlights for me were seeing countless waterfalls during a 6 km hike, seeing my first glacier, swimming in a thermal hot river, bubbling hot springs, and of course seeing the Northern Lights unexpectedly in the capital city (Reykjavik). The latter has been on my dream travel list for many years and we saw something spectacular as we walked out of our apartment – purples, whites, greens. Surreal and filled the sky. I still want to see more and hear that Canada is also good for it (with the added bonus of polar bears). Overall, Iceland reminded me of New Zealand but ten times better and less populated so it made driving a dream.

Copenhagen, Denmark

We hauled ass to the airport to make it in time for Chiraag’s 6:30am flight to Dublin and then Amy and I battled the longest security line ever known to man for our flight to Copenhagen. We landed about midday and still did not have accommodation. I had spent time last night searching options and found an AirBnB place that would be perfect only to get declined when I checked my messages on airport arrival. So we taxi’d to my back up hotel contemplating whether to stay there one night while we found something better. But we searched and got an ‘instant book’ AirBnB place in a really good location that we could go immediately to to drop our bags and then come back at 5:30pm to check in.

Copenhagen is a smaller global city of about 1 million people and so more my preference than the overly busy cities elsewhere in Europe. Over the 5 days we managed to visit a range of sights including doing a free walking tour (for a tip), the Carlsberg brewery, Rosenburg castle with the crown jewels and royal collection, the Amalienborg Palace which has no big gates or exclusion zones, and shopping along the world’s first pedestrianised mall (that confusingly has bikes and cars on it). The Danish capital offered Amy and I time to sleep in and relax more than the full days of Iceland so we both enjoyed that. Food was really good (which is saying something coming from me who is not a foodie). The weather was mostly cloudy and wet except our last full day that we went to the brewery. I had very little knowledge of Denmark, so I enjoy these type of trips where you go in ignorant without even knowing that they are not on the Euro currency (how annoying) and now know more about the country than some Danes themselves. Amy and I are now full bottles on the Danish Monarchy. I have little idea what the remainder of the country has to offer, but the city is only 16 km from Sweden across a road bridge so it would be quite simple to return and explore the Scandinavian area.

Windsor, United Kingdom

We were asked to check out early from our Copenhagen accommodation (11am) so we got to the airport with time to have a bite to eat and spend our last Kroner before saying goodbye as I flew to the UK and Amy to Taiwan. We’ve previously travelled to Las Vegas, Niagara Falls, Houston, and Jamaica together but I would say this was our best trip together so far.

The mission of the UK trip was to stay with a friend I met at the Ghana job (doctor who was Chief Medical Officer) who lives in Windsor and also to meet up with friends I met at Munich Oktoberfest in 2013. It was nice (and cheap!) to stay with a friend for a change, and nicer still to be in a place where I had no tourism desires since it is my 3rd time to Windsor/London and I have done pretty much all the tourist items there (except I still want to do the London eye, see Kew Gardens and Greenwich). So instead we visited the local pub, went to the local shops, saw a stand-up comedy show in Chiswick (must be posh as the comedians kept referencing this), bussed into Piccadilly Circus to see a Saturday matinee performance of ‘The Book of Mormon’ (ok stage show from the writers of South Park, but I am surprised so many people go see it as it is as controversial as that TV show), then met up with my Oktoberfest friends for dinner and a couple beers, and a sunny Sunday to wander the main street of Windsor and have a final pub dinner (unfortunately the worst steak sandwich I have eaten…or attempted to eat I should say) before getting up at 4:45 am Monday morning to go the 15 mins to Heathrow to catch my flight to Amsterdam and then direct back to Paramaribo. A relatively quiet way to end the international component of my break. Typing this on the flight and have a day off in Parbo tomorrow (Tuesday) before returning to work Wednesday.

Websites and Tips to Make this Trip

Stayed at:

Iceland:     Hellisholar Cottages, Hvolsvollur, 280 euro for 2 nights for a 3 bed studio cottage. VERY small with no light in the shower (lucky for mobile phone flashlight). Nice setting, terrible restaurant food.

Klukka Apartment, Selfoss, ISK36,000 ($267 USD) for 2 nights. Looks terrible from the outside but spacious, modern and adequate on the inside. Half of someone’s house cut off and adapted. Good location.

Reykjavik Airbnb apartment for $463 AUD for 3 nights. 2 bedroom unit in a complex with a small balcony which we could watch Northern Lights from.

Copenhagen: Montergade 4, $900 USD for 4 nights. See Airbnb review.

Rental Car: Compact car (Renault Captur) from Green Motion booked through holidayautos.com for 399.25 Euro. Glad I got an automatic.

Suriname: Parbo and Berg en Dal

Wednesday 29 July to Wednesday 5 August 2015

travellingross rating = 8/10

My short rotations and short breaks continued. This time a 15 day rotation, then 7 days off then 15 days on before finally getting back to my normal 19 off, 23 on. All to provide coverage for one week when the top 4 environmental staff would be off-site. I don’t mind it all that much but it is hard to get into a rhythm and have people around you wondering what the hell kind of roster you are doing. But for sure I was not going to fly out of the country for just 7 days off. So I stayed in Suriname. Spent 5 nights in Paramaribo at a different and nicer hotel than the Marriott which is what work puts us up at (although I have reached Gold Status with Marriott so the upgraded rooms are growing on me). Had 2 nights at a jungle resort as well. Would like to have travelled along the coast to see the turtles coming ashore to lay eggs but it is wrong time of year.

I tried to make plans with the locals I knew were on break in Parbo but quickly realised the Surinamese are not the greatest for sticking to plans. They don’t know what they’re doing until 5 minutes before they do it. It’s a level of disorganization that grates against my every instinct and motive. But maybe that’s all part of the test. I did spend a day out with some local guys from work and went to the cinema (saw Pixels which I enjoyed), which was good to see parts of town I’m yet to experience.

Berg en Dal (the jungle resort) is considerably larger than I expected. Full bus load of people came along with me for the 2 hour journey from the city. Beautiful setting by the river. Had to wait 2 hours before I could check into room. Food is average. Lots of families. Down side was that everyone speaks Dutch so all the tour info and greetings are in Dutch (this convinced me to download the Dutch language in Duolingo and finally succumb to learning Dutch over Spanish). Very tranquil place with cabins immersed in the rainforest like you’re in a tree house. No ceiling fans anywhere so lack of air movement makes it stuffy in this humid climate, but rooms have air cons. The beds are super comfortable soft, but I do prefer a firm mattress. There was a father and son who wore the same outfit every day – day and night. There are many adventure activities available; I chose kayak on the Suriname River which was a good mix of energy and exploration (the threat of Piranhas is an added incentive not to capsize).

The 7 days spent in Suriname were perfect time off to catch up on life and have some alone time. Work is so time consuming and hectic that there’s not much time to do anything else. Or when I do have a spare hour, I just want to vegetate.