We are finally back and unpacked from our 3 1/2 week trip to Iceland and Ireland. We began the trip back on July 29 by flying across the US and on to London and then back to Reykjavik, Iceland. We arrived a couple days before our tour with Alyson Adventures started. We booked a one-day excursion of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, a western region of Iceland that was not part of our other tour. The Snaefellsjokull glacier dominates the Snaefellsnes peninsula. It is renowned for its mystical powers and was the starting point of Jules Verne's novel "Journey to the Centre of the Earth".
The Alyson group was a blast. For this trip there were 12 gay men (2 couples counting us, the rest were all single; 9 from the USA, 2 from Canada and 1 from Ireland) and a US guide from Alyson and a local Icelandic guide named Halldor. Although Halldor is a straight man, he now only guides for gay groups. After years of leading various types of groups, he has decided that the best and most appreciative groups are gay men. We highly recommend this trip and Alyson Adventures in general.
Some of the trip’s highlights:
* Soaking in the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa and one of the most visited attractions in Iceland.
* A biking tour around the city of Reykjavik.
* A mountain bike ride through the rift valleys of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The dirt road ran through landscapes that varied from lush vegetation to alien moonscapes. One of the remote fields was used by the first Apollo astronauts to practice moonwalking. NASA chose the location because it offered earth's closest approximation of lunar conditions.
* A rainy afternoon of rafting on the Hvita River.
* Kayaking on the coastal waters of Stokkseyri during a beautiful, calm sunset.
* Fording a glacier fed stream and having your feet go numb half way across.
* Hiking to a volcanically-warmed river and shedding our clothes and jumping in and soaking au natural.
* Hiking to countless waterfalls including Gullfoss or "Golden Falls", the most famous waterfall in Iceland. Our guide, Halldor, also showed us a beautiful artesian waterfall.
* Seeing dozens of geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived, as well as the famous Strokkur geyser that erupts every 5-10 minutes.
* Enjoying the big, heated pool complexes that Icelanders enjoy at the end of the day as a relaxing social activity.
* One of the most interesting sites was Iceland's most historic spot: Thingvellir (Parliament Plains). It was at Thingvellir that the Vikings formed the world's oldest true parliament, in A.D. 930. Geographically it is also where European continental plate is pulling away from the American plate. We hiked along a chasm between the two continents.
* Reykjavik, as well as all of Iceland, is on the verge of being the “It” place to vacation. I believe with in 5-8 years tourism could be primary industry. I suggest seeing Iceland now with all its natural beauty and historical charm before it goes all resort commercial.
The trip ended on the first day of a four-day Gay Pride celebration. Reykjavik Gay Pride organizers nickname the event “the biggest little pride in the world”. And with around 70,000 attendees, it is small compared to San Francisco or New York City; but in a country of just 310,000 people, Reykjavik Gay Pride is Iceland’s second biggest annual event. Everyone comes out for it…families, seniors, kids, straight or gay. Like a Columbus Day or St. Patrick's Day celebration, on Pride everyone is gay and decked out in rainbows and pride paraphernalia. The celebration begins with a variety show on Thursday night. Friday offers several concerts and dances. Saturday afternoon at 2pm the Pride Parade marches through the city center and is followed with a large outdoor concert. Another big dance happens that night. Sunday, Pride weekend closes with a Rainbow mass at the Reykjavik Cathedral.
We began our second island vacation on August 11. Again we had several days before the next adventure group started in Dublin. We stayed at a gay owned Bed and Breakfast called Nua Haven. It is located in a quiet Dublin neighborhood not too far from the city center. We spent most of the time exploring the city. We did a historical walking tour, a tour of Trinity College that included the Old Library and the Book of Kells. We toured the National Galley of Ireland and saw four plays/performances: “An Ideal Husband” by Oscar Wilde at The Abbey Theatre, “The Weir” by Conor McPherson at The Gate Theatre (a prestigious theatre founded by a gay couple, Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir in 1928), “Riverdance” at The Gaiety Theatre, and a one-act, lunch-time theatre performance at Bewley's Cafe Theatre. We visited just about every gay bar (6 of them) in the city. Compared to San Francisco, Dublin’s gay bars are VERY classy and stylish. We also checked out the men’s spa too.
Our Irish hiking trip was through REI Adventures. We have enjoyed the half-dozen trips we have done with them. This trip was a hiking reunion with people we met on an earlier trip when we did the English Coast to Coast hike 3 years ago. Eight of the ten people on this trip knew each other from then. The trip began by meeting in Dublin and heading out to the seaside resort of Bray. From there we went to Cashel and then the Beara Peninsula and overnight in the picturesque town of Castletownbere. We spent a couple nights in Kenmare and then Dingle. In Dingle we attended the local community theatre and saw an Irish comedy, “Drama at Inish” by Lennox Robinson at The Beehive Theatre.
The highlights for me were the castles and pubs, plus the postcard pretty scenery we saw hiking. My favorite pubs were in Dingle. There were two types: charming tourist-type pubs that advertised “traditional Irish music nightly” and the easy to overlook local’s pub. The pubs visited by the locals can easily be mistaken for store fronts. In fact, they are both a store and pub. One is a shoe repair store and pub, another is a hardware store and pub and a third is a sporting goods store and pub. For much of the hike, we dodged rainstorms. Ireland was experiencing their wettest August in recorded history. Our last day in Ireland found us back in Dublin. We spent the afternoon touring the Guinness Storehouse and downing one more pint of Guinness.
[More pictures: Iceland. Ireland]