My friend Brad flew up from Florida to join my mom and I on this trip and we met him at the Baltimore Airport. It took us two hours to get out of DC because of traffic, which is essentially the same amount of time it took Brad to fly up from Orlando. It was great to see Brad after two plus months of being apart. We got his bags and joined my mom over in the international pier of the airport only to learn that Icelandic Air's computers were down on the entire eastern seaboard, so they were issuing tickets by hand. We made it to the gate on time though and boarded the plane. As we were walking down the gangplank you'll never believe who I was walking behind... Quentin Tarantino... he was apparently on his way to some film festival in Iceland. I didn't have enough courage to speak to/bother him, but luckily there was such an asshole walking in front of him. Tarantino was really nice about it and answered all the guys questions though. But it was really cool, it's now upped my celebrity sightings to a total of two and a half (I smacked into Colin Powell once; and I saw the Green Day tour busses on the road once, but I only consider that half since I never saw the band members).
The plane flight was average, nothing out of the ordinary. I had the window seat and a really crappy meal of chicken with stuff. When we landed it was still dark and there wasn't much of a view out of the window. We got into the Reykjavik terminal, which is really nice and modern, and changed money into Icelandic Krona. The exchange rate was about $1 US to 60 ISK. Next we rented a car from Hertz (we'd made the reservation online earlier in the week) and got on the road in our little Toyota. It was still dark out, even though it was about 9am. We drove to the US military instillation, the Keflavik Naval Air Station (NAS) where we were staying at the Lodge to save some money since Iceland is super expensive for everything. We checked into our rooms (3 single rooms, $24 per person per night), took showers and hit the road again to go explore.
Brad drove into Reykjavik and after we got severely lost we finally found Perlan, or the Pearl, which is this big dome structure on top of one of the city's hills. It stores natural hot water to disperse for heating the city and also has a great restaurant, cafe, observation deck, and Viking Museum. We went to lunch at the cafe and had our first encounter with how expensive things were. We spent about $70 on three meals, and it was mainly just lunch food. I had two bowls of this amazing cream of asparagus soup with bread and butter. Icelandic butter is to die for... it's so so good, and we ate it at just about every meal. I also had this really good soft drink called Applesin, sort of like orange soda. We did the Viking Museum after lunch and it was a really unique layout. We were given CD players and headphones and you listened to corresponding tracks in front of numbered displays. The displays were life size, wax sculpture dioramas of various parts of Icelandic history. The CD explained about the Vikings exploration and settlement, interesting characters in their history and other things I'm sure. I was so jet lagged by this time, and I'd finally been fed, that I got insanely sleepy and unfortunately digested little of what I heard. I ended up sitting down and watching this looping video of how the Viking exhibits had been made until Brad and my Mom were done. Everyone was really tired too so we headed back to the NAS and all took naps.
When we woke up we went to a local grocery store to buy some snacks and poke around. My mom and I love to go to grocery stores in foreign countries because they give you such a picture of what it's like to live there. There are always amazing things to look at and usually really yummy things to eat. So we quickly filled a shopping basket with chips (Paprika, one of my favorite flavors from Germany), candy (chocolate with licorice [which was so nasty I can't even tell you], kinder eggs [!!!! and if you don't know what these are, go find some immediately], these coconut/chocolate/wafer bars that were called Florida [really good too], these hazlenut/chocolate cookies [exactly like the Girl Scout cookies Tagalongs but with hazlenut instead of peanut butter... these were amazing, I pretty much ate the entire box myself]), drinks (coke, juices), bread, butter, cheese, ham, turkey, some mini lamb meatballs, and last but not least these dried/seasoned fish snacks. We all made a pact to eat one... and they were the single most horrible things... I gagged before I could even chew three times. My mom spit hers out too, Brad was the only one that actually ate one.
After the store we decided that we were all still pretty tired so instead of going into Reykjavik for dinner or activities we went to the Bowling Alley on the NAS. We'd hoped to bowl, but it was closed for League tournament. We ate at the snack bar though which is always yummy, and provides you with enough grease to last the rest of your life. My mom and Brad sat and discussed baseball while I just watched the bowling and all the people. It was really interesting for me, because I felt strangely at home. Now that I no longer have an ID card and can't go on base anymore, when I am on base it's always like coming home for me. All of the interactions that go on on base are pretty much the same anywhere, so it was cool to have that sense of home even though I was all the way in Iceland. We rented movies too, but never ended up watching them. Back at the lodge, we all congregated in my room and tried to play a game of scrabble, but we were all pretty tired, so called it a night.
Day II to come soon...
So I took off Sunday morning and drove down to Virginia Beach (via 95 and 64... approx. 2 1/2+ hours). I needed some beach time, and to get out of the house. Morris came with and when we first got into town we just drove up Atlantic Ave. and looked at all the hotels and then up on the North side of town at all the pretty family/vacation homes. We turned onto one of the side streets that had beach access and parking and went down onto the beach. It always amuses me at the varying widths of beaches. I got so used to Florida beaches where it was probably 30-40 steps between the parking lot and the water's edge. Virginia beach on the other hand is a bit of a walk, not nearly as bad as Wildwood Beach in NJ though... that thing's a good quarter mile wide. Morris and I just sat and watched the waves and the only 3 surfers around, who we somehow managed to position ourselves right in front of, which was cool. It was pretty flat, so they were just surfing the beach break, but they got some decent rides. Morris was busy chasing seagulls... I can't decide which he likes chasing more, seagulls or squirrels. It was nice though, that he was allowed on the beach. Florida gets kind of bitchy about pets, but it looks like VA has the rule no pets between 10am-6pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day and then they're allowed whenever off season.
We stayed at the Days Inn on 32nd St. and Atlantic... they have a $25 pet fee, which sucked, but they were nice rooms and it is difficult to find hotels that allow pets right on the waterfront, so I sucked it up and payed. It was a nice rate though, off season and with a AAA discount, about $62 without the pet fee. We had a great room up on the 5th floor, with a balcony overlooking the ocean. It was so nice to sleep with the sliding door open listening to the waves all night. That was another thing, the weather this weekend was amazing! Sunny and in the 70's... which is pretty astounding for November in Virginia, or at least from what I remember when I lived here before.
Sunday night I walked up the street for dinner, to a place called Pi-zzeria (like the math symbol... you know 3.14). It was a pizza place (my mom and I have this tradition that we always get pizza for dinner the first night when you get to the beach, but not a chain place, has to be some local place... so, couldn't break tradition even if she wasn't with me) that had a nice upscale feel, with all sorts of random toppings and intriguing combinations. I had the lots of meat combo on my pizza... it was crazy good, with a nice crispy crust. I guess they have a rotating brick oven that makes the crusts perfect. It was nice too to sit out on the patio this time of year. In retrospect I should have ordered the meatball pizza... cuz the meatballs were the fav. topping on the pizza I did order. Weirdly enough, this was the only pizza that I did not enjoy cold leftovers of the next day. Morris did though.
After dinner Morris and I went for a long walk on the cement boardwalk that runs the length of VA beach. We met this weird little girl, probably 8 or 9 and unbelievably precocious. She desperately wanted to walk Morris and play with him, even though I explained to her numerous times that he was shy and scared of people. She eventually settled for holding Morris' leash and then ran off with him, with Morris looking back at me plaintively trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I didn't know whether to laugh, be sad for him, or be mad... it was definitely weird. I finally convinced her though that he was really scared and that I couldn't predict what would happen if he got more scared. Then she wanted to know if she good show me some cheers she knew (even though she wasn't a cheerleader I also learned). They were so unbelievably inappropriate for an 8 year old, I wonder where the hell she learned them and if she had any clue what she was talking about. Finally she let her hostages go in search of other dogs and owners to torture and Morris and I booked it out of her general vicinity. We walked back to the hotel on the beach just in case she was still out on the board walk. It was impossible to see Morris out on the beach at night since he's all black and blended into the dark sand like he was part of the night. I'd go for like 5 minutes without seeing him and then get nervous and call him back and then suddenly there would be this dark shadow rushing at me from any direction... it was a crazy walk that night to say the least.
I pondered going to see a movie that night, but ended up having a nice phone conversation with Chris while sitting on my balcony and staring at the ocean. The next morning Morris and I went for another walk on the boardwalk and then left the hotel. I went to get breakfast at Mary's on 17th St. which is a local's place (their claim to fame... "the local's choice for 40 years"... or something like that). It was great, you seat yourself and have a really nice selection. I had the early bird (anything before 9am) 17th St. special... 3 pancakes, choice of ham/sausage/bacon, and an orange juice for $4.75. Can't beat that price, and it was crazy good too.
Morris and I then went down to Sandbridge, which is a small beach town 15 minutes south of VA beach. To get to it you just follow Pacific Ave. south out of town until you see the sign for Sandbridge to your left. It's a town of houses up on stilts and a whole bunch of sand and that's about it. It amused me that they had all these signs up about their dune restoration in progress, but the dunes were overflowing onto the road closest to the ocean. For the width of this one lane in each direction size road, the lane closest to the dunes was covered in sand. I was all paranoid since I was driving my mom's Honda (our previous Honda got stuck in the sand one time down in the Outer Banks). So Morris and I went down on this beach which was lovely and deserted. Morris chased zillions of seagulls and tired himself out good and proper. It was so funny, he would get so frustrated when they flew right above him out of his reach, or out over the water... he started barking at them, which just made them squawk at him, which you know was their laughing at him.
Next I went to the Virginia Aquarium (previously called the Virginia Marine Science Center). It has two buildings worth of things to see, separated by a nature trail (about 10-15 minutes to walk apparently, since I never made it to the second building) and an IMAX theatre, which shows 3D movies. So I bought an adult combo ticket (entrance and one movie) for $17.95 (although I paid $15.95 since I had a coupon for $2 off, available in all of the free touristy brochures and booklets you find everywhere). I somehow timed it really well for one of the movie showings, so saw SHARKS! 3D first. It was a cool film. Not as amazing as some IMAX films I've seen, but not bad. The 3D was pretty cool... I love watching little kids in movies like that, when they reach out and try to touch things. The only thing that freaked me out a lot was the 3D jellyfish drifting out towards you and then even like bumping into the camera... so it seemed like they'd run into your face. And if there's one thing I'm totally insanely afraid of, it's jellyfish... so I was trying to be a big girl and keep my eyes open, since I KNOW they're not real and can't hurt me... but it was making my skin prickle and feel all weird and uncomfortable. The rest of the aquarium was really nice. It was more science oriented then some I've been to, they had lots of buttons to push and water/weather/beach science experiments to try and only a few tanks of fish, sharks, seals, etc, but still a very nice set up. It took me about 2 hours to go through the one building and by that time my attention span was about shot... so I opted not to do the second building, something to catch next time I'm down there.
I went to lunch at Tropical Smoothie, which is an absolute fav of mine. I used to go all the time on the Panhandle and then when I finally discovered one in Winter Park. I got my favorite which is the King Caesar wrap and a Jetty Punch smoothie (strawberries and bananas). They took forever with my wrap and I had to remind them that I'd ordered one, but were nice and gave me a free smoothie card to apologize. Besides, I'm not one of those people to yell about stuff like that. There are enough mean people in this world and not like I was on a busy schedule or anything.
After that I finally decided to head home. I thought it would be a "good" idea to take a different way home for an interesting drive... couldn't have been more wrong if I'd tried. I went across the Chesapeake bridge/tunnel ($12 freaking bucks!) and then up the DelMarVa peninsula and across to DC through Annapolis. It was like twice as long of a drive and was definitely not scenic, but boring and long and 55 stinking MPH the entire way. I also have this really freakish thing that happens to me EVERY time I drive in DelMarVa... I get lost or paranoid that I'm lost, which requires either extensive backtracking, traversing across little back country roads or long moments of conferring with the map to verify where I am. It's like the Bermuda triangle for me.
So, it was a really good trip. I like VA beach a lot. It's a nice mix of sleepy beach town and resort beach town... Somewhere happy between Ocean City or Myrtle Beach and Long Beach Island. I definitely plan to return soon when I need another dose of ocean. Although I'm not surfing there until the water warms up... I'm sorry, but I hate wetsuits and cold water. And the waves are not worth it.
the pretty sunset Sunday night, views from the hotel parking lot and my balcony, respectively
I'm discussing airports tonight. I had to pick my mom up at Washington National tonight and she was incredibly late getting in, so I got to walk around and shop. I like the new portion of that airport, it reminds me of a train station with coffered ceilings, but with a modern twist, since it's all steel beams and glass. They've got lots of good stores too. National Geographic, Borders, Crabtree and Evelyn, Brooks Brothers, not to mention Cinnabon! They also had this cool stationary and small gifty things store, Poetry and Prose? I think that's what it was called. That was a dangerous store, so many cool journals and cards and random things that I live to waste money on. I bought this little $1 book of Travel quotes, it was great. I'd share some, but it's downstairs and I'm too comfortable to go get it. I also got this mini art kit, with one of those wood poseable mannequin/dolls/drawing aids, a pencil, paintbrush, paper, and mini water colors. And finally, my last minute impulse buy (and when I say last minute, I mean it, he was closing the store gate after me) was a mobile with little clips for pictures. It's probably good that the stores all closed, I might have bought more. I used to have this BRIGHT yellow National Geographic messenger bag that I bought at that airport. I used it throughout high school and it's disappeared subsequently. Overall though, I like National. It's so small and cute and efficient.
I really miss the Orlando airport. It's cute little future-y tram (copying the one out at Disney?) between the main terminal and the two gate concourses. Plus I like the hotel that's inside the airport. It has these weird balconies that remind me of a beehive for some reason. They have a really nice christmas tree every year as well. And out in the parking garages, they have these little oases with waterfalls and pools that are totally useless but really pretty. Random side note, Thursday afternoon is a really good time to fly in and out of Orlando, there's hardly anyone ever there.
The Airport I hate with a freaking passion is Dallas-Ft. Worth because it is 8 miles long and invariably you come in on the exact opposite side of where you need to make your connection and you have to haul ass through all of humanity across that distance in basically 6 minutes, forget your bag ever making the connection as well. One time I hailed one of those kamikaze cart drivers to transport me across... I feared for my life the entire time and I'll risk missing the connection from now on unless some enterprising soul sets up a stand for motorcycle helmets and protective gear for the cart rides. The one good thing I can say about Dallas is one time when I could actually make my connection with spare time, I ran across an old acquaintance from high school (oh alright, I had a massive crush on him and he was incredibly hot). He was passing through on break from the Air Force Academy and we had a nice little chat. That shouldn't really count though as a good thing about Dallas, that's more a compliment for fate or something.
I'm not a fan of the New York airports either, JFK or La Guardia. La Guardia feels like a time warp trip back to the 70's. Not to mention they're a bitch to get to on time from anywhere in Manhattan.
Atlanta is one that I've spent considerable time in, and sadly enough I can tell you where most of the good stores and food places are... like specifically what concourse... example: Ben and Jerry's on concourse C, best dessert in the airport. I really like the subway thing too. I used to despise all the different terminals, but now since I'm more familiar with it, it doesn't bother me. Plus, hide and seek in the airport is way fun since it's so extensive. Another fun game while waiting for your flight is to ride the subway all the way around its circuit. When it goes around the bend part, don't hold on to anything, see how good your balance and subway surfing skills are.
As for international airports, I really loved the Singapore airport. It was so clean and airy and bright and you could outfit an entire IT company with the massive stock of electronic equipment available for sale there.
Charles de Gaulle in Paris blows a big one. It's smoky and convoluted with no signage and no one willing to offer directions (even if asked in French). Good coffee though.
As Halloween approaches, we went pumpkin shopping this weekend in Northern Virginia and had a randomly difficult time finding more than a few church parking lots or nurseries with pumpkin patches. This wasn't the case on Long Island, NY when I was there two weeks ago. Every half mile was another place selling hundreds of rows of the orange gourds. So next year when you're pondering where to buy your pumpkin head out to Long Island. If you're on the West Coast though, that might be a bit of a trip, so I've heard the place to go is Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Coastal Highway where they apparently thrive from the sea breezes.