Auto Train Heaven … Could I possibly have been wrong ?

Previously, after our December 2016 Auto Train trip in Business Class, I described riding the Auto Train as Dante’s 10th Circle of Hell.  On December 27 this year,  we decided to give it another try with a few very important tweaks.  I have to admit this experience was significantly better than our previous two fiascoes and has changed my mind about the Auto Train.  My apologies to Amtrak !

Over the years, we have booked a (1) Superliner Bedroom (with private bath), (2) Business Class seats, and  (3) Superliner Roomette (no private bath).  The Superliner Bedroom and the Superliner Roomette provide complete privacy with a lockable door.  All classes receive dinner in the dining car at your appointed time–there’s usually about 3-4 different time slots you can sign up for–we always take the earliest as they often run late on subsequent dinner times.  A little explanation of our experience with each is warranted to understand my change in view.  Some “tips” will be found at the end of this post.

First, the Superliner Bedroom with private bath seemed like a great idea.  No mingling, and with your own private bath, no waiting in line for your bladder to burst.  Simply close the door and it is completely private.  The seats inside the Superliner Bedroom fold down into a one lower single bunk with a pull-down upper bunk overhead.  Cozy.  Private.  But in fact, we slept not a wink.  The rhythmic clickety-clack you see in the movies is a myth on the Auto Train in a Superliner Bedroom.  The train is pulling a maximum capacity of 320 automobiles in car carrier freight cars and is more than 3/4 of a mile long.  There is a constant tug and pull as all those passenger and freight cars rock and roll.  The Superliner Bedroom is pretty much like a James Bond martini–shaken, not stirred.  For the quality of the ride it is clearly not worth the price, aggravation, and discomfort.  To make matters worse, because there are 320 automobiles on the train being offloaded one at a time, we waited almost three hours in the station for our car to finally make an appearance.  It was a simply awful experience and I swore we would never subject ourselves to it again.

However, after experiencing the horror of driving to Florida via I-95 right after Christmas (bumper-to-bumper in both lanes, 85 mph or the car behind you practically crawled up your tailpipe, and incessant delays from the predictably high number of fender benders, and heaven help you if there is any kind of bad weather), the Auto Train was starting to look better.  Our second attempt several years later was in Business Class.  In theory, there is more legroom than on an airplane (there is), and possibly in Coach.  Our intent was to simply recline the seat back, curl up, and sleep all the way to Florida.  You can read the details of that road to hell on one of my previous posts.  Unfortunately, in Business Class you hear everyone snoring along with other even less desirable biological noises, being constantly bumped by people trying to walk around in a moving train as they head to the bathroom or just go for a stroll to talk to other people while you’re trying to sleep.  Throw into the mix seats that had at most 1/2″ thick padding and, by the time we arrived in Florida, I was so numb it felt like my ass had fallen off — I could feel nothing below the waist!.  We swore we’d never do it again (famous last words).

But alas, there was yet one more Pit of Misery (Dilly, Dilly !) we hadn’t tried — the Superliner Roomette.  Picture a phone booth with bunk beds.  Before bedtime, you had two very comfortable recliners facing each other across a window.  After diner at bedtime, the steward folded the seats into one long lower bunk (putting a thin mattress over it to cover the small spaces between seat cushions–quite comfortable actually) and there was a pull-down upper bunk made up the same way.  In fact, Heide and I both slept like babies.  We didn’t feel the terrible shaking we had experienced years before in the more expensive Superliner Bedroom with bath.  It was an amazingly comfortable, pleasant trip (of course, it helped my mental state that the train was actually on time on this trip and the wine at dinner probably helped).

We didn’t miss the private bath because, in truth, who wants to shower in the morning using the tanked water on a train?  More importantly though, I have a theory (you knew I would) about the real difference between the rides.

First, let’s get Business Class and Coach Class off the table.  There is simply no way to get comfortable on those seats given the length of time the trip takes.  Add in the jostling by other people, the auditory bombardment and biologic olfactory apocalypse and it’s quite easy to eliminate that mode of travel.  It was over 18 hours of the most uncomfortable hell imaginable.  No Coach.  No Business Class.

But why, you ask, did we have such different experiences between the trips via the Superliner Bedroom w/bath (hell) and the Superliner Roomette (heaven), aka phone booth with no bath?  Here’s my theory:  the bunks in the Superliner Bedroom are laid out perpendicular to the tracks to make room for the private bathroom.  The bunks in the phone booth sized Roomette are laid out parallel to the tracks.  Now, picture your train under the tree at Christmas.  As the train moves, the couplings between the cars have a little “give” (i.e., they are not a tight, rigid fit).  Consequently, as the train encounters the inconsistencies of the terrain and rails, the train tugs and pulls along its entire 3/4+ mile-long length and results in a lot of movement–both rolling side-to-side and tugging back and forth.  The Superliner Bedroom bunks that are perpendicular to the tracks cause the tug/pull of the train to ROLL your body back and forth all night long–the rolling causes your head to be high one moment and low the next.  It leaves you with the constant feeling that you are going to roll out of bed and thus no sleep.

On the other hand, the Superliner Roomette bunks are parallel to the track and, thus, in line with the tug/pull of the train motion. You are simply being jostled gently from head to toe (rather than rolled side-to-side) and feel perfectly secure in the bunk.  The side to side motion was like being rocked in a cradle.  Frankly, it reminds me of sleeping on our boat at anchor.  We slept like babies.  Wine helps.

One last tip:  Book really early (we book a year in advance) and cough up the $60 for Priority Offloading.  In doing so, yours will be among the first 30 cars off the train at your destination.  Be willing to adjust your travel dates by a few days, if necessary, to get the Priority Offloading — it’s worth it.  When we arrived on the morning of December 28, we had our car and were on our way about 15 minutes after they started unloading vehicles.  I have no doubt that many of our fellow passengers were waiting 2-3 hours to get their cars.

Your mileage may vary.

A Shift From Vagabonds to “Quasi-Vagabonds” ?

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that two and a half years ago we decided to sell our house and “ride the rails” as vagabonds for a while.  We spent the summers on our boat (Emeritus) on Chesapeake Bay, as we have for many years, but also started traveling much of the rest of the year.  We embarked on that adventure knowing that one day we would either (a) have a health issue that limited our lifestyle, or (b) simply decide to become “dirt-dwellers” again and settle into another house somewhere warm.  Well, the time has come.  I’m happy to report, though, that it’s “b” and not “a” that is sparking the end of an era.  Just like Bilbo Baggins returning to The Shire (sans pot-of-gold), we want to feel more settled.  While we will be dirt-dwellers once again, we have no intention of giving up our international travel.  Travel is food for the soul and has broadened our outlook and understanding of foreign cultures.  We have had some remarkable trips, met genuinely wonderful people, and experienced cultures that showcased incredible wealth along side heart-breaking poverty.  Our lives have been touched in ways that spending all our time in the USA could never accomplish and we yearn for more.

Other than our brief trip to Iceland in early November (see the series of posts for November 2016), this year’s travels have been limited to the USA as we spent some quiet time in Florida over the winter.  Hunkering down in a small rural community hasn’t given me much to write about.  We usually prefer heading farther south to the warmer climate of Central America where the people and culture provide fodder for plenty of interesting tales.  But with the purchase of a new camper this year (our first), we thought we’d put it to use and give it a try in Florida for the winter months.  It was a good decision for this year but not as interesting as international travel.  We’ll be off to Costa Rica for two months next winter and, tentatively, plan to head to Munich, Germany just before Christmas this year to see the Kris Kindl Markt that Heide’s mother so fondly recalled as a child growing up in Munich before and during World War II.  A return to Iceland is also in the cards as we have yet to spot the elves that Icelanders claim live there and I plan to tap my own Guiness at the brewery in Dublin before the year is out.  Since we won’t be on the Bay next summer, exploring the great cities of Europe will be our goal.

Heide and I have both felt the tug of our nesting instinct (no, there are no little Melnicks on the way) and the desire to put down some roots.  We have decided to modify, not eliminate, our vagabonding.  While we have thoroughly enjoyed the past 2 1/2 years of being footloose and fancy free, not having a permanent home has started to wear on us both.  Try as I might, a piano just doesn’t fit into a boat or backpack and I miss playing it once in a while.  More importantly, we miss family by being away for such long stretches of time and especially our 9-year old grandson who is growing all too fast.  We only get one chance to be part of his life while he’s young and we hope to seize the day (carpe diem) while he’s still at an age that hanging out with the grandparents is still cool.  

So we’ve decided to again become dirt-dwellers and have found a home in Northern Virginia that puts us within short walking distance of our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson (Mark, Eileen, and Thomas).  We are also within walking distance of the elementary school Thomas attends.  So options abound to be more apart of the family life we have been missing.  The community pool, clubhouse, fitness center, etc. are but a block away.  We still plan to travel to warmer climates (Florida or Central America) in the winter months, but most of the year we’ll be somewhat more settled.  The travel itch still needs to be scratched.

After more than 40 years of boating, 30+ years on Chespeake Bay, 18 years at the same marina, and with mixed feelings, we are putting our boat (Emeritus) up for sale.  We will miss the many friends we’ve made in the boating world but are confident that close friendships will endure.  Spending the warmer months (spring, summer, fall) right up the street from the kiddies is a priority sprinkled with a little summer travel to boot.  Dulles International Airport is only a 10 minute drive from us and is now our gateway to the world.  

Auto Train to Florida: A new circle of hell

In past posts I’ve had the pleasure of describing our travels from the point of view of already “being there”–elves, geothermal springs, geysers, gazing into the maw of an active volcano, zip-lining through the rain forest, the breathtaking antiquities of Turkey. Only once before have I discussed the “getting there” (Costa Rica return flight debacle).  Fasten your seat belts, tray tables up, and your seat in the upright position.

Dante, in the Divine Comedy, eloquently describes nine circles of hell, each with increasing levels of torment. To adequately describe the Auto Train running back and forth between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida, Dante would need a 10th circle of hell–the ultimate hell.  I must point out that (a) I don’t like crowds, (b) I hate being herded like cattle, and (c) I’ve always been fanatical about being on time–I never wanted to waste other people’s time by my being late for a meeting or appointment.  You can put a check mark in front of a, b, and c above regarding the Auto Train as you read the following.


When we arrived at the station at 11:30 AM for a 4:00 PM departure from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida, we were told the inbound train would be three hours late arriving from Florida.  The outgoing train on which we were traveling would be full with 660 people aboard but that number exceeded the capacity of the station in Lorton.  Thus you could barely move without bumping into someone or tripping over their bags and people, inconsiderately, didn’t care if their bags were in the middle of the aisle.  Advantage (a) Crowds: AMTRAK.

Scorecard:  AMTRAK 1,  Melnick 0.


When the incoming train finally arrived, we had to wait while they got things turned around.  A boarding that was to have occurred at 2:00 PM never started until 3:30 PM at which time AMTRAK announced,  ” … Please stay out of the entrance way so that people can board when their train car is called.”  Simple instructions any fourth grader could follow.  However, more than half of the 660 people immediately sprang out of their seats and crowded in front of the boarding doors resulting in no one being able to get through. Once boarding started, we were all placed in our respective cattle chute categories and herded aboard in long lines fighting our way through the throngs who inappropriately crowded the doorway.  People were bumping and pushing, jockeying for position to get on board, as if the train was going to leave without them and being in front of someone rather than behind them made one iota of difference.  As an aside, it amazed me how much luggage people brought on board with them.  Many looked like they needed sherpas from Nepal to carry the load and jam all that crap under their seats and in the overhead racks …. only to have to repeat the process to put that shit back in their car upon arrival in Florida.  Why not simply leave all but essentials in their car ?  It’s an Auto Train for Pete’s sake.  We weren’t going cross country …  Advantage (b) Herding: AMTRAK.

Scorecard:  AMTRAK 2,  Melnick 0

On Time

The Auto Train experience is in a class by itself.  Mussolini himself must be in charge of the time schedules.  Although he famously “made the trains run on time” in Italy when he came to power, the Italian trains were not on time and were believed to be so only because of the propaganda campaign by the Fascists to make the people think the government was actually helping them.  Although the official Amtrak schedule shows the Auto Train to leave at 4:00 PM and arrive at 8:58 AM the next morning at your destination (either Sanford, FL or Lorton, VA), I have little doubt that Pinocchio, with an excessively long nose, was somehow involved in laughingly developing the current schedule.  We boarded late in Virginia and then arrived late in Florida by two and a half hours.  Add to that the interminable wait for you car to be unloaded (they are unloaded randomly) and from the time we arrived in Lorton, Virginia until we drove off in Sandford, Florida, a full 24 hours had passed.  The schedule should actually say, “Departure:  Sometime from 4:00 PM to whenever; Arrival:  Significantly after 8:58 AM.”    Advantage (c) being on time:  AMTRAK

Scorecard:  AMTRAK 3,  Melnick 0

It’s a shutout.  In truth, I would rather have a strip search by TSA in the middle of an airport than ride the Auto Train again.  Although we had reasonably roomy Business Class seats that reclined with a footrest, I have never been able to sleep sitting up.  Being awake for 24 hours with a two hour drive that lay ahead of us to our destination was just too much.  We found the closest Hampton Inn that was near an Olive Garden, got sloshed on wine and gin, and promptly fell asleep at 2:00 in the afternoon.

FOOTNOTE:  We tried the sleeper cabin with private bath several years ago.  Didn’t like that any better.

All that being said, it may still be preferable to the crazy traffic traveling at warp speed, bumper-to-bumper, on I-95 south right after Christmas.  I am seriously looking for Scotty to beam us up when we return to the Chesapeake this summer.



Nicaragua Has But One Dog…

2016-02-15 (2)Although Nicaragua shares many of the same features and attractions as other Central American countries — tropical forests, volcanoes, beautiful beaches — it has a singular aspect the other countries do not. While Nicaragua has loads of monkeys, parrots, iguanas, crocodiles, horses, cattle, and goats, it has but one dog.  .

P1010895Everywhere I traveled regardless of location (Managua, San Juan del Sur, Granada, etc.), this same dog seemed to be following me.  It appeared over and over again — a fawn-colored, medium-sized stray mongrel with knowing eyes and a knack for survival. I began to wonder why this dog was apparently following me all over Nicaragua. Was I being stalked by The Hound of the Ortegavilles? He could get around Nicaragua better than I could with a car !!!  Each time I spotted him, he had the same coloring, same floppy ears, same size, and was of no discernible known breed.  At first, as I walked the various neighborhoods of Managua on my morning jaunts, it was a little spooky.  I was certain he was “on the scent.”

IMG_20160210_123905Of course, it turns out that there are many, far too many, stray dogs in Nicaragua and they reproduce like rabbits.  The photos included here are a sample of different dogs but they all look alike. Their similarities in appearance suggest they are really “friendly” toward their first cousins, perhaps even brothers and sisters.  Most of them appear adequately nourished, but a few were in heart-wrenchingly bad shape. All of them had excellent manners and minded their own business, although they were grateful for the occasional bit of food and pat on the head.  We saw virtually no pure breeds anywhere (sadly, no beagles).

In Costa Rica, where stray dogs look much like Nicaraguan dogs, a shelter has been established that takes in strays in need of help. Territorio de Zaguates (CLICK ON THE LINK…NICE VIDEO: Land of  the Strays), home to some 900 (+/-) strays that roam freely over the expansive refuge.  Visitors are welcome to stop by any time to play with the dogs.  And, if you are lucky enough to be chosen by one of the dogs, you will be allowed to adopt it (not the other way around!).

Nicaragua’s domestic animals, as well as many of its people, struggle to subsist as best they can on the limited resources available to them. It would be wonderful to hear that an attempt has been started, as it has in Costa Rica, to provide some aid for Nicaragua’s many domesticated animals in need of adequate food and kinder treatment — dogs and horses, in particular.

For all its natural beauty, Nicaragua is a country whose poverty can break your heart.

Iceland: Strokkur Geysir (yes, that’s the way they spell it)–VIDEO

strokkurIt isn’t Old Faithful but the Strokkur Geysir in southwest Iceland was worth the drive.  It’s eruptions are not as high as Old Faithful but, like clockwork, it erupts every 6-10 minutes (usually 15-20 meters/50-65 feet in height) .  Located a little more than 60 miles from Rekjavik, it was a pleasant drive through the countryside.  There is no admission charge; you can walk right up to it.  There are, of course, the usual tourist souvenir shops near the site.  On the walk up to Strokkur is a small pool that is bubbling like boiling water named Litli Geysir–more a bubbling pool than an actual geysir but pretty cool nonetheless.

Videos of both are below.  Enjoy the eruption…

Litli Geysir (just 13 seconds)


Strokkur Geysir…(Click the lower right corner to make it full-screen–55 seconds–watch the water begin to pulsate in the hole as the eruption nears)

Iceland: Geothermal Pools

rural-hot-springs-icelandBecause Iceland is, in fact, a volcanic island that has risen from the seabed, the water deep underground is hot from the energy of the Earth.  Icelanders use that water to heat their homes and generate electricity, but a side benefit is that thermal swimming pools are just about everywhere.  There were three in downtown Rekjavik, many that can be found out in the countryside along the roads (careful, they can be really hot) where you can jump in for a dip even though the ambient air temperature might be in the 30s (Fahrenheit).  Of course, there is also the well advertised and touristy Blue Lagoon that for an astronomical fee (about €40 or the equivalent of about $43 USD per person), they will bus you there and allow you to experience the heat of the Earth all while lightening your wallet.  The water comes from about 6500 feet underground and, of course, is loaded with minerals.

Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool
Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool

We chose to walk a few blocks from our hotel to the public Laugardalslaug Thermal Pool and for only about $9 USD soak up the geothermal heat.  It was marvelous.  The outdoor temperature was almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit (a little more than 4 degrees Celsius) but once you were in the water, it was wonderful.  The sign posted by the pool indicated the water temperature was 38 degrees Celsius, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

While we soaked in one of the smaller sections of the pool complex, we met two young ladies from Germany who were visiting Iceland, amazingly a young man from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where we lived for 30+ years, and a gentleman from Italy who has lived in Iceland for about 15 years. He told use what we suspected all along when he said, “The Northern Lights tour packages are a marketing ploy to get people to Iceland.  Good luck seeing them!”

We were undaunted in our attempts to see the Northern Lights but, as you read earlier, unsuccessful.  As unnatural as it seems to swim outside in the Icelandic cold, it felt wonderful.  Chatting with folks in the pool from around only added to the enjoyment.

Winter swim anyone ?


Iceland: The Land of Elves…?

Inicelanders-who-believe-in-elves looking at the landscape around Iceland–volcanic, barren, remote, sparsely populated–it is abundantly clear that if ever there was a place on earth where elves could exist, this would be the place.  The landscape is like the setting for a fairy tale…other worldly.  One can just imagine the little “hidden” people, as the Icelanders call them, hanging out in such places and creating their mythical mischief.  From mysteriously halting construction projects (true) to breaking the fall of a little boy from a cliff that surely would have resulted in injuries, ywatch-out-for-elveset he had not a scratch.  According to legend, the boy reported seeing “little hands” reach out to break his fall.  The belief in the existence of elves seems to be more widely accepted than you might think.

No joke.  There are actually road signs to warn you about elves.  If the pie chart above can be believed, 37% of Icelanders think that elves are a possibility, 17% deem them likely, and 8% think there definitely are elves.  That’s 62% that are somewhere in the vicinity of thinking that a trip to Rivendell, the home of the Elf King Elrond in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, is a possible excursion.

elves_by_gargoohThe girls in the picture look like the kind of elves you might find in the hills of Iceland.  Of course, with those ears, they also look like they could be Vulcans, related to Spock, and have just come from a Star Trek Convention.  You’ll have to be the judge or go visit Iceland in search of the little “hidden” people yourself.


Iceland: Northern Lights

A mere representation of the Northern Lights created by Icelandic Elves

Remember your first date as a teenager?  When you finally got to go out in a car rather than be driven somewhere by your parents?  The excitement?  The anticipation?  The possibilities…(maybe more a guy thing)?  You picked up your date, probably went out for a bite to eat, maybe a movie.  Then, trying to act as cool as possible, a little drive.  You found a nice, secluded country road with a pull-off and sat, supposedly, to gaze at the stars but secretly hoping to get lucky.  The windows would fog up from all the “talking” and occasionally you’d have to start the engine and run the heater…

That’s exactly what looking for the Northern Lights was like…kinda.  Thwarted by unfavorable weather all week long, our Northern Lights tour was cancelled (no refunds by the way…what a racket).  We had arrived on Monday, our tour was to have been Wednesday evening but by Thursday it was still overcast with occasional rain.  Major bummer.  We didn’t despair because Iceland has a charm of its own and we were enjoying exploring the island nation and it’s many attractions (the friendly people, hot springs, geysers, volcanoes, geologic marvels, the food, beautiful scenery, elves, etc.).

The Icelandic Meteorological Office produces an Aurora Forecast each day indicating when conditions might be best to see the Northern Lights.   We followed their website like two children gazing at penny candy in the display case at the corner store.  Finally, Friday night was predicted to be clear.  We planned a nice dinner, complete with a few shots of Iceland’s “Black Death,” (Brennivin) to keep us warm, and then set off in the rental car to a deserted stretch of Icelandic highway.

We found a little pull-off area that would get us away from passing traffic and the glare from oncoming headlights, and like two teenagers, we sat gazing at the stars.  We gazed… and gazed ….and gazed some more.  We talked.  We fogged up the windows, started the car and ran the heater.  It’s cold in Iceland at night.

The stars were spectacular.  Without any ambient light from the city to obscure them, the stars seemed like, as George H.W. Bush once famously said, “…a thousand points of light.”  Being at such a high latitude (66 degrees north) and only about 160 miles from the Arctic Circle, the North Star (Polaris) was almost directly overhead–seemed a little weird.  Ironically, to see the Northern Lights we actually had to face toward the south.

But alas, no Northern Lights appeared.  As it turns out, not only must the sky be reasonably clear but the solar activity must also be just right.  The quest to see the aurora borealis was a bust.  On the plus side, I got to spend a few hours fogging up the windows with my sweetie gazing at the stars like two teenagers…

Iceland: Straddling the Continents

Straddling the Continents in Iceland

In 2012 I had the pleasure of visiting Turkey to attend a conference as an invited keynote speaker.  During that trip, I was able to see awe-inspiring sites, ancient ruins from the Roman Empire dating back three centuries before Christ, museum artifacts from millennia past, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the underground Cistern, and the Sultan’s Palace to name a few.  The Turkish people are warm and friendly and welcoming.  It is a trip that I will always remember and hope, one day, to be able to do it again.

Istanbul is a city of two continents.  Part of it is in Europe and part in Asia. The city is divided by the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. In addition to being a key shipping route, the Bosphorus forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia.  As I rode a tour boat up the Bosphorus in Istanbul, I was struck by the fact that I was straddling two continents on that ride.  Iceland gave me the opportunity to do it again.

Looking down the canyon between the ridges of the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the longest mountain chain in the world, is formed by the up-welling of magma from deep below the earth’s surface on the ocean floor.  It creates an underwater mountain chain about 2-3 kilometers high and pushes the continental plates of North America, Europe, Africa, and South America apart.

While almost all of the ridge is below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, the rift rises to the surface in, …you guessed it …, Iceland.  We drove to Þingvallavegur, Iceland on the northwest side of the lake where the mid-Atlantic rift surfaces.  As you can see in the picture, I am standing in the rift with ridges on either side.  This is a point above the sea floor where North America and Europe are moving apart at about the same rate per year that your fingernails grow.

I’ve now straddled Europe & Asia in Turkey and North American & Europe (actually the Eurasian tectonic plate) in Iceland.  Now on to the San Andreas Fault to be able to straddle the North American and Pacific Plates… I guess I’m going to need some serious scuba gear to do the rest.

Iceland: Silence of the Lambs

As we drive around the countryside of rural Iceland, we are treated to spectacular views of snow-covered peaks, beautiful clear mountain streams rushing down the valleys, and wide expanses of open fields with not a tree in sight. Evidence of Iceland’s volcanic roots surround us. Vast expanses of black rocks and gravel from previous volcanic eruptions are everywhere. Relatively high peaks with deep gullies down all sides show the remains of lava flows from years long past. Horses casually graze in the pastures and large flocks of free-range sheep roam everywhere.

Although the sheep were bushy and plump-looking with their winter coats of wool that won’t be shorn until spring, the sight conjures up images of those absolutely adorable little innocent lambs that surely prance in those meadows. Their cute faces staring at you in wonder. Idyllic.  I can just imagine holding one gently in my lap, petting its cute head, and nuzzling its soft coat.


…until dinner time!


While traveling, we avoid the touristy restaurants and chains. Rather, because food is so intertwined in a culture, we purposely seek out the small restaurants tucked away off the tourist track that specialize in local cuisine …in this case, Icelandic …where the locals eat.


On Tuesday evening we decided to try a restaurant called Old Iceland, a cozy, casual place frequented by the locals that has only about a dozen tables, but the service was true Icelandic hospitality and the food… Oh, the food!!!  In the USA, I never order lamb–don’t care for the taste.  But, I ordered lamb roast with lamb shoulder and cooked root vegetables (parsips, potatoes, and beets).  The root vegetables were very good, the roasted lamb quite tasty, but the lamb shoulder (the small portion of shredded meat on the right in the photo) was extraordinary.


Not just “Wow, this is good.” extraordinary.  Not “OMG!”  But rather, place it in your mouth, suck on the flavor with your eyes closed for as long as possible, and then chew it until it disintegrates in your mouth extraordinary.  The last thing you want to do is swallow it to end the experience. As many tiny bites as you can divide the serving into–no gulping allowed.


Shots of Iceland’s “Black Death,” Brennevín, a clear unsweetened schnapps considered Iceland’s signature distilled beverage further enhanced our feast.  Brennevín is a fiery drink that detonates in your mouth and throat and spreads like a mushroom cloud to every cell in your body.  It is the antifreeze that gets Icelanders through the harsh winter and made our evening sparkle.


 Tourist traps aside, the food and people are worth the trip!