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Random blog-like rambling from Rachel's brain. A mixed up mess of usability posts, fiction, and travel.

On Alien Planets (AKA Icelandic Adventures)

I guess the thing that I am doing with this now is to update it once a year with a post about travel. Go figure. Things change y'all, that's all I'm saying. 

Anyway - last September I went to Iceland with my good friend Shane and it was a fantastic adventure. I took a lot of travel diary style notes, so you can rest assured that while this is almost a year late, it is still a relatively accurate accounting of what we did and how many sheep we saw (answer: many). Enjoy!

Day 1: Mud Facials and Getting Lost

One of the things with international travel: you tend to arrive places at ungodly hours after having slept basically not at all. In this case, we trundled in the Reykjavik airport at 6:30 am and immediately got in a car to drive ourselves around. I'm not sure if that's a wise thing to do generally. In any case, we had a few hours to kill before our 10AM appointment to roll around in mud (more on that in a bit). We drifted about and ended up at a little seaside town. Relevant facts: it was rainy and it was cold and felt very appropriately Icelandic. Gray, but beautiful.

Gray Day

After this bit of side tracking, we realized we had no idea how to get anywhere because, being smart, we had not bought a map. We rounded back to the only place we can locate that is open (the airport) to correct this misstep. Even then, we were still running too early for the mud, so we continued with the meandering (although slightly more directed this time). We met a horse:

Horse Friend

And finally: the mud. AKA: The Blue Lagoon. We sprung for the "exclusive suite" because we fancy ourselves wealthy now that we are adults. It's actually really nice, with a super swanky private shower and free drinks. There is also a valet who you can summon at will to bring you things such as: more drinks, tiny expensive hamburgers, even fancier versions of all the lagoon mud to smear on yourself. The whole thing is, in fact, a great way to relax after a long flight although there is moderate danger of falling asleep with your face in a pile of rejuvenating mud. We totally looked 10 years younger when we leave. (not really).

Where's That Awesome Mud?
I Was Here

My: this mud is flipping amazing! Also I am really tired! face

After this greatness was a really unfortunate attempt at driving to our hotel in Reykjavik. It involved a lot of getting lost and attempting to find free Wi-Fi in order to get directions. It is not the sort of thing you should do on 2 hours of sleep and only rejuvenating mud keeping you alive. It is a miracle we find our temporary home. We forced ourselves to enjoy some sight seeing and a proper fish dinner before crashing out. Day 1: super duper successful with a side of driving nightmare.

Day 2: Horses, Elves, Wax Figurines

After dosing up on coffee it was off for another driving adventure to find the Ishestar Riding Center, our primary day 2 activity being "ride an Icelandic horse". We managed to get there on time just barely, and it was well worth the panicky effort. The ride was as awesome as you'd expect. Lots of great scenery and the unique experience of feeling very far off the ground and like you might fall off at any time. It's actually really cool. My horse was named Tonka and didn't try to murder me even once.

Tonka

Tonka in Close Profile

Shane and Icecube

Shane with his horse, Icecube the Fantastical

Post riding, we found our way to the scenic town of Hafnarfjordur. It was a neat place, but by far the most exciting thing was that they had an elf garden. I am pretty sure this cat is actually a cleverly disguised elf.

Cleverly Disguised Elf?

Elf, for Sures

Hafnarfjordur

Back in the capital city we determined that perhaps the most critical thing to do was solve our directional handicap once and for all. We did this by locating a mall with a Vodafone store and picked up a couple sim cards so we could once more lean on google maps instead of our own sense of left and right. It is by far the smartest thing we did this whole trip. 

After this we for once made it to a destination without making a wrong turn and got ourselves immersed in history and wax creepiness at the Perlan. Also, there were some pretty great city views from up there.

Wax Man
Reykjavik

Later, we headed to that cathedral you see in the above shot. While taking photographs, we got approached by some native youths who proceeded to take pictures of us, taking pictures of the cathedral for some project I don't recall the details of. Also: some people were filming a movie out front that involved someone getting shot. It was a busy night at the cathedral for sure. 

Hallgrímskirkja
Movie Set

If anyone knows what movie this turned out to be. Please let me know...

I believe we had dinner of wine and schnitzel after this, which is about the best way to end a day that I can think of.

Day 3: Road to Vik

This was an odd-numbered day, so it rained. Also, I woke with a sore throat which made for a rough start including the discovery that it is by no means easy to find cough drops in this country (I think it was almost a full day of trying various places before locating a pharmacy and paying 3 times the usual amount for them). While the day is pretty foggy and wet, we still managed to find some cool things to see as we made our way east. The first was in the town of Hveragerði where they have a fun little geothermal area, or rather a park that is full of boiling ponds of water and a lot of steam. It's pretty bad ass. There's even a spot where you can boil eggs!

Steamy!
Boil Your Eggs Here

As we headed further down the road we saw a 60 foot high waterfall basically emerge from nowhere along the skyline. It was still pretty rainy, but we are adventurous folk so we got as close as possible and also got exceedingly wet in the process. I regretted, with all my soul, wearing jeans, but it was still basically amazing.

Rain + Waterfall
Rain + Waterfall
Behind the Falls

The evening was spent at a place called Volcano Hotel. It was a bit removed from the closet town (Vik, where we acquired pizza for dinner), but very nice. I drew this while we were there.

Iceland sketch

My rendering of sheep is very accurate

Day 4: Vik to Skafatell 

Even numbered day, so it was sunny! Which was great, because our first couple of stops featured mountains, glaciers, some amazing rock formations, big crashing waves, and lovely blue skies. Very pretty, as you can see...

Road to Mountains
Snow and Glacier
Shane Courts Danger, Sortof

Here is Shane, risking life and limb for a good shot.

Icelandic Church

And here is one of those red roofed churches you see all over Iceland

Further along the ring road, we found another waterfall. This one was much smaller, but it also had a weird little grass covered shed nearby that I found super charming.

House of Grass

Our next big destination was the National Park at Skafatell where there is a really big glacier that later we will climb. It made itself apparent well before we actually got to the park proper. It rises up from the landscape like some alien thing, white with lines of black ash from the volcanic explosion from a couple years ago. From our hotel, we get a pretty excellent view of the top most portions of the thing.

Snowcapped Mountains

Day 5: Glaciers!

 According to my travel journal we slept until 11am on this day. Just because you're travelin' doesn't mean you aren't occasionally totally lazy. We made up for it in the afternoon. Also, it's an odd-numbered day so naturally: rain, which is the perfect weather for climbing a glacier.

In fact, the rain scared off the other people scheduled to go on our hike with us, so we got a private tour with our hilariously charming Czech tour guide who taught us many things about Mouse Rocks, Moulins, how to drink glacier water from a stream by sticking your head directly in it, and how to warm your hands by violently spinning your arms around. She was pretty great.

Glacier, We Are About to Walk It!
I Has Crampons

Crampons: the spikiest of foot wear choices

Glacier Ice

Glacier Ice is predictably cold

Glacier Mouse

This is a glacier mouse. It is mossy and when squeezed will leak very cold water.

Ice Wall

Wall 'o Ice

After walking up a glacier in the rain you tend to be very wet and very cold. So you can imagine our  surprise when we got back to the hotel to discover that the power was out and there was limited access (ie: no access) to hot water. We did the best we could under the circumstances and with dry clothes drove longer than was reasonable to the closest place with power to get some dinner. That place was Hofn, the lobster capital of Iceland! I had bisque, and it was good. 

Day 6: Driving the Easter Fjords

 A beautiful sunny even-numbered day, which is good because we had to make our way around the eastern side of the country to get to Husavik by evening time. Luckily, driving is more entertaining when there's a lot of beautiful scenery to stop and gape at. Although that does slow down progress.

Stop number one was the Glacier Lagoon. You've probably seen pictures of it before, what with the blue glacier chunks.  It's really neat, especially all the seals. The seals were really cool. 

Glacier Lagoon
Seal Friend

My friend the seal

Glacier Lagoon

Stop 2 was a scenic outlook with some more amazing cliff side views and crashing waves and what not. Beautiful, naturally.

Sun Spots
Shadow Tourists

Sorta proof we were actually here

Stop 3 was a small seaside town which one of our guidebooks claimed was "the most picturesque town on the eastern Fjords. It was, in fact, pretty picturesque.

House on the Water

At this point we made a daring cross up a secondary road through the mountainous fjords. I say daring because our tiny car was clearly not really meant for this type of travel. The road is gravel and dust, narrow, and yet they claim one can go 80kmh down the darn thing. We maybe go half that at the most. It is astonishingly pretty, but I have no photographic proof of this because our focus was mostly on not tipping over a cliff side and dying a tragic death. 

Somehow, we did make it to Husavik in time for a late dinner in town. It's one of the best we had there in my recollection and included both Viking Beer and Bjork Schnapps, and I do not think you can get more Icelandic booze than that. 

Day 7: Husavik, No Whales, Waterfalls and a Lake

We had a grand plan to go whale watching in Husavik, but it's an odd-numbered day so we were basically banned from doing so. High winds shut down all whale-watching tours for the day. It is disappointing, and this is the closest thing to a proper whale I got to see in Iceland.

Some Whale Bones

Hint: it's dead.

Not ones to be deterred, we decided on finding somewhere else to adventure. Our thought was to drive down the coast to some point on our map that claimed there were puffins to be seen. Instead, we mostly found rain. However, a spontaneous decision to turn south rather than north led us down yet another dangerously rocky road to find to our endless delight some really really big waterfalls. They're located in the midst of a rather dramatic canyon that cuts through Northern Iceland. With a drizzle still in the air and temps at around 36 degrees, it is well frigid but also a thing that has to be seen to be believed.

Hafragilsfoss

Hafragilsfoss

Dettifoss

Dettifoss

Dettifoss

Having acquired waterfalls, we then headed on south toward Lake Myvatn where we were due to spend our evening. We manage to catch some more geothermal activity on the way there as well as some of Myvatn's other-worldly beauty at it's best in the late afternoon light. Is it just me, or does everything look especially pleasing in the late afternoon light?

Steam and Clouds
Late Afternoon in Myvatn

Day 8: Myvatn, Akureyri, and the Northern Fjords

Lake Myvatn is apparently known best for these big crater things that are all over the place. This is how we spent the morning of Day 8: wandering around big cratery type things that make the place look a bit like a moonscape.

Crater

Here is a big ole Crater

The next stop was yet another wildly impressive waterfall. This one is called Godafoss. There is a story about these falls that goes as follows: some dude who was in charge of things decided that all of Iceland should convert to Christianity. As a sign of this massive religious shift, he took their old idols and tossed those suckers right into the falls. Thus, Jesus is welcomed into the hearts of all Icelanders, I guess. In any case, the waterfall is amazing, sure to crush any idol you toss into it. Unlike in the states, they don't really keep you from getting as close to the edge as you dare, so also they are quite likely to crush a few people as well.

I Got Pretty Close

As close as I dared. Which was pretty darn close.

Godafoss

Having tossed our idols away, the next place on our agenda is the town of Akureyri where we had lunch, got confused by parking, and saw a pretty nice little church. 

View of Akureyri
Akureyri Church

Somehow, despite having mastered GPS, we made a wrong turn coming out of town and had a small detour for a bit. The thing I remember most clearly about the detour was driving past the same Santa's Workshop two times. Resituated, we eventually made our way through the Northern Fjords. Driving in this area is pretty intense, what with the extreme drop offs right into the roiling ocean. To add to the fun, there are also a series of very long tunnels through the mountains, some of which are one way. I believe the longest was about 4 km. It was pretty claustrophobic.

Mountain Tunnels

I drove through that! It was scary.

Mountains and Ocean
May Have Stood in the Middle of a Highway for This

Stood in the road to get this one. Totally worth the danger.

At the tip of what is called "The Mitten" there's an amazing view of the Artic Ocean stretching out into forever. On the day we saw it it was remarkably blue in the early evening with the sun hanging low, the reflections in the water are just breath taking. It makes a person feel very small in the grand scheme of things.

Islands off the Coast

The other amazing thing that happened at this juncture was that while trying to find a place for dinner we got waylaid by a sheep round up in action. Dozens and dozens of baaahing sheep filled up the road while a few folks on horseback trotted around clicking at them trying to get the unreasonable things off the road. It is basically my favorite thing that happened to me in Iceland. You may enjoy it vicariously through this delightful video.

When we finally managed to get around the herd of sheep and to a town with actual restaurants we found ourselves at a place called "Olaf's Hus". Perfect. In addition to the great lamb and fish dishes, we also met some interesting people. At the table next to us an Indian man and his hired driver ended up talking to us for quite awhile about things to see and do in Iceland. Turns out the guy was there scoping out locations for the Sierra Club tour he was planning. We talked about Route 66, Icelandic Myths (one of which involved a particular hotel with a glacier view that is apparently an excellent aphrodiasiac), and the Gallpogus Islands. 

By the time we made it to our hotel it was very late and very dark, but it was a rich full day. 

Day 9: Back to Reykjavik via the Western Fjords

Odd-numbered day: so it starts with the rain that has been chasing us around Iceland the whole time. Still, we managed to take a few shots at our little hotel before setting out for the drive back to Reykjavik. Our friends from dinner the previous evening had suggested that on the way we ought to stop by the peninsula so we could see what is supposedly the inspiration for Tolkien's Mordor. Despite all the rain, we can't resist the call of Mordor. 

Along the way we found some more craters and took a hike up along the rim of one. I suspect that this is not entirely unsimilar to what it feels like being on the moon, only with, you know, more gravity. Indulge me please.

People On Top of Grabrokargigum
It's Kinda a Big Crater Thing

Later on in the town of Borness we found a great place for lunch that had not only an excellent buffet but also locally brewed beer. We split a lager and a stout and it was great. 

On towards Mordor, but as you might expect, the closer we got the worse the weather became. In fact, it got so very dark and windy that eventually we had to make a rather un-Frodoy decision and turn back towards more civilized parts. 

Ominous

We made our way back to Reykjavik by way of another very long tunnel which also cost 10,000 KR to pass through. 10,000 KR! 

Back at the capital, after checking into our final hotel for this trip, we figured we had earned a nice night out at some appropriately cool pub. Our first attempt was to check out an Irish Pub we found online, but they were not really serving anything in the form of food. So we stumbled around looking for something more our speed when we found quite be accident "The Lebowski Bar", themed on the classic Coen Bros movie of which I am a hard core fan. They feature a robust menu of themed burgers and a wide variety of White Russians - all tailored after characters in the film. In honor of the dude, we enjoyed a couple in addition to some burgers. A pretty great way to spend the last night in Iceland.

Day 10: A Stop by the Cathedral Before Flying Home

We made one last stop before heading to the airport to get back to America and that was a trip up to the top of the Cathedral. A few notes on that: it was appallingly windy and I felt for a moment like I might just get swept out one of those narrow windows and fall to my death. Also, it was great.

View of Reykjavik
Organ Pipes

The flight back was pretty uneventful with the exception of getting to see how awesome Greenland looks from the air. Seriously, look at it!

IcelandAir Over Greenland

Some Final Thoughts

I think everyone should check out Iceland. It's such a unique place, particularly if you are the type of person who gets excited by geothermal action, volcanoes, and rock formations. And who doesn't? I put together a couple of videos which I think are pretty good summations of the experience overall. The first is a collection of what amounts to different variations on water and steam during our trip. The second is a collection of driving footage I took with my mini-camcorder which was clipped to one of the visors in our rental car during the whole trip. I think they both came out pretty great. You can check 'em out below.

On Roadtrips and Blogging

Poor Usability Shark, you have languished untouched for so long. I have many excuses, all of which are certainly lame, so I won't bore my readers with them. It's rather nice they've managed to find this place after all this time afterall.

So, good readers, you'll probably notice at some point that I am not saying much about usability, design or anything of the previous focus of my writing in this post. That's because I have decided that forcing myself to use this space for a single topic is one of the reasons I'm not using it very well. Maybe I'll write a post on that in general someday, but for now, I am going to regale you with an image heavy story of my trip through the American West that I took last summer with my fine friend Shane. 

Day 1: Seattle and the Overnight Train to Glacier Park

This posting is pretty delayed frankly, the trip began on a distant day, back around the Memorial Day holiday in 2011. I vaguely recall my flight to Seattle from Dallas being delayed and getting to the city of grunge way later than I would have liked, but at least I got there before we were due to get cracking on the major part of the trip. 

We didn't get much time to pal about Seattle, spending that morning collecting last minute road trip supplies. We did manage to grab a beer and some Gyros before getting a bus down to the train station. Yes, we start a road trip with a train trip because, my friends, trains are awesome.

Our Train

I've taken Amtrak plenty of times back when I was in college in Baltimore. It was for a year or two my primary means of getting home for holidays. The overnight train though? It is so much nicer. I'd go so far as to say luxurious. There was a very nice porter who gave us champagne and treats, plus the ticket price covers meals in the dining car. All of this was fantastic, but paled in comparison to how wonderful the scenery was, particularly the closer we got to Glacier Park.

View of Montana

So there were rivers and mountains, and a bottle of Santorini wine. Even the rocking motion of the train served to lull me into a really nice slumber. Fantastic first day.

Day 2: Glacier Park

We arrived in Glacier East around 9:30 am and one step off the train pretty much confirms that this place is astonishingly beautiful.  Also, there's still some snow on the ground. 

Glacier Park

When we picked up our rental car, the woman manning the counter suggested we purchase a can of Bear Mace. Just in case. At $50 we decide to risk the bears.  Notably, we never saw any. $50 saved!

In our newly acquired car, we meandered around the edge of Glacier Park most of the morning encountering some snowy scenery along the way. Mostly we learned that snow has the unfortunate habit of getting under the cuffs of your jeans and making your socks very cold and wet.

Glacier Park

Once inside the park proper, the first thing we saw was a gorgeous view of Lake McDonald. Not to oversell, but even several months later I think it's one of the most beautiful views in a trip filled with beautiful views. The lake is just crystal clear, reflecting the mountains in the background. Utterly peaceful and breathtaking.

Glacier Park

After finally checking in at our lodge for the evening we did a little hiking on the "Trail of the Cedars" where we saw some wonderful forest scenery and a fantastic waterfall. On the way back to our car we even spotted some Mountain Goats up high on the cliffs, a bit too far off for proper photography without a better zoom sadly. 

Glacier Park

The tail end of the day featured a boat trip around the lake. It was getting pretty crisp, but still very beautiful. Also, Shane made friends with a sock puppet that was hiding in his jacket.

Glacier Park

Post boat-ride was dinner at the McDonald Lodge which I'm told is historic. It's also quite lovely in general. I tend to run a trip around a combo of scenery and food, so I'm here to tell you that the sausage platter was awesome. Later on we tried some Huckleberry Beer that was not that awesome. 

Day 3 - A Long, Lovely Drive to Yellowstone

The length of this day's drive is a testament to our fanastic planning skills. We originally thought we'd get to Yellowstone early in the day but due to a combination of factors (it's not that close to Glacier, we kind of tend to stop every 5 minutes, we saw horses!) it took most of the day just driving down. 

Along the way we saw Salmon Lake and made friends with a Montana Horse wearing a cowbell.

Scenic Montana
Scenic Montana

By the time we actually made it to Yellowstone it was nearly 11, but at least we got to see some Elk chilling at a Catholic Church on the drive in.

Day 4 - Yellowstone, In Daylight

I had planned to go running in the morning at Yellowstone, but the unexpected freezing rain kept me from donning my sneakers. Instead, we got breakfast and bundled up for more sight seeing. 

We started out at Mammoth Hotsprings. The drizzle was seriously cold, but you could feel the heat coming off the springs which keep a continual cloud of steam floating through the whole area. The rock formations are a pretty unsual, but lovely, mix of colors.

Yellowstone
Yellowstone

After finishing up at the springs, we grabbed a quick lunch to take on the road and got started driving towards Old Faithful. Along the way, we made several stops  to see some waterfalls and walked around another hotsprings area while fighting the freezing rain. As a reward, we got to see a gray wolf pretty close and as a bonus, saw him hunting and killing what I think was a marmot. Maybe. Other wildlife spotted: Bison, Baby Bison, Elk, Ravens.

Yellowstone
Yellowstone

We did successfully make it to Old Faithful where we checked in to the "Old Faithful Inn", another historic lodge, that has a great view of the famous Gyser. Sightseeing for the day was concluded when the Gyser, 10 minutes late, finally put on it's impressive show. 

Yellowstone

Back at the lodge, we wandered a bit and grabbed some wine for the next hour's showing of the Gyser. It's actually more fun to watch from the balcony while keeping warm with a glass of red. Later, dinner at the lodge restaurant included Bison Ravioli, which was delicious. 

Day 5 - A Troublesome Drive to Salt Lake City

Our plan for Day 5 was to leave Yellowstone and make it to SLC in time to catch that evening Bee's game (local minor league baseball team) wich started at 7:30. We're lucky at first that the south exit which had been closed the day before due to the heavy snows turns out to be open. On our way out we got to see some seriously fantastic snowy landscapes, and also a tiny snowman.

Yellowstone

However, all this greatness hit a snag when we realized we had neglected to check out of the Inn. Both Shane and myself still had our keys in our pockets. No time to go back, we forged ahead figuring we could call and apologize and pay for new keys sometime later. We later did learn we could just mail them back. They didn't even charge us!

Once out of the park, we drove alongside the Grand Tetons for awhile and couldn't help ourselves from stopping more than a few times. I mean, how could you not?

Grand Tetons

Time was a little short, but we weren't worried until we reached a road sign loudly proclaiming: "Road Closed Due to Mudslide". Time for a detour.

 Despite the odds, we did manage to hit SLC and only miss the first 30 minutes of the game. After grabbing some ballpark hotdogs and SLC Bees T-Shirts so we could support our team, we settled in to enjoy the game. The Bees took it 10-0 in a pretty exciting match-up.

SLC Bees

Day 6 - Driving to the Grand Canyon

The plan for Day 6 was the head directly to the Grand Canyon, but as we drove down we were lured over to Bryce Canyon for an unplanned detour. This one was very well worth it. On the way in, the Red Canyon put on a great show, set against a perfect blue sky.

Road and Canyon

At Bryce itself we took a good hike along the rim, and the canyon is nothing short of gorgeous. The colors are a mix of reds, greens and browns and with a flawless sky above. The view is pretty much perfect. 

Bryce Canyon

Bryce was followed by no shortage of additional scenery as we continued to make our way to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at several scenic overlooks and took in a number of beautiful sights. We dawdled so much that by the time we hit the park entrance it was too late to see much save the very starry sky above and the occassional gray fox hunting mice by the side of the road. We made it to our hotel and crashed out immediately, for the next day was about proper hiking.

Shane with some Rocks

Day 7 - Grand Canyon

After a quick breakfast and some time gathering internet info we finally got our first proper look at the aptly named Grand Canyon. The name is seriously no joke, it is nearly impossible to take the whole thing in. Each turn in the trail makes you want to take another photograph.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

We walked about a mile before catching a shuttle to take us up to Hermit's Rest, the farthest stop west along the south rim of the canyon. Here we saw more ravens, which is something this spot is apparently famous for, but more entertaining was this squirrel.

Grand Canyon

After taking a quick lunch we started the hike back east. Each outlook really does seem more impressive than the last. Later when I started to look through all these photographs it was literally hundred of shots of the same scene and I still could not decide which ones to share. However, the shots with the Colorado River visible below are some of my favorites.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

Also, it's a requirement at the Grand Canyon that you take pictures of yourself looking like a dork. I think they kick you out if you don't.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

Mission Accomplished.

We made it about 3 or 4 miles before deciding we best catch a shuttle if we wanted to see the sunset at Yavapai Point. Now, I have seen a lot of pretty fantastic sunsets. The best were probably in Santorini in Greece, but there is something really distinct about sunset at the Grand Canyon. The light playing off the rocks brings out the truly exceptional colors. I'm not sure I could capture the depth and dimension in any of the vast number of photographs I took, but I surely did try.

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

With the canyon now dark, we headed to the Arizona Room for dinner and drinks before collapsing back at the hotel. It was a lot of walking after all.

Day 8 - Route 66 to Vegas

Leaving the Grand Canyon, we made our 1st unanticipated stop at a place called "Bedrock City" just outside the park. This weird little establishment lets you explore an (probably unlicensed) version of the Flintstones hometown. I took a trip down a Dino Slide and had a great time. Also there were demon goats. High on Americana we decide to go the long way around and head for Route 66.

Bedrock City
Bedrock City

We made a stop in a town called Seligman which claims to be the birthplace of Route 66. If the number of souvenir shops is anything to judge by, then this is a legitmate claim. The best part of this particular stop is lunch at the Snow Cap Diner, which is basically all you need for a proper American Road Trip.

Route 66 Stuff
Route 66 Stuff

The last major stop on our way to Glittery Vegas was, naturally, the Hoover Dam. Famous for being big, and indeed, it does not dissapoint. 

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam

We reached Vegas relatively early in the evening and check in at the Encore. Most Vegas casinos have themes. The theme at the Encore is: luxury. Our view from the 34th floor out to the strip was amazing and I have never in my life been in a nicer bathroom. These are the things I care about. 

Vegas

After marveling at how nice the room was, we ventured out to take in some sights on the strip and to get dinner. It was wildly busy, being a holiday weekend and a bit overwhelming. The people making up the swarm are only so diverse, falling into a few major categories: young drunk club goers, gambling addicts, families on vacation, or retired couples. I think we looked odd in this particular mix. 

Still, the lights and energy is all pretty fascinating. It's a place you should definitely see at least once in your life.

Vegas

Day 9 - Las Vegas: Daytime

Our last full day of our adventure was devoted to experiencing Las Vegas, and in daylight the view from our hotel remains pretty fantastic.

Vegas

After grabbing some breakfast in the hotel we tackled the strip to go pick up our tickets for "O", a Cirque de Soliel show we'll be seeing later that evening. The walk was fun, with lots of great sights and sounds. The tickets were waiting at the Bellagio and once acquired we made a plan to bus it back to the hotel, grab some fancier cameras and head to Fremont to check out the old Neon signs.

Vegas

On Fremont, people were ziplining down the main street. It was sort of crazy. There were also, as promised, a good number of neon signs. 

Vegas
Vegas

Post Fremont, we made our way over to the Pinball Hall of Fame, a veritable warehouse of Pinball run by a solitary and distant man who, notably, has no particular love for Doctor Who (the pinball game anyway). There were still a lot of fun games around though, and the place with all the noisy, clanging machines and blinking lights, is pretty fun.

Vegas
Vegas

After all this madness, it's back to the strip for a marathon race to our dinner reservation at Craft Steak. Despite the terrible traffic and a very slow moving bus, we made it on time. The dinner is pretty easily the fanciest I've ever had (and the most expensive), but it's very good and the atmosphere is lovely. Maybe not quite worth the cost, but hey, it's Vegas right?

Dinner is followed by a monorail (monorail!) ride over to the Bellagio where we're going to see "O". These are, of course, famously amazing performances, and it surely did not dissappoint. It truly is something else seeing it in person. The water theme and the intricate staging uped the amazement quite a bit. 

Post-show, we hung around outside the Bellagio to see several iterations of the fountain show. It's awesome, and very difficult to capture with a point & shoot camera. 

Vegas

We wrapped things up with some final wandering about the various Casinos as we headed back to Encore with a few stops along the way to play slots so we could claim to have gambled. Then, it's one last, luxurious sleep before the end of this truly Epic Road Trip.

Final Thoughts

I love Road Trips by nature I think, and this it the most ambitious and best that I've ever been on. The joy of it is always in the unexpected. We may have planned large parts, but the small surprises are what I love the most. The random horses we met at a rest stop, a tiny snow man on a big Yellowstone drift, an abandoned Bedrock City: these are the things of legend! 

If you're thinking of ever doing something similar, well, I can't recommend that enough. Get in your car, see America. It's a pretty amazing place, over all.