2018 Post Trip Postcard

WOW Iceland !

The two major new experiences on this trip were traveling on WOW Air and visiting the country of Iceland. A number of people have asked about WOW Air, and we have heard many friends and people we met during our trip say: “I have always wanted to go to Iceland”.   Therefore, we would like to share our opinions on these two topics.

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WOW Air: This new airline started in 2012. WOW has one of the newest airplane fleets in the world.  They own about 30 Airbus A321s and A320s.  They currently fly to about 34 destinations from their home airport of Keflavík International Airport (KEF) – commonly referred to the Reykyavik airport. Their flight system structure makes a lot of sense. Concurrently, they have a combination of about 12 aircraft take off from cities in the USA. Another 12, or so, aircraft takeoff from cities throughout Europe. All heading to KEF. Once at KEF all the passengers deplane; walk around the terminal for a few minutes or a couple hours and board another plane to head to their final destinations.

WOW Air is a heavily discounted air carrier.  You can fly as low as $99 per leg from the USA to a European city.  The seats are small.  But, they have larger and larger seats that you can pay more money to occupy.  You can pay an extra fee to check a bag.  You can pay an extra fee for food, drink, a pillow and even a blanket.

We paid for all the options.  Our total cost was comparable to a coach ticket on Delta or United.

One big benefit is that you can book a layover in Iceland for a few days or weeks with no extra charge.

Our WOW experience was excellent.  The departure for our Iceland to England flight was delayed about 30 minutes.  The arriving plane from Cincinnati was late leaving the USA.  The ground crew did a very fast change over and our pilot pulled into London only 10 minutes behind schedule.

Normally, when you fly from the US to Europe you can take a non-stop flight from a major US airport to a major European airport. That’s nice. But, most of us want to fly into a smaller city in Europe. So, two flights to Europe is pretty much the norm. The big problem is coming home. If you are flying from Paris to Detroit, you can pay a premium to fly non-stop, but you can save a bundle by flying through a major US port city.

For example: Fly United (an international flight) – Paris to Newark – and then a domestic flight – Newark to Detroit. The trouble is your time lost in Newark. You have to go through Passport Control; get your bags and go through US Customs. Then you have to check your bags for the domestic flight and make your way from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal. This layover can last 5, 6 or more hours and puts miles on your feet.

If you fly WOW then you can fly Paris to KEF to DTW.  At KEF you stay in the KEF International terminal and your next gate may be only one or two gates away.

Bottom line: We enjoyed our experience on WOW. Both on the planes and on the ground. We would fly them again.

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Iceland:  Our decision to take advantage of a layover was easy to make. We selected arriving on Monday and departing Thursday. (Note: WOW does not fly everyday to/from each airport). Ignoring the half-day arriving and the half-day departing this gave us two full days in Iceland.  Perhaps not long enough.

We studied all that can be done in the city of Reyjavik and in the country outside the city.  We decided to rest on Monday afternoon; Tuesday would let us explore the city and Wednesday rent a car for a countryside drive.

The airport is a very long distance from the center of Reyjavik. Most travel websites recommend taking the bus from the airport to your hotel – they claim it is a money saver.  Well, you need to weigh your time versus your money.

To get on the bus we had to walk from the terminal to the bus parking lot – IN THE RAIN.  Then wait and wait and wait for the bus to fill up.  The bus takes you to a large bus terminal on the outside of the central city.  Once there I had to climb into the belly of the bus to retrieve our bags.  Then find which of the six or eight vans went to the stop near our hotel.  Then more walking and trying to find the hotel.

The taxi stand is just outside the terminal – under cover.  It takes you to the door of your hotel.  And just like cabbies everywhere, they love to talk and tell you about their city.  So, choose wisely: your time or your money.  We chose the taxi to go back to the airport.

You have multiple choices to visit in the countryside:  geysers, waterfalls, lakes, hot springs, photo ops and many other natural sights to view. We elected our own rental car. It offers flexibility, convenience and freedom, but getting lost and not sure where you are going are the drawbacks.  Don’t forget reading the darn street signs and names!

Tourist buses that hold 50 people or smaller vans with 6-10 people are your options. They offer guided tours, fixed routes, but the constant waiting to “get on the bus and get off the bus”. Plus they are very costly per person.

If we were to visit Iceland again, I would use a totally different approach. I would rent a car at the airport and find a hotel closer to the airport for the first half-day “in country”. I would drive into Reykjavik for one of the days for walking around. And I would spend two days (or more) driving around the countryside (and bring my own GPS).  Plus I would look for hotels out in the countryside.

Iceland is very, very expensive.  Hotels on the outskirts of the city center must be less expensive than city center.

Visiting all the natural sights involves a lot of hiking from the parking areas. It is a little easier for 20 – 30 year-olds rather than 60-70 year-olds.  Keep that in mind.

Someone asked us about the Blue Lagoon. Lots of people go there. They spend a lot of money to swim in the hot discharged water from a power plant. The water and surroundings made to look natural.  The power plant hidden from sight.  It did not really appeal to us.

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US Customs:  An hour before landing in Detroit, a flight attendant announced that they would be passing out Customs forms, but she stated that US citizens did not have to fill them out.  This was not what we had done on all our previous trips home.  When she walked by with the forms, I asked her why we did not get one.  She said that they had “received an email”. ???  I asked her for a form anyway.  After reading it, the form seemed to be the same Customs form I have filled out many times before.  So, I filled in all the blanks.

But, in Detroit, it was never needed.  US Customs has changed their process.  (Apparently an email that I did not receive.)  They do not care how much booze, cigarettes or other purchased items you bring back into the US.  Just as long as you do not bring in fresh food or plants.

That was a BIG surprise.  So, now I wish we had spent more money on souvenirs and booze!  If you plan to leave the country and you want to come home with expensive gifts or booze or wine, double check the new rules before you leave.

Secondly, there were no “fast lanes” for Global Entry. Not sure that plan is worth paying for anymore.

Conclusion:  If you are considering to fly WOW or visit Iceland, we would be happy to discuss any and all of these items with you in more detail.

Happy Traveling,
David & Nina

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2018 Postcard Number 21

A few more oddities collected along the way which I found amusing…

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Entitled:  “Every guy’s dream”

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Grocery store in the UK…specializes in frozen foods.  Go figure.

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Yep.  Time to leave, but we will be ready to visit again.

 

 

 

BTW – did I mention that I wrecked the rental car?

2018 Postcard Number 20

Last full day on our trip.  Started out rainy and cold.  Oh dear.  What shall we do?  Some outdoor plans were scrubbed (e.g. a car boot sale) and indoor events were re-evaluated.  We decided on a small upscale Antique Show at The Rembrandt Hotel with about 40 dealers.  We attended this same event in 2004 and though most of the stuff was “out of our league” then, and still is, it was fun to browse and Nina had found a bracelet in 2004.  In 2018 she found a ring, a bracelet and a necklace.  Though she only bought the ring.

David found a very unique curling stone.  Beautiful multi-colored granite.  Nice brass handle.  And at a good price.  But, I have already bought three, so I decided not to get it,

From the hotel a comfortable, though drizzly walk to Harrods.  We ate at the same Pizzeria counter we have been to at least twice before over 20+ years.  They did not disappoint.  I really think it is the best pizza outside of Italia!  Bravissimo.

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We walked out of Harrods to brilliant sunshine.  Fantastic.  Back to our neighborhood for some last minute provisions for the evening.  Then back to the apartment to nap and then pack.

2018 Postcard Number 19

We traversed the full length of Portobello Road market this morning and found a few treasures.

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Later in the day we made it to the theater…I mean theatre.  The Theatre Royal Drury Lane for 42nd Street… a really great song and dance event.  The theatre is call “Royal” since it has a “Royal” box which was empty tonight…none of Meghan’s in-laws are in town.

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It really was Bigger Than Life entertainment.  Obviously, I could not take pictures of the show, but you can Click Here to see a  short YouTube video.

But, I think a better dance sequence can be found if you Click Here

The second video was my brother Paul & I in about 1958.  Just think…if we had continued those lessons we could have been on and/or in “42nd Street”.

Laundry tonight.  Tomorrow is our last day.  Monday we travel home.

2018 Postcard Number 17

Did I mention that Wales got scrubbed from the itinerary?  Too bad, really.  We have been to Wales, briefly, with Norm & Sue.  Enjoyed the time there and thought that a return visit was warranted.  Well, it is still on the wish-list, but not this trip.

A return trip to the UK will include the Highlands of Scotland and the Cornish coast of England.  Two extremes – one the extreme North and the other the extreme South -which will make for a difficult itinerary.   But, that worry will await for another day.

Today was “Get Reacquainted with London Day”.  Taxi by way of Buckingham Palace; ride down The Mall; delayed by The Horse Guards out practicing on the streets (no complaint and sorry no pictures).  Then on to Covent Garden and a stroll through Leicester Square and on to Trafalgar Square.

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The windows behind the altar in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields.  I see a crucifix – do you?

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Then a long taxi ride to The Grapes.  A pub – originally The Bunch of Grapes – has stood on the pebbled Limehouse Reach of The Thames, for nearly 500 years.  Think about that…about the time that Columbus sailed the “ocean blue”.  Today the pub is owned by Gandalf – Ian McKellen.  

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Since we were so close to Canary Wharf a water taxi ride toward home made much more sense than a land based taxi or the tube.  It was a grey, cloudy day.  So, many of the pix are rather drab.

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One bridge that I hope does not fall down NOW.

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The boat ride dropped us off at Westminster.  Unfortunately for all the tourists in town for their first visit, The Elizabeth Tower (home to Big Ben) was cloaked in scaffolding and tarpaulin under repair for a general restoration which could take several years. Even the chimes have stopped because they would deafen the workmen!  The scaffolding has also spread over neighboring parts of the Houses of Parliament.  I am sure that this work has destroyed many vacation photos.

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A cacophony of horns greeted us.  Hundreds of furious motorbike delivery drivers filled Parliament Square, calling on the government to do more to protect workers from acid attacks….and lousy tips.  So, no pizza delivery tonight…

 

2018 Postcard Number 16

These vagabond shoes, they are longing to stray.  My little town blues, they are melting away.   I’m gonna make a brand new start of it.  I want to wake up in that city.   I want to wake up in jolly old London. 

With apologizes to Fred Ebb.

London. 

Again. 

This is at least our 14th visit to London together.  David has been here an additional 6 times on biz trips.  In all of those trips we stayed at the old Holiday Inn near Marble Arch twice.  Since then we have stayed in a different place each visit:  a different hotel or a different apartment rental.  And nearly always in a different section of the city.  

Like many big cities, London is made up of smaller neighborhoods.  Each with unique shops, restaurants and pubs.

After 1600+ miles on our Volvo POS (never buy a Volvo.  If you are thinking about it….talk with me)  we dropped it off at the Hertz Dealer at Heathrow.  A car and driver were waiting to whisk us into London.  By 2 pm we were in our new apartment.  We unpacked.  Had a quickie (a nap!  you evil minds.  We ain’t 20 or even 50 anymore, although . . . .) and now we are off to explore the streets around our apartment.

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Our apartment is about 3/4 the way down the street.

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Our street view during dinner.

Time for a good night’s rest.  Tomorrow we head to Covent Gardens to shop and the Leicester Square try to buy some one-half off theater tickets for the weekend.