Seljavallalaug: A Hidden Swimming Pool in South Iceland

Iceland is, hands down, one of the most beautiful places that I’ve visited.  And, while there are a number of great natural wonders along the so-called “Golden Circle” route, I enjoy taking the less-touristy far-southern route along the coast on the Highway 1 ring road.   There are a number of beautiful hidden gems that used to be truly off-the-beaten-path but, with wonder of the Internet, they have become much more accessible to all.  One of those sites is Seljavallalaug, one of the most beautiful man-made swimming pools in the world.

Seljavallalaug is not the easiest place to get to, but it’s not difficult either.  Your main risk is a plunging your feet into some freezing water, depending on the time of year, or maybe slipping on some rocks.  And, thankfully for prospective visitors, it’s now marked accurately on Google Maps:

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Seljavallalaug is located about 150km from central Reykjavik. The drive is choked full of scenery.    If you wanted to, you could pull off every 10 minutes to take photos of something new and amazing:  beautiful views of the water, an active volcano, cute little houses or seemingly infinite fields of flowers:

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To get there, you must pull off onto an access road that leads to a farm.  From there, it’s about a 20-30 minute walk to the pool, depending on the time of year and the flow of water in the mountain stream and river that protect the area.  When you start walking toward the valley that contains the pool, you’re greeted with an amazing world all around you.

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As you continue walking down the path, you’ll notice that there are waterfalls as far as the eye can see.  I can only imagine how many there are during the spring thaw.

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You’re then greeted with a small stream, followed by a small river.   You can probably make it across the stream by hopping on rocks, if the water level is low.  Be aware, though, that even in July, the water temperature was freezing.  You can see the small river in to the left of me:

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At this point, you have two options:  Wade across the cold river or turn left and take the rockier route, which is more dangerous.   I chose the latter, which wasn’t too bad at all.

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As you make it across and around into the valley, you see the pool from a distance:

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It’s basic, to say the least, as are the rudimentary changing rooms.  The facility isn’t maintained by anyone, except for the one time a year that locals come out and scrub the algae down off the walls.  The water, however, is crystal clean and warmed by geothermal heat, as most of Iceland’s water is.  If you’re lucky enough to get some time to yourself, the entire experience is just serene:

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Sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery…

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Finally, a few tips:  Bring a change of socks and shoes in case your feet do take a plunge into the river.  Also, a pair of flip-flops are nice to have when walking around the pool area and dressing rooms, which are covered with dirty and algae.

Is it worth it?  Undoubtedly.

Quick Update: Briefly Featured in a CNN article regarding “The Longest Flight in the World”

Earlier this week, I was briefly featured in a CNN article about the demise of Singapore Airlines flights 21 and 22, often referred to as “the longest flights in the world”.  Coincidentally, that’s also the name of the article, which is accessible here:

One of my most visited blog posts over the past four years is my review of this flight, titled “Singapore Airlines All Business Class and the Longest Flight in the World”:

Funny enough, I’ll actually be flying SQ21 in early November, which will be my last leg on this very special, storied flight.

Tel Aviv in the Summer

Tel Aviv brings surprises around every corner.

There are normally two things that take people by surprise when I tell them about this amazing costal city:

1.  Tel Aviv is as cosmopolitan as New York City.

2.  Tel Aviv is a secular city.

The city has become increasingly liberal and open over the years and non-Jews and secular Jews, alike, will not not only feel comfortable there, but will enjoy the same cultural amenities that you’d find in any of the top cities in the world.  The food is top-notch.  The bars are packed and crowds spill into the streets until early in the morning.  It’s reputation as one of the top party cities of the world brings in everything from the world’s best DJ’s to one of the largest gay pride celebrations in the world.   It provides the perfect balance between daytime, urban coastal relaxation, history and late-night indulgence.

Many of the great hotels and restaurants are huddled around the coast.  And while the Hilton, Sheraton provide direct beach access, I prefer the boutique Hotel Melody just across the road.  And during my time there, I can say that I probably had my best Friday/Saturday night meal combination in any city of the world this year, thanks to the cool and trendy  North Abraxas and thoroughly-modern Herbert Samuel.

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Macau: Gambling Capital of the World

Where do I being with Macau? While the gambling capital of the world is, in so many ways, worlds away from Las Vegas, they are both siblings in that they seem something like a theme park. In much the way that Las Vegas was a desert-covered cowboy town before gaming came along, I can’t imagine what Macau was like before the casinos were built. Back in the days when the Portuguese ruled the world, they laid a cultural foundation within this small Asian island that spawns its language, food and architecture. It is a bizarre hybrid of Euro-Asian everything, although formidably more Asian these days, particularly as the thirst for gaming amongst the mainland Chinese continues to grow.

A short ferry hop from Hong Kong in fast hydrofoils that provide a comfortable first-class service, you have your choice to dive into the tourist-ridden older parts of the city, the quieter parts of the island that seem to be undisturbed by the gaming chaos, or boring and quiet stretches of the city that are lined with miniature versions of Las Vegas casinos (a mini Wynn Las Vegas, anyone?).

Good for a day or two’s visit, if you’re looking for a duplication of Las Vegas or Atlantic City, you won’t find it. The gaming floors are typically packed, smokey and filled with games that you’ve probably never even heard of. But it’s a fun place to explore and the combination of new-found wealth and history makes for an entertaining time.

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Above:  Grand Lisboa Casino

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Above:  A famous pork chop that you can find at a few places throughout the island.   It’s essentially a fried, thinly sliced pork chop on a fresh roll with butter.  Not the healthiest thing in the world, but delicious!

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Above:  Their version of jerky can be found all over the island.

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Above: As you would expect in a former Portuguese colony, there are many simple, but beautiful Christian churches.

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Shanghai’s French Concession: In the Rain

One of my favorite sections of Shanghai, the French Concession neighborhood, is a bit of an oasis in the sea of modern, cramped high rises that now makes up nearly all of the city. It’s low-rise buildings and twisted alleyways hide galleries, unique merchants and relaxing cafes. A few modern shopping malls have managed to pop up here and there, but they pale in comparison to the glitzy, ultra-luxe structures that that now populate other areas, such as Xintiandi, and don’t do much to intrude on the neighborhood’s charm.

The area was once controlled by the French, as the name implies, and has remained largely unchanged in the decades since it was turned over to the Chinese government.  Through the years, it has served as a hub for people of many national origins, including French, British, American and Russian and also served as the center for Catholic activity in Shanghai.    Seemingly unlike the rest of the city, the government has imposed numerous development restrictions on the area in order to maintain it’s uniqueness and character.

In the rain, the crowds are scant and the area is still very much enjoyable.  Some of the shops occupy the entire ground floors of buildings, while others are slightly bigger than a few large closets’ worth of space.  At night, you can find a number of interesting bars and restaurants ranging from local haunts to expat hangouts.

In an area that is meant for strolling, the rain can be an annoyance but, in this case, I think it just adds to the character of the neighborhood.

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Why Eos Airlines is the Best Airline *Out* of Business…

Wow, what timing.

Just a week after I posted my update on the continued excellent quality of service of Eos Airlines, Eos filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations [CNN story]. (You can see my original review of Eos’s service in 2007 here. I received many, many views and emails from this blog entry.)

The timing of this for me was particularly bad, as I had already flown to London on my outbound flight and was set to fly back to New York City just two days after their last flight. Luckily enough, Silverjet accommodated me, although their service is not nearly as good (Stay tuned for an update).