Category Archives: Travels

All you need to know about the IceHotel in Sweden, Northern Light trips, visiting Abisko and day activities

This is repost of my TripAdvisor review after visiting the IceHotel in Sweden on 27-30/1/2012.   It’s pretty long, which is what you get when you end up on a 3 hour flight without any movie to watch…

This long review is intended for anyone looking for the specific details about planning their short visit to the area.

OUR ITINERARY IN A NUTHSELL:
Friday – LHR to Kiruna via Stockholm with SAS arriving 3pm. 15 mins bus transfer to Jukkasjarvi to the ICEhotel. Stay in traditional warm cabin. Walk around town, buy snacks at the minimarket (open till 9pm). 7-11pm Northern Light snowmobile trip with dinner as part of the trip. Have a drink at the Ice Bar at the end of the day.

Saturday – Wake up late, have buffet breakfast till 10am. Walk around the ICEhotel. Leave at 3pm on unbelievable overnight dog sled expedition. Stay in a remote cabin, have a romantic dinner with wine, the works. Have an amazing sauna for two and roll in the snow. Watch the Northern Lights and feel lucky to be alive.

Sunday – Wake up at 8am, say hi to the dogs and head back. Return at 1pm to ICEhotel. Chill or walk around town. We could have visited Kiruna town, the mine or do the ice-carving or car driving experiences but we just wanted to chill. Have dinner at the Homestead restaurant. Stay in Art Suite and survive a night sleep at -5C degrees.

Monday – Wake up at 7am. Go for breakfast and a walk around, chill and send a postcard home. Leave at 12pm, returning 5pm to LHR.

COMING FROM THE UK, SHOULD I BOOK IT DIRECTLY OR WITH ‘DISCOVER THE WORLD’?

Summary: Book directly. Book via Discover the World if you really case about flying non-stop from LHR, don’t have the time to plan your trip properly and want the standard package.

Coming from the UK, we originally planned to book it with Discover The World (DTW). They’re a travel agency with direct SAS chartered flights from LHR a few times a week.

We chose to book everything directly for a few reasons:
1) DTW have no direct flights on Friday, so their 3-day trips returns Tuesday. We both work so we preferred taking Fri and Mon off rather than Mon-Tue.
2) The two DTW people we speak didn’t really know much about the ICEhotel and the activities (they’ve never been there). By the time we finished our research, we knew more about the activities and itinerary than the people we spoke with. The only added value booking through them is therefore the direct flight.
3) We booked our trip just 2 weeks in advance and many of the activities and the art suites were unavailable in the week of the DTW trip. This is probably because in the weekends of DTW packages the ICE hotel is running full occupancy. Booking direct means finding a weekend when it’s not as full and you have more of the place to yourselves.
4) We checked the moon cycle and it was full moon in the weekend of the DTW package, which meant less chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
5) The quote for our itinerary booked through DTW was £800 more expensive than booking directly for two people. In other words, flying direct (and DTW’s commission) cost £400 more per person, which we don’t think is quite worth it.

We booked our flight with SAS, taking the Friday 7am to Stockholm, with a one hour connection to Kiruna arriving around 1pm. We flew back on Monday 1:25pm from Kiruna arriving 5:25pm in LHR. Don’t worry about the connection time, you’ll make it.

We booked all the accommodation and activities in advance via ICEhotel. You can email them or call them – they were very helpful.

ABISKO VS. KIRUNA / ICEHOTEL – SHOULD I SPEND A NIGHT IN ABISKO?

Summary: If you haven’t seen the Northern Lights by the last day of your trip, do book a same-day trip to Abisko.

The problem with seeing the Northern Lights (assuming there’s enough solar activity) is light pollution and cloudy nights. You can solve the former by taking a night excursion away from the ICEhotel and getting away from the city lights, but if it’s cloudy, you won’t see a thing.

Strangely Abisko does seem to have much clearer skies, as evident in their real-time live camera. It’s not just their website’s sales pitch, is actually true, if you check out their real-time web camera.

You can either arrange a night trip to Abisko, leaving the ICEhotel at 7pm and returning at anything from midnight to 2am, or you can stay there the night.

Our recommendation is to have an option of going to Abisko at your last night, if you haven’t seen the Northern Lights by then. We lucked out and saw the aurora on our second night, so decided not to make the trip. Had we not seen it, we would have just booked an overnight trip.

Note that renting a car to go to Abisko isn’t cheap – Budget charged $120 for 24 hours. It will probably be cheaper to rent a car and drive from ICEhotel to Abisko but it will be a bit of a mission. An organized trip to Abisko cost about £400 per person including a meal and entrance to the Abisko Sky station, so that’s a big price difference.

SHOULD I RENT A CAR?

In retrospect, if it wasn’t for the money we would have rented a car for the duration of our stay, just to have the flexibility of doing what we wanted. If money isn’t an issue for you, do it.

Airport transfer to the ICEhotel are £15 pp, each way. So that’s already £60. If you can get a deal of say £150-200 for three days rental it’s probably going to be worth it – especially if you end up going to Abisko.
WHICH ICEHOTEL COLD ROOM SHOULD I STAY IN?

Summary: Stay in a warm room the first night (or in Abisko). Do an overnight activity in the second night. Book the cold night as your last night.

ICEhotel has warm rooms (regular rooms) and cold rooms. It’s a bit hard to understand the difference between the different cold rooms from the ICEhotel’s website. There are four types:
1) Snow room – the most basic. Just a ‘bed’ in a small room.
2) Ice room – like the snow room, slightly larger, with two ice chairs.
3) Art suites – much larger, themed rooms, beds in various shaped, with artistic ice sculptures
4) Deluxe art suite – the super-duper art suite, double size room

We wouldn’t recommend staying in the snow room or ice room – the art suites are definitely better. The price difference to upgrade to an art suite isn’t massive and it’s a much more special and spacious room.

If an art suite isn’t available in your last night but only in your first night, definitely book it. It’s just that it’s not fun to come off the plane straight to a cold room.

HOW EXACTLY DOES STAYING IN THE COLD ROOM WORK?

In all cold rooms, you’re not supposed to take your stuff to the room as it will freeze. If you’re staying in an Art Suite you’ll get a small individual dressing locker to keep your stuff and get changed. If you’re staying in a snow room or ice room you just get a luggage locker and you get dressed in the public dressing room. That’s annoying. You can pay 200 SEK/£20 to rent the small dressing room that comes for free with the art suites.

This does mean you have no room to relax or shower. You use the dressing rooms which have a dry sauna (separate men/women) and showers.

When you want to go to sleep, you receive an arctic sleeping bag and liners. We took a double sleeping bag with two separate liners – this setup is supposedly the warmest. You walk to the room with your snow boots and snowsuit. It’s -5C in the room so hopefully you’ll manage to take off your shoes and snowsuits and quickly jump into the sleeping bag quickly to keep warm!

IS STAYING IN THE COLD ROOMS WORTH IT?

Summary: of course!

It’s definitely a once in a lifetime experience and if you’re spending £2000 to schlep all the way to Lapland then of course you should do it! Plus if you enjoy cuddling with your partner here’s your chance – it’s way warmer when you do cuddle!

Some people wrote they had a really warm night sleep. I wouldn’t go as far as that, but I’ll see you will definitely not freeze. Taking my socks off was fine for the first few hours of the night but I woke up with frozen feet. Keep them on.

I wouldn’t say you’ll get a comfortable sleep, but once you wake up it’s a real good laugh thinking that you just slept in a -5C igloo.

You should consider switching the double sleeping bag for two singles – it may be more comfortable if your partner tosses and turns all night.

The reindeer skins you sleep on may be a bit stinky. If they’re too stinky, tell the reception and they’ll replace them for you. Take it as part of the experience. We found some of the rooms to be more stinky than others – not sure why!

Don’t drink too much before going to sleep, or you’ll have to schlep from the bed to the toilets outside and back, which is not fun. The only bonus of going to wee is to see the folks who couldn’t survive the night and decided to go back and sleep on the benches in the dressing room – yep, this happens!

Don’t forget to write your name near in the cold room reception to get your ‘I slept in -5C diploma’ when you check out.

IS THERE FREE INTERNET IN THE ICEHOTEL?
Yep, Internet access is free (just ask for the password) and available in the public areas. It’s pretty fast, too.
If you didn’t bring your computer you can use their slow Windows XP computer at the cold rooms reception.

WHAT’S THE NOT-SO-GREAT STUFF ABOUT THE ICEHOTEL?

Every hotel has room for improvement and the ICEhotel is no exception.

It feels like the ICEhotel has a no-nonsense service policy, given that people come first and foremost for the experience rather than the service.

I’d say the service would be considered good if this was a wilderness camp charging £50 a night, but it falls short of what you’d expect from a place charging £250-500 a night. A more guest-focused experience would be a welcomed change.

1. Moving from warm to cold rooms:
The process of swapping from the warm room to the cold warm is not well thought out. Warm room check out time is strictly 11am. Until you go to sleep in the cold room, you literally have no room to shower, relax or have a nap. Even if you go an activity, you don’t have a room to go back to. Similarly, cold room check out time is strictly 7am. Until you leave (or, re-enter your warm room), you have to wait till check-in time of mid-day or later, unless a room is available. If you’ve got £200 spare, you can book a night in the warm room in addition to the cold room. Ideally they should be much more flexible – when we stayed there they were in low occupancy so there was really no reason not to let us stay in the warm room until late that day.
2. Room swap in overnight excursion: really not well thought through. We had to insist on getting a locker room. Once we received it, it was slightly better. Given that we paid £550 each for an overnight activity, we would have expected a much better arrangement. Again, this would be fine if they charge £100. Not when you paid those sums of money.
3. Aurora alerts: the staff is pretty nonchalant about whether or not the guests see the Northern Lights. Given that most people come for the unique experience of seeing the lights for their first time, they really ought to have some type of an ‘aurora alerts’ that you could opt in to (e.g. call your room, make an announcement at the restaurant or something like that). Especially during the night excursions, they could take a page from the way safari companies work, alerting one another for sightings. We had to be very active ourselves to ensure we did see the lights. Others weren’t lucky because they took a more passive approach and missed them.
4. Breakfast buffet: was ok, identical every day, and nothing to write home about. Bring a Nutella jar from home.
5. Cash advance for tips: we really wanted to tip our fantastic dogsled guide and didn’t have any local currency. It was our bad. The reception wouldn’t do any cash advances and there’s no ATM in town. It’s really annoying and we would have been OK to pay them 10% commission to withdraw some money. Definitely take out £50-100 for tips in cash before arriving in the ICEhotel.
6. Library books in English:
It would have been really simple to purchase 20 English books and have a decent library. There are only a few books in Swedish. Shame.
7. Homestead restaurant:
Our meal was ok. Dishes (£20 for entre) were medium size (UK size) or small (US size). White chocolate mousse, pasta, shitake mushroom soup and white fish salad were ok nothing to write home about. Maybe we ordered the wrong dishes.
8. No spa: This is a nice-to-have but my wife did wish they had an option to get a massage after the eventful-but-not-really-comfortable night in the cold room. I have no doubt they’ll add it sooner or later – it makes lots of sense and could easily generate nice incremental income.
9. Reception staff attitude: courteous, but slightly disaffected. I don’t think it’s due to the Swedish culture. We are not big fans of Pan-Am style fake enthusiasm, but slightly more warmness and smiles in the welcoming and servicing of guests would have been really nice, especially as we arrived with lots of enthusiasm. This is a subtle comment – no one was rude or anything like that. Note that the activities staff were super nice and enthusiastic, so this feedback is specifically about the reception staff.

WHICH ACTIVITIES ARE WORTH DOING?

Summary: overnight dogsled expedition, Northern lights snowmobile tour, and possibly Abisko night trip and car driving experience.

The overnight dogsled expedition was by far the highlight of the trip. It was an unbelievable experience.

We lucked out and were the only couple in the trip, which was already awesome. Each person has its own sled of 4 dogs. Being a musher is really easy and not scary at all (though not recommended to under-16 or over 90 y/os). The dogs are so sweet and beautiful – we wish we could take them back with us… (warning: if you hug them they will be just a bit smelly after running for 20 miles!)

Our guide and chef was Anna, who was absolutely amazing.
After meeting the dogs, we headed for a two hour dog sled trip to the camp, which we had all to ourselves. We had an awesome wet sauna. If you’ve been in Japan it’s very similar – you wash with hot water bucket, use shampoo and all. You can roll in the snow and run back in – it’s scary, weird but awesome. Because we were alone, we had all the privacy needed to walk around naked, etc…

We had our own cabin with bunk beds and a nearby toilet.
Anna (our guide & chef) cooked a phenomenal meal catering to my wife’s dietary restrictions plus she arranged tons of snacks in the dressing room near the sauna.

To top it all, because the cabin is remote, we had no light pollution and watched the Northern Lights for good two hours until we got tired (see below)!

At a price of 5,650 SEK per person, it’s not cheap but it works out cheaper than paying for one night’s accommodation and taking the usual four-hour dogsled trip that other people do – not to mention the fabulous meal, sauna for two and best of all – not being rushed to return to the ICEhotel and missing a chance to see the aurora.

We also did the 7pm-11pm Northern Light snowmobile tour. It was awesome. If your partner doesn’t like driving fast, you should consider getting your own snowmobile… Wrap up warm because at 30-60kmh it does get freezing! It comes with a 3-course meal at the cabin that was tasty.
The one thing I’ll say about the trip is that it’s not really ideal for Northern Light watching. Thing is, it takes an hour to get to the cabin, a half-hour to get back, plus the meal takes an hour – which means you really have about half hour to enjoy the lights, assuming it’s not cloudy. So you could instead do a day snowmobile tour and go for a long walk (or drive to Abisko) to find the lights, or book instead an overnight snowmobile tour, so you’re not rushed.

We didn’t do the reindeer sled experience because we heard it’s awesome but not as fun as the dog sledding. If you can fit it in – do it.

We didn’t do the horse riding experience because there’s no opportunity to canter and we were not in the mood for a leisurely walk or trot…

Lastly, you should check carefully in the ICEhotel’s website what’s the availability of the tours. They don’t run them every day, which is a bit annoying. If you book the snowmobile tour too late, the 7pm group might be full in which case they’ll either add a 6pm group (which has less chances to see the lights, as it’s not as dark outside) or you’ll have to miss it. Plan well in advance what you do in every day and night, to avoid disappointment.

HOW TO MAXIMIZE THE CHANCES OF SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS?

1. Ignore the weather forecasts. I was checking websites every day for a week, winding myself up that it’s going to be 100% cloud coverage for the duration of our stay. I used four different weather websites (weather.com, wunderground.com, plus Google and a local Swedish one) and they all were completely useless, including in the days when we were actually there! So pray for good weather and just ignore what the web weather sites tell you.
2. Use the Abisko Real time Sky camera. Their website shows you how clear the skies really are and last night’s aurora in 15 minutes increments. If you tried seeing the Northern Lights near the ICEhotel and couldn’t check the following day if they were sighted in Abisko. If so, consider taking a night trip there.
3. The Northern Lights look like bright ‘clouds’ in the night’s skies. Only that they’re not clouds but rather the interaction of the solar wind with the oxygen (green aurora) and nitrogen (the rare, red aurora) in the atmosphere. Only when taking a 15 second exposure with a camera do they look as bright green as they are in the photos – usually you’ll just notice massive long ‘clouds’ that move in the skies.
4. Look towards the nofirstrth and slightly above the horizon – this is where the Northern Lights would probably appear. If you know how to find the plough and northern star (high up in the skies as you’re close to the Northern pole) use that as a guide. Otherwise remember where the sun set (southwest) and look the other direction.
5. When we had the overnight dog sled tour, I checked every 10 minutes whether or not the aurora started, from about 7pm onwards. They started at 10pm and we just sat out till midnight enjoying the view that kept changing. They get brighter for a few minutes, then not as bright. Stay out until you get the photo you always wanted.
6. Pray for good clear weather, walk away from light sources, and stay up till 1am – you’ll see them eventually!

HOW TO TAKE PHOTOS IN -25C DEGREES?
Buy 4-8 extra batteries (if your camera uses AAs) or bring 1-2 spare dedicated batteries. Our 2900mAh rechargeable batteries lasted maybe 20-30 long-exposure shots. A 30 seconds video was almost all we could take with a couple of brand new Energizer AAs we bought.

It’s obviously camera-dependent but just make sure you’ve got enough batteries.

Get a mini-tripod (costs only £5 on Amazon) – you won’t regret it, plus it will be much easier to take it out of your pocket with gloves on and to take photos with self-timer.

Replacing batteries in the cold is annoying – prepare to get some frozen fingers!

WHICH CLOTHES SHOULD I TAKE?
You get an amazingly warm snowsuit, great boots (the men’s are comfier than the women’s) and ok gloves.

Bring: thermal long johns, great thermal socks (you need great socks instead of 3 layers of ok socks that won’t warm your feet), thermal shirt, fleece jacket, balaclava (as the one they give you stinks a bit) and fleeced scarf. Bring your ski goggles if you’ve got them (for the snowmobile). If you have an amazing pair of gloves bring them. None of our ski gloves was warm enough, so we ended up using theirs.

SHOULD I BOOK BUS TRANSFER WITH THE ICEHOTEL?
Yes, it’s a bit of a rip-off at 150 SEK (£15) for a 15 minute bus ride, but just book it. Taxi will cost you 450 SEK so it’s cheaper if you’re a party of four.

ANYTHING ELSE?
Yes, have an awesome trip! Going to the ICEhotel was one of our best 3-days excursions. You won’t regret it.

Sixteen days in Japan

When we booked our flight tickets to Tokyo a few months ago, I wasn’t quite sure how this holiday would turn up.  I try to be cautious about promises to visit “the most amazing place” and doubted whether Japan would live to the hype.   It did.  Japan is such a fascinating and unique place to visit.   I am also glad I ‘graduated’ to travel in Japan after having already experienced China and Singapore, which in retrospect appear in a different light. 

Here are 16 thoughts about Japan, one for each day of our travels there.

Geisha apprentice, Gion, KyotoUniqueness
It is logical to assume that the more countries one visits, the less likely they are to find something novel and unique.  Japan is guaranteed to be different.  Whether it’s its culture, food, architecture, entertainment, transportation, or people; Japan feels like nothing you have seen before.

Not just temples
We wanted to have a mixture of cities, history, hiking and sun and followed the itinerary below.  The only change I recommend is to substitute a night in Osaka for an extra night at Shirahama.
Days 1-2:  Tokyo
Day 3:  Honke Bankyu Onsen, Yunishigawa
Day 4: Nikko
Day 5: Hakone and Mt. Fuji
Days 6:  Takayama
Day 7:  Shirakawa-go
Days 8-10:  Kyoto
Day 11:  Hiroshima
Days 12-13:  Osaka
Days 14-15:  Shirahama
Day 16:  Tokyo

Cool billboard, TokyoMeet the Japanese
It is hard and problematic to generalize about 127+ million people, but everyone we met was nice, welcoming and courteous.  Privacy and personal distance is well kept but not in the cold–don’t-look-at-me manner you encounter in London.  For some obscure reason the Japanese overwhelming courteousness is only detracted by the tendency to jump queues or push in line to the elevator, a behavior which I found rather amusing.
Compared to our travels in China, we found it harder to interact with Japanese.  At our last night in Tokyo we met two Chinese couples and before we knew it, joined their table and were invited for a drink.  This does not really happen with the Japanese, regardless of your proficiency of the language.  In that sense, Mandarin is more useful in landing you a free drink and a great night out…

Language barriers?  Not really
I got a bit lazy practicing my (very) basic Japanese when I realized that in most places English is understood.  Knowledge of Japanese is helpful when buying train tickets, making hotel or restaurant reservations and ordering food.  Knowledge of Japanese is mandatory if you want to have a chat with locals in onsens, sushi bars, train or elsewhere.   You will have a better time if you speak some Japanese.

Onsens
Onsens are natural hot-springs spas, usually separated for men and women.  They’re everywhere and they’re great.  We visited three or four onsens and each was different than the other.  In Osaka we went to Spa World, an in-house “spa palace” with dozens of different themed pools.  For ¥1000 ($11) it’s a non-brainer.

Ryokans
One of the traditional accommodation options in Japan is the ryokan, somewhat of an upscale Bed & Breakfast (& Dinner).  Rooms are Japanese style which means sleeping on a futon laid down at night on the tatami floor.  If you’re coming all the way to Japan you should definitely spend a night or two in a good ryokan.   They usually have their own onsen or other public hot bath and depending on where you are staying (and how much you are willing to spend), offer delicious multi-course meals.

Shirahama beachBeach time
Try searching for “best beaches in Japan” and you’d hardly find an answer.  We researched long and and finally booked two nights at Shirahama, Kansai and were delighted with our choice.  We found a beautiful white-sand beach, nice hotels, great sun, fresh sashimi and not too many people.  Japan might not challenge the beaches of the Philippines or Thailand, but if you’re there already, there are definitely nice beach to consider.

Bullet Trains
The Shinkansen, bullet-train service is unbelievable.  The 250-300 km/h speeds feel like a safe rollercoaster ride.  They are so efficient and pleasant to ride that it would be hard to get used to air travel again.   It would be a blessing if Shinkansen type trains would start challenging low-cost airlines travel in Europe but given the price point I am not holding my breath.   If you’re a train-buff, the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka makes a nice visit and opportunity to play around with some train models not found elsewhere.

Phone camera everywhereMobile Phones
By far Japan has been the most mobile phone-obsessed country I have been to.   Interestingly, in over two weeks I spotted just a couple of iPhones and a few Samsung phones.  All the rest were vanilla flip-phones which look pretty much the same.  I expected massive use of data but didn’t quite expect the ubiquitous use of phone cameras by everyone, from five year olds to an elderly grandmother.

Food, Food, and Food
Be it restaurants, groceries, markets, food stands, deli shops or vending machines, it feels like the majority of retail space in Japan is dedicated to food.  Quite a surprise when you consider how rare obesity is and how slim everyone around you is.

SushiFresh fish for dinner
Even the local supermarket offers better sashimi than most London restaurants.  We had sashimi or nigiri almost every night.  Ordering is easy: all you need is to point to the fish in front of you, or better off, ask for the same dish that someone else has ordered.  After sampling more than a dozen different options, we still preferred Tuna and Salmon over everything else.  Our best meal was at the Kozue restaurant at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo.  It is a must.  The set meal was worth every penny and I cannot wait till my next visit in Tokyo to revisit it.

The Japanese Sweet Tooth
There are sweets shops everywhere, selling a variety of bean-based and rice-based candies.  In the large cities you can also find beautifully done gourmet European-style patisseries.  Now this is the deal.  Imagine spotting a chocolate brownie, mousse or tiramisu which looks as good as a million dollar sushi roll.  You get excited, pay the bill and bite into it, expecting the best desert you have ever tried.   And then you realize how bland it is.  What can I say; we have tried hard but could not find a single shop to offer even a reasonable decent croissant.  It looks like a great opportunity to open a sweet shop where the deserts would actually taste as good as they look.

O-Sake, Umeshu and Whisky
Alcohol is as unique and good as Japanese food is.  We settled in most nights for various types of umeshu, plum wine and especially like the brown sugar (kokuto) type.  We also tried a drink called Half Moon but could not find it anywhere outside of Kyoto.  With such a variety of sake (rice wine), beer and whisky Japan offers great drinking as well as eating.

Service
Service is just great, especially if you compare it to what you’re used to in the UK or the Continent.   There’s no tipping in Japan but given the average price of meal you can assume it is already included in the bill.

Prices
Traveling in Japan is as expensive as traveling in the UK or Europe.  Rates for 4* hotels start at $150.  A meal for 2 people in a mid-range restaurant was usually around $20-40.   Transportation is expensive.  We purchased a Japan Shirakawa-go viewsRail Pass, but otherwise a three hour bullet-train from Osaka to Tokyo would cost you $150.   It is possible to enjoy Japan on a lower budget, but transportation and decent hotels and restaurants would still cost significantly more than in neighboring China, Thailand or Philippines.

Lucky August
Almost every single day was warm but not too hot (25-30°C) and sunny.  We maybe had a day or two of brief rains.  None of the warnings about 40°C Tokyo came true.   On our last day, we got on the last flight to London as all other flights got cancelled due to a typhoon.  Overall, I guess we just got lucky.

Back from South-East Asia

I love China.  I love the Philippines.

This week we returned from fifteen amazing weeks, backpacking across Singapore, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Thailand and the Philippines.   You can read more (much more) about it, in our travel blog hosted at www.travelblog.org/bloggers/odedromi.  We had a really fantastic time there, and definitely looking forward to returning to many of the countries we visited.

In a few days I will be changing from my shorts and backpack into a more casual attire, as I start my job with Microsoft’s London Online/Mobile team.  I’m super excited and looking forward to some steep learning curve ahead – new market, new products, new country.   (Do expect a switch to English UK spelling from now on, then).

Colorado and Wyoming: Our Favorite Region in the U.S.

Just returned from a fantastic 10 days trip through Colorado (Denver, Colorado Spring, Aspen, Glenwood Springs) and Wyoming (Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Jackson).   This was by far our best trip yet in the U.S.   Truly a beautiful part of America!

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO is a walkable park with beautiful scenery of red-colored boulders overlooking snow-capped mountains:

 

In Aspen we rented bikes and rode for hours along the Rio Grande River.  We also saw in Aspen some of the most beautiful houses we’ve ever seen:

But the highlights of our trip were by far the national parks of Yellowstone (aka Geyser land) and Grand Teton.  Yellowstone is supposedly the world’s most active thermal area, with hundreds of geysers all around, the best known of which is The Old Faithful geyser: 

The best, however, was the wildlife.  On our very first day, we met a black bear crossing the road in front of us, a truly exhilarating experience!   A few days later, we got to see a mama bear with her two cubs, who were playing with one another, climbing trees and mock-fighting.   Aside from that, spotted lots of bison, elk and even a few coyotes.  We also saw one (sleeping) grizzly but unfortunately no moose this time – maybe in our next visit…

Mama bear crossing the road.   Check the photographer at the far left – he did survive and was actually quite far away from the bear.   We were sitting in the car, just 20-30 meters away, not believing this amazing sight:

A couple of days later, we got an ever more amazing view of mama bear with two baby bears.  The two were playing along, climbing on trees, mock-fighting and having a good time…  It was just fantastic to spot them in the wild:

Here’s photos of bison and elks, whose meat you could eat at the different inns in Yellowstone.  I didn’t find bison’s meat to be very tasty (beef is tastier), but the antelope sausages were chavlaz – the closest you could get to chorizos with a kosher animal.

Overall, we drove over 1500 miles on 10 days (Yellowstone is some 500 miles away from Denver).   It was well worth it, with beautiful scenery all along the drive.  Surprisingly, driving 10 hours straight no longer feels weird for us…

     

That’s it for now – next travel report would probably be from Vietnam.