martynj.com - things I have learnt

entries tagged 'travel'

The Story of Cross-Country Ski Trekking in Norway

Feeling adventurous, four friends and I went cross-country ski trekking in the Norwegian Arctic Circle last month. The route, found in a book of summer hikes but followed instead when covered with several metres of snow, took us on a 6.5-day loop in the mountains from a remote station on the Narvik to Stockholm railway. [See route map below.] With limited cross-country skiing experience (2 of us had never used them before setting off at the start of the trek), the learning curve was steep, and a lot of research had to happen in the pre-trip planning to maximise ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/norway-narvik-cross-country-ski-trek

Cycling the Coast-to-Coast C2C Route from Whitehaven to Sunderland

The C2C cycle route runs from the English west coast in Cumbria to the east coast at Tyne & Wear (see detailed map below). Having cycled the 8-day 'Wheelwright' mountain bike coast to coast route a couple of times before, the C2C seemed like a great way to cover similar ground in just 3 days. There's a few variations to the C2C route and we chose the Whitehaven to Sunderland option as a rough approximation to the traditional St Bees Head to Robin Hoods Bay walk. With about 15% optional off-road, the C2C is really a hybrid route, but we ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/cycle-c2c-whitehaven-to-sunderland-map

Exploring San Francisco - Biking the Marin Headlands

The second day of a weekend's exploration of San Francisco had me escape the city by bike and head north over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. Bike and Roll bike rentals on Columbus Ave / Lombard St provided a basic but functional hybrid and I followed the Bay from Fishermans Wharf along Marine Drive to the Golden Gate Bridge. Touristy photos duly taken, I crossed the bridge and took the underpass west beneath Highway 101 to Golden Gate Recreation Area and Battery Spencer. Great views back over the Bay to the City made the steep climb worth ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/explore-sf-biking-marin-headlands

Touring Livermore Wineries by Bike - Day Trip from San Francisco

Wine tasting is a pretty popular activity on the US Pacific Coast, with Napa Valley's visitor numbers second only to Disney Land amongst Californian attractions. However, there's lots of great wineries without the tourist hoardes and with a lot more character, Livermore Valley near San Francisco being just one. We'd decided to tour the wineries by bike since tasting copious wine and driving has got to be a bad idea, whereas at least cycling poses less of a threat to innocent bystanders. And cycling through the vineyards is infinitely more fun than sitting in a hot car ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/cycle-tour-livermore-wineries-bike

Norway Cross-Country Ski Trek Kit List

Filling in some extra details on our cross-country skiing trek in Norway earlier this year, here's my kit list that saw me fairly comfortably survive 6 1/2 days skiing between huts in the Arctic Circle. Clothing and non-food kit list Skis, Poles, Boots Thin under-socks, thick outer socks Leggings, Waterproof trousers, Gaiters Baselayer, Mid-layer (eg. thin fleece) Down jacket (for stops / evenings / very cold days) Hard shell Sunglasses, Goggles Warm hat Thin gloves (to enable fiddly tasks without using bare hands) Thick gloves (that will fit over thin gloves) Sleeping bag (Rated to -15C or better in case ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/norway-cross-country-skiing-kit

Via Ferrata near Chamonix - Curalla at Passy

An activity holiday to Chamonix in June saw me try self-guided via ferrata for the first time. The recently built Via Ferrata Curalla at Passy, about 30 mins drive from Chamonix towards Geneva, is graded AD+ (Assez Difficile; technically easy but exposed enough to be a bit scary). Well sign-posted from the car park on Chemin de Curalla in Passy (map) the climb covers about 400m with nearly 200m height gain and takes 2-3 hours including the walk back from the top. We found hiring via ferrata equipment (standard climbing harness, shock-absorbing Y-shaped sling with twist-gate carabiners AKA "via ferrata ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/via-ferrata-curalla-passy-near-chamonix

Visit More Countries than your Age in Years

Some friends and I were discussing that a fun way to test how well traveled you are -- Compare the number of countries you have visited versus your age in years. I like the idea as a way to spur you on to see more interesting places. We found it's actually quite difficult remembering all the countries you have been to, but I've just stumbled across this Visited Countries webapp that uses the Google Charts API to generate a map with your visited countries highlighted. The handy Visited Countries checklist helps keep count. My Visited Countries total so far ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/visit-more-countries-map-age

Iceland road trip Day 1: Keflavik to Selfoss via the Golden Circle

Our round-Iceland adventure had its inauspicious start in Keflavik, the town neighbouring KEF airport. It’s pleasant enough, but served really just as somewhere to sleep after a flight arriving at midnight. Having made the 40 minute walk back into the airport from Keflavik in the morning (the hotel shuttle bus didn’t seem to exist), we picked up the hire car, a white Nissan Micra (ideal for those gravel roads!), and set off towards Reykjavik. The plan for day 1 was to see the popular Golden Circle sights that so many tourists do as a daytrip from Reykjavik. They ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-keflavik-selfoss-golden-circle

Iceland trip Day 2: Selfoss to Kirkjubæjarklaustur: Eyjafjallajökull, Skógafoss & Vik

Leaving Selfoss with a hitchhiker squeezed into the back of the Micra for the first few miles, we headed east towards Vik. Highway 1 features many marked picnic spots that normally have a point of interest and information signs associated with them. The first of these that we stopped at was Seljalandsfoss waterfall, with a path to walk behind it for some added interest. The ferry to Heimaey, the largest of the Westman Islands and a good place to see puffins, leaves from Landeyjarhöfn‎, about 10km south of the ring road on gravel roads. We had unfortunately failed to check ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-selfoss-eyjafjallajokull-skogafoss-vik

Iceland trip Day 3: Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Vagnsstaðir: Skaftafell, Svartifoss and Jökulsárlón

Leaving the Dalshöfði farm guest house on the ring road east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, we entered a large expanse of alluvial flood plains created by eruptions beneath the Vatnajökull icecap sending torrents of glacier meltwater south towards the sea. Remains of old bridges serve as a reminder of how powerful the flooding can be. First stop was the Skaftafell National Park, a great base for hiking up onto the icecap, or shorter walks to Svartifoss and viewpoints over the glaciers. Svartifoss waterfall sits among hexagonal basalt lava columns and is quite an impressive site. A gentle climb further, great views can ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-skaftafell-svartifoss-jokulsarlon

Iceland road trip Day 4: Vagnsstaðir to Faskrudsfjordur: Hofn and the Eastern Fjords

Leaving the oft-visited Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón behind, the ring road continues to Hofn, the last town before the isolated Eastern Fjords. We took the opportunity to stock up on food in the Hofn supermarket, then followed the coast along the south-eastern corner of Iceland. Steep mountainsides descend directly into the sea, with the ring road picking its way above the cliffs and past gravel beaches. Having previously skipped the puffin watching destination of Heimaey, we spotted a poster at the Vagnsstaðir hostel for boat trips to the small, puffin-inhabited, island of Papey from Djupivogur harbour (details here), so planned to ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-hofn-papey-eastern-fjords

Iceland trip Day 5: Eastern Fjords to Lake Mývatn: Seyðisfjörður, Borgafjordur-Eystri & Dettifoss

Today was the only time during our 9-day loop around Iceland that the weather really impacted our plans. Not bad for an island at 65° N in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Leaving Fáskrúðsfjörður, we took the new tunnel northeast to avoid the apparently sketchy coast road, and continued on to the town of Egilsstaðir. The rain was intermittent and the cloud low, but we had plenty of time to take a couple of detours before heading east to our destination for the day of Lake Mývatn. Climbing to 600m over the pass to Seyðisfjörður, we found ourselves surrounded ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/fjords-borgafjordur-seydisfjordur-myvatn-dettifoss

Iceland road trip Day 6: Lake Myvatn to Akureyri: Hverfjall, Grjotagja, Dimmuborgir

Lake Myvatn is a hotbed of geothermal activity (pun intended) with a wealth of sights for the geologically-minded visitor. We had planned just a short drive along the ring road today so that we had plenty of time at Myvatn. We started with Hverfjall, a large tephra (volcanic gravel and ash) crater, now extinct. The short walk to the crater rim gives good views across Lake Myvatn and the middle of the crater itself. Nearby, the Grjotagja caves contain hot pools in which people used to bathe. This is now not advised, since, while the surface temperature might be moderate ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-myvatn-hverfjall-grjotagja-akureryi

Iceland trip Day 7: Akureryi to Hrútafjörður via Dalvik Whale Watching

Akureyri may be Iceland's second city, but it seems better as a base to see other places, than having many tourist attractions in itself. That said, it does have a beautiful setting on the fjord, and we happily wandered around for an hour or two before moving on. Our main activity for today was to be whale watching at Dalvik. We had spotted a leaflet in the hostel for a whale watching and fishing trip with Arctic Sea Tours of Dalvík, and booked on for the afternoon. They were considerably cheaper than trips from the more well known Husavik ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-akureryi-dalvik-whale-watching

Iceland trip Day 8: Hrútafjörður to Reykjavik via Víðgelmir Lava Tube

With limited time to complete our loop around Iceland, we had to head south from Hrútafjörður and continue along the ring road towards Reykjavik, rather than exploring the Western Fjords or Snaefellnes Peninsula. These would have to wait for a return trip. The guide book mentioned some interesting caves in the Hallmundarhraun lava field, about 30km east of the ring road from Varmaland. Information was a little thin on the ground, but we set off along the gravel road 523 following a signpost to Víðgelmir. As we neared the point where road 518 turns around at the top of the ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-hrutafjordur-reykjavik-vidgelmir-lava

Iceland trip Day 9: Reykjavik and Keflavik: Coffee and Puffins

Having read about Reykjavik's excellent coffee culture, we set off with a list of recommended coffee shops in hand. The quirkiest of these, Kaffismiðja Íslands, was closed (Sunday), so coffee and pastries at the plesant Glaetan Cafe & Bookshop sufficed instead. Te and Kaffe, an Icelandic chain, featured later in the day, and likewise had good coffee in a relaxed atmosphere. Suitably caffeinated, we walked up to Hallgrímskirkja, the striking church visible from all of central Reykjavik. The architecture may not be to our taste, with imposing concrete columns mimicking the basalt structures that occur naturally around Iceland, but the ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/iceland-reykjavik-coffee-puffins

9-Days Around Iceland, Driving Ring Road 1

Taking advantage of rescheduled public holidays this year, we spent the first 9 days of June driving the Iceland ring road and seeing the many sights en route. A full loop around Route 1 is ~1340 km (830 miles), though with detours we added another 1000 km. While the isolated Icelandic interior is generally accessible only by specialist 4x4 vehicles, Route 1 is OK to drive in a 2-wheel drive car. Our Nissan Micra rental car managed fine, even coping with detours onto bumpy gravel tracks. The state of the roads varies, with many being closed due to snow and ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/driving-around-iceland-ring-road-1

Japan cycle touring on rental bikes - Izumi, Kumamoto & Amakusa

We'd read in many places that Japan is a cycle touring heaven (japancycling.com, etc), so decided to spend 8 days biking and exploring rural Japan. Where exactly was a detail to figure out later. Since we were traveling to multiple countries, we wouldn't have our own bikes with us, so finding a decent bike rental place was the first challenge. This was more difficult than expected. It seems that multi-day bike rentals aren't at all common in Japan, cycle touring presumably not being all that popular domestically. We narrowed down our bike rental options to countryside-chiba ...

Full entry: http://www.martynj.com/japan-cycling-rent-touring-bikes