Birthday Anna’s Drawings Nargis Cafe iPhone X at NY Aquarium Coney Island
Friday, November 17, 2017

Anniversary In Quebec

For this year Alëna and I have planned a trip that is smaller than our usual anniversary trip. Instead of flying somewhere far we decided to simply drive to Quebec Province of Canada1. Our total trip is six days long including two full days of driving.

Our first stop is Quebec City where we will spend three nights in Hilton Quebec2 and celebrate our anniversary. We’ve been to Quebec City once a long while ago, so we’re looking forward to re-exploring it again. On our way to Quebec City we will try to make a stop at Montpelier — the capital of Vermont. We’ve been there as well, but it was in the middle of the night, so we haven’t seen much.

Our second stop of the trip is Montreal. We’ll spend 2 nights in Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville3 — the same hotel that we stayed at with kids during our trip of 2015. Montreal we remember rather well, but it’s just a nice city.

This is the first year since our wedding when Thanksgiving falls on the same date — November 23rd. And my parents will look after our kids.

One of the concerns that we had with Quebec was the fact that it was going to be too cold. But looking at the map ALL our European vacations except for Italy, Spain and Portugal were in locations closer to the North Pole than Quebec City is. So we just need to get a little bit lucky with weather.

  1. 1 USD was worth 1.28 CAD at the time of the posting. []
  2. Hilton Quebec — C$464.10 for 3 nights for kind bed room with taxes included. []
  3. Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville — C$383.75 for 2 nights for 1 king bed room with taxes included. []

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

iPhone X

iPhone X. My home screen.I’ve only had iPhone X for 5 days and I already have a number of thoughts with regards to it that I want to jot down. But the short summary is that I love it. Such a big leap forward for me personally going to iPhone X from iPhone 6S.

Pre-Order


First — a couple of words on my pre-order ordeal. Things did not go as have envisioned them. I woke up at 2:55am to get ready for 3am pre-order process. I was planning to go with Apple’s upgrade program that has no additional costs and allows for an upgrade to the next phone by trading in your old one. I don’t think I would need to upgrade in a year, but it was nice to have an option since it doesn’t cost anything extra.

Back side.I tried using Apple Store app which worked very well in previous years. The store came up soon enough after 3am, I saw a phone that I wanted available to be delivered by November 3rd — first day — and the first couple of steps worked fine. I even didn’t get stuck on AT&T verification. However in order to get approved for Apple upgrade program one has to fill out a good deal of financial information to get credit verified.

And that’s where all the problems started. I had to fill in all this stuff numerous times and it kept failing to get to the next step. Eventually the delivery time slipped to 1-2 weeks and then to 2-3 weeks. In the end it said that all the information was accepted, but I would have to wait for an email with-in 8 hours that would provide me with further information. I tried going trough the process a couple of times more, but was not able to reach the final step at all.

When I saw the delivery time-frame slipping I decided to check what was happening at AT&T. Instead of being to do a pre-order there I was placed into some virtual queue which said that I had 30-40 minutes wait time — never seen anything like that. Anyhow, I apparently left this page open and when all my attempts over at Apple have failed I looked at this page and I had 3 minutes of queue left. So I ended up placing an order after 4am through AT&T which claimed that I would get my phone on November 3rd. In exactly the configuration that I wanted.

Lock screen.It seemed really iffy to me since the delivery time-frame on Apple’s site has gone to 5-6 weeks by then. But what do you know — I did get my phone on November 3rd, as promised. I guess everyone had to go through a similar AT&T queue and as a result the stock wasn’t sold out as quickly. First time I ordered an Apple product through AT&T and it worked out just fine.

And in the morning I did get an email from Apple saying that they couldn’t verify my information after all and I should try placing an order again. Glad I ordered via AT&T as a backup.

The Phone


I have purchased an iPhone X in silver with 256GB of storage. Initially I was going to go with 64GB as my current phone is, but then I thought that I actually like not having to remove photographs from my phone. And it didn’t make a big difference on monthly basis over the course of 2 year loan.

iPhone X. HealthView app.The phone is gorgeous. Silver back, completely black front, and shiny stainless steel sides. There is no visible separation between thin bezels and the screen on the front. It’s all 100% black. Same as on Apple Watch with OLED screen the display itself is indistinguishable from the rest of the glass. The only time when the screen actually shows is when it’s in a very bright sun.

The phone is too good looking to put into a case of any kind and I haven’t used cases since the very first phone I had because of the added bulk. But this phone being as expensive as it is I’ve bought into Apple Care Plus program for the first time for some insurance, just in case — but that’s yet another $200.

Some Specifics


The first most obvious thing is the lack of home button and Touch-ID along with it. The phone can be woken up by pressing sleep-wake side button or by simply tapping on the screen — à la Apple Watch. The swipe up gesture that replaces the click of a home button feels great. I somehow didn’t even notice any kind of re-learning process. It just felt right from the start. And it actually feels like a much more natural alternative to a physical and somewhat wobbly button of my 6S.

Ilya. Stage Light mode when it works looks great.Beside the regular swipe-up to go to home screen the bar can be swiped from side to side to switch between recently used apps. They stay in the queue in the same order that they have been opened in. So I can open Overcast, then open Waze and the swipe from left to right will bring me back to Overcast. And the next swipe from right to left will bring me back to Waze. Very convenient. The Control Center however has been moved to the very top right corner of the screen. I wasn’t using it often, but the new location it’s not ideal.

The notch turned out to be a non-issue. When you look at screenshots of the phone the notch seems to be the only thing that your eyes run to. When I use the phone — I don’t notice it at all — I’m looking at a gorgeous screen and the content displayed on it. Notch is just sitting up there, not being annoying. And even the bottom aligning of status bar elements doesn’t seem to bother me as it id on the screenshots.

The size of the screen is very pleasant. The actual phone is slightly bigger then the regular model of 6, 6S, 7 and 8. The screen itself is the size of those phones. It fits comfortably enough in my pockets and has a screen that is bigger than one on the Plus phones. And it’s an OLED screen which looks good enough — not that LCDs looked bad either. The best thing is the deep blacks that match the rest of the glass — when an app hasn’t been updated to fit on iPhone X it just looks like your holding an older black 6S-like phone. The only give-away is the lit up icons on the top and home indicator on the bottom.

Face-ID


So much fuss was made of Face-ID and fears of losing Touch-ID and it was all for nothing. Face-ID really just works. It actually makes the phone feel like there is no lock of any kind of it. You just use it as you normally would and Face-ID just does it’s thing. So it should be treated as if just didn’t exist at all.

Arosha. Portrait mode.The place where I can actually observe its speed is on locked apps such as 1Password. It authenticates you via Face-ID and it takes a fraction of a second — 2nd generation Touch-ID was probably faster, but here you don’t have to place a finger over a button or do anything at all. Totally acceptable.

In addition to all that there are several interesting things that Apple is dong with it. I had my previews of notifications disabled on all my phones for security reasons — you don’t want somebody to see a confirmation code that might come to you via an SMS message for example. So notifications of certain things were just not very useful. Now all the notification previews are off by default, but once the phone sees YOU — the owner — looking at the screen they just unroll and show the preview — great.

I also noticed that if the phone call comes through and you happen to be looking at the phone the ring comes through with a very low volume — if you’re not looking at it, it’s very loud. And another thing is that the phone no longer dims its screen if you looking at it.

Artur. My barber, portrait mode.Face-ID seems to a little less reliable in very bright sun light. It seems to take a little bit longer to work it’s magic in this specific case. But on the other hand even when the phone is mounted on the dash of my car and I’m off center it works just fine. And it does work through my sunglasses and my beard doesn’t scare it either.

Restore Process


I’ve been using iCloud backups to move over to new phones since the time it was possible. This time I did the same thing. And after everything was restored and all the passwords have been entered I was dismayed to find out that none of my Activity Achievements that I’ve been collecting over the past two and a half years have been unlocked, even though all the health data and filled in rings have been ported just fine.

Aleksey. Portrait mode.Luckily I haven’t dismantled my 6S yet. So I hooked it up to iTunes and made an encrypted backup from it. Then I restarted the whole setup process and restored from this iTunes backup. Luckily everything came back up correctly. Phew. And I didn’t have to re-enter all the passwords either. I’m probably going to stick to this process, although it’s a scary prospect if iCloud backup doesn’t get some things right, since that really is the process that I rely on in case something happens to the phone itself.

The Cameras


Now this is the crowning jewel of iPhone X. This is THE MAIN reason why I wanted to get my hands on this phone as soon as possible — a camera system that can measure depth and fit into my pocket at the same time. Like the saying goes — the best camera is the one that you have with you — and I always have my phone with me. And having as advanced of a camera system as this one on a phone is amazing for somebody who takes as many pictures with the phone as I do.

I love what Apple is doing on the software side to overcome the limitation of physics and tiny lenses. The portrait process with blurred background works really well. I do notice that it makes small mistakes here and there, but in most cases it does great. What separates iPhone X from iPhone 8 Plus is also the fact that you can take selfies in portrait mode as well thanks to the array of sensors in the notch. It has same issues though as Face-ID does with a bright sun light.

Home screen.Blog. New phone call indicator.Have a double optical zoom on a phone is also incredibly useful. I never use digital zoom that was available for a while on iOS since it just ruins the photo quality, so it might as well just not be there. But optical 2x zoom — perfect.

The different lightning modes that Apple is doing by using the depth information is also pretty great. I really like Studio Light and Contour Light modes. Stage Light — all black background — though doesn’t work as well yet. In certain conditions it does wonders, but most of the time it just ruins the photograph. Luckily all these things can be adjust in the post-processing on the phone since all the depth information is stored along with the photo.

Yesterday we went over to Coney Island with the family and I took a good number of photographs. So there is a good collection of samples. I did put them through my normal post-processing steps in Photoshop, but this is the first set of phone photographs that are actually good enough initially to go through that.

Issues


I’ve ran into a weird issue where my Automatic Pro OBD scanner in the car seems to cause Bluetooth interference which affects the call quality when it goes through the car audio system. I’m going to create a ticket on Autmatic’s site to see if they have any suggestions, but for now I had to unplug it from the car — annoying. Worked just fine with iPhone 6S.

Another thing I already mentioned — bright sunlight degrades the performance of the front sensors. It hasn’t been annoying yet, but we’ll if it becomes that as the time goes by.

Waze. Dark theme.Weather Line. Hasn't yet been updated for iPhone X app.While OLED screens do have their benefits burn-in is a thing. I keep Waze running for long periods of time — 3+ hours per day on my commute and I don’t know how it will affect the screen. I switch Waze into dark theme, which I like less, but now I have to be thinking about preserving the screen. The time will show how it holds up.

And the last issue that I think will go away — I have a little bit of pain between my thumb and the rest of my fingers that seems to be caused by the fact that I have to reach to the bottom of the screen and swipe up to use home indicator in place of a button. Again, hope my hand will just get used to it and the pain will go away.

Conclusion


Overall I’m very happy with this upgrade. Older phones somehow look very dated very quickly after using this new phone. The new one is just so much better in so many respects. As I said at the start — so far I’m loving it.
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

New York Aquarium

New York Aquarium.Today we had a spontaneous visit to New York Aquarium followed by a nice walk at Coney Island Boardwalk.

Daniel.The only camera I had with me was my brand new iPhone X and I think the photographs came out really well.

Amazingly talented sea lion.The first thing we saw at aquarium was a sea lion show. We missed the beginning, but we got to see one of the sea lions dancing and doing a lot of quite impressive tricks. Kids couldn’t stop laughing.

Arosha.And as opposed to usual hot summer days when this place is overfilled with people, it wasn’t crowded at all and we got to seat close to the stage.

Otters.Then we saw a bunch of different animals in different habitats — otters, seals and penguins.

Alëna.While looking at the penguins Alëna and I commented that penguins have a lot of predators that eat them such as seals, sea loins, sharks and killer whales to which Arosha replied that penguins must be quite delicious.

Sharks. Too many reflections from the glass.Then we proceed to a large shark tanks with a good number of various sharks and it also had a giant sting ray.

Squishing pennies.After that we bought the kids a large pretzel and got some quarters and pennies so our kids could squish them in the penny squishing machines.

Hogfish.And after that we proceed to an indoor aquarium with lots of different exhibits where kids had a chance to look a lot of different kinds of fish and coral reefs.

Coral reefs.While before they usually would get bored fairly quickly they have grown noticeably and can spend a lot more time looking at things such as these.

Coney Island. Playing in the sand.All in all we spent almost two hours in the aquarium. And then we walked out onto the famous Coney Island Boardwalk and kids ended up talking Alëna into letting them play in the sand.

Us at Nargis Cafe.And then we wanted to get a quick lunch at Nathan’s, but none of us were really in the mood for junk food, so we ended up going to Nargis Cafe for some of the best shish kebabs in Brooklyn.

Coney Island.While iPhone portraits do have noticeable mistakes in processing it is still quite usable and is a great leap forward for cell-phone photography.
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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Halloween 2017

Friends. The whole bunch.Halloween is probably one of the children’s favorite holidays. They were anticipating it for a long while. Aroshka even had post Halloween blues the next morning, but luckily the sadness passed quickly.

This year they chose to be a puppy and a giraffe. Danya was a little worried about Arosha’s costume pick since the vast majority of boys his age were dressed as either a superhero/movie character, someone scary or someone like a policemen, fireman or some kind of warrior. Daniel was worried that other children would tease Arosha and ruin the joy of it for him, but luckily this did not happen.

Anna's class.This year our school has a new principal — a young woman, who so far seems to be very nice and well liked by both teachers and parents. Our previous principal was a bit rigid for my taste. He was a young man with a military background and sometimes I was not sure if he cared more about the school, or his career advancement. Anyhow, with this new principal, the children were allowed to wear costumes to school, and also the parents association prepared a trick-or-treating event for all grades on the school yard. I think that something like this did not happen for a long time, if ever.

Anna's teacher.After school we went home to eat and then meet up with the usual gang — Erica, Ilona and Natasha with their children. We went trick-or-treating through our local stores as we do every ear. It took us about an hour, and the children were super excited. We went to the playground afterwards. They weather was on the cold side, but at least it was not raining.

Our units.When we got home, Arosha talked me into continuing trick-or-treating throughout our building. I don’t like doing it to be completely honest, but I did not have a heart to deprive him of this, since we’ve done it every year for the last 4 years. I did put a time limit on this activity though, so we did not go through the whole building, but just through our wing.

Units.They got two huge buckets of candy at the end. They will eat very little of it though since I limit their sugar intake, and normally they prefer ice-cream to any other sweets. Anna’s eczema resurfaced the next day — she is sensitive to certain things, and I guess all those artificial colors and other bad things in candy might have triggered it.

All in all it was a happy day for the children and they already started to plan their next Halloween.
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Friday, October 20, 2017

Anna’s 4th Birthday

Anna. 4th Birthday.At the end of September Anna has turned 4 years old! Congratulations, our little shining star. Be healthy, be happy, be lucky and loved!

Anna’s birthday fell on a Wednesday this year. I decided to celebrate the very same day after school. I think it’s more exciting for a birthday girl, plus it would have been so hard to wait until the weekend party for both her and Arosha.

Siblings.As I wrote before, we have a birthday balloons tradition with Arosha. We did not do it for Anna last year, and she made me feel a little bad about it when she decided that we just forgot to get her balloons. She was not terribly upset, but she was fully expecting a bunch of balloons for her birthday this year. I guess that’s only fair. It’s a good tradition anyhow, something that really sets their birthdays apart from all the other holidays.

So on Tuesday, Anюta and I went to Party city and got a helium tank and a bunch of balloons. It took me and Daniel about an hour to fill them up in the evening. Still easier than buying ready balloons at the store and bringing them home. We still have about a quarter of those balloons hanging by the ceiling 9 days later.

Brother.So Anna got up in the morning, saw the balloons, was happy. Then she went to school and I went to get her a birthday cake. It was a really hot and humid day, so Daniel’s dad helped me and drove me to Cherry Hill supermarket. She wanted the cake specifically from that place, because their cakes are so beautifully decorated I suppose. I promised her to get the pinkest cake there is, and so I did.

At 1 o’clock I went to school to celebrate her birthday with her classmates. I got some cupcakes and juice and filled party favor bags for all the children. It was my first experience like this since Arosha’s birthday is during summer break.

Traditional balloons.Anюta was happy to see me, but after eating her cupcake, she did not want to participate in any celebratory class games. She preferred to sit with me in the drawing corner and just draw things. Oh well, it’s her birthday after all.

We planned to stay at the playground until around 3:30, the time of the party. However, the weather was so unbearable, that we got home at 3:00. I’ve decided not to cook anything, but to order pizza and sushi instead. Anюta invited her friends Mila and Liza, and they came with their moms and siblings (Smion, Alex and Andrusha).

Family.I was a little worried that the children will be bored or that they will turn the apartment upside down, but it was not bad at all. Girls played together really nicely. They played with toys, Anna’s kitchen, mosaic, did some water-coloring activities. The boys spent a lot of time building the contraption lab that Arosha’s got for his birthday, they also played a few board games and tried to pay hide-and-seek up until the moment of Shublik’s release.

This year we locked Shublik in one of the closets, so the kids have more space. In the past we used to lock Shublik in one of the rooms, but my mom suggested a new plan, and I think it actually worked out very nicely. He did not object at all, and probably it felt safe for him. Of course, Arosha let him out at the end while trying to hide in that particular closet, even though we warned everyone that that closet is off limits and I even put a few strips of scotch tape on the door, so that it would require more effort to open it up.

Celebration. Guests.The guests stayed until about 6 p.m. and then went outside and played there until about 7 p.m.

In the evening the grandparents and aunt Lina came to congratulate our little birthday girl. I really hope that she enjoyed her special day.
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Iceland — Part 2

Strokkur Geyser.On Wednesday, July 22, we went to our farthest point of interest — Gullfoss Waterfall. I have not researched this place in advance, so its power and beauty took me completely by surprise. There were plans in the past to turn the fall into the power station, but luckily they never came to be. Nowadays Gullfoss is protected by the government, and I hope it stays the same.

Enormous Gullfoss waterfall.We were able to get really close the the waterfall. The path that leads to one of the observation spots is muddy and slippery in places because it gets water mist from the fall. I had to carry Anюta in some places for safely, and Danya held Arosha’s hand, but we have to do it in many American National Parks as well. It was pretty cold and windy, so children and I even wore hats or hoods.

Gullfoss Falls.On our drive to Gullfoss we enjoyed the view of some truly beautiful landscapes. Videos and pictures don’t do it justice. I thought that Iceland will be more bleak and kind of grey mouse-ish, but this little Northern country proved me wrong. Its allure is different from the lush riches of tropical forests or hardy red mountain ranges. It is subtle, yet powerful. The emerald velvety moss covering volcano stones, the grey sunless skies, the sheep and horses grazing on road sides — all of this resonated with me in unexpected way.

Strokkur Geyser.Anyhow, back to our sightseeing day. Our next stop was Geysir hot springs area, where Geysir geyser is located. Geysir was the first geyser known to Europeans, and the actual English word “geyser” originates from it.

Litli Gesir.We watched Strokkur geyser erupt 3 times. It was possible because it erupts very often, every 6-10 minutes, although the eruptions themselves are brief. You literally have to stand around with your camera ready if you want to catch it in the act.

German biker club.When we were walking to the geyser area, we saw a big group of bikers with German biking clubs insignias on their jackets. Daniel was curious, so he approached them and asked them where they were from and how did they got to Iceland with their bikes. They were very friendly and told us that they were indeed from Germany and that their club traveled to Iceland by boat from Denmark if I’m not mistaken. They also put our children onto their bikes when they saw that the kids were interested.

Geysir.We saw a few more geysers and hot springs, but Strokkur was the most impressive one. The whole area reminded me of Yellowstone, but I have to say that Yellowstone was much more spectacular — I guess, it is just considerably bigger and has a lot more fascinating things to see. But I still was happy that we were able to visit Icelandic geysers. Now I wish it was as easy to get to Kamchatka, but as far as Russian geysers are concerned, I doubt that I’ll have a chance to see them.

Geysir.There was only one food place open at lunch time. We ended up paying $80 for a set of subpar burgers (Arosha claims that he almost threw up eating his portion) and fish sticks. I think it was the worst food experience of our whole vacation if not ever.

Iceland landscapes.We ate dinner at the executive lunge. There was not much choice, but we filled on nuts and snacks and cookies. And it was free.

Thingvellir National Park.On Thursday, July 23, we checked out of Reykjavik Hilton. We had a not too early morning flight on July 24th, so in order to minimize the commute and all the variables associated with driving for an hour, we moved to Keflavik’s hotel, which was very close to our car rental place and the airport.

Continental rift between the North American and Eurasian plates.Before going to the new hotel, we continued with the exploration of Iceland and drove to Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir is worth seeing for multiple reasons. First of all, you can look at the rift between North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. If I did not know what it is, I would not have guessed, but it was pretty awesome to look at the continental divide equipped with that knowledge.

Trail through Thigvellir National Park.Secondly, Althing, or Iceland’s national parliament, was gathering in Þingvellir for over 900 years starting from 930 AD. This was the oldest parliament in the world, and all the free men of Iceland could participate. I was expecting to see some kind of old building and it took me a while to realize that this used to be different from modern day political realities. No buildings, but just the place to gather, discuss things and make laws. The parliament meetings were held in summer time every 2-3 years.

Thigvellir National Park.We took a nice hike around. The nature was beautiful. There was a small lake with wild gees and the children liked watching them.

Thigvellir National Park.For lunch we bought some vegetarian sandwiches at a local store and they were pretty decent.

Thigvellir National Park.Afterwards we drove to Start, our new hotel. We got a nice big clean two-bedroom suite. Then we drove to car rental place to check how much time it would take to get there from our hotel. It took us 5-7 minutes, which was nice.

Thigvellir National Park.After considering different options for a while, we decided to have dinner at an Irish Pub. To our disappointment, it only served alcohol, so we went to a highly rated pizzeria next door instead. The food at pizzeria was OK, but nothing to write home about. Our waitress was a Russian girl, who studies in Keflavik to be a pilot. She told us that weather in Keflavik is really severe, and it gets so windy in winter time that they have to cancel flights on that account from time to time. It was really interesting talking to her, but she had to attend to other tables. After dinner we went back to the pub and got a pair of nice blond beers.

Keflavik shore line.We took a stroll on the promenade by the water. It was nice, but so windy indeed. I put hats and hoods on the children and wore a hat and a worm coat myself and was still cold. We saw a metal anchor statue and an old decommissioned fishing boat Baldur. It was interesting, but we cut our walk short in fear of getting a cold from the chilly winds.

Anchor statue in Keflavik.On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a gas station to fill up the car and impulse bought a package of dry fish and two Icelandic beers. Both fish and beers turned out to be mediocre, but they still had a flair of novelty and exoticism to them.

Old fishing boat in Keflavik.There was nothing much left to do, but to sleep. It was a little difficult on the account of white nights and flimsy curtains that did not block all the light, but we managed.

Keflavik.We got up pretty early next morning, had breakfast, which is served from like 3am at this place, and drove to return our car. We had to wait at the car rental again, since we did not fit into the van going to the airport and had to wait for it to get back. Oh well, we still made it to the airport with time to spare.

Our Start Hotel in Keflavik. Anna's bed.Funny thing at the airport is that Danya got confused for and Icelander by local airport staff. When they heard him speaking English, they switched to Icelandic on a few occasions. One of the employees explained to us that Daniel’s English accent sounds very Icelandic. I too had airport staff starting to talk to me in Icelandic twice, so I wonder if they also thought that I might be local.

Gulffoss Falls.Danya and I think that the reason for Russian and Icelandic English accents being similar is the hard sound “R” which is present in both languages, but is quite different in English. I have noticed the similarity of accents too, and I even thought that our waitress at VOX was Russian before I read her name on the tag.

The flight back was easy and uneventful.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Iceland — Part 1

Blue Lagoon and silica masks.Our flight to Iceland was on Monday, July 20th. Originally we planned on taking a taxi to the airport from Oslo, but after talking to our hotel’s staff we realized that taking a bus is a much cheaper and more convenient option. There is a FlyBus stop right in front of the hotel, and buses leave for the airport every 15 minutes or so. We saved some cash for the tickets, but apparently paying by credit card was an option as well. We only had to buy two tickets since children were free of charge, plus we got a discount for staying at Radisson Blu hotel. It probably took us 15 minutes longer to travel by bus, but we did not have to wait for the taxi to come to the hotel, so we pretty much have not lost any time.

Hilton Nordica.After a quick check in at the airport, we still had some time for lunch. We ended up eating burgers and drinking Hoppy Blond beers (adults only). The lunch was expensive as all the food in Norway, but it did not feel like there was an airport premium. We had some Norwegian coins left, and Arosha decided to use them as souvenirs. The cool thing about 1 and 5 Norwegian Krones is that the coins have a hole in the middle. When we got home, the children made necklaces and bracelets using krones for themselves and their friends. They were a big hit.

Our Fiat.The flight to Keflavik was relatively short and uneventful. We did have a bit of an issue locating our car rental company representative who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Danya had to call them and was told that the staff member will be at the airport shortly and we have to look for him walking with the company’s sign. We waited for about 20 minutes after that, which was a little annoying. There were other people who were waiting for the same company, but luckily we were all able to fit into the company’s van. The driver turned out to be Russian by the way.

Our room.We got our car without any hiccups. It was a dark blue Fiat. We paid for the full insurance, but a few things were not covered, such as doors torn off by the wind, or damage done by driving on certain prohibited gravel roads. The wind part was really surprising to me, but I suppose Iceland is really windy. So we made sure to open the doors with caution and to not leave them open. Also, there was a sandstorm in the area, so not buying a full insurance was too risky.

Sun Voyager.After approximately an hour long drive we got to Hilton Reykjavik Nordica Hotel. When we were booking our stay, the biggest room that we could find was a room with two twin size beds. However, knowing how accommodating Hilton usually is to its Diamond members, Daniel called the hotel before making a reservation and inquired if it will be possible to get a roll-away bed and a crib into the room. He was told that they normally don’t do that, but they will for us. When we arrived at the hotel, the receptionist did not know about the roll-away bed situation and he said that the room that we have booked will not fit it. However, after Daniel explained our booking circumstances to him, he upgraded us to a much bigger room in which all the beds fit perfectly. We also got a higher floor — 5th instead of 2nd. Since he had to make some changes, we had to wait for about 20 minutes. The receptionist went out of his way to make us feel welcome and gave us two sets of drink vouchers, which was very nice of him.

Sun Voyager and Arosha's sneeze -- the only pictures we have.Everyone was tired and hungry, so we’ve decided to eat at the hotel’s restaurant VOX. It was pricey, but it had a Michellin star rating, so it was supposed to be top notch. I ordered salmon for myself and for the children — they shared one adult portion, and Danya got fish and chips, which at $35 were the most expensive fish and chips that he ever ate. The food was good, but not as spectacular as I was hoping.

Shore line.The next day we had Blue Lagoon reservation at 18:00, so we did not want to drive anywhere far in the first half of the day in order not to be stressed about making it to the lagoon in time. Exploring Reykjavik seemed like a perfect thing to do.

Building stone towers.After breakfast we got into our car and drove for about 15 minutes to the city center. We parked close to the waterfront, payed a very reasonable parking fee and schlepped to see Solfar, or Sun Voyager, metal boat sculpture. It is one of Reykjavik’s landmarks, so naturally there were plenty of people around it taking pictures. We participated in this activity as well. By the way, I’ve noticed that there are different parking zones with very different pricing. If we were to park next to the statue instead of parking across the street, we would have payed 3-4 times more for the meter.

Concert Hall.Next point of interest was Harpa concert hall located nearby. We took a walk down the waterfront promenade — Danya and I used the paved path, but the children preferred to run and jump on boulders next to the water. They spotted spiders and their webs from time to time and were really excited about those. The sea, the skies, the shore looked sort of milky grey and very serene. Reykjavik on that day elicited a peaceful feeling in me, like I was suspended in a big, soft, melancholic and dreamy cloud.

Streets of Reykjavik.When we reached tall glass building of concert hall, Danya went to take some pictures of it, and I stayed by the water with the children, who really wanted to build some stone sculptures. There were plenty of such sculptures already in place, so naturally they wanted to add a few of their own. It was fun to watch them busy at it and I wish we had something similar close to our home.

Hallgrimskirkja.After this we went to see Hallgrimskirkja — a modern church, which also happens to be the tallest church in Iceland. Luckily for me, Danya is so good with maps and finding his way in new places. I think I would have struggled so much if I had to locate all the landmarks by myself. Anyhow, the church looked fine, but it did not leave any special impression on me.

Shore.We walked through the streets of Reykjavik for a little while, visited some souvenir and clothing stores and started looking for a nice lunch spot. I have to say that prices in Iceland are very steep. Three t-shirts from the souvenir store cost us $100, and we did not buy any of those nice looking wool sweaters because they were $200-400 each. I did get a hat and a pair of really warm gloves for myself though (we got a bunch of hats for the kids in Norway) at a very reasonable price.

Soups for lunch.We ended up eating soups in bread bowls for lunch. We got lucky getting seats in the little restaurant, Svarta Kaffid, that was serving them. We got the last available table, and by the time we were leaving the waiting line was impressively big. Danya found this place on TripAdvisor, where it had an excellent rating. The restaurant only served two types of soup — vegetarian curry and Hungarian meat stew. Arosha and I got curries, and Danya and Anюta got stews. Everyone except Anюta liked their soups — me and Danya shared for variety as we often do. The price per soup bowl was $18.

Streets  of Reykjavik.After lunch we walked around the shopping streets of Reyjkyavik for a little while longer and headed back to the hotel for quick rest before heading out to much anticipated Blue Lagoon.

Streets  of Reykjavik.We arrived at the lagoon 15 minutes ahead of time, but got in without any queues or delays. This time of year it does not really get dark in Iceland. It gets a little darker for a few hours when the sun goes down, but never gets pitch black. I have to say that it presented certain difficulty for us at bed time, especially in the beginning of our vacation in Norway, but as far our lagoon experience went, we enjoyed the day lighting conditions in the evening hours.

Entrance to Blue Lagoon.By the rules of Blue Lagoon all guests are required to take a full body shower without any clothes on. Naturally, there were separate gender specific showers, so Danya and I got one kid each to shower and to change. The staff recommended to amply use hair conditioner and leave it in to minimize the effects of silica, which apparently makes hair all dry and unmanageable. We did just that. Luckily, individual showers had doors, so people could minimize being naked in front of strangers. Some people felt perfectly fine being naked in the crowd though. I think it’s probably more of a cultural than individual thing.

Path to Blue Lagoon.Anyhow, when we finally got outside, we jumped into the water right away since the air itself was freezing. Oh boy, it was pleasant! The water was so hot indeed, that at some point the children got a little overheated and jumped out for a few minutes to cool off. The water was milky white in color and it was 98-104 F in temperature. The temperature varied in different places, so we would feel it change from hotter to less hot spots and back up as we walked around the lagoon. The children got free floaters to wear, which was nice. There were steam and dry saunas available — we checked them out, but did not stay in either one for long.

Blue Lagoon.There were also free silica mud masks included in entrance fee, so Danya and I tried them on. We were offered by Blue Lagoon employees, who were sitting on the raft in the water, to have our picture taken on their iPad and get it e-mailed to us. We happily agreed. Oddly, many people who see those pictures think that our mud masks are a thick layer of sunblock. I don’t remember by now if my skin got smoother after the mask, but it probably did as it does after all similar products.

Streets  of Reykjavik.I was surprised to learn that this lagoon was man-made and is fed by water from the geothermal power plant. But on the other hand, the plant just uses the natural occurrence to produce electricity and then re-uses the water for the lagoon, so in a way it is not truly man-made after all. The water is rich in minerals by the way and supposedly is very good for the skin, especially psoriasis. I think that one visit certainly does nothing to improved any skin condition, but it’s pleasant to know that you’re bathing in something health-promoting.

Executive Lounge.We spent close to three hours soaking in the wondrous Blue Lagoon. The whole family really enjoyed it and was sad to leave this unusual place.

We arrived at the hotel totally wiped out, so dining in VOX was the easiest option again. Anюta got really cranky after falling asleep in the car, and she barely ate anything. In addition, she lost her favorite toy bear somewhere on the way from the car to the hotel room and we could not find it no matter how much we looked. It was very sad since she adored that bear so much. Arosha got it for her on Valentine’s day sale at school and she was absolutely in love with it for the longest time. For the record, the bear’s name was “Кленовый Сироп и Небо” and now he lives in Iceland. Oh, and Arosha only had $2 for that sale and he spent them all on the gift for Anna and nothing on himself. Just a side note.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

iPhone X Keynote

Straight out of camera photo taken with iPhone 7 Plus by Maruk.A couple of thoughts with regards to Apple’s latest event where iPhone X was announced among other things. A little bit on each topic of any interest to me.

Apple TV


Apple TV is getting upgraded to support 4K video. And even though we ended up with a 4K TV a while ago we already have a 4th generation Apple TV — previous one — and it already runs tvOS. So we have no plans to upgrade. The quality is plenty good for us.

The good news is that Apple said that all the HD content that you have purchased through iTunes will be upgraded to 4K for free. And we do have quite a bit of movies purchased. That’s nice to have for the time when we do upgrade to 4K. Haven’t touched our blu-ray or DVD content in ages — all that feels so dated.

Apple Watch


Apple has announced a 3rd generation of Apple Watch which has an option for an LTE chip. I currently wear 2nd generation and it serves my needs just fine. On-board LTE also cost an additional $10 per month from our carrier — AT&T. Really have no need to pay anything extra to AT&T. No upgrade.

The Phones


This is the most interesting category. I will preface this by saying that I take an enormous amount of photographs with my phone. My current Instagram library contains 2,245 pictures and that is curated content only. Camera is one of the most important features of my phone. Continue Reading

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