ION Luxury Adventure Hotel

Review of the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel

I have unusually mixed feelings about this hotel. The “luxury” in ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, which we stayed at for a couple of nights earlier this month, lays mostly in its stunning location.

It’s the lakeside and surrounding mountains that put this rural hotel on the map and not the nearby and, in at least one direction, visually dominating, geothermal power plant.

Over the years, the ION has been written up in many of the world’s leading travel magazines. The interior design, room decor and architecture have all won prestigeous accolades.

Yet today, unfortunately, I find the hotel’s look and feel to be both a bit tired and not very well kept. The scuffed or completely missing paint on the main entrance door and the sparsely vacuumed corridor carpets, were discernible indicators of how even the most basic maintenance is overlooked and neglected.

My room was small, but nicely fitted with thoughtful albeit somewhat dated furnishings and features (iPhone 3 connector to the bedside speaker). The windows were sparkling clean which provided an unobstructed view of the spectacular landscape.

One thing boggled my mind. Why on earth do the rooms have to be so absurdly small? Especially when at least some guest must plan on heading out into the wilderness for an adventure with appropriate garb and gear. I mean, it’s not like there isn’t any available real estate in the vicinity. And why hasn’t anybody thought of having a few of those beautiful Icelandic horses grazing in a corral nearby? Now that would of been a nice site to look upon.

The hotel’s staff seemed to be mostly freelancers from Reykjavik. While some had clearly been working at the hotel for a while, others gave the impression that they had just arrived and barely knew the routines they’ve been hired to perform.

Service is therefore a bit of a hit and miss experience at ION. In fact, our very first encounter with the front desk was a perfect example of this.

The two women on duty were more interested in finishing their discussion than greeting us with a warm, Icelandic welcome. It was as if we were brashly intruding on their private conversation. Obviously clueless to the fact that our very presence indirectly financed their employement.

On a brighter note…

The food at ION Luxury Adventure Hotel was simply fantastic. For all the reception staffs shortcomings, mixed level of professionalism among those working in the restaurant and in the bar – as well as the hotel’s somewhat failing upkeep – the crew in the kitchen were nothing less than supreme. They knew exactly what they were doing and provided me, during my two dinners and two lunches there, with one scrumptious and aesthetically pleasing dish after another. Particularly the seafood and fish was just superb.

I’ve eaten at several places on Iceland during both my visits. And I’ve got nothing but really good things to say about the country’s culinary offerings. My experiences at ION Luxury Adventure Hotel were no exception. But with so much great food to be enjoyed elsewhere on beautiful Iceland, I don’t feel that the hotel on a whole is worthy its past reputation as a place to visit beyond a dinner reservation.

Billy-Elliot-Malmo-Opera

Billy Elliot

Almost forgot about this. Saturday, good friends invited us to see the much talked about and rightfully praised musical, Billy Elliot at Malmö Opera.

I’ve not seen many live musicals in Malmö – or, in any other city, for that matter. And though the story line was captivating and ever-so relevant (following your dreams/pursuing your talent), the decor and choreography top-notch, it was the talented and forcefully, über-cohesive cast that blew me away.

Whilst following the plot (scored by Sir Elton John), I couldn’t help but stray into thinking how tight the cast must be now as an ensemble after first prepping and then performing so many live shows together. And that despite all the hundreds – if not thousands – of hours of practicing songs, learning dance routines and memorizing pages upon pages of dialogue – as well as endless repetitions and tweaking sessions, before and in between show dates, the cast must surely still have tremendous fun.

Now, I love what I do for a living – make no mistake. But I can’t help but fantasize, if only just a little, at what it would be like to be part of a troupe like the talented artists performing Billy Elliot. Here’s a link to Malmö Opera’s website – in case you want to see the aforementioned show, which I can wholeheartedly recommend.

clouds

Shoulder Season

The shoulder season. The hotel and tourism industry use that term a lot. Not exactly sure what it means – but I seem to remember it referring to a period in between low and high season.

We’re currently in a meteorological predicament – a shoulder season in between winter and spring. No big surprise – this is after all Scandinavia, where weather is notoriously unpredictable any time of year. It snowed yesterday in Lund.

On a brighter note, for the last several days, we’ve been blessed with troves of beautifully formatted, low flying cumulus clouds – the surrealistic kind you’ll see off the coast in South East Asia or as a masterfully painted backdrop in an old film like “Gone with the Wind”.

The above shot was taken yesterday evening right in front of our living room – just moments before the sunset far beyond what looked like a torrentially drenched Copenhagen.

Prince Dies at 57

Nothing Compares 2 U

Like millions of folks, I’ve spent countless hours listening to and singing along with Prince’s many, many hits. His brilliant guitar playing and intelligent, often wonderfully erotic and humorous lyrics have been part of my life for more than three decades. No less than a musical genius, was Prince Rogers Nelson.

When one of your favorite artists pass, for whatever reason, it hits you like no other news does. I suppose it’s yet another jarring reminder of my own mortality and how fragile and uncertain life increasingly becomes the older you get.

Learning of Prince death was particularly tough – much more so than Bowie’s, just a short while ago. I’ve admired both artists for a long time – in recent years mostly for their stoic mentality: to keep pushing on and never shy away from redefining themselves creatively.

I’m sure it’s going to take some time to realize that Prince is gone – and how large of an impact he had on my younger self. I’m no musician, but during the last half of the 1980s and early 1990s, I worked as a traveling DJ for among other outfits, EMA Telstar/Dirocco and I always had a song or two from Prince in my playlist – wherever the gigs took me. Always.

More importantly, Prince’s music accompanied me during those intense years when I painted in Gotland, Göteborg and Riksgränsen. Especially “1999” and “Sign o’ the Times” would spin endlessly, all the while I experimented with oils and acrylics – to a varying degree of success.

I caught Prince live a few times in Göteborg and his epic concerts are still among my all-time favorites. Musically and visually. Here’s his half-time show at the Super Bowl XLI during a torrential downpour.

Here’s another classic Prince performance at the 2004 Hall of Fame inductions with Tom Petty, Stevie Winwood, Jeff Lynn and others jamming George Harrison’s, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Prince really tears it up at 3:28. What a virtuoso! And if you’re a Lenny Kravitz fan, you’ll love watching Prince and Lenny perform “American Woman. And here’s something really special: Prince, Michael Jackson and James Brown on the same stage.

Just a few weeks ago, I was turned on to his latest album, “HITNRUN Phase Two” from last year (2015). I’m listening to it right now and feel both blown away by how cohesive it is thematically and how sad that it is his last – though unreleased songs and albums will undoubtedly emerge in the foreseeable future.

Photo credit: Kristian Dowling/Getty Images North America

half moon

A New Phase

Shot this half moon whilst atop a hill in Spain last week. Amazed by how close I was able to zoom in from a 200 mm camera lens.

Change is good. And one of the new year’s most profound changes will certainly be the new gallery and studio space – both currently in a prodigious renovation phase.

By Friday this week, the new photo studio will be ready for two separate shoots. And sometime next week, I’ll be able to exhibit what’s left from my show at Malmö Live.

So, once again, I’m shooting for the moon. Half or full – it don’t really matter!

California Surfers

Surf Nazi in Lunada Bay

I’ve never surfed there, but I stood upon a hill overlooking Lunada Bay – a small, right-handed break just south of Palos Verdes and Redondo Beach – not much more than a year ago and practically salivated at what looked like a fantastic surf spot.

Turns out that Lunada Bay, which is getting national media attention as of today, has been dominated by a small, almost militant group of local surfers that allegedly both verbally and at times even physically – fend off outsiders attempting to enjoy “their” waves.

I’ve recently read a few articles about this group of middle-aged men and their ridiculous “Surf Nazi” attitude. Fortunately, I’ve never come across localism as brutal as what the New York Times reported about in Lunada Bay in today’s paper.

Sure, I’ve come experienced a few surfers around Santa Monica Beach’s Tower 10 with higher regards for themselves than the waves they surfed in. But that’s never happened around Breakwater or Venice Beach Pier where the above image was shot a few months ago.

The general rule of thumb is to give dibs to anybody that arrived before you – and to definitely not screw up potentially good rides for those clearly above your pay grade.

Sticking to those simple rules is the key to having a good time – which is really what it’s all about, needless to say. Read the NYT article here. More of my surf shots here. And finally, a map to Lunada Bay here.

Ryanair

Flyin’ with Ryan

Generally speaking, I’m rarely worried about flying.  I used to be. Quite often, too. A hint of turbulence was all it took to set my alarm off and order a neat glass of whisky. Not that I don’t still react when the ride gets a little bumpy. But it just doesn’t freak me out as much.

I suppose with age, comes a more sensible psychological approach once you’ve realized your life is invariably at risk. I mean, once I’ve made the conscious choice to board an airplane or a helicopter, small or large, there just ain’t nothing I can do about it should anything go awry – so what’s the friggin’ point of worrying, right?

Having said that, I can’t help but feel a little less secure when flying with super-low budget carriers like Ryanair. I’m not worried about how they service their fleet of planes – old as they may be. In fact, I have a tremendous amount of faith (maybe too much…) that airline technicians know what their doing and make sure the planes they service are maintained so the cockpit crew can keep them airborne – at least while I’m a passenger.

No, it’s more the ramifications from all the quick turnarounds and subsequent hyper-stress the management of these no-frills airlines inherently imposes on the crew, that concerns me.

Flying to Malaga with Ryanair last Wednesday was therefor not a entirely pleasant experience. The cabin was jam-packed and throughout the 3.5 hour trip, the flight attendants were constantly trying to sell something to us – lottery tickets, duty-free confectionery, booze, snacks and what not. Fortunately, the fellow sitting next to me was an ornithologist with a passion for not only watching, but also photographing birds. And so, we ignored the many PA announcements and instead spoke at great length and depth about traveling, birds and camera gear.

After my three day shoot in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, it was considerably more enjoyable to leave Malaga on board an old SAS Airbus 321 (likely from 1989 or 1990) with a more agreeable color scheme and less hurrying cabin crew.

hidden paradise

Andalusia

I’m currently filming a marketing video at a hillside retreat a few kilometers above the village Órgiva – a small, Spanish town nestled in between the Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalusia, Spain.

The retreat’s focus is yoga, meditation, development conversations and healthy cuisine – all of which I have had an opportunity to try firsthand – between sessions of capturing the participants experiences.

This is a family run retreat – the owners are originally from London – but they have been residents of the valley for more than 20 years. Just like the organizer, all of the current guests are Swedish and though I’ve only been here for three of the group’s seven day visit, it’s plain to see how much everyone has enjoyed their stay. From the storehouse where the kitchen and dining hall is (and where I am writing this post), I can see layer upon layer of mountains and hills – and at a distance, the Mediterranean.

The food in particular has been simply amazing. All vegetarian, mostly locally grown, tasty and beautifully presented.

Visited the village Órgiva below the retreat yesterday. On the one hand, it’s a typical rural Spanish pueblo with a slew of narrow streets, small squares, sidewalk restaurants and tobacco shops, a grandiose church – with a cathedral complex – and blocks upon blocks of hideously ugly, more or less decrepit, concrete apartment buildings.

But there’s more to Órgiva than meets the eye. The village also turns out to be this unique enclave where a few thousand “free spirited” foreigners, literally from all over the world, live, raise families and more or less contribute to society (work).

Had a deliciously strong brew of java at Teteria Baraka – Órgiva’s immensely popular rendezvous hangout – a Moroccan cafe where tourists, locals and the valley’s laid-back bohemians and hardcore hippies amass for tea, coffee and eats all day long. It reminded me of places like Bali, Koh Phangan, Goa and yes, even Venice Beach. Only now, the hippies are my age and older and most seem to employ the help of smartphones or laptops for their transcendental travels.

Kenya, Iceland and now Spain. Where to next, I wonder? Italy? Yes!

Iceland

The Icelandic Weekend Shuffle

After about six years, I’m back on this otherworldly island. This time to capture Icelandic horses deep in the hinterlands — which really isn’t too far from the capital, Reykjavik. Booked a helicopter and with any luck, I’ll get a few shots from above tomorrow afternoon.

Elephants-Masai-Mara

Blissfully unaware

Unlike many photographer colleagues, I’ve stubbornly refused to specialize. How could I? There are just too many interesting subject matters in our world – and so little time to photograph them all!

But seriously, if I had to pick a genre, it would likely be animals. I’ve always been particularly intrigued by elephants – like the two above from last week’s safari. And though I enjoy capturing dogs, cows, horses and just about any other domestic or wild creature, those I’ve encountered in Africa emit a unique soulful aura. They seem so blissfully unaware of how the planet has evolved and how their species has shrunken concurrently with their habitat.