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Posts Tagged ‘Icelandic’

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We went to Iceland for two months in 2012.  I didn’t saddle myself with any grand expectations of how much I might blog about it, considering how the last time worked out (took over a year to write about it).   I posted a smattering of pictures like these, but it’s probably high time to report on the overall trip.

Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.  When the fall, haust season is described as being “beautiful, getting windy and rainy”, it’s not “a little bit of wind, picturesquely causing the grasses to wave”.  It’s gales and gusts of wind blasting down the fjörds that can blow motorcycles off the road (saw it happen), and shake a vehicle like you’re in a riot.  Wind you can’t walk in, that beats a tent up badly.  It’s rain, all right, hammering sheets of it.  Then in the beginning of October, the rain switches to snow.  Blizzards, since the wind doesn’t abate.  Late October and November, we had some serious run-ins with road closures.  Not only do some storms close half the roads in the country for a day or two, but some roads permanently close after the first good snow, cutting off lots of fascinating places (forget the highlands).   Plus the days are getting shorter.  So if you’re considering cycling in the shoulder season, don’t.  Iceland is trying to extend the accepted “tourist season” with marketing, because the numbers of tourists pouring in are rapidly escalating, meaning higher volumes and greater impact on their natural sites.  They want to spread out the visiting, but the weather- jeez.  They call it tourist season for a reason.  I’m Canadian, and I found it daunting.  It bears repeating: Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.

Iceland is still stunning, breathtaking, and elemental.  There are still lots of cats. Apparently, they grow bananas in Iceland.  During movies at the theatre, they turn it off halfway – just hit pause mid-movie, mid-action sequence, mid-sentence – for intermission.  Everyone mills about, stretches, gets more popcorn, and uses the rest room.  This is the most fabulous thing ever, and I so so wish that some bold North American theatres would try such a thing.

There is a much, much greater variety of foods in the grocery stores – markedly different even from 2010.  Cell service is complete, with nearly no service-free zones in the whole country, and just unbelievably cheap.  We spent less than $50 total on sim cards and plans for all three of our cell phones for two months, all the text and data and talking we could need.

Gas is ridiculously expensive, in contrast.  There was an odd trend in effect of US flags, and stars and stripes being used all over clothing.  I didn’t get a satisfying explanation – only a guess that it was about the cultural difference where Americans spray and wave their flag on absolutely anything and everything, while in Iceland there are super strict rules about any reproduction and use of the flag.  Rules which are followed.  In October, we almost never even saw a flag outdoors, because the days were so short it seemed to not be worth their while to put one out and take it down mere hours later.

There are still thousands of gorgeous, stocky horses, and hundreds of thousands of sheep.  Those were mostly behind fences this time, though, which was much less exciting.  It was so fun in 2010 to see them popping up everywhere.   Any still at large this time were hastily being collected, after the major storm around Akureyri that killed so many sheep so early this year.  Seeing wagons jammed with fleecy lumps was a regular sight our first weeks on the road.

There are more guardrails and ropes now.  Iceland has noticeably suffered from the impact of tourism, and it made me much much more aware of my impact.  In the same places where there were no barriers and I ran unrestricted around on the grass in 2010, now I saw worn paths, erosion, and bare compacted areas flawing the landscape.  I got very angry at my husband when he stepped over ropes, and livid at groups of photographers in the hot destinations (Vík) who stepped en masse over ropes marking nesting areas.  Photographers, of course, are above rules when it comes to getting the perfect shot.  That really made me laugh, too.  Ten side-by-side nest-trampling jerks with fat lenses on tripods, all pointing at the same rocks, all waiting for the same sunset, all about to capture minor variations of the same picture.  And this was off season!

On the plus side of going late season, there were fewer tourists cluttering up the place, and once we got out of the hot zones (the southwest, Akureyri), we saw nearly no tourists at all.  Campsites were nearly all shut down, but then, most of them were free.  So if you want to camp in the snow, with no facilities, it’s generally free, and we saved a great deal of money this way still having the convenience of flat, private, hassle-free mid-town camping.  Because of the inclement weather, we opted far more often (vs. only once last time) this time to pay for a room, and guesthouses are abundant.  However, lots of them are closed after Sep 15 or 30, and that meant a lot more advance phone calls.  They were somewhat cheaper for being off-season.  Iceland doesn’t rely too much on “indoor attractions”, but almost all of the museums also closed after late Sep.  Don’t fret, though, the Phallological museum, the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery, and I think Skogasafn, are open year round.

We were there a long time, and encountered a lot of people.   There were lots of friendly Icelanders still, proud of their country and happy to share it, but to make a general statement, the natives are sick of tourists.  I thought it might be because we were there late, everyone who has to interact with tourists has had a full three months of dealing with idiots and is ready to have a peaceful winter speaking only Íslensk, but I fear it’s a deeper fatigue of the invasion of útlendingers (outsiders).  Iceland’s tourist industry is not that old, a welcome upsurge and new infusion of money after their much-publicized crash.  Lots of people are capitalizing on all the people and foreign money discovering Iceland’s incredible nature, but this is coming at a price.  At any rate, it made me very sad to see the changes happening.

Also sad for me, I didn’t get much practice with my Icelandic, that I’d spent a lot of time working on.  Naturally spoken it’s about a thousand times faster and sounds different than it does on a CD, but I still could understand much more than anyone assumed, and I very often could have said what I meant in Icelandic but chose English instead, because it was vulnerable to try, and I was very rarely indulged or encouraged.  In retrospect, I feel great kindness and gratitude to the native speakers who did exchange a couple sentences with me at the beginning of our trip.  Not too much later, I’d given up, and settled into using my Icelandic only for avid eavesdropping, reading, and translating.  I got the weary “Oh great, you learned ten Icelandic words  from a book and you’re using them badly” expression paired with the response to my question in disgustingly perfect English so often it crushed my desire to try, and I started conversations always in English.  That made me sad and frustrated when I knew enough to have said it all in Icelandic, albeit imperfectly pronounced.  That was easy to think afterwards, when someone had been sweet and open, but in the split second of deciding which language to begin in, without knowing if the topic would go outside of my range or if I’d get that withering look, it was too scary, and I reverted to English only.

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Septmeber 16, 2010

I had to throw out all my Canada-based generalizations about hitchhiking in Iceland.

No room for a driver to pull over?  No problem.  They just stop on the highway anyways and throw open the door where you’re standing.  In the event of cars behind, and oncoming traffic, the cars behind will wait politely while you stuff your backpacks into the trunk of your ride.

Oh, there’s three people in that car already, they won’t be stopping?  On the contrary.  What’s two more people with backpacks the size of young obese children?  No problem, we’ll fit you in.

Going somewhere other than you are?  Well, it’s not too far out of our way; we’ll just take you there.  Elderly drivers, and the ultimate never-stop-for-hitchhikers-people, mothers with little kids?  Of course, get on in!

WOW.

Our first week in Iceland, we hitchhiked everywhere we were going, which was, all over the southwest of the island.

For me, hitchhiking is completely the most desirable way to travel, if your schedule is at all flexible.  I’m writing a book about why hitchhiking rocks and why more people should do it, but to summarize in three bullet points, it’s because:  you meet the raddest people you wouldn’t otherwise, your itinerary may spontaneously divert in a positive way, and it’s free.  So, it was an automatic choice for me.  After a cursory glance at the prices of buses for the hordes of tourists, it was a no-brainer.  Hmm, we can pay to get driven around, OR we can eat.

And then, Icelanders took my biggest hitchhiking-induced observation of people (that people are basically good and generous and love helping others if you give them an opportunity to do so), to a whole ‘nother level.

(more…)

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August 22, 2010

There’re lots of sheep.  Many cats.  In the city, men walk very small dogs (“murse dogs”?) with no sense of embarrassment or irony.  It was days before we saw a real medium-sized dog (English shepherd).

Lots of horses.  The horses are short, sweet, gorgeous, and friendly, with the longest, thickest hair.  It’s a wonder they see anything, their manes are always in their eyes.

Icelanders build very unique churches.  The churches are edgy and experimental and fun, like architectural fights of fancy. Hmm, what could we do and still have it recognizably a church?  The design and treatment of churches is so playful it’s almost as if they’re mocking Christianity, but I don’t think that’s the case.

They also like their sculpture.  Sculptures are everywhere, weird, abstract, and usually substantial.  There isn’t much that’s wispy in Iceland at all.  Even the people are substantial.

They build with imported wood or else concrete, and clad everything in stucco or corrugated iron.

There aren’t any biting insects.  No snakes.  No predatory animals.  This is an indescribable difference coming from hiking and camping in Canada, where you have to always consider a variety of other beasts that could want to get into your food.  Here, none.  Food in the tent, no problem.

There’s not many warning signs.  There’re no shoulders on the roads.  Even on “highways”, people just stop in the middle of the road for many reasons, such as to chat with other drivers.  Seeing as there’re no shoulders, this is reasonable.  They don’t have flag-people to control road construction.   Very few police.  There aren’t restrooms, or “WC”s, as they’re called here, provided at designated rest areas.  Public garbage cans are few and far between.  What there is a hell of a lot of, is high expectations of everyone’s common sense, self-governing, and self-reliance. (more…)

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In the morning there was this persistent tapping sound, with a sort of crinkly tone.  It seeped into my dreams and got really annoying until I had to wake all the way up to address this sound.

DSCF6763It turned out to be a seagull a few feet from me.  It was pecking at a plastic shopping bag!  I hissed at it and it squawked back at me.  It left, and I fell back to sleep, then it returned.  Peck (crinkle).  Peck(crinkle).  Peck(crinkle).  I threw a shoe at it.

Awake now, I got up and packed, and I really did have some room in my suitcase.   I did some writing and internetting and then walked down to the 10.11 looking for some things to use that space for.  A half dozen skyr and a pile of chocolate.  It was a good place to shop for candy (right near the traveller’s  hostel – bet that’s no coincidence) and the guy there was very proud of Icelandic chocolate.

“All this-“, he said, pointing out the huge rack of Nizza and Pipp and Lakkris, “made in Iceland,”  then showing me the small selection of foreign candy – Bounty, Mars, Snickers.  I hadn’t known that so much was made in Iceland.  I wonder where the plant(s) is/are.  I just assumed it was made in Europe, the way North America imports so much processed food.  He said “Our [Icelandic] chocolate is so different, so good.  Very good chocolate.”  I’d have to agree.  “I think every day I eat some chocolate,” he says.  I admitted I was addicted, gesturing to my mound of about-to-be purchases.  “You are addicted to [gesturing to same]…like you are addicted to Iceland!” he said.

On my walk back to the tent a kid with a basketball feinted to toss me the ball, then spun it on his finger and carried on.  That was unexpected too.DSCF6796

When I called to book our bus ticket to the airport, I found out that one way to get to the airport is via the Blue Lagoon.  For a modest increase in price (nothing compared to their entry fees at the door), the bus will stop at the Blue Lagoon for a few hours on the way to Keflavík, and you can jam the Blue Lagoon experience into the last hours of your time in Iceland.  I couldn’t say no to that, so I didn’t.

DSCF6801On the bus there were a couple of obnoxious British loudmouths going on and on and on about football and footballers.  They drove me up the wall, but Derek was probably interested in the stats they were talking about.  At the Blue Lagoon, we left our stuff on the bus (2012 note: now you have to unload your stuff and store it in the building and reload onto a different bus – the bus doesn’t wait for you – too efficient now) and went in to the pool.  It was very high tech, with bracelets that you brush against a sensor to lock and unlock your locker in the changerooms.  that was cool.  Fancy.

The thing I wasn’t ready for that totally shocked me was that the Blue Lagoon is salt water!  Nothing I’d read mentioned that.  Nor the tripping / toe stubbing hazard, because you can’t see more than six inches below the surface of the water.  The water is white and cloudy, with that seawater slipperiness.  Very interesting.

There are pots of salt clay around the pool with long handled spoons to dip out clods of it and smear it on your face and skin for the “healing properties”.  The pool is very large, with differing temperatures in various areas and nooks, and there are features- the cave, the shower, the bar that serves drinks to bathers in the water.  Just wave your wristband to pay with your credit card when you leave.

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The shower is the best- a powerful waterfall that hammers down on your shoulder when you stand over it.  There’s a risk for any women with swim suits that fasten at the neck; the pounding water was determined to unfasten the top of my suit.  There were some old men hanging around the waterfall.  They knew what was up.

The salt water made my hair so unhappy.  It was squeaky and brittle, hanging in ropes.  I could hear it crying.  Back in the change room I took a forever shower and dumped conditioner on my hair.  It seemed like we had all kinds of time in the Lagoon before we had to be back on the bus, but the time ran out.  We rushed back to the bus, getting only a couple pictures on the way out.

DSCF6868All in all I liked the Blue Lagoon, but I was sure glad I didn’t pay 28€ for the experience.

At the airport we got our VAT receipts stamped, checked our luggage, and ate a skyr.  Derek had one can of Guiness left over and drank it in the lobby, knowing he couldn’t bring it on board.  Slammed it, actually.  We had a laugh about that, not sure how chugging a beer would treat him on the airplane.  At security the skyr I was carrying on was denied, so I walked back a bit and wolfed it down, then went through security again.  After the stress of security there was vast shopping options that we sort of darted into.  Running through passport control, then the gate, finally slowing down on the ramp, we realized we had definitely caught the plane.

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On the plane the attendants weren’t wearing their wool hats like they had on our arriving flight.  The whole experience was a bit of a disaster.  Derek and I couldn’t sit together, although we both had windows.  The child behind me was vigorously and continuously kicking the back of my seat, and his mother couldn’t make him stop it, even after I finally had to comment about the situation (politely).  I spent the first half of the flight sitting up straight and perched forward without touching the seatback.  When the beastly child fell asleep, so did I, with the channel playing Icelandic folk tales in my ears.  Their folk tales are a bit gory.

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I was feeling wistful, anxious, and a bit wound up.  Having the last Hraun, the last appelsinu (orange) chocolate, looking at the last chance to buy Blue Lagoon mud from the “Saga shop” (Icelandair shopping), it was all sinking in that we were gone.

Ever since, I’ve been desperate to go back.

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