Thursday, August 25, 2016

Iceland:Impressions, Insights, Incredible. Reyjkavik-Part 2

One of the highlights of visiting Reyjkavik was being able to sit outside in a common area and enjoy a goody from a local bakery prior to going to the famed Hallgrimskirkja. Besides that, it gave us a break from walking uphill toward what was surely one of the most imposing sights we've ever seen.

To me, the building looked a lot like a space shuttle, ready for takeoff. After entering the church, we purchased an admission ticket to go to the top of the observation tower. It cost only a few dollars and was well worth the price.

Statue of Leif Erikson, discoverer of America
in front of church.
The bottom line..not right when money is
 paid for tower admission

From this high vantage point, we could see the surrounding neighbourhood including this interesting grass roofed restaurant, and good view of the city in general.

 As we searched for the downtown city hall area, we walked past many magnificent houses, art installations, a sculpture garden, shops, and restaurants. Everything was different, but not totally unfamiliar. I developed a renewed fascination for Vikings, trolls, and folklore.
Many sculptures appeared if carrying heavy weights

Lovely gardens and sculptures all around.
Children in Iceland play. They spend  much time outdoors and
use their imaginations. This is what impressed me most.
Centrally located and a good landmark - Hallgrimskirkja

Hand knitted woollen products abound.

I have been one and I loved it.
Meeting Vikings...dream vacation

In the evening, we attended a show at the famed Harpa, a conference hall and conference centre which opened in 2011. It was a one man comedy performance entitled "How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes." We enjoyed the surroundings of this beautiful building, then laughed heartily at the show presented by Bjarni Haukur Thorsson. We had already had some of the experiences which were described so it became even more amusing. Besides explaining that all Icelandic names end in "son" or "dottir" eg. his name....Thorsson, meaning son of Thor, he gave us many tips. Here are just a few that I remember. To be an Icelander, it's essential to be rude (explains the airline experience). Embrace the smells (sulphur and other things...lots of wind). Know that the Icelandic horses are special and have five walks while Icelandic people have two. Argue - think big-you know you're right (they have 7 political parties and a huge national debt). Give vague directions (had this experience many times). Learn to say the name of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull (he showed a video clip of varied newscasters stumbling over the name).

Here's a similar cute clip I found on youtube.
Lovely  modern architecture
Street view

We graduated
Back of the Harpa

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Iceland:Impressions, Insights, Incredible. Reyjkavik-Part 1

It's about as hard to believe that I'm back home as it is to imagine I ever went. And yet, it was a month ago, when we first landed on a very different island. It wasn't warm like a tropical vacation. It didn't have lovely turquoise waters, familiar music, or a well known culture and language. Words and names were difficult to pronounce and the landscape was dark, cold, volcanic, and treeless. It's a mysterious place which has become a bucket list add on for many tourists. It was spectacular in its own way. Iceland is indeed an experience.

So where does one start? There's a sculpture of a wing, slowly emerging from a giant metallic egg at the Keflavik airport. I related to the feeling in that sculpture, as I left the shell that was our aircraft and descended the metallic steps, emerging into this most mysterious and eerie of lands.

As we drove and neared the more populace area where we would be staying, I marvelled at how a place, an entire country, with a population of just over 300,000 could accomplish so much. Nothing appeared to be lacking. Houses were being constructed or repaired. Architecture was modern. City streets were in good shape. Bus routes were efficient and regular. There was art, culture, and technology.

We learned a lot in the four days of our visit. Icelanders get all their electricity and heat from renewable sources. For example, our host was sure to inform us that the reason the hot water smelled like sulphur was because they get it from the springs. Similarly, geothermal water is used to heat houses in the winter. Produce is grown locally and many people have their own mini greenhouses. They even grow bananas!

Along with the good, comes the bad. Things are expensive. Icelandic kronas are often spent in units of hundreds or thousands and the country is deeply in debt.
ISK samples. I took along $700 or 63,000 ISK...we spent 100,000 ISK
As I always do, I photographed our Airbnb house, the closest intersection, and an obvious landmark. I learned some time ago that this is advisable and helpful in order to find one's return route in strange areas. Here were our surroundings in Kopavogur (remember no "a" or surrounding letters, so Koap-o-gur ) on the outskirts of Reykjavik.

view from our Airbnb balcony
near our bus stop
Kopavogskirkja...recognizable landmark
We boarded a bus near our host's home and transferred one time to get to the "big city" which houses one third of Iceland's total population. It cost 420 ISK (almost $5.00) per person. Of course, I photographed the bus numbers (another way to compensate for diminishing brain cells). I also noted how vivid things were...the buses, the art, the fashion, the flowers.


There were many delicacies available at the restaurants and Icelandic food was generally delicious. Restaurants were, like everything else, expensive. We discovered that lunch meals are better value and we found a wonderful little place with soup and sandwich bargains. Bakeries were also great. We were also told about the famous "Tom's Hot Dogs", real name Baejarins Betzu Pylsur where the likes of Justin Bieber, Bill Clinton, Charlie Sheen, and now, hubby and I have eaten for 350 ISK per hot dog. It turned out not to be a restaurant as we had thought,  but rather a food truck. It wasn't easy to find, since it seems that nobody can give directions or descriptions in Iceland (more on that later).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Icelandair and First Icelandic Impressions

We decided to take advantage of Icelandair's reasonable price and stopover deal on a recent trip to Copenhagen and Baltic countries. It was a good start I thought when Icelandair personnel handed us a bottle of water upon entering the plane. After all, it was thirty five degrees celsius in Toronto and most of us were dressed in spring/fall gear ready for our adventure. As hubby inserted our carry on luggage into the overhead bins, we heard an annoyed voice, "Hurry up and move out of the way," coming from one of the flight attendants. Disturbing.

Our seats were tiny and cramped, unlike any other airlines we've endured. The back of mine buckled like a piece of cardboard every time I moved and the arm rests were separating, threatening to pinch us if we dared relax and lean on them. It was an older plane. Nonetheless, we were impressed with the selection of inflight entertainment which included documentaries about Iceland. Very interesting. I investigated the seat pouch and discovered a "Loftslag" bag. Many airlines, have plain white ones. These were made from recycled paper, had illustrations and definitions along with weather and climatic conditions on the back. Nice. They also had written permission, in fact, it was suggested we take them with us.

Bus transfers were available for purchase inflight. Great idea. These transfers take you to the capital city of Reykjavik (pron. Rek-vik...the written letter "a" seems to suck up surrounding letters in Icelandic).

After landing at Keflavik International Airport (pron. Kev-lik), we were sent out into the rain and down a flight of metallic stairs, carry on bags in tow, onto the runway, where we were herded onto a bus that had no more than a dozen seats...standing room only. In the terminal, as is the case in many airports, there was a long trek to customs where people crowded in disorderly bunches until proceeding to an officer. (Our next flight several days later had lengthy delay, more bus discomfort, additional rudeness from personnel, but I won't dwell on that because this was a small part and did not ruin our adventures).
"How long will you be staying in Europe?" I was asked by the customs officer.

For once, I responded quickly, "Three weeks, Iceland until Wednesday."

I hate to admit this but I have never thought of Iceland as part of Europe. Of course it is. It belonged to Denmark until sometime in the 1940's and has been an independent country of 300,000 pop. ever since.

As we loaded our far too many bags onto a cart, we exited the terminal to a misty 12 degrees. NOTE - It seems it's possible to purchase duty free items when incoming and prior to leaving the airport. The returning Icelanders take advantage of this to stock up on the all too expensive liquor.

Upon describing the landscape, a comedian in the show "How to be Icelandic in 60 Minutes" (more on that later), said, "Tourists leave the airport and think they've landed on the moon."

It was truly barren.  Since I hadn't slept in 18 hours, I didn't care. All I wanted was find a bed, so I didn't even flinch as we passed the famous Blue Lagoon. Unfortunately, my stomach did. Good thing I had liberated the loftslag bag from the plane just in case. We arrived at our airbnb host's house, headed for our temporary home and immediately fell asleep.

Back Again...and You Still Haven't Received My Postcard?

Yes, I'm back. It's been awhile since I've had or have taken the time to post. There's been much happening but I'm not always certain what I want to share, what I have time to share, what is appropriate, or what is of interest. The latter is the least important to me because I write this blog for myself and not necessarily other people. I also want to avoid creating a diary of "Today, I did this. Yesterday I did that."

After having a few days of "down time" to process the last few weeks, I've decided that there are indeed some experiences so unique that they're worth sharing.

I think the reason I share info on trips is because there are details that one forgets and might need in future, or can be helpful to other travellers who venture on similar voyages. So after having spoken to a friend about whether or not I'd go through my most recent trek in blog form, I decided to start. It will all end when I lose interest or when it starts sounding like, "Then we went here.Then we went there. Then we saw...."

First stop...Iceland with Icelandair.