Tuesday December 3, 2013
We slept until 8a and breakfasted at the hotel–in this tourist area few restaurants open until lunchtime anyway. Barbara struggles with her Kindle reader until dawn (10:30a) while I overheat in silk long underwear waiting for her to get ready to leave. I’m just going to have to learn better communication when traveling with someone else. Travel with a partner is about negotiation, which is fair.
We walk to Listasafn Islands, National art Museum. This is not my favorite art museum ever. Never seen so many stitched & painted representations of vaginas in my life. Some with teeth. Others have flames coming from them. The artist clearly has issues! It costs 1000 kronor to get in (a bit less than $10US). Downstairs is a video installation of picnics in Paris. The shaky camera work makes my head ache. Paintings upstairs by Edvard Munch, the only artist I’ve ever heard of. This may be his worst work. Happy to move on, but Barbara seemed to enjoy it more. Perhaps she is more artistic than I am?
The snow and wind have picked up. It’s not so much snow as tiny ice pellets and they hurt when they strike your face or eyes. We have to cross the city pond and of course that is when the wind is the worst. We are headed to Thjodminjadafn Islands, the National Museum. Amazing history museum. The best visual explanation of Icelandic history, with several computer screens to add additional information. All in Icelandic and English. This is one of my favorite museums of all time.
But the weather keeps getting worse. The wind is high and the temperature has dropped. Outside the window we watch a young student take a tumble on the slick sidewalk, knocked over by wind. Ten steps outside convince us that while the walk to the hotel is less than a mile, we should not risk it. They call a taxi for us at the museum desk. It is 1100 kronor. (Exchange rate. 120 kronor to 1US$). When we get back to the hotel we realize the temperature has dropped to 28F.
This is the first day it has been cold enough that all the windows in the buildings we pass are closed. Fresh air is very important and heating is cheap. Windows usually have a small pane at top that opens for ventilation. Also walls of most buildings are quite thick concrete, many covered over with corrugated steel on the roof and exterior walls–the better to deal with the harsh weather. The museum showed photos and layouts of the original turf houses, which seem quite snug.
We have a pizza dinner, the most expensive of my life. $34. Each. For pizza, salad, one glass of wine each and we split a dessert.
Other random thoughts:
The bathroom in the hotel is very European, including a deep tub, but not sunken. To step into the tub takes a dancer’s ability to lift your leg since it is almost a yard tall. Getting out of the bath and into the shiny tile floor with wet feet without falling always feel like an Olympic trial.
- Iceland became “Christian” overnight in 1000AD, during the annual General Assembly, the Althing. The Norse king threatened to invade if they did not convert. The agreement was that they could continue to worship the pagan gods (Odin, Thor, Fraya…) as long as they didn’t make a big deal of it and pretended they were celebrating Christian rites when a priest walked in. For the next century, many pagan celebrations, art and practices had Christian names to use when needed.
The harshest penalty in Viking days was not execution, it was being banished.
- It is believed that the waters of the Blue Lagoon will cure psoriasis.
- The Geysir hot springs area gets its name from a particular spring, Geysir or The Gusher. It’s given its name to all active hot springs around the world. But it hasn’t erupted since the mid-20ith Century.
- In 1550, Iceland became Lutheran in less than a decade. The Catholic Church’s property immediately went to the Danish crown.
- Twice in the 15th century the plague, the Black Death, wiped out about half the population. In 1783 poisonous gases from a volcanic eruption killed a third. It’s a wonder anyone was left alive.
- The only native mammal is the Arctic Fox.
- DNA test show that over 80%of the original male population came from Norway. But 70% of the original female population came from the British Isles. These women were likely slaves and may have been captured during Viking raids.
Wednesday, December 4, 2014
I have a tough night because my sinuses are full. I keep waking up as they drain and I’m sure my snoring keeps Barbara awake. She lies and says I didn’t make a sound all night. Isn’t she lovely? I sleep until 8:30a Barbara sleeps until 9. With lack of daylight it’s easy to just keep sleeping! Breakfast at Laundromat Cafe. I had the “clean breakfast” of scrambled eggs, fruit, cheese, and skyr (a very thick yogurt that makes Greek yogurt seem thin). They served it with a bread basket with Chocolate butter—which tastes amazing, but I really don’t need another way to consume chocolate!
The temperature today is a high of 18F but continues to fall all day. With sunshine and no wind it doesn’t feel so cold. Barbara wants a down pillow. I’m not much of a shopper, but am game to help her find one. We hike up the top of the hill, about 8 blocks. Earlier in the trip we both commented how clean the area is and we saw street sweepers every morning. But we’ve had a couple inches of snow and it’s not been cleared from the streets. So they clear garbage but not snow? The sidewalks quickly become slush, then ice. No one seems to use salt or sand, nor do they shovel. Maybe 2 inches does not seem worth the trouble? You have to watch every step you take as it is slick. Shop keepers don’t clear sidewalks in front of their stores either. And about half have their doors standing wide open.
I’m finally able to stop at a pharmacy, a “dispensing chemist’s” shop. I’m concerned about flying tomorrow if I’m congested. But they cannot sell me a decongestant without a doctor’s prescription! They have no aspirin as it’s not used here. I buy a local version of Tylenol and a nasal spray that’s mostly saline and menthol–both of which are kept behind the counter and require a discussion with the chemist.
Prices are very high here, particularly for food and clothing. We saw children’s shoes that were more than $100US. And they were nothing special. Our breakfast this morning was $25 each. (This might be the way to get me to eat less!) The vegetables are quite fresh, if limited, grown locally in greenhouses. We see Bibb lettuce, tomatoes, red peppers and cucumbers. Almost nothing else though. They import fruit, since it’s less practical to grow these in greenhouses.
We have no plan today and just walk about. The bookstores are wonderful, but so expensive. We later notice that the exchange rate on our credit cards is horrible, much worse than when we pay with kronor. I have no idea what wages are here, but they must be high. All the houses and apartments we’ve seen are in good shape, no slum area. We’ve seen no one who appears homeless–suspect they would simply not survive outside.
We skip lunch, but for dinner go to Iceland’s most famous restaurant for pylsur–hot dogs. They really are quite good and we are told they are made with lamb. They are served with a mayo/mustard spread and deep fried onions. Tasty! And only 400kronar, about $3.60. But the temperature has fallen to 16F. We go to an upstairs coffee shop to people watch.
It is our last night in Iceland. Still no Northern Lights. We have decided to go back tomorrow after breakfast to the Blue Lagoon for a soak before our flight. It is very close to the airport and we can check our luggage at the spa. The trip to the spa and transfer to the airport from there costs about the same as a simple airport transfer from our hotel. That should help clear my head before the flight.
Realized today that the only large fast-food chain restaurants I’ve seen are Subway and KFC. Not one McDonalds. THAT I could live with.
Bye Iceland, even with a cold, it was great.