Monday, August 20, 2007

I have 11 minutes before my computer dies since neither I nor the hotel have a converter that works. Will either update tomorrow or when I get home, whichever involves power AND internet AND time first.

Lots of pictures, though.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hótel Hellissandur, Hellissandur, Iceland

At breakfast this morning they were playing the same damn song, still on repeat. I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people who work here.

Some cereal and gjetost1 later we got into the car for the drive to Hvamm. Hellissandur is at the western end of the Snuffelupisberg2 peninsula, and Hvamm is all the way around Hvammsfjord3. Directly it might be an easy trip. Going all the way around the fjord takes some time. Particularly when you’re stopping every few kilometers for a photo op.


Dad’s pretty taken with the countryside, but I find the colors dull and generally uninspiring. The mountains, while large, are so eroded that they look to be piles of dirt. Big piles, mind you, but piles none the less.


Which is not to say that someone who had a better night’s sleep might not feel differently. I’m pretty sure someone was moving furniture around the hotel until well after midnight last night.


The peninsula is deceptively long, and it took us nearly 2 hours to reach Bodahumfumfumfur4, one of the larger towns we would be passing. We were wondering, when we were maybe 45km away, whether or not we should try to make it all the way there. The drive had become tedious. Really tedious. After a delightful lunch of overcooked hotdog with suspect toppings and 2 pieces of decent apple pie from the local gas station (the pizza joint wasn’t open) we felt much better and continued on.


You have to put a lot of blind faith into these roads. First that just because it’s not paved doesn’t mean it’s not a main road, and second, that it really is wide enough for you and that car barreling in your direction.



First stop was Krosshólar5...


where Aud supposedly erected a bunch of crosses (she’d converted from Paganism to Christianity).

My folks

Now there’s a recently-erected stone cross that says something about her in Icelandic. Plans for translation are pending.

One day I will translate this


Then on to Hvamm – her settlement in Iceland – where there’s now a private farm and a sign with historical factoids (the last of which is completely baffling)6.


We took pictures,


Hvamm farm

scoured the ground for any very unlikely artifacts,


and took off back again.


(The uncountable islands)

Then to Kambsness (we think -- there wasn't a sign, though the map said it was right) where she'd lost her comb. It's now an airport so we couldn't get too close (though I'm pretty sure the security wasn't exactly rock-solid).


Finally we stopped to wander a black sand beach.


I tramped over some rocks and out onto a small cliff.


(Click for note)



(The view from the cliff)

We encountered some more arctic terns feeding their young. The adolescents would wait on the beach, and the parents would take off, find food, drop it in front of their babies, and head out for more. I’m sure human parents of teenagers can relate.


After some rest and relaxation we went back out to Olafswhatever 7 for dinner, noshed on some lamb and talked Aud (question: DID she take advantage of her stable boys after her husband died? Discuss). No “My Way,” but lots of 80’s American pop. Now it’s 8:30 and looks like 5pm outside.

Tomorrow, whale watching. Mmm!

1 A caramel-flavored cheese that I never buy because it’s su-u-u-per expensive.
2 Snæfellsnes
3 Hvammsfjör∂ur
4 Bú∂ardalur
5 ?
6 "Around the year 890 Unnur the Deep minded from Dögur∂ará settled the land between the outer edge of Hvammssveit and Skraumuhlaupsá in Hör∂adalur. She built her farm at Hvammur and for a long time after her kin lived there. Unnur was Christain.

The father of the Sturlunga-family, Sturla Þór∂arsson (1115-1183), lived at Hvammur. He was of the ninth generation counting from Unnur the Deep minded. His sons Þór∂ur, Sighvatur and Snorri were born there.

Ámi Magússon (1663-1730), professor and collector of manuscripts, grew up at Hvammur.

Priest would remain at Hvammur. Since the Reformation until 1944 only 15 priests held the position."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hótel Hellissandur, Hellissandur, Iceland

Slept just fine, though woke up at 11:45 to a repeating rolling and banging crash. I first discerned if I was awake (yes), and figured out what the sound was (fireworks) and by the time my foot hit the floor to check the view it had finished. Bastard fireworks.

I woke up in the morning with two phone calls – the first from my dad at some early hour asking if I was ready for breakfast (I declined and went back to bed), then later saying that the Hertz car guy was there to pick us up (I directed him to my parents and went back to bed).


After eventual brekkie and re-packing we packed into the car and went back into center city. I picked up a slew of yarn for full-on cheap and we hit the settlement museum. It’s way high tech with table-top touch screen computers with ghostly figures wandering through old longhouses and clobbering seabirds (really).


(A mini longhouse)

It was culture day (which explained the fireworks) and there was a marathon going on. Cars got stuck at the crossroads where the runners were crossing and had to either wait or do u-turns.


(I just don't get running)

We bought some burgers from a grill set up on the sidewalk and started the drive up to Hellissandur. Some wrong turns, weaving roads and roller-coaster hills led to landscapes that I can only call “Colorado plus ocean.” Stark, yes; desolate, yes; charming, oh, you betcha.


The roads can be tricky – animals aren’t shy about, well, sitting smack dab in the middle. We nearly smacked into three sheep who decided that it would be very good, thank you, to pass right in front of our car.

Sheep brazenly crossing the road

(Sheep in the road)

Then there’s a stretch of road – with a warning sign, mind you – on which arctic terns like to chill. Their nests must be nearby and they must really enjoy the feel of concrete beneath their little toes, because they gravitate towards that road like it’s their job. And they’re not so good at getting out of the way of cars, unfortunately.

(not shown)

Finally we arrived at one of the tinier towns you’ve ever seen. Hellissandur, and its neighboring town Rif, containing a whopping 580 people. Total. There’s one hotel in Hellissandur which contains the one restaurant. We were checked in at the desk by a woman with a buzz cut save a tuft of hair fountaining out the back.

Hellissandur hotel

(Our very charming hotel)

We walked along the beach, though some fields for a while before returning back to our sparse rooms.


(The edge of Hellissandur)

Drinks and dinner in The Restaurant, where the gentleman serving us was charming, and they played the same song over and over again. One song. “My Way.” Played poorly on the piano. Over and over and over. It was impossible to tune out and made us laugh (with some hysteria) every time it re-started.

The white-splotched cliff is where arctic terns nest

(I'll give you three guesses as to why that cliff is white-splotched. Click on the picture for the answer).

Now I’m in my room, watching the sun setting slowly over the sea (at 9:30pm) and watching “The Matchmaker” on TV (there are a whopping four channels and no paid movies).


For the record, in this tiny little Podunk town in Iceland I get full cell phone reception. No wireless internet here, though. Pah.


(The town of Hellissandur. The whole town of Hellissandur.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

IcelandAir Hotel, Reykjavík, Iceland

Up late this morning (comparatively – 10 am is rather late for my parents), then off to center city Reykjavik.

M&D in Reykjavík

(Mom and Dad)

I’m in my room and exhausted, and watching some bizarre British show in which women complain about things. Shopping with their teenage daughters, coffee shops, “Saturday girls”1… I don’t get it but I love it. Now they’re talking about muffins and the fact that they’re huge. Damn you, muffins! Kids these days! You get off my lawn!

Me in front of Tjörnin (the lake)


Brekkie at a pub where they played jazz and Bob Marley. We wandered up the main shopping street (you know it’s the main shopping street because it has a sign that says “main shopping street”), all of us jet-lagged and tired, and just staring dazedly at all the clothing stores. It’s almost all clothing stores.

Reykjavik's main shopping street

(Dad on the main shopping street)

I managed to find a few yarn shops, which pleased me more than a little bit, but didn’t find much else.

A sign for a men's shop

(Now I'll always know how to tie a tie.)

Oh! These women like gardening! This show is completely delightful.

We hit the National Museum of Iceland and scoured around for information about Aud the Deep Minded (which, by the way, is why we’re here). Didn’t learn much new, outside of that I pronounce her name so wrong that the museum worker didn’t know who I was talking about. She said it slowly, and there was a “th” sound and a rolling r in there that I just couldn’t quite make happen. There was spit involved. On my part. Accidentally. I am totally classy.


(Also, I am totally a viking.)

Now. The guidebooks had implied that the electrical outlets here were the same as those in the UK. For the record, this is a big fat lie. They’ve got two round pins. So, when dad’s camera battery died we trolled the shops for an electricity converter. Not finding one we went back to the hotel where I checked the converters I’d brought. The good news was that I had one with the two pins! The bad news is that their outlets are circular and recessed, and my adapter was rectangular and, um, not good for recession. The good news is that they had a converter at the front desk that we could use. The bad news is that we can’t take it with us. Which is also good as it weighs about 20 pounds. Which isn’t much of an exaggeration.

Plowing through a buffet dinner (YES GOOD BLUE CHEESE), I went to the pool and sauna2, and now I’m spacing out. Tomorrow we head out to… Snufflesburg3.

Nothing too exciting.

1 A young girl who works in a clothing shop only on Saturdays who traditionally knows nothing about the store in which they work. And doesn't care to know. And hates you.
2 While I was lounging in the hot tub (ish? Thing? It was a shallow rectangular pool with jets on the long sides) watching wrestling on tv (it's what was on) the pool... guy? watcher-over-er? came by and warned me to watch the steps as some drunk young men had broken the tile. How you would break a tile in a hot tub is beyond me, but we both agreed that boys and alcohol don't mix. And then he turned on Charmed for me.
3 Snæfellsness.

2:53am, IcelandAir Hotel, Reykjavík, Iceland

IcelandAir food. Bleah.

The worst damn airline food I've ever had. The brownie was good, though. Click for notes!

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much trouble getting from airport to hotel. We’d made the plans through Icelandair (via a travel agent) and our itinerary said we’d have a “meet and greet” at the airport. Maybe this is just American presumption, but I thought that “meet and greet” meant there’d be someone holding up a sign with our names on it. Not so much. It meant, rather, that we had to go to the information desk to find out that we had to go to the Iceland Excursions desk to get our vouchers for the bus to Reykjavík.

I think we were flying over Canada here


Side note: you have to go through security again upon entering Iceland. Curious.

We were feeling a little snippy at this point, but we’d bought two bottles of wine at the post-flight-security Duty Free, so there was at least something to look forward to. Sandwiched between an Icelander chatting with some Canadians and a boorish American boy who would sometimes talk? As if everything was a question? By raising his tone? At the end of his sentences? And coughing liberally and phlegmiously, covering his mouth about 60% of the time. It was about an hour trip, offering plenty of opportunity to plan his untimely demise.

Finally, after a perplexing stop at the bus station, we arrived at the IcelandAir Hotel. Purportedly four star, though… not so much. It’s decent, but not four star by any stretch.

I walked into the room and, leaving the door open a crack, flipped the light switch. Nothing. I flipped it a few more times. Nothing. I walked in farther and flipped the switch on the bedside light. Nothing. There was a hum coming from the tv so I knew there was electricity SOMEwhere, but how? Switch under the tv, no; other lamp, no; hallway light again – yes! But why? And why is pressing the bottom part “off”? (Alternately, why is flipping an American light switch up “on”? Discuss). Either way, more than a little bizarre.

A minute later I realized… there’s no clock in the room. No clock. At all. This pains me. There’s a mini fridge and no clock. There are two q-tips in a tiny baggie, but no clock. A TV with 24-hour porn, and no clock. Remind me again how that was possibly a good idea?

Additionally, while the woman at the AT&T store assured us that our phones should work here the truth is that they don’t. This pains me severely, and not just because I use my phone to tell the time. I checked on the internet status and they do have wireless ($100KR/15mins, $300KR/hour) it’s only on the first floor. I’m on the second. No contact with the outside world. I’m feeling twitchy.

We had some wine and granola bars that my mom had stashed, and chatted away about crappy places we’d stayed before. Dad speculates that this will be a “character building” trip. I’m starting to think he’s right. We’re staying in 3 and 4 star hotels. If this hotel, with its lumpy pillows and bathless bathrooms (AND NO CLOCKS OMGWTF) is the 4-star standard I’m a little concerned about what 3 stars will bring.

Adventure indeed.


P.S. Must find out use for ashtray in "non-smoking" room.
P.P.S. Turns out that TV, while on, displays the time. Also, while on, emits low-level hum designed for absolute misery.
P.P.P.S. In the morning, the phone worked. Why?

11:38am, JFK Airport, New York, USA.

We left the house this morning at a little after 8, and as tradition goes, since we allowed a ton of time there was no traffic and we breezed through security. I think this trumps all other early arrivals, though: this go-round we were four (OMFG FOUR) hours early.

The only glitch so far is that they only allow wooden knitting needles through security, and, naturally, all mine are metal. The only benefits are that 1. I figured this out BEFORE getting through security, and 2. since it meant I had to check my duffel (now with harmless needles!), I no longer have to lug it around. So it could be worse. I guess. In retrospect I should’ve thought of that eventuality.

I do wonder when airline security will realize that knitters are much less dangerous with their knitting than without it.

I’ve wandered the terminal, and entertainment consists of 1. coffee stand, 2. book/magazine shop, 3. another book/magazine shop, 4. some restaurants (only one of which is sit-down), and 5. a duty free shop.

On my right there’s a metal bar with electricity outlets and an Ethernet port for “complimentary high speed internet access.” Keen, I naively thought! I bet they have wireless!

And they do! For a mere $8. And do I have an Ethernet cord so I could take advantage of the purportedly free plug-in internets? No. Fantastic!

In the meantime, we board at 1:30. Two hours to go. Maybe I could go wander the duty-free shop again. Or maybe the magazine stand. Mm.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Philadelphia, PA USA

Tomorrow my folks and I leave for Iceland. My parents picked up three (3!) guidebooks and every few hours we pick one up and browse through it. The only problem is that we can only pronounce about one place/person name in ten, which makes for very tricky communication.

"Well, we're going to be in... hhhhhhh... Snuffelupagus1, right? So that's where... Bredafjorder?2 is. And there's Helgafell near -- oh for the love of god3."

It's been very entertaining.

Meanwhile it's going to be a high of 50-some degrees Fahrenheit during the day (down to the forties at night) (plus mostly cloudy and maybe rainy!), so I'm stocked up on woolens.

We're spending 2 nights in Hellissandur, which, with its neighbor Rif have a whopping population of 580 people. According to Lonely Planet: Iceland it has a petrol station, a post office, AND an ATM. And a maritime museum.

Sweet! Love those maritimes.

Itinerary for tomorrow:

Ass early: Wake up, shower.
7am: Dogs to boarding kennel.
8am: We get picked up.
Forever: Drive to the New York airport.
2pm: Fly to Iceland.
Forever: Continue flying.
Some horrible hour: Customs etc.
After that: meet up with Iceland Air person who should hopefully be there to meet us and get our rental car.
A freaking hour later: Arrive at hotel in Rakey-a-vik4.

(Though to be sure there's no easy way to get to Iceland from here).

1 Snæfellnes
2 Brei∂afjör∂ur
3 Stykkishólmur
4 Reykjavík.

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