Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Going to Iceland Part 1 -- Glaciers, Vikings, Food, Þingvellir, Hot spots, & Ponies

“Neither mine nor other people's prospects seem particularly pleasing just at the moment, and I have fantasies of going to Iceland, never to return. . . .”
― Edward Gorey, Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer

I went to Iceland for the Iceland Writers' Retreat; but let's be honest, I wanted to see Iceland as much as I wanted to retreat with my writing. Getting from Quincy, IL to Rekjavik takes some serious planning. I had to take a train to Chicago, fly from Chicago to New York City, and from New York City to Rekjavik. As always, the birds of New York City act as greeters, particularly in the airport. We arrived in Iceland, just as the sun was rising. When you finally reach, Rekjavik, you realize that yes you are in a foreign country.

My traveling companions were Ellan, my stalwart companion at writing conferences, and Tom, my former English lit professor.

Our hotel was very concerned that we understand Icelandic culture, so they posted this list of common phrases in the elevator for our edification.

My favorite, which is not on this list was

þá er það Rúsínan i pylsuendanum
Then it is the raisin at the end of the hot-dog 
(something that makes a good situtation even better)

Try as I might, I found no raisin at the end of any hotdog in all of Iceland.

However, I was also rather inspired by the "You are such a Latte-drinking wool scarf." I was thinking that if Reykjavik was Austin, it could be modified to "You are such a micro-brewery drinking Birkenstock with socks."

A word about the food. I ate both Mink whale and horse. Both of them looked and tasted like steak, so no photo ops there. Iceland imports most of its food, so it tended to be rather expensive. We saw some greenhouses that were powered by thermal energy. Our guide informed us that they mostly grew tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots.

I was pleased to discover that one of the local beers was named after Snorri Sturluson, (born 1179, Hvammur, Iceland—died Sept. 22, 1241, Reykjaholt) Icelandic poet, historian, and chieftain, author of the Prose Edda and the Heimskringla.

Our first tour featured off-road glacier-walking.On our first day in Iceland while we were still un-jetlagging, I read an article called "Ten rules so Iceland  won't kill you." The first rule was "Read the fucking signs." On this tour, our guide roared passed signs that said IMPASSABLESTOP, and (I'm less sure about this one as it was in Islandic) Abandon All Hope Ye Who Go Pass this Sign. We went to far off-road that the driver of that big jeep Ellan is standing by had to periodically deflate his studded tires so we stopped sliding around. He also clenched his fist and leaned aggressively over the steering wheel. At one point, I remember thinking if this guy strokes out or the jeep rolls over him while he's deflating tires, we are SO dead. But it was exciting and beautiful.

We also saw some less heart-stopping sights. We visted  Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir National Park). It is where the Alþingi ("Althing" in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1798. It is worth noting that they camped out on that flat plain, so there is no actual building. Þingvellir National Parkis also the location where north American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and has some stunning lava flows.

We also visited a stunning waterfall that was glacier melt that came out from under the lava flow.

We rounded out this tour with some thermal hot springs, cute Icelandic horses, and a drive along the fjords.