Into the EastYesterday in Iceland
Post to come...
Up next, loooooong drive!
Post to come...
Up next, loooooong drive!
Post to come...
Next up, heading to East Iceland!
Post to come...
Up next, glaciers and black sand!
Post to come...
Up next, the south coast!
Go ahead, try to pronounce this one... Okay, to be fair, the area is more commonly called the Golden Circle (not a translation). This was another day we spent side by side with tour buses filled to the brim with Chinese and American passports. We had quite the introduction to the extreme nature of the Icelandic environment too...
Our first stop after leaving Reykjavik was Þingvellir, a national park and the site of the parliament of Iceland for over 850 years. This place is jaw droppingly beautiful and we could spend weeks writing out the history and significance and barely be scratching the surface. Using the widest of brushes, we'll try to paint a little history from the beginning...
When earth was a little baby planet and the surface began to cool and solidify, this developing crust began to crack, forming what we know of as tectonic plates... kidding. Not really, but the brush was looking a little too fine on that path! Anyway, this park is situated right where two of those big plates come together. They bump, grind, slide, and crush each other, causing a myriad of physical phenomena, all the while being pressed apart by those same forces. In summary, we parked in North America and walked to Europe. It is super rare for one of these fissures to be over land, so it is a very unique experience. When the first parliament in the world was created in Iceland in the year 930, Þingvellir was chosen as the the location for the parliamentary sessions. This continued until a hiatus in 1800 until 1844, when they moved the sessions to Reykjavik. For literally centuries, citizens from all around Iceland would gather at Þingvellir for a sort of week long farmers market and trade fair and to be honest, that sounds awesome!
History aside, Þingvellir is home to the largest lake in Iceland, littered with waterfalls, and has an adorable little church. Unfortunately, that is about all we saw of the park since the main road through it was closed for improvements. With the recent increase in tourism, the small country roads are having trouble handling the high traffic. That in conjunction with the merciless and ever changing landscape puts Iceland's roads in a near-constant state of construction.
The next stop was Laugarvatn, a nice little lake with 3 geothermal springs along its edge. We had the awesome experience of watching (and tasting!) geothermally baked rye bread. Our tour guide/baker, brought us to the edge of the lake, where there were areas of intensely boiling water. He dug out a pot that had been buried the previous day and buried one for the following day and covered it in sand. The bread was sweet, hearty and baked so perfectly it's hard to believe it was just thrown in the ground for a day! There was a spa on the lake, as well, which has steam rooms directly above one of the springs. A completely natural sauna... so wild. Of course, saunas and pregnancy don't go well together, so we all skipped out on it this time around. But have no fear, there is a list forming for the next visit!
Another short drive down the road, we made our way to the Geysir Geothermal Field. At this point, the infamous Icelandic wind was making itself known. The geothermal park is home to the Great Geysir, the root of the word geyser in English. This particular geyser, through earthquakes and some human influence (putting soap in it to make eruptions more dramatic), rarely erupts anymore. However, Strokkur, a few steps away, erupts every 6-10 minutes! It wasn't a massive eruption, but definitely fun to see. In the rest of the field were dozens of hot springs and a few ADORABLE little geysers. Little as in like 3 inches high... amazing.
The last stop on the golden circle was Gullfoss, or Golden Falls. It's a really powerful waterfall, which made it a great prospect for hydroelectric energy, but considering that we visited a waterfall and not a power plant, there's a story behind that... as told by our Airbnb host later: Tómas Tómasson owned the land that the waterfall was on and offers came in from English investors, to which he said "I do not sell my friends", a polite middle finger. Later on, when his daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, was in charge of the land, she sold it to some financiers (we're not sure if the family was having money troubles or what). These financiers were frantically looking to develop the hydroelectric plant when Sigríður realized that she wanted to save the falls she grew up with. Now here is where legend and truth get blurred... she apparently would walk to Reykjavik to protest the plant being built and at some point threatened to jump off the waterfall. Legend has it that her dramatic exhibitions saved the falls, but it seems that her lawyer got the contract to build revoked and the land sold to Iceland, then became the first president of Iceland. They sing her praises, but it seems that Sveinn Bjornsson was the real saving grace for the waterfall!
We're staying at a show horse breeding farm called Jaðar. It's downstream from the very river that forms Gullfoss. Right now, the river is in the transition from the summer white, milky, mineral-filled water from the glacier runoff, to the clear, green, oxygen-rich water from rain and snow of the winter. It's lovely having kind hosts who share about their homes or we would have no idea! On the property, there is also a 6,000 year old arch from an old lava flow. Simply amazing. Aside from that pesky wind, the location is perfect. Clear skies, vast farmland, massive river, horses, sheep, stars... idyllic.
Next up... more geothermal action!Read more
Foreword: the first few days of the itinerary (yes, we have one of those this time) are about as touristy as we've planned, but with the shift to tourism as the major export of the country, it seems like that is a bit of a rite of passage here.
After landing, feeling bourgeois driving a Land Rover and attempting to take decent photos with the sun at an eye piercingly low angle in the sky, we stepped into the world of Bláa Lónið. Don't ask how to say that. The Blue Lagoon is a pretty sexy name for a geothermal plant's waste water dumping site, but you can't mock the allure that they have created!
A greeting from a staff member, a quick scrub, robes and slippers thrown on, and we were outside in the 4°C. Of course, we were joined by about two thousand of our closest American, British, and Chinese friends... The water was a perfect bath temperature, not quite up to the heat of a spa, so the ever patient, very pregnant Danielle was able to float around in the milky blue waters too. We honestly could have fallen asleep the second we dipped in, but the primordial surroundings of lava and columns of steam really kept us going. The silica face mask and the added algae one really served to strip away the inner zombie we were all experiencing at the time.
Shower, fresh clothes, a quick realization that the option of taking those lovely masks home were priced for the elite, and we were again on our way. This time we were making a beeline for the exotic... Costco. We loaded up on lovely carbs, sparkling water and fruit, ate the classic Icelandic meal of fried BBQ chicken wings in the car, and continued to our accommodations for the night. After almost falling asleep at the wheel, we made it safely to our quaint basement apartment in the neighborhood of Vogar, Reykjavik.
The rest of our first day in Iceland is a bit of a blur, but we made a quick drive downtown, looked at geese, and realized that sleep is, in fact, a necessary part of life.
We started to feel a little more human after a good night's sleep and a stiff cup of coffee and headed into town in the morning. The first landmark we came across was a statue of Ingólfur Arnarson on Arnarhóll. According to legend, this was the first Icelandic settler and serves as a sort of symbol of the town of Reykjavik. The statue itself came with a bit of disagreement between the artist and the financial backers and was erected incomplete. Artistic freedom be damned!
After making a few stops through the shopping district, we quickly realized that the most common language spoken in the town is English. Sad? Yes. Convenient? Definitely. For lunch, we went to a nice little restaurant called Ostabúðin, Icelandic for "cheese shop". Homemade bread with salted butter, huge filet of cod with lobster sauce, creamy fish soup, smoked goose salad... we were off to a good start.
Next on the docket after the thoroughly satisfying meal, we made our way up to Hallgrímskirkja and the statue of Leifur Eiríksson. First, the statue... it was a gift from the USA to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Alþingi. Of course, the gift had to have ties to North America, hence Eiríksson as the subject (he was one of a few Viking sailor who arrived in North America half a millennium before ol' Chris Columbo). But in the American way, the gift picked a side in a centuries long argument... was Leifur Norwegian or Icelandic? Now the world knew America's opinion. Sort of. In the 1960's the US double dipped a bit by choosing the date of Leif Erikson Day as the date that an influx of Norwegian immigrants arrived on American soil. Basically, from start to finish, the statue has been one bumbling mistake to another. From demanding the highest location to knocking down old monuments... it is in all shapes an American gift.
Hallgrímskirkja is quite a sight to behold. Being completed in the 1980's, it's a far cry from the old churches of mainland Europe, but it has a bit of edginess, like if Edvard Munch designed a church. Complete with an elevator to the viewing deck, it gave us the perfect view of just about as quaint of a capital city as you could ask for. Not the most breathtaking cathedral in the world, but other than Michael Jackson music videos, what came out of the 80's that was the best of its kind?
We meandered back down the hill, tired from travel and happy to have the freedom of a car at our disposal. The next stop we made was Perlan, a museum atop Öskjuhlíð. As Iceland moves into their future, funded by tourism, construction is a constant. Most of the museum was closed, so we opted to just enjoy the view from the hill instead of attempting to force enjoyment amidst hammering and drilling. Little did we know, this was no ordinary hill... First and foremost, it is covered in trees. Rare for this country after the vikings chopped the pine for boats and houses and let their sheep mow down the dense birch. But the hill also has ruins from a war that Iceland never joined. During WWII, the British invaded the neutral country, attempting to gain some air and naval advantage in the wake of U-boats doing a number on their fleet. Öskjuhlíð is littered with bunkers, observation posts, pillboxes and fuel tanks. It's a dark look into how small, neutral countries are treated in times of war, but it could have been much worse if the fighting made its way into the Atlantic.
After a day of sightseeing through the city, we stopped at a funky little burger joint called Le Kock, near the place we were staying. It was a really cool environment, their bread and pastries were baked fresh daily, vegetables were from a local farm, the walls were tagged up by past patrons with chalk pens, Icelandic potatoes were roasted to perfection with neat toppings, and the burgers were innovative and interesting. Needless to say, we loved it the second we walked in. Two great meals in a day, of course we were happy.
That pretty much sums up our time in Reykjavik and we're looking forward to getting out into the countryside!
Góða Nótt!Read more
It's time for us to hop on a plane again and see a new country! The start to the trip was.... let's say complicated. We went all sorts of fancy had the nicest driver ever drop us off at LAX. On our way through security, we met several TSA agents who were completely immune to our collective charm, but that was okay because we all got through and posted up at our gate nice and early. That's where the ease of travel came to a bit of a screeching halt...
Fast forward to landing in SEA 2 minutes before boarding our next flight, without knowing the gate we were going to or the layout of the airport. About 17 strange metro-like tram rides later, we scooted onto the plane right at the last call. Disaster averted. A 7 hour flight filled with microwave pizza, a sweet view of the aurora borealis and a screaming (shockingly old) child later, we landed in KEF. Maybe direct flights are the way to go?
Landing at 6 in the morning is a bit surreal when you left home at 7 in the morning the previous day... sort of a groundhog day feeling. After some much needed coffee, rental car mayhem and an early example of the Icelandic driving style, we hit the road to the Blue Lagoon. Full tourist mode. More on that in the next post. See what I mean? It's weird losing a day...
**NOTE: we would be using more of the local language for places and such, but we're embarrassed to admit that it's a deer-in-the-headlights situation. Words are as long as in German and sound completely different than they look. Especially due to the fact that half of the language is to be hissed over the molars.Read more
After an early morning, a long travel day, junk food, and surprisingly good train croissants, we finally made it back to Sweden. We were met by Jason's mom's second cousin, Lena, and her daughter Clara at the train station, who were surprised by the massive amount of items we have collected along our way. Happy to climb into a car as opposed to walking somewhere, we made it back to their flat, where we were greeted by Lena's husband, Anders. Their son, Balder, who is visiting from Göteborg came home later on. We ate delicious homemade fish soup, had long conversations, and really enjoyed the night. We went out to a trendy bar with Balder for his birthday for a drink, then realized that a 19 hour day was sufficient and headed back. Despite a crazy cat, we slept well and were ready to explore in the morning... afternoon.
After some sorely missed Swedish coffee, we were off to see what Lund has to offer. First, we came upon the Botanical Gardens, lined with trees from all over the world. It was really interesting seeing the plants organized by relation, especially. We figured our tour of European churches wouldn't be complete without seeing the most visited cathedral in Sweden, so that was the next stop. The current, standing building was finished in 1145. The original was built sometime in the 1080s, along with the cathedral school, which is the oldest school in Sweden.
At that time, Lund was a part of Denmark, though, which we found out has the oldest national flag. Legend has it that the Danish people were losing a war, their leader prayed, the flag fell from heaven, they kept the flag and won the war. Again, legend definitely has it better than truth, so why not. We went down to the crypt to look around and we noticed this strange figure on one of the pillars that was drawing a lot of attention. Turns out it is Finn the Giant. An old legend says that the giant troll offered his services to a man building a church with the condition that by the time the task is completed, the man must figure out his name or he'll take his heart and eyes. With just a pillar tp complete, the man was nervous, so went out to the fields and layed down. He heard a troll woman singing and mentions Finn coming home tomorrow. The man rushes back and called out to Finn. The troll got mad and grabbed the pillar to tear down the church, but was turned to stone in his attempt. It was undoubtedly carved, but trolls turning to stone make such a better story!
From there we went to a falafel window, because literally (seriously, literally) everyone was eating food from the same place. It was incredible, but something to do with the wind and some sort of pollen we've only experienced in Europe has given Jason some serious allergies. So we went back, took a nap, picked up a pizza, and watched Euro 2016 until bedtime. It has been a good couple of recovery days.Read more
We got to Berlin in the evening yesterday and to be honest, completely planned on taking this city pretty easy. After getting to our penthouse apartment (gross exaggeration, it was a tiny little apartment, but it IS on the top floor!) We just made pasta bolognese, pounded water, watched a little Euro 2016, and went to bed.
In the morning, we went to make reservations for tomorrow's big journey back to the homeland. Along the way, every plaza along the way was setting up for the Germany game at night. We went to Brandenburg Tor and took pictures as the set up behind for the mayhem to come at night. Which is ironic because the gate has seen its share of crazy through the years. It was originally a gate to the city in the 18th century under Prussian rule as a sign of peace, complete with the goddess of peace, Eirene. It opened to Unter den Linden, a long street lined with Linden trees leading to the city palace, basically a peaceful open door. Then came Napoleon, who after defeating the Prussians, marched his troops through the gate, stole the peaceful Quadriga from the top, and took it to Paris. Then, open your history books to page 1814, Napoleon overextended himself, decimating his army, and allowing the Prussians to invade Paris. The Quadriga (fancy name for a sclupture with someone riding a chariot led by 4 horses, or lions like in Munich) was brought back to Berlin, but was fashioned with a lance with an eagle and the iron cross, and like that she went from the goddess of peace to Victoria, goddess of you-can-figure-it-out. The peaceful gate became a triumphal arch. Fast forward to the Nazis, who used it as a party symbol. Then in the fighting of WWII, it was damaged almost beyond repair, leaving just one horse head intact from the original Quadriga. Then after the war, it was beat up and blocked off, as the Berlin Wall was built right next to it. But strangely enough, the Berlin Wall sort of saved the gate. Media coverage showed Brandenburg Gate as the backdrop to the wall being torn down as the city was reunified. It took another 20 years for the gate to be restored, but now it again stands for peace and unity, despite the war goddess on top...
From there we had a classic lunch of schnitzel on a pretzel roll with mustard. Yes. Then we made our way back to the apartment and took a nap. We went out for some traditional German cuisine at the local pizzeria, picked up some flags, and got ready to join in the craziness. We took the long way around the city to look at the Berliner Dom, and came upon Stiftung Neue Synagogue. That building, as one can imagine, has a sad history. It was a massive, ornate building with a beautiful hall. It actually survived Kristallnacht, which is a miracle, but then was destroyed during WWII and was demolished afterwards. The saddest part is that the current building is a reconstruction of just the front facade, with the domes and towers. The inside is basically 1 layer of rooms, lacking the main hall and the actual functioning attributes. So it is literally a front.
Moving on, we actually came upon the Bode Museum, which Jason took for the cathedral on first glance because of its impressive size, dome, and sculptures. Its the crown of "museum island", and really is an interesting historical building. Then we saw the actual cathedral. Apparently it isn't a true Dom for reasons a Catholic person would need to explain to me. We weren't able to go inside, but it was still a nice church, situated along the water.
Next stop was back to Brandenburg Gate. We got there, saw chain link fences, security guards, and police, and were ushered past the entrance by the gate. We continued along the Großer Tiergarten until we could enter the area to watch the game. We felt good about the situation, despite the expected 3000 people in attendance, since they had CRAZY security. We went in, adorned in red, black, and yellow. It was crazy. 4 or 5 projection screens along the stretch of road up to the gate, food and beer stands, a ferris wheel... wow. They take fußball seriously. We had a beer while watching the first half of the game, then decided to beat the crowds and go back home. On the way out a Poland fan tried to instigate Jason for reasons unknown and for some reason not in front of the police in full riot gear... hmm. But the power of ignoring prevailed. Once out of the park, the streets were eerily empty. They take their fußball VERY seriously. We made it home and will be able to sleep fairly early in preparation for our 10 hour travel day!Read more
This is our first part 3 of the trip, but it was definitely needed. Today we had a little better idea of where things were and how to navigate the city. And there is so much to see here, we couldn't hope to see our fill in just a day.
We started off the same as yesterday, heading east towards the Englischer Garten. On our way, we picked up some pastries and coffee for breakfast. Jason got an apple cinnamon roll and Danielle got what looked like a nutella croissant, but the filling turned out to be the same strange, crushed up nut paste... it doesn't sound appetizing and is really hard to describe. So we had a hit and a miss for breakfast, but we got to enjoy it in the largest intercity park in the world, which makes it special anyway. From there we headed along the park to Marienplatz to see the Glockenspiel play for noon, which is supposed to be the best time to see it.
We figured out that the show is exactly the same, just seems to last WAY longer in the heat of the day will a million peoplw there... But its still fun to watch, even though we were too impatient yesterday and today to stay until the golden rooster called. Making it a short day, we walked around trying to find St Michaels church, but wound up at St Peters instead. It became quite apparent that the Germans are very comfortable with death... there were small cases on the sides of the church that contained bones on display. One was even assembled still, with a goblet and a crown and everything. Needing a bavarian pretzel, we went to Viktualienmarkt, which is basically a permanent farmer's market. We found a seat under a tree and had one of the largest preztels we have ever seen with some peach tea, of course.
Realizing that our internal maps were a little off, we mapped our way to St Michaels church to see Danielle's favorite, King Ludwig II. That brought us into our second crypt in 2 days. This one wasn't nearly as creepy, as it was just one room and smelled like flowers that had been placed around, rather than a ride at Disneyland.
On our tired way home, we stumbled upon Wolfsbrunnen, which was obviously not the biggest tourist attraction, but really caught Jason's attention. Its a fountain with 4 wolf heads around and on top of the middle column was a girl with a wolf behind her. Essentially, wolves are awesome and should be depicted on everything. Further research showed us that it is also known as Little Red Riding Hood Fountain. So the wolves weren't supposed to be nice or protecting her like it looked like, but still...
Heading back north, we came upon St Lukas, a large Lutheran church along the Isar River. It was built at the end of the 19th century as one of the first Lutheran churches in Munich, since the royals were Catholic and only allowed Catholic churches for hundreds of years. The domes were pretty impressive, but we are still pretty ruined by the Cologne Cathedral.
We went on our search to find the infamous river surfing and got lost for the better part of an hour. When we got there, we realized that these people are, in fact, insane. The wave is created by a bottleneck feeding the manmade Eisbach river hitting a slab of concrete, with concrete on either side. And they sure surf it!
We headed home from there where we ate way too much so we will have to carry less tomorrow. To Berlin it is!Read more