Thursday, March 31, 2011

I checked out of my hotel in the morning to afford me a few more hours of museum/gallery hopping. While that was an excellent idea, I still found myself getting distracted on my walk back to the hotel to hop the airport shuttle bus.

On previous walks through the city, I kept meaning to take a few photographs of the doorknobs. I'm sure that they are standard issue in most of the hardware stores, but every time I went to open another door, all I could think of was my favorite Bukowski poem, "The Area of Pause."

I'm pretty positive I've written out this poem on this blog before, so I will just make reference to the stanza that was living in my head:

few have the ability to stare
at an old shoe for
ten minutes
or to think of odd things
like who invented the

Sometimes the things that stick with you are strange, but I suppose things reemerge from time to time for a reason. For whatever reason, this line about doorknobs sticks with me.*

A last note about Iceland? I don't know how many of you watch "No Reservations," but this is the first time that I whole-heartedly disagree with Anthony Bourdain's sentiments toward a place, its people and its food.

Except for the shark. The shark is terrible.

*Just if you were curious: Osbourn Dorsey is credited with inventing the doorknob in 1878.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The most popular hot dog and hot dog stand in Europe. It's so small that I walked past it about 10 times. And the hot dog? Either the rest of Europe really doesn't have good hot dogs or people go crazy over the crunchy onions on this hot dog... I can't really decide what makes it great. Then again, I'm not the best judge of hot dogs.

The last time I had one? July 2008 at Coney Island.


Last day in Reykjavik.


What's on the counter at Café Haiti:

Food: An Icelandic pastry/donut called a kleinur.
Drink: A fair-trade Haitian roast, with a touch of milk and agave nectar

Café Haiti is owned by a Haitian woman named Elda, who imports her beans directly from Haiti and roasts them herself every day. I had read a bit about her and didn't really expect to actually see her, but I suppose if you roast your own beans on a daily basis, that probably means you are going to be there every day. She had a quiet presence and a kind soul and while we didn't share many words, I enjoyed being in her company.

Photo taken on 3.16.11.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Following my day-long bonding session with Jasper, I finally was approaching my last evening in Reykjavik. Tonight was going to be the night of the all-out, fancy-pants dinner. I perused many a menu to finally decide on a place downtown called Einar Ben. I liked Einar Ben because it had both great food and a good story. A noted New York chef, John Mooney, had actually been at the restaurant over the weekend, preparing a special menu for the Food and Fun Festival, as well.

When I arrived at the restaurant, the old house was far too dark to take photos. That or I was just tired of taking photos of food. I ended up with a whale sashimi appetizer and the arctic char for my main course. Sadly, they were out of the skyr mousse with blueberries, so I bailed on dessert.

After dinner, I walked around Einar Benediktsson's home, visiting all the rooms trying to imagine them as a residence rather than a restaurant. My deep conclusion? It would have been a lovely place to live.

My next task was to find a good dessert, but it was quickly aborted in favor of a little night shooting, as you can see above. There was nothing more appropriate for me to do on my last night. A quiet town on a Tuesday night - a stroll through the residential streets you've not yet explored, camera raised only when something catches your eye.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When I finally move from the city to the country, I would like to make these guys part of the family. Smaller than your average horse, the Icelandic horse is a five-gaited breed, which, if you are familiar at all with horses, you probably just got a little excited. In general, most horses are four-gaited with a walk, trot, canter and gallop. Most Icelandic horses carry a natural fifth gait called a tölt.

Here's a little bit about the tölt from

The footfall of tölt
Here in this description:
1 = left hind foot
2 = left front foot
3 = right hind foot
4 = right front foot
In Iceland we talk about three types of tölt:

Clean tölt (tölt, hreint tölt, single foot, rack), with perfect four-beat. The beat you hear is 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 as each of the four legs step down.

Trot-tölt (brokk-tölt, fox-trot, trotty tölt), where you hear almost two-beat even though the horse is tölting. It becomes more up-and-down to sit on, and it's a mixture between tölt and trot. The horse wants to trot and does it if given free reins when brokk-tölting. 1--2-3--4-1--2-3--4-1--2-3--4.

Pacy tölt (bundið tölt, skeidtölt, stepping pace), where you hear two-beat even though the horse is tölting. It becomes more from side-to-side to sit on, and its a mixture between tölt and pace. The beat is still four beat, but nearer pace, you hear 1-2--3-4--1-2--3-4--1-2--3-4.

Only having a six-hour ride with one of these guys was a bummer. As with everything in life, riding has a lot to do with getting to know your companion. I will say, you get to know your companion a lot faster, when out of nowhere, you both are galloping through a hailstorm.

Prior to booking this ride, I called the stables and asked about the experience level one was expected to have to go on the longer rides. I had ridden when I was younger (a shout-out to Buttons at Pheasant Hollow!), but hadn't been on a horse in years, so I didn't want to sign up for a ride for which I wouldn't be fit.

The answer I received from the very kind woman at Íshestar:

"You must be able to know how to control your horse and will be required to keep up as there are some faster parts to the ride."

That was the first time that anyone at a stable was encouraging and allowing the rider to take the horse and ride to his/her ability. Not only that, but you were expected to both saddle and bridle your horse, which made me so, so, very happy. That never happens on a first ride at a stable in the States.

I've been waiting for this type of response for years, so naturally, in a really excited tone, I asked her to book me for the Monday ride.

Monday, as you know, was too rainy, so on what turned into Tuesday's ride, it was still cold, but looked like it would be decent.

Optimal? No, the weather was not optimal, but I'd never ridden a horse in the snow, let alone in a sideways windy hailstorm. It got so bad that at one point, when coming to a rocky pass, the riding guide, two non-English-speaking French riders and myself had to dismount and wait it out. The horses were great, the Frenchies were not.

In the end, one of the French riders ended up falling off his horse and the three of us had to circle back to help him back on. Eventful, eventful indeed. Speaking French definitely would have helped. Per the usual, German did not.

Photo taken 3.15.11.

Hi Guy! While this lovely fellow, wasn't my riding partner for the day, we sure made friends fast!


Horse play. Just like a puppy rolling in the snow!


Sunday, March 27, 2011

I didn't exactly anticipate the response below, though knowing my father, I should have. I did, in fact, expect a simple, "Yep! Sure is, Al!"

But... I was wrong in the best way possible. Sometimes things you know to be true are best reiterated and solidified by your father, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan and Ben Folds - even if it is the 100th time he's tried to tell you or the 1,000th time you've heard a song.

This is simply a father speaking to his daughter. If it interests you to read his eloquent train of thought, please do:

“Life is good and the universe is cool, right Jharv?” Your mother warned you not to ask me questions like that. Buckle up. Here we go on the roller coaster inside my head!

“Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup...” or so wrote John Lennon in "Across the Universe." Curiously, as physics now believes that electrons can be in two places at once and string theory abounds, the prospect of parallel universes seems to be reality. So it's entirely possible that in one of those parallel universes words can indeed flow like endless rain into a paper cup. Grab your cup and allow me to pour.

The first time that I actually understood Einstein’s famous equation, actually meaning that energy was simply matter moving at the speed of light, I was awestruck. “Wait a minute, you mean matter and energy are the same thing???” It struck me that none of what we believe is real, actually is, at least, in the form we believe it takes. This knowledge made me realize that we humans spend a lot of time worrying about things that simply cannot and do not matter and too little time actually seeing what surrounds us. I can recall sitting with Linda in front of the fireplace and saying, “The sun sure looks beautiful tonight.” She gave me that “What stupid ass thing do you have on your mind?” look that only Linda can give as I explained. It certainly is true that the fire in the fireplace releases energy in the form of heat and light as a result of the rapid oxidation of the wood. It is equally true that plants create food for their growth from the energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Ergo, the heat and light released from the fire is nothing more than sunlight that resided within the wood until I lit the kindling. (I am not sure if Linda was freaked out by the profound nature of my observation or my firm grasp of the obvious).

So nothing is real, or what it appears to be, or everything carries with it a bit of everything else, but that does not mean that everything is false. Our reality is no less real if it only exists in our perception. The Aurora is beautiful because we perceived it. Not in spite of it. Friendship and love are beautiful because we feel them. They are no less wonderful because they could not be explained or calculated. Even when the force of one tectonic plate moving above another is readily understood to be the cause of the massive earthquake, having the explanation makes it no less tragic. The betrayal of false friends mocking you from the comfortable confines of the tiny cube of space they occupy, the glow of computer screens as their only windows to the universe and armed with the computer key board and the desire to deprecate that which they do not have the vision to see, the soul to embrace or the courage to experience, hurts when you are the intended recipient and cuts to the quick when done as a cabal. They endeavor to nourish their spirits by picking at the flesh of those who actively live in the world, hoping to photosynthesize that energy into a beam of self superiority. (Here I was initially torn between quoting Ben Folds “Make me feel tiny if it makes you feel tall, but there is always someone cooler than you.” and the O’Jay’s: “They smile in your face. All the time they want to take your place” [Ironically, this O’Jay’s song is entitled “The Back Stabbers” and was recorded 22 years before O J Simpson’s trial. What more evidence does anyone need to prove that everything in the universe is intertwined?]) Make me laugh and you can be my friend. Love me and I will love you back. Reject me and it is your loss.

I think a fitting lyric for my view of life comes from Cat Steven’s “Sitting” in which he perfectly captures Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch in the verse: “Life is like a maze of doors and they all open from the side you’re on. Just keep on pushing hard boy, try as you may, you are going to wind up where you started from.” That verse fits because it captures what the “Tweebs” (my term for Twitter dweebs) and “Face...” (Still working on a proper pejorative for these users of Facebook) will never get: One’s universe, whether it be the cosmos, the earth, society, or personal relationships, is difficult to understand and often impossible to manage. Open this door and find joy and comfort in the arms of another. Open the next to a stunning landscape. On the other side of another, find poverty and suffering. Another simply opens into the abyss. In the end, whether we choose to open the doors and explore, look through the doors that others have opened or avoid opening doors altogether, try as we may, we wind up where we started. Ashes to ashes. Star dust to star dust. If we can open the doors and experience what is on the other side and laugh at the absurdity of it all when we open the door to the abyss, seems to me to be the measure of a life well lived. Don’t worry about what may be on the other side. Open the door. Whatever is there is what was meant to be there. Embrace it. Reject it. Deal with it accordingly. I am tremendously proud to have raised offspring who are willing to open the doors, wherever they may lead. I am gratified that some of the time, the doors are held open widely and long enough for the rest of us to look through. I feel sorry for the Tweebs because they really do not live.

I do depart from Nietzsche, however, as I do not and cannot accept that God is dead. I sometimes think that this notion is born of the western view of the world in which our analytical tradition begins with the large and breaks things down into smaller and smaller parts in order to understand them. I prefer eastern thought and the spirituality of being one with the vast universe (or many with the universes?). The shape shifting of the Aurora occurs all around us in everything we see. And it occurs whether we as humans attempt to start it, stop it, or alter it. It is egotistical and vain to believe that anything our species does in the physical world will permanently improve or diminish it. Global warming? Really? One massive volcano blast or meteor hit and it is ice age all over again. (Although that little prehistoric squirrel really does crack me up.) To say nothing of a blast of energy from a distant quasar. (In my head I hear Humphrey Bogart saying, “The problems of one little species don’t amount to a hill of beans in this universe.”)

Although I do believe in God, I am entirely certain that banding together in various groups to invoke the favor or garner the attention of a deity, only to slaughter members of other groups in His, Her, Their, name or names is more about controlling other humans than grasping the point of a higher power. I readily concede that Jethro Tull’s Aqualung album in general and the song "Wind Up" in particular, released while I was in junior high, impacted my view of God. “I don’t believe you. You have the whole damn thing all wrong. He is not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.” Reaffirmed by CS&N’s "Cathedral": “Too many people have lied in the name of Christ for anyone to heed the call. So many people have died in the name of Christ that I can't believe it all.” - in which you could insert the name of almost any religion in place of the word “Christ” in that sentence. Nevertheless, there is and will always be something magical about Christmas. A celebration of new life in the dead of winter. Extolling peace and good will. The very feeling the holiday brings. God is present in all of that and is with us everywhere and always. He was there with the cold girl in Iceland looking at the Aurora, as well as in that field in Minnesota as the yin-yang swirled over three cigar-smoking nude dudes. I don’t profess to know what God wants for us or what God wants from us. However, I am ever awestruck by the synonymity of God and the universe.

Jai Guru Deva Om

Nothing’s gonna change my world.
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Although, I would add, that the world constantly changes, and thereby changes me.

P.S. This obviously was written in a parallel universe. How else could you explain two John Lennon quotes and none from Pete Townshend? And the O'Jays? Really? Where did that come from?

So since I can't always make myself as clear as my dad can, I will close this with the words of Mr. Folds:

So you can laugh all you want to,
But I've got my philosophy.
And I love you, you're my friend,
But you got no philosophy.
Now it's time for this song to end.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I don't know whose idea it was to eat that thing pictured above, but to whoever's desperate idea it may have been... thanks!

Monkfish: the consistency of lobster with the light taste of a fish. This was one of the dishes recommended as a must try by my dive guide, Finni.

Returning to Fru Berglaug (it's that good!) for dinner, here's what's on the table:

Pan-fired monkfish drizzled in a light dijon with parma ham, baked potato and arugula salad topped with melon, mango, bell peppers and a balsamic reduction.

Second favorite meal of the trip.

Note: Top photo was pulled from the internet. Not sure who to credit.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I had a conversation with my dear friend and roommate, Lauren Brown, the other evening. She's been debating career choices and we just got to talking about stress levels.

Stress is artificial. Sure, you may be busy, but you make it up on your own. Yes, of course I get stressed, but it doesn't run my career and it doesn't affect other aspects of my life - haha, anymore.

In my industry, the guy I look up to? He basically runs the largest events in New York and is always as calm as a cucumber. In that way, I respect him because he is a lot like my father. No matter what comes his way, he can handle it. I've learned the hard way that not everyone is like that.

I don't often panic either, but when I do? I go somewhere. I do something. I get out of my current situation. I respect my father and TP because they really have this down to an art. They don't need to go anywhere. They just are who they are in the most wonderful way.

Photo taken outside of The Reykjavik School of Visual Art on 3.14.11.

The local art scene playing games.

Photo taken outside the Reykjavik School of Visual Arts on my walk back to the hotel.

Photo taken on 3.14.11.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Haha, Monday's lunch looks like a pile of mush, but this was the most wonderful lunch I had during my stay. If you ever head to Iceland, give the traditional fish stew at Fru Berglaug a try. Made with haddock from the morning's catch, you can completely taste how fresh everything is. The rye bread was soft and warm as well.

Fru Berglaug is such a cozy place that when storm clouds rolled in and just dumped puddles on Reykjavik, I was happy to sit for another hour to people watch and sip a hot chocolate.

Photo: taken 3.14.11

A cappuccino at Mokka Café - one of the oldest coffee shops in Reykjavik, maintaining most of its 1950s decor. Of all the coffee I tried, this was my favorite cup.

Sunday was spent very much in the same way that Saturday was spent. No agenda really, just a nice walk through Reykjavik. I did, however, have one stop I needed to make. The Kolaportið market was the best place in town to taste Hákarl, which is a traditional delicacy. Yep. Fermented shark. It wasn't exactly that I wanted to do this, but every travel book and/or show I had read/seen featured someone taking a stab at it.

With a bitter ammonia after-taste, it probably is one of the worst things I've ever eaten. Gummy and rotten. I had one piece, took a break, gave it another shot and was done. The reason for the second try? I thought it might get better. Not true.

Photo taken on 3.13.11.

After the last post, I received the email below from my dad about the Aurora. His words made me smile, so I wanted to share it:

Al - Love the photos and the story. As you know, I saw it with Muz and the Captain. We were at Muz's camp in northern Minnesota in September a few years ago. September in Minnesota is like early December in Pittsburgh. No leaves, cold and a constant threat of snow. There was no running water at the cabin, so we took a sauna to sweat out the day of hunting grouse. When we exited the sauna, with only towels around our waists, we relit the cigars that had been waiting by the entrance of the sauna. (Guys in the woods always seem to have cigars, but it would have been wrong somehow to sauna with them). Heading toward the cabin, Muz pointed out what seemed to be yellow white search lights getting brighter over the horizon and said that when the Aurora started like a search light, it would generally be a good show. We stooped and noticed that the search lights had begun to appear over every edge of the Earth. They rose directly overhead and met in a Yin Yang vortex that swirled and danced, radiating blues, ambers and greens. Without saying a word to one another, we simultaneously laid our towels on the ground so we could take in the full effect.The show went on for what seemed to be an hour. In spite of being wet, nude and lying on the ground in 30 degree weather, none of us felt the cold and spent the night in front of the fire describing and re-describing what we had been lucky enough to see. I am glad you had the chance to see it. Although I agree that seeing the Aurora with someone, with a friend or a lover, is special, I believe that it is both a personal and a communal experience. Even though you saw it alone, you share the experience with the relative few who have had the pleasure. In a way, we share something just as much as if we had seen it at the same time. Welcome to the club.


Kids, that email is exactly what I meant when I said "cares about the universe," whether you are a girl with a camera in a car in Iceland or a dude with a cigar out in the woods of Minnesota with his buddies. Just making the best of wherever you happen to be. Even if it is cold and windy.

Life is good and the universe is cool, right Jharv?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

After days of freezing my butt off by the harbor, I finally caught up with Ms. Aurora Borealis about 20 miles outside of Reykjavik. You know how I knew it was going to be a successful venture that Saturday night? Not only had I seen faint wisps of green above the city, but... "We Weren't Born To Follow" came on the radio right before the drive began. What the heck are the chances? I just laughed and shook my head. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but in the past year, all good things have started with Bon Jovi.

Like all things otherworldly, photos, particularly my rookie photos, do not do this phenomenon justice. At all.

For those of you I hadn't spoken to previously about this impromptu trip to Iceland, the Aurora was the entire reason I came. While I adore New York, sometimes it can just get to be too much. Too many people, too many buildings, too much... everything.

In order to make your relationship with this city successful, you need to know when to leave. You need to know when to take some time on your own to decompress. You also need to know when to come back.

And this trip? This trip was the result of having a great day on Expedia and wanting to cross something off my bucket list.

But you know what? The funny thing about having the Aurora at the top of your bucket list is that you end up not wanting to cross it off. It is the most incredible thing that I have ever seen. It takes a lot to impress me, but I just sat there, on the ground, in 6° weather, in complete awe. I believe I was talking to myself as well. But who cares? Who was there to hear me? Sure, there was another couple who had pulled over to watch the light dance, but they were doing the same thing I was.

If I saw the Aurora everyday for the rest of my life, it would still never bore me. You would not believe how it moves, how it's there and then it's not... then you drive a mile down the road and it's there again and more brilliant than it was before. You could see an entire night of the Aurora or you could see nothing... like I had for days. The many freezing hours you don't see it are worth the few extraordinary moments that you do.

And when you see it? You could care less that you are chilled to the bone.

The next time Ms. Aurora and I come into contact? No cameras. No tripods. This is something I want to see again with someone. Someone who cares as much about the universe as I do. Someone who wants to lay on the snow-covered ground and just look at the art the sky is painting for you - not saying a word, until you get back into the car to start the chase again.

To see it with a friend, to see it with a lover, just to see it with someone who cares about what is in front of their face. To look at him, to look at the sky, to have him look at you, to look back at him and have the two most beautiful things in the universe in front of you. Now that, that would be perfection.

Photo taken on 3.12.11.

Photos taken on 3.12.11.

Probably the worst meal I had in Reykjavik, aside from the whale burger. The whale burger was so chewy and terrible that it doesn't even get a photo. However, there is a story that goes with it, but before I get to that, here's what's on the table at Potturinn og Pannan:

Grilled lamb (medium-rare) dressed with béarnaise sauce with orange bell peppers, carmelized onions, arugula and baked potato.

Now, allow me to precede the whale burger incident with the note that Iceland is NOT by any means a tipping culture. In my humble opinion, that means you often find lackadaisical servers unwilling to be (sometimes) pleasant or prompt. You will just sit at a table until a server decides he/she feels like coming to take your order. This drives me absolutely bananas.

So anyway, this burger came with very mushy french fries and the server forgot to bring the ketchup. These fries needed something, anything really, to redeem them. So I asked for ketchup and to my delight (10 minutes later) she brought over Heinz ketchup.

I pour some on my plate, dunk a fry, place in mouth. That was absolutely not Heinz ketchup. I mean, most Americans know the difference, but a Pittsburgh girl knows the difference by heart!

It just simply wasn't going to do. So, my french fry back-up condiment is honey.

I ask if they have honey. The waitress nods and comes back, looking a little perplexed, with a little bowl of honey, sets it curiously on the table and walks away.

When she comes back to collect the dishes, she says:

Were you eating fries with honey? (Gives me the eyebrow)
Because it's a little bit of sweet with the saltiness of the fries. (Didn't even mention the ketchup, isn't everybody proud?)

You are so awkward. So very, very awkward.

I've been called a lot of things in my time, but never awkward. Never even expected to ever be called awkward - by waitstaff, no less.

Haha, I mean, it's actually pretty comical. Can you just see my face? I didn't even say anything to her. I couldn't say anything to her. I was too shocked.

Needless to say, I'm a big fan of tipping societies. If you've done your job well, you get more, if you've done your job poorly, you get less. If you've taken 20 minutes to take an order, tried to pass off inedible ketchup for Heinz and insulted the patron, you get nothing. But don't worry, this waitress was already well compensated for her behavior in her pay check.

On a closing note: Hooooray capitalism!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Whilst you are a guest in someone else's country, you try your best to experience life as a local.

In this episode of "Be a Local," that means standing buck naked with 15 Icelanders in the shower area before entering one of Reykjavik's coolest geothermal pools.

What makes it cool, you may ask? Not only are all these pools heated by dear old Mama Earth, but this one in particular, Sundhöllin, was built in 1937 and has remained the same since. The showers, the changing rooms and the pools themselves all original.

Not only was it difficult to get a camera into one of these joints, but I almost changed my mind about the actual swimming part for a number of reasons. First of all, the older Icelandic woman at the front desk and I had some trouble communicating. It's never a good start to a foreign activity, but it eventually was straightened out. Camera in, camera out, Alli in, Alli out - was the plan.

After I nervously shot around the pool for a while, not sure if I was breaking any rules or not, I took the camera back to the lady at the front desk and proceeded to head down to my locker in the changing room.

It is a requirement at all of these geothermal pools that you shower in open public stalls, sans bathing suit, prior to entering the pool. In terms of hygiene, I absolutely applaud this, but on a personal level, I wasn't so sure.

Now, I have no problem with nudity. The human body is beautiful, but when you are in a setting where it is publicly practiced, it no longer is like the elegant art shoot you did with one photographer in New York. It's just something that everyone does, which you'd think would make it easier. I actually found myself staring into my locker, debating whether or not a dip in a geothermal pool and hot pot was worth a nude public shower. In the end, I was there, I had paid my 450 ISK and I was going to do this.

After about ten minutes of marinating, I stripped down, grabbed my bathing suit and walked to the showers.

And guess what? I am so glad I did it. After I was in the shower, I could care less that I was bare and was pretty excited to get into the hot pot to discuss various philosophies with some Icelanders. Hey, that's what all the books told me they did... and guess what? It's true!

It also dawned on me, while in the hot pot, that I would not be able to communicate, at least with words, with a 5-year-old Icelandic child.

On that note, time to drive to Dallas!

Photo taken on 3.12.11.

Monday, March 21, 2011

After I licked every bit of rye bread ice cream out of that little bowl, I made my way back over to Hallgrímskirkja. This time not really to explore its history, but to climb to the top of the bell tower to check out Reykjavik above the icy streets and sidewalks.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Chilly, but gorgeous.

It appears that I, again, do not have to time delve into religion, as brief as it may be, so if you are indeed interested, I'm sure Google can assist. When I see you, we can discuss.

Photos taken on 3.12.11.

Before I tell you about religion in Iceland (I know you just can't wait!), let's chat about my deeeelicious lunch at Cafe Loki, located right across from Hallgrímskirkja.

Here's what's on the table:

Drink: Loki Tea - a blend of Icelandic birch, Icelandic moss and arctic thyme.
Soup: Icelandic meat soup - Lamb broth with vegetables and lamb cubes.
Bread: Rye bread with lamb paté

Dessert: Rye bread ice cream with whipped cream and caramel sauce.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hallgrímskirkja (church of Hallgrimur) took 41 years to build. Commissioned in 1937, construction began in 1945 and was completed in 1986.

And guess what?! It's a Lutheran church! probably the fanciest Lutheran church I've ever seen.

When I have more time, I will give you a briefing on the history of religion in Iceland. Haha, it is indeed pretty brief, but quite fascinating.

Photos taken on 3.12.11.

Interior: Hallgrímskirkja

I had to have at least one black and white photo show up on this trip! I'm glad I popped into the church before lunch, because it was just the right time to catch the sun.

Photo taken 3.12.11.

Interior: Hallgrímskirkja

Photo taken 3.12.11.

Attempting not to get run over. I was successful.

Snorrabraut - what a funny name for a street.

Photo taken on 3.12.11.

Háteigskirkja on my walk to lunch.

Photo taken 3.12.11.

What I've learned about traveling and taking photos of your food is that it is never advantageous to eat the cool/weird/illegal in other countries things for dinner. No, not because a night of indigestion is never pleasant, but because the ambient lighting is always terrible for photography.

Regardless, here's what's on my table at Islenski Barinn:

Far left jar: lightly seared minke whale* with rosemary, nut crumble and soy glaze atop a mound of potato purée.

Far right jar: smoked lamb tartar with melon, drizzled with lemon oil.

Top jar: smoked puffin with rye bread crumble, blueberry compote and horseradish.

After this delightful meal, I met my new German friend, Frank for a few Icelandic beers over at the Paris Cafe. Frank and I met in our hotel lobby and became quick friends from there, bonding over my many years of Business German courses in college and a shared interest in solar activity. He also was traveling solo and was in Iceland competing in an international chess tournament! How cool is that?!

After a few rounds of Egils, we wandered back to the hotel, passing girl after girl in short skirts and heels. Do these people not realize the temperature doesn't EVER breach the mid-sixties in Iceland?! That kind of a skirt is NEVER weather appropriate.

Perhaps their bloodlines have been mixed with bears somewhere along the way.

Silly girls in New York, of course, do this as well. This wear-your-summer-dress-in-the-dead-of-winter thing, weekend to weekend, should have been quickly left in the winter of your sophomore year of college. BUT in their defense, at least the sidewalks are mandatorily salted and cleared... unlike Reykjavik.

If I were a dude, I would just think that girl was too dumb for words...

Ohhhh, I get it.

*You read correctly. Whale. Iceland is still a whaling society and thus, many establishments serve whale. As a traditionally Icelandic dish, it was a must try. It was tasty, kind of a cross between yellowfin tuna and a nice cut of beef, but not something I would go to the market to purchase regularly.

I got into it a few years back with one of my dive buddies in the Philippines about shark fin soup and I'm not looking for that kind of an adverse reaction again. To this day, I've never had shark fin soup.

Photo taken on 3.11.11.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Of all the things I did in Iceland, I can confidently say that this was by far the coldest activity.

The above photos were taken at the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's biggest tourist attractions, as well as one of the world's most acclaimed spas. I had planned on spending most of Friday at the Blue Lagoon, having made an appointment for a 2-hour in-water algae treatment and massage. Since Thursday was filled with diving and hiking about waterfalls and geysers, I was very much looking forward to soaking in this natural geothermal hotspot, getting that massage and coating my sun-deprived face with the Blue Lagoon's famous silica mask.

My massage/treatment was at 10:30 a.m. on a cloudy morning with temperatures at about 20°. And again.... the wind...

"It's ok, the water will be hot," I thought as I disrobed and climbed into the lagoon's massage area to meet my masseuse, who I noticed was decked out in fleece from head to toe.

I was in my new dark green bikini. Quite a difference in attire.

He asked me to slide up on a 6-foot wooden planked massage table that hovered on the water to begin the salt scrub.

I just looked at him.

"It will be ok. This is the coldest part," he said.

I looked at him, as the wind kicked up enough to blow my two French-braided pigtails behind my back. So, I climbed on the table, face-down. He wet a heavy fleece blanket and laid it over me, removing a part of the blanket as he scrubbed. Same thing, face-up.

While the scrubbing felt awesome, I couldn't get over how cold I was. Yes, there was a blanket over me, but those blankets cool down, you know. And when they do, the masseuse would dip it back into the water and lay it back over me, which means the blanket had to be removed from my barely clothed, wet body. Again, I say, the wind...

Next came the algae treatment. Spreading the algae all over me, he had me wiggle into a giant plastic bag. When I was fully coated, he tied off the bag, put an inflatable pillow around my neck and and slid me onto a little raft. He then proceeded to massage my head and face, rubbing conditioner into my hair.

All of this was considerably warmer, but the best part of the treatment was when he slid the mat out from under me and placed what I can only describe as a noodle, under my knees. This, was a very cool feeling. Supported by only the inflatable neck pillow and the noodle at your knees, you (inside your plastic algae bag covered with thermal blankets) just float around the warm lagoon for about 30 minutes. I'd say it's pretty impossible not to doze off.

Post-floating, I shimmied out of my algae bag and he slid me back onto the little raft to commence what I was most looking forward to after yesterday's hiking and a subzero scuba trip - the 50-minute massage.

It wasn't the best massage of my life, but it was comical to assess what actually was happening at that very moment. Here I was, in Iceland, floating around some geothermal lagoon with a strange Icelandic man massaging my right butt-cheek and thigh. What was the rest of the world doing??

Ahhh, life is good.

When the massage ended, I was free to roam around, exploring the lagoon and its steam baths and saunas, masking my face with endless silica treatments.

Aside from freezing my tush off in the beginning, my only real complaint is that the property wasn't as photogenic as I had anticipated, but that's all ok. After having seen this place in travel magazines, on travel shows and on subway ads for years, I can now cross a visit to the Blue Lagoon off my bucket list.

Photos taken on 3.11.11.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My favorite of the Gullfoss series and my current desktop wallpaper.

Photo taken on 3.10.11.

Gullfoss, perhaps the most famous waterfall in Iceland.

It is said that Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson who owned the waterfall in the first half of the 20th century, is to be credited with preventing private investors from building a hydroelectric plant at Gullfoss.

To prevent them from doing this, not only did Sigríður threaten to throw herself into the falls, but she walked barefoot from Gullfoss to Reykjavik in protest of this proposition. By the time she arrived in Reykjavik, the 75 miles of unpaved roads had torn up her feet.

She had made her point and thus, the plant was never built.

Condensed steam from the geysir Strokkur.

Photo taken on 3.10.11.

Strokkur, a much small geyser in Geysir's vicinity, erupts about every five minutes.