Sunday, November 11, 2018

Song of Ice and Ire - Day 1

October, 2018

Hello, old friend.  How I've missed you!


We made a sacrifice to the wanderlust gods, and found ourselves on a journey to the lands of Ice and Ire - Iceland and Ireland.  How happy we were to share the journey with our sons and their lovely ladies.

Sept. 20th and 21st:

Tim, Tim Jr and I left home around 9:30 a.m. and drove west to Chicago in the pouring rain, sheets of water blurring the drivers' vision.  We were following the GPS directions to the hotel where we would leave our car for the duration of the trip.  Driving through Chicago while following the directions of our electronic navigator was a challenge.  We would be heading to the left lanes as instructed, when a random toll booth would appear on the far right.  Most lanes were dedicated I-Pass lanes, used by most of the drivers on the road.  We couldn't figure out the system, and inadvertently bypassed two different tollbooths along the way.  We were more concerned with getting to the airport on time, and hoped we could sort it out later.

We checked in at the Holiday Inn Express near O"Hare, and were given a parking pass and told where to leave the car.  I told the guy at the desk that we had missed some tolls, and his eyes grew wide.  He said we had better go online and try to pay as soon as possible.  More anxiety to add to my already travel-anxious demeanor.  We tried to relax in the lobby for a bit, before hopping on the airport shuttle.  It was a quick drive to ORD.  Because we were not on one of the major airlines, we were let off quite a distance from the terminal, and had to haul our luggage across to the entrance.

We arrived in plenty of time for our Icelandic flight to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.  Our end of the plane was full of noisy American women, who seemed to be on some sort of girls getaway, and were determined to have rowdy fun the entire time.  We plugged into our entertainment sets, and I was more than halfway through my movie, when I realized we were still on the ground!  We sat for 90 minutes on the tarmac before finally taking off.  We arrived in Reykjavik at 7:30 a.m., just a little over 30 minutes late.  Tim's girl, Chloe, was waiting for us when we arrived.  We got our first ridiculously expensive coffee (Iceland is notoriously expensive), before queuing at the Avis counter for our rental car.  The lovely lady at the counter sat with her fur jacket around her shoulders, and instructed us to follow the "long plastic walk" to find our car.  (The walkway was covered by a plexiglass roof.)

First things first - a stop in the snyrtingar

Giant puffin hangs over the baggage claim area
Luckily, Icelanders drive on the right side of the road, like we do.  It was a 45-minute drive to Reykjavik, with lots and lots of roundabouts (traffic circles).  The landscape was quite barren - very few buildings or trees and lots of lichen, making it possible to see for miles.  Iceland is the least-populated country in Europe - almost 80% is uninhabited, with a population of only 338,000.  A third of those inhabitants live in Reykjavik, which is located in southwest Iceland, perched on the edge of Faxa Bay in the North Atlantic.

Faxa Bay with Mt. Esja in the background


We arrived several hours before our rental home was to be available, so we drove around to get a feel for the city.  We drove around and around...and around.  At the waterfront, we got out of the car to take pictures of the Sun Voyager, a stainless steel sculpture depicting the bones of a ship.  The wind was biting and cold - our first taste of the Iceland weather.  We rushed back to the warmth of our car.

Parking is at a premium in Reykjavik, and almost all parking is for a fee.  We were told we could park for free at the 10-11 store, but it was only for fifteen minutes.  We parked and quickly walked the few blocks to the location of our rental - it was not visible from the street, so we wanted to make sure we could find it.  It was actually tucked back behind another little house.

The pathway back to our Airbnb

le voilà
Once we were confident we had found it, we hurried back to the 10-11 and drove to Hallgrimskirkja, a huge, modern-looking Lutheran church in the center of the city that towers over the landscape.  Here we could park for free.  We slipped inside for a peek at the church, and enjoyed just being out of the car for a bit.

"Martyr" by Sigurjon Olafsson

Leiff Ericsson Monument - a gift from the US in 1930
  Bracing ourselves against the biting winds, we strolled up and down hilly Hverfisgata Street, stopping into some small shops to pick up some souvenirs.  We saw lots of beautiful Icelandic wool sweaters, hats and mittens.  The volcanic rock ice cubes caught my eye - apparently, once frozen, they will keep your drink cold better than regular ice cubes, and won't water it down.  We saw mugs made out of animal horns that were used in the TV series, Game of Thrones.

We were in search of some hot soup for lunch, and settled on a colorful little cafe, Babalu, where we enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup for around $15 US.  The tomato soup was different than what we were used to, more like a runny tomato sauce, but we appreciated the warmth of it.  The atmosphere of the shop was kind of retro/hipster - very cozy.  We practiced using the Icelandic phrase for "thank-you": Takk Fyrir (sounds like Tahk FEE-rish with a rolled "r").


I found a Thai lady in Iceland - she must be very cold
Back into the cold, we stopped in another shop where the Tims got Thor mugs, and I found a troll that Mary had asked me to get.  Near the top of the street was an art museum, which we didn't want to see enough to pay the entrance fee, but a stranger recommended the free outdoor sculpture garden.  The Einar Jónsson Museum opened in 1984.  Einar Jónsson (1874-1954) was Iceland's first sculptor.   The sculpture garden is home to twenty-six bronze casts of his dynamic, passionate, complex pieces.  Much of the symbolism of his work eluded us, but the pieces were beautiful in their own right.

Still cold and too early to go to the Airbnb, we opted for a rest in our car.  We watched tour buses come and go in the church parking area, until finally it was time to check in.  Tim was able to find a metered parking spot on the street, and we used the lock box to let ourselves in to our place.  It was a little house that had clearly had a makeover by a novice DIY.   A bedroom was on the first floor just off the little kitchen and dining area, with two more up the steep stairs/ladder, and a fourth in the basement with the only bathroom and a tiny shower.  Nothing glamorous, but it served our purposes well enough, and was well located in the downtown area.  We were pretty whipped, so we took short naps until the rest of the gang arrived.  They had opted for a trip to the Blue Lagoon before coming into Reykjavik.  We heard about their adventures eating "Hákarl" (rotted shark), a local "delicacy," that apparently tastes and smells horrible.  Hard pass.

We all walked to dinner.  We had a lot of restaurants and pubs to choose from nearby, and finally settled on a place called Staff.  It was cozy, with lots of warm wood and red plaid.  Some of us had our first sampling of Viking beer, which was quite tasty.  The dinner special was plokkfiskur, or fish stew - not really a stew in our sense of the word, but a tasty combination of fish and potatoes.  I couldn't finish mine, and apparently doggy bags are not a thing here, so I just wrapped mine in a napkin and hoped it wouldn't be too messy.

Back at the house, we played the inaugural game of First Watch, a card game created by Mike and Jenna, currently in its beta form.  It is cute and fun - watch for it soon in a store near you!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thai Dyed

June 17, 2018

A final love letter to my beloved, adopted home, where I left my heart - Thailand.

When we knew our time was drawing to a close, we lamented the loss of the beautiful sunsets we witnessed every day.  We decided to capture a month of sunsets to preserve a little bit of the magic.


The Permanence of Dye

Dye has a sense of permanence
It changes unchanging
The transformation cannot be undone

I have been Thai dyed
Forever changed
Yet the colors disappeared into the skin
lingering just below the surface
Where I can no longer see them

What is left

Is a lingering sadness
a mourning for the colors that once were