Saturday, July 19, 2014

Iceland: up the hill, under the hill, over the hill

It's 2:30 pm on my 40th birthday: to the keen observer, this statement of fact will adequately summarize the festivities.

I went out. Since it's always daylight, I stayed out. 

The perpetual light deceives. It's unmentionably late. 


There is a video of me doing tequila shots which shall only ever be seen by yours truly. 

I would like a Viking for my birthday. 

Why, thank you.

True story: The night before my birthday, the mayor of Reykjavík and his well-heeled clan had his birthday party at the hostel bar. I almost asked him to take a selfie with me--how fun would that be? Me and the mayor of Reykjavík, birthday and hostel buddies--but I couldn't muster the nerve. 

On to the tourism highlights. 
All the rumors are true: Iceland is phenomenally pricey. I am taking three excursions: the Golden Circle tour, Inside the Volcano, and Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon visit, for which I shelled out $80, $350, and $270 respectively. Yowza. But you only turn 40 once, and I only anticipate one trip to Iceland.

Sadly, this was the majority of my Golden Circle tour yesterday.

I did see some of the fissures between the North American and Eurasian continental plates...

And took a nice selfie at Gullfoss (golden waterfall)...

I learned that Iceland sustains its own produce needs with geothermal greenhouses. They gave the President of Peru a bunch of Icelandic bananas to welcome him on his State visit. And the salads are amazing. 

So that's the craic. :)
Today, I'm happily chilling. Reading, drinking coffee at a cute cafe. Might seek out some of the famous lamb for dinner. Reasonable bedtime because the volcano tour pickup is at 9am.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Let's go to Iceland!

Iceland is an odd (in a good way) little place. 
The weather has been atypical for "summer" here. Unseasonably cool, like everywhere else it seems. Rainy and in the 50s (F), but I was prepared for that, having stalked the weather sites pre-departure. 

Departure... yes. My outbound flights switched 4 times before being cancelled altogether. I was re-routed and re-booked for the next day. Rather than the direct flight I'd reserved, I now had a long layover in Minneapolis. For part of this, I played Tom Hanks in The Terminal. You see, Delta directed me away from Terminal 1 to it's lesser stepsister Terminal 2 (a walk, a tram, then a Metro stop away) where I would then check in at Iceland Air--since these flights to Reykjavík are only offered once daily. They failed to mention, though, that I couldn't check in for 4 hours--when the counter for that flight opened. This was weirdly staffed by "Sun Country Airlines" employees, não tem nada a ver, I'd never even heard of Sun Country Airlines. This is not encouraging. 

Had I known any of these key details, I would have stayed in T1 and used my golden United Club pass to while away the layover time. There were no clubs in T2 and all the restaurants were located beyond security--where I couldn't go, without a boarding pass that I wouldn't be issued for 4 hours. D'oh!

Not one to give up, I made my way back to T1, where there was a single restaurant in the pre-security zone. 

Ahh, the savory reward of perseverance. 

With the passenger overload on Iceland Air from Delta's cancelled flight, I wound up in Business Class: it was a nice surprise/recompense for the frustration. It wasn't as luxurious as business class on U.S. airlines (I was served a microwaved ham & cheese baguette), but the extra wiggle room was appreciated!

If you look close, my plane bears the name of the famed 2010 volcano. 
Phonetically, in English, approximately: 
AY-uh few-at-luh you-coo
Foneticamente em português:
Ê-ó fio-at-lá eu-quel
(I spent 40 minutes on a bus ride working that out. You're welcome.)

With the flight delays, my accommodations were all shaken up. Not a big deal, but I had to cancel the swanky hotel night at the Blue Lagoon because I added a day to the end of the trip--shifting everything--and they couldn't accommodate the change. 

Arriving too early to check in to the hostel, and tired, I winged it at the airport and bumped my Blue Lagoon visit to NOW. (Why Not?) 

They have the organization down to a science. You can check luggage at the first "room" off the bus. You pay for your package at the reception area just down the path. You get a fuzzy robe, slippers, a locker key, and head the to changing rooms. There are showers with everything you need: shampoo, conditioner, soap. Extra towels. Out the other end is the main lagoon. 

Honestly, no filters or enhancements on these photos. This is the real deal. Beautiful black lava rock against a murky-white, powder-blue lagoon. Spectacular.

Glorious. Even on a grey day, utterly surreal. 

Dive in. 


Have a smoothie and a mud mask. 

Ahhhh. I'd do it again. 
Sure it's touristy. The locals have secret places every bit as lovely that they enjoy--and good for them. But this is a tourist trap worth visiting. 
Still, I was glad I'd cancelled the swanky hotel because a few hours is plenty: an overnight stay would have been overkill.

I took an afternoon bus into town. (There's only one town in Iceland, when you get down to it.) 

The Loft Hostel is great. Well located, well staffed, clean, and fun. Great bar on the top (4th) floor--though the the locals boast about the hostel bar's "spectacular" views which leaves me entirely puzzled. I get that 4th floor in Reykjavík equates to 60th floor in Chicago... yet it doesn't, you know? Not much of an awe-inspiring panorama.

Nevertheless, I'd found a happy home for my celebratory week. Vamo lá gente!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Open Party! I'm Tired For Sleeping.

The Portuguese seem to be afflicted with the same English language obsession that the Brazilians are. Though I had the sense that they, on the whole, more commonly spoke English than the Brazilians. Why, then, did I see all these nonsensical t-shirts?

No pictures, 'cuz that would have been rude. But imagine it: a white T with centered, big block lettering: 
You know I love fun signs.

"Open Party
Free Pass May & June
I'm tired for sleeping"



"Angel loves beauty"
This one had a roll of Warhol-esque sunglasses underneath.... you know, the kind that are black in front and neon colors on the sides, like the ones that they sell at gas stations? These, from the 80s. Peculiar. 


This this one, for example: a little tiny azulejo on the side of a courthouse for "suspended sentences." How delightfully discreet.

I'm curious about you too! People coming and going, everywhere, for myriad motives. 

(Welcome mat courtesy of a boutique hotel in central Lisbon.)

If you insist, who am I to refuse?

No coffee served, to my dismay. But the store is convenient... I'll give it that.

"Baby Up & Down with me?" Ermm, sounds scandalous. But, this sounds like a proposition Ivan wouldn't pass up. Why Not

[Many people adhere to the adage "What would Jesus do?"  To those, I mean no disrespect, but I'd rather live by the adage, "What would Ivan do?"]

Where to even begin? 

Consider hiring a proofreader before printing the wares.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fado: the naked darkness of a nation

The Portuguese have a tendency to be melancholic. It seems to be an inherited (and ages-old) condition, and the country does indeed have a long and complicated history. 
Winning and losing. 
And isn't it always the losses that stay with us?

Listen to this. Really. Do it. It's fecking beautiful. Raw. Emotional. Powerful. At minute 3 it really grabs you. (If not, check your pulse.) 

This is Fado. It is suffering and longing and heartbreak, and the Portuguese have it in spades. Enough to have dominion of a musical genre by its name. The singer is Carminho, a modern day Portuguese heroine (in both senses). The song is "Escrevi teu nome no vento," or "I wrote your name in the wind."

Interestingly, Fado in Irish Gaelic means something along the lines of "Once upon a time..."

There is indeed a sensation of a Lost Fairy Tale, I felt, in charming Lisboa and the surrounding region. 

One evening, while dining, I watched some parliamentary proceedings on the television. The gist of it: "We got screwed. What should we have done? What can we do now?"

A succinct (though biased) explanation of a complex economic problem is that the Portuguese were told not to compete with Italy and Spain for exportation of olive oil, oranges, other agricultural goods. Whatever the root, Portugal has been reduced, it seems, to a tourism-based economy. What a juxtaposition for a nation that once held such global dominance... a nation of heros that "discovered" many of the nations we call ours today. 

But enough of the tears already. After 10 min out on a Friday night I wanted nothing less than to hear Fado.

And there was plenty of funny to be had.... (next post)


Saturday, November 30, 2013

The sea, outside

It was truly delightful to go to the sea today-- a sunny, mid-50s November 30th.

The round trip train to Cascais cost something like $6 round trip and took about 30 minutes each way. That's quite a fair price for a little diversion that offers some stunning coastal views along the way, not to mention a bit of fairy tale architecture.

Cascais and neighboring Estoril are very touristy. Even still I recommend a visit. I went for the ride, some fresh seafood, and a stroll along the sea in the sun. (Ask and you shall receive.) And I'd do it again.

I found a nice crafts market to browse, and supported local artists by picking up a few gifts.

Also found: the smallest church I've ever seen.

At O Poeta, I ordered the polvo (octopus). I ordered it in Foz up north, too. There, it had been served boiled, then chilled, sliced, and floating in a dish of olive oil and garlic, with pickled veggies for garnish. That was goooood. Today, however, I was a little taken aback when a whole octopus arrived, warm, atop a bed of boiled potatoes and spinach.

Hmmm. It wasn't bad. It was just, perhaps, a little to close to the "before," and I prefer my food to stay closer to "after." At least in terms of disfiguring, though not necessarily in regard to heating. (As I said, my relationship with seafood is complicated.) I ate half of it anyway, but that was plenty. I mean.... a whole octopus!

But as the light faded a bit it was time to head back and get ready for my morning flight.
Tomorrow, December 1, Chicago, 32 F--maybe!

Who cares? I am in love.

I strongly suspect I'll be back in Lisbon... maybe it's my next "Leap!"