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February 16, 2019

Iceland--Day 3

   Today would be a day I didn't have to drive.  After we got up we headed downtown to board a bus to head out to Jökulsárlón (glacial river lagoon) just south of Vatnajökull National Park.  Our tour guide would teach us a fair bit about Iceland, volcanoes, glaciers, and the Icelandic language.  One of her stories was about 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull which shutdown European airspace for 5 days.  She said it was a lot of fun watching foreign news casters mess up the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull (Island Mountain Glacier) which is something like eye-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl.  The word has an ending for which there is no English sound equivalent.  I did not attempt that word, although Pokie was getting pretty good by the end of our trip.  I did pick up takk (thanks), (yes), nr (no) and bless-bless (bye-bye).
   Our first stop was at Seljalandsfoss (Seljalands falls) which was quite pretty but a fairly difficult walk.  The falls generate a fine mist and covers the path in wet ice.
The Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis

   The morning started with a walk around Grótta lighthouse on Seltjarnarnes peninsula.  The morning was partly cloudy but with patches of bright blue sky.  That didn't stop it from snowing from time to time.  The beaches of Iceland have black sand because the the island is volcanic.  After the lighthouse we did a whale exhibit and another hot spring location before heading downtown for lunch.  I continued my fish exploration and had a dish that was listed as a kind of stew but more the consistency of potato salad.  Pokie had a fish soup which was I had considered getting.  Both dishes were very good.  After that it was time for Þjóðminjasafn Íslands (National Museum of Iceland).  There I was to learn a good deal about Iceland.  Interestingly the name Iceland in Icelandic (Ísland) simply means island, and the Icelandic pronunciation of Ísland sounds like Iceland, (I heard "ice-sh-lent"). 
   After the national museum we went to Perlan (The Pearl) where we saw a show in the planetarium, and then toured their ice cave exhibit.  We were unable to get tickets to tour an actual ice cave so we settled for this.  On the roof of the Perlan we had an amazing view of Reykjavík as the sun set.  We followed up with dinner the top of Perlan which we learned was a rotating restaurant.  This time I tried a lamb dish.
   The sun was now set and the skies were clear so we decided to go back to Seltjarnarnes peninsula to see if we couldn't get a glimpse of the aurora.  The place was packed as apparently everyone else has the same idea.  We spent some time hanging out on the breakwater with no signs of activity in the sky.  Just as we were about to leave we noticed some thin clouds that just appeared to the north of us.  It was the aurora borealis.  The magnetospheric plasma was fairly dim, but it photographed pretty well.  From the naked eye it looked white but from a long exposure it was clearly green.  I have only ever seen the aurora once before in my life, and never this clear, and I wouldn't mind seeing it again.

February 14, 2019

Iceland--Day 1

   The plan for the first day was to visit as much as we could, but not until we had taken care of the basics.  I had a rental car reserved.  Keflavíkurflugvöllur (Keflavík International Airport) is about 50 km (31 miles) Reykjavík where we would be staying at a condo we reserved online.  A shuttle took us to the rental company and it was snowing.  At the rental place I quickly got the paperwork done for our vehicle, a Fiat Panda.  It claimed to be 4x4 and was listed as a van/SUV.  Any smaller and there would have been no possible way to fit 4 people in it, and while it might have been a 4 wheel drive there was no way this vehicle could get itself out of any mess with how under powered it was.  We lovingly named our wimpy chariot Fettuccine.  He was always the butt of jokes but served us well to the best of his meager abilities.  Fettuccine's first problem was that the rear passenger door wouldn't open.  The rental personal said it was probably just a frozen door.  That was not the case and the door never functioned the entire trip.  Fettuccine was a 6-speed manual, although who decided 6 gears was a good idea I can't say.  Going down the highway at 90 km/h (56 MPH) I would end in 6th gear, but approaching a hill I saw the speed dropping and thus dropped down to 5th gear.  The speed continued to drop, so I had to go to 4th gear.  Fettuccine simply didn't have the power.
   My first drive in a whole foreign land do its best to test me.  There was a good snow fall, I was completely unfamiliar with the location, roads conditions or even the signs.  Driving in metric I've done and had no trouble following speeds in kilometers per hour rather than miles.  However, I had never seen an Icelandic speed limit sign and didn't even know the Icelandic equivalent to the words speed limit.  Not to worry, however.  Icelanders simply post the speed as number on a blue sign with a red border with no additional text.  While Fettuccine was powerless he didn't handle just fine and although the drive wasn't easy I think it went rather smoothly.  We arrived in Reykjavík and made our way to the northwest side of town.
   The condo we had rented for our stay commanded a view of Faxaflói (Faxi's Bay).  When we arrived not much could be made of Akranes and Akrafjall mountain just across the bay as the cloud cover obscured them.  The view was fantastic nonetheless.  The owner of the condo explained this was his house that he stayed with his daughters when they were in town, and he rented it out the rest of the time.  It was a very nice place, larger than what I had expected.  One thing he explained to us was that in Iceland heat comes from steam that feeds radiators placed throughout the houses.  Rather than adjust steam flow to control temperature, most Icelanders simply open windows if it gets too warm.  This was clearly the norm as once he mentioned this we noticed it everywhere.  Iceland is a natural source of geothermal energy and so steam sources are readily available and cheap, and as such people clearly don't think too much about venting off unwanted heat rather than trying to control it better.
   Breakfast was on all our minds and it was my goal to eat everything while in the country.  My first breakfast was at Kaffi Loki (Café Loki), a little café just across the street from Hallgrímskirkja (church of Hallgrímur).  Since I was in Iceland I decided to try as much fish as possible, starting with breakfast.  We were in a county surrounded by ocean and some of the world's best fisheries and I figured if there was a chance of me liking fish it would be here.  My breakfast included four types of fish with rye bread.  The dried fish lack flavor of any kind but the remainder of my dish was very good.  It even had a small sample of Hákarl (fermented shark) which had an interesting flavor.
   After breakfast we visited Hallgrímskirkja, a large art deco church.  I am a big fan of art deco architecture and this strange merger of deco and Gothic revival was really interesting.  Their pipe organ was also impressive.  There was an organist playing when we went inside but he hadn't pulled any of the large stops and was mainly playing some calm pieces that didn't do much to show off the abilities of this grand interment.  Still the building and organ were a sight.
   Our next stop was Pönksafn Íslands (The Icelandic Punk Museum).  It was a converted underground public toilet run by a dude old enough to have hung with the original 70s punks and still sporting a punk moehawk.  The display reminded me of every punk house I'd been although rather more sanitary.  I followed the story of Iceland's punk history but didn't get to finish before my party wanted to move on.  They did have some samples of some Icelandic punk.  Several were two popie for my tastes (I've always been an 80s hardcore guy myself) but one song I heard was from an album titled Rokk í Reykjavík.  This is a documentary about the music scene and I might have to look into it further as I liked what I was hearing.  While I would have loved to had chatted with the proprietor everyone was getting tired. 
   Although we had grand plans to explore the entire day, none of us had the strength to do so.  We returned to our condo and all took a nap.  I couldn't even tell you how long I slept, but it was a wonderful sleep.  When we woke it was time to again find food.  This time I tried a lamb dish which is also a local special on the island.  Afterward we tried the planetarium but missed all the showings for the evening.  However, the hill had a lovely view of the city and I took the opportunity to take several shots. 
   Looking into our other options for the evening we decided to try swimming in the hot springs.  There were a couple of locations and we picked one near by.  It looked like a public pool, the water came in from hot springs.  There were several pools each at a different temperature.  Some where very shallow not much more than 30 cm (12 inches) deep and the temperatures varies from 35°C (95°F) to 45°C (118°F), and one was around 8°C (46°F).  One must rinse off before getting into the pools.  Then there is a rather brisk walk from the shower room to the pool.  I was not prepared for that and upon entering the outdoors which could not have been more than -3°C (25°F) quicken my pace to the first pool.  Soon I forgot all about the air temperature and spent a fair bit of time relaxing in 40°C (104°F) water.  At one point it began to snow, large fluffy flakes.  I leaned back and watched the snow fall, warm and content.  It was the most peculiar expense to be mostly undressed and in water during a snow storm, and I highly recommend everyone try it. 
   Feeling I had to represent Wisconsin and decided to attempt the 8°C pool.  After all, I too have a fair amount of Nordic blood in my veins.  There were a couple of Icelanders soaking in the water.  I got in far enough to get my chest under water, but only lasted several seconds before I had to get out.  It was an interesting experience.  Even though the air temperature was around -3°C it felt warm not to be in the water, and shortly after getting our I had a tingeing sensation not all together unpleasant.  Getting back into warm water was a very nice feeling, and I would repeat this a couple more times.  Alas, I never did last more than about 10 or 20 seconds in the cold water.  But I think with some practice I could bring myself to take such cold for longer.
   The finial part of my soaking was in the 45°C pool.  It was so warm I would have to take short breaks by standing up, but the temperature was wonderful.  There I talked to a local man who worked at the University about cycling.  He talked about how they could cycle the entire island, all +1330 km (820 miles) of it in just over 40 hours.  At my best I cycled 860 miles and that took me a month.  Clearly, this guy was pretty hardcore.  He told me about some things to consider when cycling in Iceland and warned me against the other drivers.  I had heard a couple of people complain about Asian drivers and thought it just an extension of the common stereotype, but this man explained why Asian drivers in particular have such a bad driving reputation in Iceland.  Apparently, one needs only to apply and taken a written test to be granted a drivers license in Iceland, even if they have never driven a car before.  Clearly, that would make from some poor drivers.  Such applicants are most often form Asian countries thus giving them a bad image to the locals.  I tried to be extra mindful of my own driver thereafter.  Iceland is home to Icelanders, where I am just a visitor. 
   After our hot springs experience it was time to return to the condo where the reminder of the night was spent boasting on the Internet of where we were and what we had done thus far.  What a wonderful country this is, and what a fantastic trip so far.
   For some months, Pokie, Zach, Erin and myself have been planning a trip to Iceland.  It all started when Zach pointed out how cheap round trip tickets to Iceland where and said it would make a good 4-day weekend trip.  In the weeks to come we hammered out the details.  This afternoon we started the trip.  It would be a long night.  We departed at 1:00pm for O'Hare in the Posh Cranberry (Pokie's van).  Despite arriving around rush hour in Chicago we made good time through the city as O'Hare isn't too far into the city.  Parking, a shuttle to the international terminal, and the lines began. 
   This was my first international flight, and my first time out of North America.  I expected the lines to be worse, but they were not that bad.  We were through security and had plenty of time to burn before our flight departed.  It's always a good thing to have plenty of time before a flight.  We boarded the plane just before 6:00 pm.  It was a 737 MAX, a fairly new 737 jet with better than 3,200 mile range.  Most of my flights have been on 737 aircraft, but none on a jet so new—nor a ride so long.  All of my previous flights lasted a couple hours at most.  This flight would be 6 hours.  I took the center seat and thought maybe I would be able to get some sleep or work on my laptop.  Neither happened.  While I tried to sleep, sleep never came.  And the projects I had placed on my laptop would not run.  So it was a rather unproductive flight.
   During the flight I tried to track our progress with my phone, but it failed to get a GPS signal for most of the trip.  Eventually we were descending and soon I stepped off the plane into a foreign country not even on my continent.  I had arrived in Iceland.  There was a lengthy walk to get form our terminal to customs.  There I got my first passport stamp.  I have had my passport with 2012 and have traveled with it into a foreign country 3 times.  However, Canada does not your stamp passports—at least nor American's passports who drive across the border.  So my passport had been empty until now. 
   While I had been to Canada which is a foreign county, this would mark the first time I had been to a place where English was not the primary language.  All the signs in the airport with in Icelandic first with English subs.  I was looking forward to truly being in a foreign county.
David Blowie Thaws

David Blowie Thaws

   We got a decent amount of snow over the evening and I worked from home to avoid having to drive.  In the morning I went outside to clear the walks—a task David Blowie always seems happy to help with.  After a prime and a pull of the start string Blowie seemed ready to go, but as soon as I engaged the clutch for the auger the engine stalled.  I tried again and quickly found that the auger must be jammed and the motor unable to overcome the obstetrical.
   The last week has been a mix of snow and ice and I thought maybe the auger had frozen up.  That is actually the easiest fix and I didn't feel like digging further right then.  So I took Blowie to the basement to let him warm up.  Around noon I had a puddle on the floor and a thawed snow thrower.  Zach helped me bring the device back into the garage and now was the moment of truth.  After a quick start I slowly engaged the auger clutch.  To my delight it began to spin freely.  David made quick work of the walks and drive.  I like simple fixes.
   Pluvius has rebuilt the Black Dragon.  On my list of things to do is boot the machine and see what is presently on it—I have no idea.  Pluvius managed to find a motherboard that had PCI slots which allowed the use of the old PATA controllers used for the several hard drives in the device.  The Black Dragon has not booted in several years.
   This is my passenger-side mirror, freshly repaired.  In the deep cold of last week I bumped it and it broke off.  This weekend I used some two-part epoxy to repair it.  I'm not sure if the repairs will hold, but I figured I may was well try it.  This mirror is fairly new.  Its predecessor was destroyed by a buffalo last summer.
   A week or two ago our garbage disposal stopped working.  Around a year ago we thought it had died after someone placed bones in it.  It made an awful grinding noise for a couple weeks, but then stopped.  Since then we have been waiting for it to die.  So when power was applied and nothing happened we figure that is what happened.  I wanted a more powerful garbage disposal anyway because we throw everything down it.  It came the other day and Xiphos installed it today.  Turns out our old disposal had not died.  The natural wire had come off near the switch.  It was good we had a look at this setup anyway.  The old garbage disposal had a fake ground.  Someone connected the ground to a water pipe--sort of.  There is no ground wire on that path but we now have a GFCI on the circuit.  So the ground can safely be ignored.  One day the kitchen will be redone and rewiring is on the list.