Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snaefellsnes! (God bless you)

So, on Sunday, I took a tour of the Snaefellsnes peninsula. I signed up for the day tour, but was upgraded to the luxury tour with gourmet dinner and aurora borealis on the way home! I think because I was the only one who wanted to do the day tour, and it's a small company, so they were only going to do one or the other. On the one hand, this was great - I got the fancy tour for the price of the less-fancy tour! On the other hand, it was an incredibly long day, longer than I was prepared for. I was picked up at my hotel at 9AM and didn't get back until 11:30PM. 14-and-a-half hours in a minivan with a bunch of strangers! Woo-hoo! On the website, they say the tour is 10-12 hours, so it's not like I thought I was going to be back in time for dinner or anything, but still.


Oh, wait, was I bitching about something? Aside from the grueling 14-hourishness of it, this tour was amazing. At 9AM, it was still very dark, and the streets were deserted. It felt like the middle of the night. We picked up sandwiches ("We won't stop for lunch - we have so little light," our guide said) and piled into the minivan. By the end of the day I was VERY glad I got one of the bucket seats and didn't end up crammed into the back seat. If I were a nicer person I guess I would have volunteered to switch seats with someone else, but I'm not, so I didn't!

We drove north from Reykjavik, in the dark at first. After maybe an hour and a half, we stopped at a rest stop in Borgarnes, the last "city" we'd see for the next several hours (it was a tiny supply town for the surrounding farms - maybe a few thousand people). We stopped at a couple of places to take photos of a volcanic crater (above) and the Snaefellsjokull (a glacier, behind the mountain below).


We visited a natural hot tub, where we hung out in 100+F water while freezing wind blew across the field. I am still washing the peat out of my swimsuit. While we were in the pool I tried an Icelandic delicacy called hakarl, or fermented shark. According to the wikipedia entry Anthony Bourdain called hakarl "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he had ever eaten. Tony speaks the truth! I chewed, and chewed, but I couldn't make myself swallow it, and after I'd gagged twice I spit it out and threw it away.

I attempted to wash the shark taste out of my mouth with brennivin, traditional Icelandic schnapps made with potatoes and flavored with cumin. Brennivin will never be my favorite taste (and for what it's worth it's apparently the favorite tipple of the Icelandic problem drinker) but it's a hell of a lot better than hakarl.

Snaefellsnes is gorgeous, and, in the winter at least, it feels completely deserted. We hardly saw any other cars; we passed occasional farms with Icelandic ponies or sheep roaming around outside, but didn't see any of the farmers.


It was bleak, but stunning. Our guide talked about how Icelanders traditionally have a kind of adversarial relationship with nature, and haven't always seen it as something to be preserved, but rather to be defended against. You can see where they were coming from.


Really otherworldly. Driving through a lava field while listening to Sigur Ros was pretty amazing. (Also, Icelanders talk about Sigur Ros a lot. And Bjork.) We had a great dinner (amazing fish soup, yummy lamb, and apple caramel cake) and then we saw the Aurora Borealis on the way home, huge and gorgeous. There was a new moon and the sky was completely clear. It was as many stars as I'd ever seen in my life. I was freezing cold and exhausted, but taken all in all it was a great night. I just wish I'd know how long it was going to be; I would have gotten some more sleep the night before!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Iceland, take 2

So, this past weekend I went to Reykjavik again. It was a lovely trip. I went by myself and didn't re-do any of the things I did when I went last year, except for eating lobster soup (humarsupa) at Sea Baron again.

And I saw the Northern Lights! And utterly failed to get any kind of a good photograph of them.

My best shot.

They were huge, and gorgeous. I saw them on the way home from a VERY LONG small-group day tour to the Snaefellsnes peninsula. I was completely exhausted and out of sorts but then we got out of the car and the lights were taking up what seemed like half the sky (actually they were probably about 120 degrees wide and 60 degrees high). They were moving and shimmering and streaks kept appearing and then disappearing. It was pretty damn sweet.

One of the people on the tour, a very nice French girl who worked for the tour company, was trying to explain what causes the aurora, leading to a very funny and odd conversation.

B: It's because of the... I don't know how you say the word in English... "Yawn"?

The English speakers in the car: Yawn?

B: You know? Yawn? The yoan?

Jonas, the tour guide: What, me?

B: No, no the yawn? With the charge of electricity!

English speakers: IONS!

Hah, it was the exact same word just pronounced differently, and we spent probably five minutes going back and forth like this. If she'd just spelled it, we would have gotten it much sooner. It reminded me of one time I was talking to a French-Canadian girl at the museum of science and she was trying to ask me if the monkeys were "amiable", but pronouncing it in this half-French, half-English way. I had no idea what she was talking about. One word, two languages.