Category Archives: travel

Random Icelandic Leftovers

You may remember we went to Iceland last spring. Since then, I keep running across some random articles about the county and it’s people that I find interesting. Ready?

Huldufólk
Though we never saw them, we are still fascinated by the Huldufólk — the Icelandic Hidden People (aka: elves).

The term huldufólk was taken as a synonym of álfar (elves) in 19th century Icelandic folklore…huldufólk originates as a euphemism to avoid calling the álfar by their real name. There is, however, some evidence, that the two terms have come to be taken as referring to two distinct sets of supernatural beings in contemporary Iceland…”different beliefs could have lived side by side in multicultural settlement Iceland before they gradually blended into the latter-day Icelandic álfar and huldufólk…The Norse settlers had the álfar, the Irish slaves had the hill fairies or the Good People. Over time, they became two different beings, but really they are two different sets of folklore that mean the same thing.”

Many (most?) Icelanders not only believe in these elves, but they won’t make any big construction decisions without considering the ramifications on the homes of the huldufólk.

In 1982, 150 Icelanders went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets and AWACS reconnaissance planes.” In 2004, Alcoa had to have a government expert certify that their chosen building site was free of archaeological sites, including ones related to huldufólk folklore, before they could build an aluminum smelter in Iceland. In 2011, elves/huldufólk were believed by some to be responsible for an incident in Bolungarvík where rocks rained down on residential streets.

Just a few months ago, this happened

[Member of Parliament] Árni Johnsen arranged for the relocation of a 30-ton boulder, which he believes is home to three generations of elves…Árni first encountered the elves’ dwelling when he was in a serious car accident in January 2010. His car overturned and landed beside the boulder 40 meters away from the highway…His SUV was damaged beyond repair but Árni escaped the accident unharmed. He considered whether the boulder might be a dwelling for hidden people…a specialist in the affairs of elves [investigated the boulder and] concluded that the boulder’s inhabitants were content with the move. “But they asked whether the boulder could stand on grass. I said that was no problem but asked why they wanted grass. ‘It’s because they want to have sheep’”…The specialist also said that the elves wish for the boulder’s “window side” to face the view…The boulder will be moved on the ferry Herjólfur and the elves will travel in a basket lined with sheep skin so that they can be comfortable on the journey.

Peace On Earth
Ever wondered what the most peaceful country in the world is? Given the context of this post it probably isn’t a shock that it’s Iceland! The Institute for Economics and Peace have ranked all the countries (PDF) by the most peaceful and Iceland came out on top.

Born in Iceland
Iceland’s relatively isolated population is around 300,000 people. That can cause trouble when dating as there’s a good chance your date is a cousin. So to help keep this in check, Icelanders can now check an online database to help.

A search engine called Íslendingabók (the Book of Icelanders) allows users to plug in their own name alongside that of a prospective mate, determining any familial overlap. The site claims to track 1,200 years of genealogical information about the island’s inhabitants. Anyone with an Icelandic ID number — that is, citizens and legal residents — is accounted for.

So what happens when the local population has a child? Well, the first name must be approved by a committee. Luckily there is already a list of approved names (compiled list with name meanings). As for the last name, well, that’s another story.

Where I’ve travled

I can now officially update my travel log…

Countries : 17
Canada
England
France
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Kenya
Mexico
Netherlands
Puerto Rico
Spain
Thailand
Trinidad
Turkey
USA
Vatican City

US States/Territories: 38
Alabama
Alaska
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Illinois
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Mississippi
Missouri
Nebraska
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Puerto Rico
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wyoming

And you wanna know what’s ironic? I’m getting pretty good at guessing the ethnicity of Asians and Africans, however white Europeans all look the same to me.

All About Iceland

Our morning Icelandic view from the top of our hotel

Patricia and I went on a short vacation last week to none other than Iceland! Many people ask us, “Why Iceland”? My best response was, “Why not”? But now I’d have to say, “Because it is a very fascinating place”!

This island is one of the most geothermic active places in the world with multiple volcanoes, geysers, and even a tectonic plate rip! (More on that in a moment). We even get the English word ‘geyser’ from the Icelandic Geyser named Geyser! The temperatures are mild for the latitude because the Gulf Stream brings warmer air onto the island. While we were there, we had perfect weather! It stayed in the 40′s and was clear or partly cloudy the entire time (this week it’s raining all week). And on top of all this, everyone is nice and speaks English!

We were told by some locals that though children learn Icelandic as their first language, English is taught as their second language starting in Grade 1. They also learn a couple more languages later in their education (I want to say those languages are Danish and Swedish, but I can’t confirm).

Iceland was settled by the Vikings in the 900′s BCE – quite a young settlement. It’s believed that it was Ingólfr Arnarson in the late 800′s who first settled in Iceland. The country didn’t become a Republic until the 1940′s. In fact, the ’40′s was a bit crazy for the country. Iceland was part of the Danish Empire and, just like Denmark, declared neutrality during WWII. In 1940 Germany occupied the country, then the British ran the Germans out, and a year later the US occupied Iceland. During this time an army airport was built in Keflavik but was later converted into the largest International airport of Iceland. In 1944, Icelanders voted to become free from Denmark. The US left in ’46, the Marshall Plan helped rebuild Iceland, and in ’49 they joined NATO.

Older homes still have chimneys but they are not in use anymore. The entire island has tapped into the natural geothermic energy for suitable and inexpensive heating. In fact, it’s my understanding that the term “reyk” means ‘steam’. At one time you could travel all along the area and find steam randomly coming out of the ground. You can still find these spots on the island, but in the civilized regions the steam has been harvested.

It’s so barren that the only native land mammal is the Arctic Fox (which we never saw).  When the Vikings got there they cut down most of the island’s trees for fire and building homes and boats. Only recently has the country seen a re-forestation project. Iceland is sometimes considered part of Scandinavia, but I suppose more properly is that it’s part of the “Nordic Countries“.

Reykjavík, Iceland's Capital and Largest City

We stayed in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, where more than half of the country’s residents live. It’s a beautiful city that has a mix of European-like downtown navigation with a bit of a North American sprawl. We both felt very comfortable in both settings.

The only US restaurant influence we spotted was Subway (a couple of times), and a KFC/Taco Bell. McDonald’s left several years ago and Starbucks never tried. And all of that was fine by us. We’d rather eat local anyway.

…And that brings me to what might prove to be the more controversial part of our trip…

Our controversial appetizer of Minke Whale, Puffin, and Shag

For our first dinner in Iceland, we decided to taste some real local flare. We ordered an appetizer of Minke Whale, Puffin, and Shag. They all tasted…well…fine. And yes, I’ve seen Whale Wars and know how evil we are now, but I rationalized it by the fact they were already dead so might as well eat’em! However curious we were about the tastes, we won’t do it again. And yes we know by ordering it we are perpetuating the cycle of killing more etc blah blah. We get it. Please just move along. What we really enjoyed eating for most of our stay was fresh Atlantic Salmon, Arctic Char (huge fan!), and Lamb.

Our trip to Iceland was tightly integrated with Reykjavík Excursions, a company that has been offering professional and educational airport shuttles and tours for almost 25 years. We highly recommend them!

Our first trek took us to the most fascinating place I’ve ever been to! The place is called Þingvellir National Park (‘Thingvellir’). This is the site for the original Icelandic Tribal Assembly (930-1271) and a geo-significant place.

A church rests in the tectonic rift at Thingvellir

When the snow-covered volcano pictured above erupted many years ago the underground magma created a hole. That hole was filled by both glacier melt and natural springs forming Lake Þingvallavatn. It’s from the vantage point of the overlook where you can see both the Lake and Rift in one view.

Thingvellir's Lake and Rift

Every year, the rift grows by a centimeter or two. This is the place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. These two plates are ripping apart creating chasms and rifts. To stand in such an active geo-active place is simply amazing and fascinating!

Natural, thermal steam warming the springs

Not far from Thingvellir are some natural hot springs channeled into man-made pools for easier enjoyment (baiting suits required so no photos necessary).

Perhaps it’s time to take a break from the trip and talk about the Icelandic lettering. You know how both Shakespeare and King James writing are English but difficult for the modern reader? Iceland does not suffer from that problem. The language is the closest modern language to ‘ye-olde’ Viking. In fact, the character Þ pronounced ‘thorn’ is prominent in Iceland. It’s pronounced as ‘thorn‘ and replaces the ‘th’ sound in English. Because modern Icelandic language has changed little from it’s origins, medieval texts are read by grade-school students. Check out this short video about the origin of ‘Ye Olde’ shops. Also listen to how difficult (IMHO) the language is.

Flat mountain tops

Have you noticed how flat many of the mountains are? There are two possible reasons for this: glaciers cut the top off of the mountains and/or glaciers were in place when the mountains tried to form but the glaciers kept them from growing too high.

Our next trek took us out looking for whales. First we found Puffins.

Hundreds of Puffins
Lots of Puffins
They told us just days ago there were no puffins. We were fortunate.
White-beaked Dolphins
It was difficult to capture on camera the Minke Whale we chased.
We were content with the weather in Iceland

During our Whale Watching tour, we found Puffins, White-beaked dolphins, Harbor Porpoise, and Minke Whale.

The Southern Shores of Iceland did not disappoint.

Eyjafjallajökull was the volcano that caused European chaos in 2010.
Mýrdalsjökull glacier, one of the 4 largest glaciers in Iceland
Me standing on Mýrdalsjökull glacier
Black Sand Beach in South Iceland due to volcanos
Another view of the black sand beach in south Iceland
Rock formations on the black sand beach of south Iceland
The proportions of the south Icelandic black beach are beyond comprehension

Quick recap – we took a tour to the south of Iceland where we were at the foot of a few active volcanoes such as Eyjafjallajökull which erupted in 2010 causing all sorts of chaos in Europe (but not so much in Iceland!), the Mýrdalsjökull glacier that looks dirty because of volcanic ash, and the black sand beach of Vik.

On the way back from Vik we stopped at two huge waterfalls.

Huge Iceland Waterfall
Iceland is one of the few places in the world you don't have to worry about the water quality!
These falls are fed by natural springs
Patricia went behind these falls
The falls are everywhere

Finally our trip ended with a brief stop at the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.

The Blue Lagoon
Another view of the Blue Lagoon

Surrounding it for miles are lava fields which were amazing to see.

Lava Rock surround the path to the Blue Lagoon

Lava rock as far as the eye can see covered in a brown moss. But the Blue Lagoon was quite a nice treat before our flight out.

I don’t know if I need to comment that it was a great vacation for us! Iceland is an amazing place. Geographically speaking, we were in Europe. Geothermically speaking, we were on both the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. We came face-to-face with active volcanoes, glaciers, and aquatic life. We ate like we’ve never eaten before. I think it’ll be impossible to forget our trip to this Viking land called Iceland.

Our trip to the Florida Keys

I’ve had a running list for a long time of things I want to do I call “local to me” before I move to another place.  One that has been lingering for almost 10 years of living here was finally accomplished last week when Patricia and I took off for the Florida Keys.

We needed the trip. I needed a reboot. It’s been a tough, crazy, stressful bit of time lately and we just needed to get away. So we found a cheap hotel in the Keys and went for it (we booked it on Hotwire so didn’t know the reviews were so bad – it was about as reviewed!).

map-keys

The “Upper Keys” start with Key Largo and they are about 300 miles from our house. The “Lower Keys” end with Key West and it’s about 400 miles from here. So even though they are close, they aren’t a day trip there and back. We decided to stay in the “Upper Keys” in Islamorada for 2 nights so our drive there wasn’t too bad and that gave us a full day trip to Key West and back.

I have some observations and highlights for you.

OBSERVATIONS

The Florida Keys are awesome, but it depends on what you want to do. If you’re big into fishing and diving, it may be the best in the country. But it’s a long way to go for beautiful beaches and drives. Central Florida offers great alternatives: the causeways and bridges in Tampa are just as beautiful, the beaches in the Sarasota area (like Siesta Key) are perhaps even better than the Keys, and the Cape Canaveral National Seashore offers similar and closer land and marsh.

The Keys offer isolation and that can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for.

Going down we took I-95 all the way to the end then merged onto US-1 the rest of the way. Although it’s not that far from the end of 95 to the Keys (about 40 miles), there are A LOT of stop lights! Coming home we bypassed it on the Florida Turnpike! But I wouldn’t have it any other way for it makes getting to Mile 0 that much more fulfilling.

I know Key West is known for Jimmy Buffet stuff, but I barley noticed any Parrotheading.

I don’t care what the books and reviews say, the Keys are hot.

The end of US 1 at Mile 0 was kind of anti-climatic. It just ended at a regular intersection. Cool nonetheless.

HIGHLIGHTS

I had 4 goals to accomplish:

  1. Make it to Mile 0 – the end of US 1 that runs along the entire East Coast
    Mile 0 y0
  2. Have great Key Lime Pie in Key West
    Best Key Lime Meringue Pie Ever
  3. Have good Conch Fritters
    Key Largo Conch House Resturant and Coffee Shop
  4. See some Key Deer
    Key Deer Buck spotted me

Other highlights included driving over the 7-mile Bridge, miles and miles of scenery, actually petting a wild deer, and going to the southern-most point in the US (barring Hawaii).
Southernmost Point in the US

There’s more photos with a few stories from our short trip on my photo blog.

But the best highlight of all was experiencing all of this with my beautiful wife by my side.

Unusual-to-me Holiday Locations

Growing up we had our holiday routines down.  Our family was consistent.  Every Thanksgiving we drove to visit family and had lunch with one side of the family then over to another side of the family for dinner all in Rock Hill, SC or Fort Mill, SC.  We were always stuffed but it was awesome.

No lie, but one year when I was a teen, after one of my favorite Thanksgiving meals, I sat down on the couch with a full belly, leaned back and stretched.  Just as I did, the button on my pants popped off and flew into the middle of the room onto the floor.  It was just like a cartoon!

Christmas was pretty similar.  We had our own family Christmas in the morning, then drove to one side of the family for lunch then the other side for dinner.

Once Patricia and I married, all routines changed.  We now had her family in Virginia and mine in South Carolina to balance.  At first we would trade Thanksgiving and Christmas with each family.  Once we moved to Orlando, it became difficult to travel to both South Carolina and Virginia every holiday season.  So we began staying home for Thanksgiving and spend Christmas with our family – trading each year with each family. But over the years, we’ve had some unusual-to-me locations we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

In 2003 it was our turn to be with Patricia’s family for Christmas.  This year everyone decided to go to Puerto Rico instead of stay in Virginia.  So we had a hot Christmas outside of San Juan.  It was actually one of my favorite Christmases.  Everyone went swimming after opening presents.

In 2004 when we spent 3 months in British Columbia.  We had a Canadian Thanksgiving in October, but when it was time for our American Thanksgiving we went out to eat.  Just the two of us, and we couldn’t find a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  So we had some of the best salmon we’ve ever had!

In 2006 we got on a plane Christmas Eve and flew all night and all Christmas Day to Kenya for a missions conference.  Now that was an odd way to spend Christmas Day!  But I kid you not, I was asleep on the plane and all of a sudden I woke up and looked at my watch.  It was midnight – Christmas morning!  I still say that it was Santa buzzing past our plane that woke me up.

In 2007, Patricia and I stayed home for the first time on Christmas.  It was strange to be home, but it was fun.  One of our cousins came and spent Christmas with us.

This year, 2008, Patricia’s mom and step-father came down and the 4 of us spent Thanksgiving in a hotel on Treasure Island, Florida.  We found a resturant that served a fantastic traditonal Thanksgiving meal.

So what sort of unusual-to-you holidays have you spent?

Flying with Carry-on Bags

On my last couple of flights, I was able to keep everything packed in one carry-on bag.  No checking!  I like that.  But here’s the problem: now that most airlines are charging for checked bags, everyone is bringing carry-on bags!

And the trouble is that if you are one of the people boarding after many have gotten on the plane, you may have to check your carry-on anyway.  I don’t think they’ll charge, but it just stinks.  Thankfully I haven’t had to give up a carry-on to be checked.  One reason I don’t like that is because I often have things in there I want with me: books, computer, snacks, etc.

Well here’s a couple tips for you if you are flying and trying to get it all in your carry-on:

 

  1. Katherine Lee, aka the “Delta-safety-video girl” or “Deltalina” gives some tips on how to pack a small carry-on.
  2. Book a good seat.
  3. Put your bag wheels-first in the overhead. Not sideways.  I had to turn a couple other people’s bags so mine would fit.
  4. Plan to put something small under your seat. On a full flight, the overhead is for the big carry-ons.
  5. Put your coat somewhere else.
It’s just crazy how many people are tring to squeeze so much stuff into carry-on bags then spread out all of there stuff in the overhead.  Just use some common sense and common courtesy.  It’s not all that difficult to do.  I promise.

 

Virtually Stroll La Rambla

I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel Internationally. Sadly, it’s been about a year since I’ve been to another continent.

One of the first cities I was fortunate enough to travel to was Barcelona, Spain (photos). I’ve been twice and by far my favorite place in the city is this street, La Ramblas. Now, thanks to Google Maps street view, you can virtually stroll La Rambla.

Many places in Spain are now available in Google Map’s street view.

Puerto Rican Parrots – and an Iguana


Puerto Rican Parrots

These beautiful Puerto Rican Parrots are endangered but have been making a comeback (it is possible the birds we’re seeing aren’t exactly the PR Parrots but they could be a variation) CORRECTION: These are Red-masked Parakeets. They only live in Puerto Rico. Every now and then when we visit we’ll see a flock flying around. Today a group of about 7 landed close. I hate that the photos a bit blurry, but I maxed out my zoom and still had to crop tight. A couple more…


2 Puerto Rican Parrots

And there are, believe it or not, 5 parrots in this one. You may need to see the large version to find them. Can you spot the 5?


Can You Find All 5?

Also got to see a huge iguana sunning himself.


Iguana Sunning Himself