Tag Archives: Iceland

Travel theme: Grey

The last couple of days, I’ve been putting together the paperback version of my short story collection Oregon Elsewise, and when the “Travel theme: Grey” post popped into my inbox, I figured I had to participate again. Here’s the pic of the Oregon coast I used for the cover:

The Oregon Coast
Cannon Beach from above, Oregon

A few more greys for good measure:

Weil der Stadt
Weil der Stadt, Germany

Reykjavik Iceland
Reykjavik, Iceland

Gothafoss, Iceland
Gothafoss, Iceland

On the joys of brainstorming and traveling

In the last few weeks, I’ve made very little progress on my fiction. As those of you who have been keeping up with my blog know, I was in Iceland for almost a week, and in the US traveling and visiting family for over two weeks. When I left, I’d been thinking I might be able to find time in the evenings to write, but that didn’t happen often. During our trip, I got a whopping 1100 new words written on A Wasted Land. Most of what I was writing consisted of travel reports about our Iceland trip. (If you haven’t read those those yet and are curious, the first one is here.)

I don’t feel too guilty, though. Other people take vacations; I figure writers can too. Besides, I was filling the well. I’m sure I will write something set in Iceland someday. I love to travel, and I have often used the cool places I’ve been as settings in my short stories and novels. (Egypt, Ireland, Venice, France, Cambodia, Taiwan, to name just a few …)

Since we got back, I’ve only gotten another 500 words written of Kustennin’s story, but I’ve also been brainstorming the next book in the Glassmakers Trilogy. The reason for switching projects was my niece. She was my first reader for Island of Glass, and she loved it. We were talking about it off and on while I was visiting, so those characters and that storyline were more present in my creative brain when I returned to Germany. For the most part, I’m a fairly disciplined writer, and I usually finish what I start. At the same time, however, I do believe in following where the muse leads, as long as she isn’t dragging me down completely useless and uncharted paths. And since brainstorming the rest of the novellas for the Glassmakers Series is on my shortlist of things to do, I gave her leave, sat down with plain old paper notebook and pen, and got started.

And my, has it been fun!

To be perfectly honest, I usually love the brainstorming phase of writing. At that point, when ideas are flowing and the actual writing of the thing hasn’t yet forced me to face my own limitations, the story feels like it can be anything. Pieces start falling into place, and I have one epiphany after the next. Oh, yes, that will be perfect! Of course, that’s how I have to do it! Because at this point, before I start trying to write the scenes, descending from the big picture to the nitty-gritty, I haven’t yet discovered the gaping plot holes my runaway imagination has left out; I haven’t had to find yet another interesting way of decorating a setting to keep the damn thing from suffering from white room syndrome; I haven’t yet discovered that my characters are going to be a bit stubborn about the brilliant plot I have in mind for them; and it hasn’t even occurred to me yet how many others have already come up with the same ideas I had.

The story is still a big, shiny ball of Potential.

What got this particular ball rolling so nicely was one of the things my niece suggested. Island of Glass uses several of the motifs of Cinderella: for example, Chiara, a glassmaker of Murano, makes a pair of glass slippers to give to a Prince of Venice. My niece suggested that with the other books, rather than sticking with the Cinderella theme, I use different fairy tales for each installment. So I started listing a bunch of fairy tales on one page and what I was thinking should happen in the next novella on the other. Pretty soon, I had fixed on Snow White as the underlying fairy tale for Facets of Glass, which started giving me all kinds of details I had not yet come up with. When I realized that the climax would have to be the destruction of the magic looking glass, then I also had the title for the third book in the series, Shards of Glass. And so on and so on …

On a more mundane note, I have also been harvesting. When we left, we had a grand total of ONE tomato from our garden, that’s how bad the weather was in May and June. This is what our tomatoes looked like when we got back:

The garden greets us

And this is what we harvested:

Harvest

I still need to make a big pot of tomato sauce to freeze, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

To end on a writing note, what phase of writing do you like best?

Iceland, Days 5 & 6: From Glaumbaer to Gunnuhver

Day 5: Ringroad back to Reykjavik and Glaumbaer

After the late night the day before, we got off to a slow start on our last full day in Iceland. Our first stop was the turf houses at Glaumbaer, an open air museum consisting of some traditional Icelandic buildings which were once a farm. Wood was scarce in Iceland, and in historical times, the most common construction method was to make the walls out of turf. Only the fronts, the windows, and interior details were of wood.

Glaumbaer, Iceland

Also in Glaumbaer is a monument to Snorri, the first European born in America. Those Icelandic adventurers might have made it to North America, but they didn’t stay, and Snorri was supposedly buried in the Glaumbaer churchyard. You can see more pictures of Glaumbaer here.

We only had time for one more stop that day, another falls by the name of Kolugljufur. The falls are off the beaten track, in a picturesque gorge a few kilometers away from the ring road on a single lane road which is mostly gravel. But it was worth the trip, a very pretty site, few people. Of the guidebooks we had along, only Lonely Planet mentioned it, and that only in passing. We found out about it googling what to see while driving along the ring road.

Kolugljufur, Iceland

More pictures of Kolugljufur are here.

When we got to Reykjavik, we managed to get lost again, and arrived at our vacation rental late. Unfortunately, I couldn’t call again while trying to navigate — signs in Iceland are kept to a minimum and don’t give you a lot of advance warning. We basically had to slow down coming up to every intersection so that we could read the road signs and see if it was the street we needed. More than once, we passed a street we wanted and had to backtrack.

That was about the only complaint we had about Iceland, though. The people are friendly, the food is great, the sights are stunning, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be back.

The last night in Reykjavik, we went to a somewhat fancier fish restaurant downtown, and I had a whole plate full of lobster tails.

Lobster in Iceland

They are somewhat smaller than the lobster we are used to in North America, more like oversized scampi, but it appears lobster in Iceland is a kind called Norway Lobster, and while it didn’t look quite like I expected, it certainly tasted right.

Day 6: Gunnuhver Hot Springs

On our last day in Iceland, we had originally intended to go to the Blue Lagoon and hang out there until we had to get to the airport. But since we had done the sulfur pool in the north already, we opted for more sight-seeing instead, and head for another geothermal area near Grindavik. It was a great choice. I was surprised how few people were there, given how close it was to Reykjavik and the airport.

Gunnuhver Hot Springs

More pictures of Gunnuhver are here.

And now I am about ready to fly back to Germany, and I have just barely finished my report on Iceland. Oh, well, there wasn’t a lot of spare time on this trip. As fun as it was, I’m looking forward to getting back into a normal routine — and writing again!

Iceland, Day 4: Dettifoss and Whale Watching

Our first goal of the day was some falls east of Lake Myvatn, Dettifoss and Sellfoss. On our way there, though, we noticed a tour bus turning in at a little side road. When we saw the brown sign, we decided to follow it. We ended up at some springs in caves below a rift, Gjrotagja. The hot springs in the caves were a popular bathing site until some eruptions at nearby Krafla raised the temperatures too hot for comfort. The waters have cooled down again now, but bathing is still no longer allowed.

Grjotogja, Iceland

Grjotogja, Iceland

Next, we went to Sellfoss and Dettifoss, an impressive site with two major falls. First we hiked to Sellfoss, the upper falls.

Sellfoss, Iceland

Then we hiked to the lower falls, Dettifoss. It was an incredible sight, hard to capture in a photograph. The sound of the thundering waters made conversation difficult. I’m just glad the rainbows created by the mists came through so well in the pictures.

Detttfoss, Iceland

Detttfoss, Iceland

After visiting the falls, we drove up to Husavik, where we hoped to take in a whale watching tour. We booked one for 6 pm and set off to find dinner before the tour started. Lonely Planet came through for us, recommending a funky restaurant in a tent behind the booths for the whale watching tours, Pallurinn. We had fish and lamb sandwiches, and the food did not disappoint. Fast and fresh, with a bit of a far east flair to the spices, and we were easily in and out in time to get to our whale watching tour.

Husavik, Iceland

The tour itself was great fun. I wasn’t very successful in the picture-taking department, but we saw dozens of whales, as well as several pods of playful dolphins and quite a few puffins (which the little kids on the tour with us were particularly thrilled about). At one point, a whale even surfaced right next to our boat, which was a thrill.

Whale watching in Iceland

You can see more pictures of the the whale watching here.

We didn’t get back to our vacation rental until close to 11 pm that night — in near daylight.

Iceland, Day 3: Gothafoss and Myvatn National Park

The reason we chose to stay in Akureyri was how close it was to several impressive waterfalls as well as to Myvatn National Park, sites we picked as particularly interesting after a little research into the sights of Iceland. It would have been nice to stay closer to the park, but online at least there wasn’t anything left to be had when I finally got around to booking our stay. Chris ended up doing a lot of driving back and forth, but at least it was never night.

Our first destination from Akureyri was Gothafoss (which is actually spelled with the a “th” symbol, but I’m too lazy to type in the html code every time I need it, so I’ll just spell it out). The falls were everything the guidebooks promised. Several kilometers before we got there, we could see the mist rising from what looked like a flat plain. Here are a couple of pictures:

Gothafoss, Iceland

Gothafoss, Iceland

(There are more on my Flickr page.)

From Gothafoss, we continued on to Myvatn National Park, an ideal site to become acquainted with Iceland’s fascinating geological activity. Our first stop was on the south end of Myvatn Lake, at the so-called pseudo craters, formed by rivers of lava flowing across wet ground:

Myvatn, Iceland

Coming around the corner of the lake, there is an interesting site with lava formations right on the edge of the lake:

Myvatn, Iceland

Just a few kilometers north of that is Dimmuborgir, a fascinating lava field full of bizarre formations, with a number of different possible hikes taking you through the lava fields. Not far away is also a crater, and when Chris sees a mountain, he wants to climb it. So we split up, and I hiked through the lava formations, while Chris headed off for the crater. The big attraction of the hike I went on was the so-called “Kirkja” or church:

Myvatn, Iceland

Here’s a sampling of what Chris saw on his hike to the top of the crater:

Myvatn, Iceland

Myvatn, Iceland

Towards the end of my hike, I started noticing some interesting symbols in the dust at my feet. After a bit, I caught up with a family I suspect was Icelandic, with a girl of about eight, who was drawing things in the path with a stick. As I passed them, I told the mother in English, “I’ve been enjoying her art for a while now.” The mother appears to have translated my comment for her daughter, because from that point onward, the little girl kept dashing ahead of me, drawing more symbols in the dust, and then dashing back to her family.

After Dimmuborgir, we stopped for lunch at the Cowshed Cafe, recommended both by Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor, and it did not disappoint. I had an amazing smoked lamb salad, I think the only time on Iceland when I didn’t eat fish:

Myvatn, Iceland

After lunch, we headed east away from the lake for the mud pots, a stinking mess of geothermal activity. I can’t remember offhand when the last time was that I was in Yellowstone, but I certainly haven’t seen anything like it since.

Myvatn, Iceland

From the mud pots, we went to Krafla and the Viti crater, with its nearby power station:

Myvatn, Iceland

That was an incredibly long day, so before heading “home” to Akureyri and our vacation rental, we hit the northern version of the blue lagoon, the Myvatn Nature Baths:

Myvatn, Iceland

Soaking in those warm, blue sulfur waters was the perfect end to a long day.

Unfortunately, the drive home was less fun, through a lot of fog at the top of the hills, combined with driving into the sun. Still, it was a great day.

Iceland, Day 2: Reykjavik to Akureyri

On our second day in Iceland, we took the Ring Road (Route 1) north to Akureyri. Our first detour was along the fjord Hvalfjörthur rather than taking the tunnel. We saw a number of lovely waterfalls, and many, many sheep (which I failed to photograph).

Iceland

Iceland

Iceland

We also stopped in Borgarnes, following a recommendation in Lonely Planet, but we weren’t impressed. It’s one of the few times, however, that Lonely Planet has led us astray.

Our next stop was Grabrok, a crater next to the Ring Road that none of our travel guides bothered to mention in any detail. In fact, Lonely Planet was the only one that mentioned it at all, and that only in passing. If it hadn’t been right on the Ring Road, we would have missed it completely. So it probably wasn’t surprising that we only heard Icelandic (or perhaps other Scandinavian languages) while we were hiking among the lava fields.

Iceland

Iceland

By that time, it was getting fairly late in the afternoon, and we still had over 250 kilometers to Akureyri, which would be our home base for the next three days. In order to get there in time to still get some dinner, we drove mostly straight through, only stopping briefly at a few scenic points.

Akureyri is the second biggest city in Iceland outside of the greater Reykjavik area, with a whopping total population of 17,000. But while Reykjavik had been pretty cool while we were there, Akureyri was sunny and warm, over 20 C at our evening arrival (around 70 F) — and that not far from the arctic circle. There has to be some funky, mild weather pattern at sway there, and not just a fluke warm spell; the town struck me as amazingly verdant. We saw a lot more flowers in Akureyri than we had in Reykjavik, even roses!

Akureyri, Iceland

We walked through the botanical gardens near our vacation rental, past another imposing church, and through another old part of town. Soon we started looking at more menus, finally settling on Icelandic sushi, a creative interpretation of Japanese cuisine, with tempura lobster, variations on crab, and a lobster soup for starter. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the food that time, but I do have pictures of the town:

Akureyri, Iceland

Akureyri, Iceland

And here’s a picture of wild growing monster rhubarb for my dad *g*:

Akureyri, Iceland

Iceland, Day 1: Stuttgart to Frankfurt to Reykjavik

I promised to blog about our trip to Iceland, and now, with a week+ delay, here’s the first part of my report. The days in Iceland are very long in the summer, and we regularly didn’t even get back to our vacation rental until after 10 pm — and it was still light.

Anyway, on to our little adventure just south of the arctic circle. Chris and I normally don’t like flying out of Frankfurt, since it involves taking trains, which can be delayed and connections missed, causing all kinds of inner turmoil. That happened once when we were flying to Thailand, and we got to the check-in just as they were closing the desk.

This time, our trip to Frankfurt was complicated by extra baggage we were taking with us for my daughter and her boyfriend. But the train was on time, and everything went smoothly, despite the heavy lugging involved. There was one little adrenalin moment when the woman at the check-in told us we were only allowed one piece of luggage each. But I showed her the printout of the electronic tickets, which I had already given her and she hadn’t bothered to look at, clearly stating that we were allowed 2 pieces each. Her comment: “What, it’s not like it’s printed on your forehead.” My snarky response, (which I didn’t voice), “No, it’s printed on the tickets you didn’t even consult.”

Our flight to Reykjavik was a little late, but luckily not too much. When we came out of baggage claim, a young man from the car rental agency was there to meet us. We learned quite a bit about his life, that his folks had emigrated to the US but had recently come back and founded their little car rental agency, Green Motion (which I highly recommend to anyone considering traveling to Iceland and renting a car). He was now studying in the States but had come back for the summer to help his dad out. Our little VW Polo was waiting for us out front when we drove into the parking lot. It was an incredibly personal and friendly rental experience compared to what we’re used to from big companies.

When we got to our vacation rental for our first night in Reykjavik, our landlady was there to meet us, handed over the keys, and chatted with us a bit. We nabbed a very nice place through AirBnB, a one bedroom apartment only a couple of blocks away from the main shopping and restaurant district.

After decompressing a bit from train and plane, we were off to explore the town and find some food. We weren’t far from the big, modern pseudo-traditional church, Hallgrimskirkja. I feel like calling it a cathedral, but since it’s Scandinavian, it’s Protestant — Lutheran, to be precise.

Reykjavik

The church is right on Leif Erikson plaza, and being descended from Vikings myself, I of course couldn’t resist hamming it up a bit in front of the statue.

Reykjavik

Downtown Reykjavik is a couple of funky streets of shops and restaurants that feel like they belong to a much smaller city. The city of Reykjavik has a population of about 120,000, with about 200,000 living in the greater Reykjavik area. That’s almost two-thirds of the population of Iceland, which has a total population of about 340,000 people.

Reykjavik

I found it quite interesting how popular Reykjavik is with the backpacking crowd, given how expensive it is.

While we were wandering around the downtown area, we started looking at menus, getting hungrier by the minute. We finally ended up choosing an Icelandic fish and chips restaurant that was full to overflowing, popular with both tourists and Icelanders. I had a basket of langostinos, a very messy affair, but worth it.

Reykjavik

Still lots going on for us travel-wise, but I’ll post more about our trip when I have the time: waterfalls and mudpots and hotsprings and lava fields!