Happy 60th BD to Mom!

I know it’s not nice to say people are old, or even to divulge exactly how old, but today is my mom’s 60th birthday and 1. I don’t think she’s old and 2. everyone should know it and tell her Happy Birthday!

My mom and I have scarily similar personalities (and hair, for that matter). We enjoy things the same way, worry about things the same way, shy away from spotlights the same way, and focus on our introverted passions in the same way. I think anyone who can spend a lifetime doing what they love has it all figured out–I need her to teach me that one a little better.

Mom was always the soft touch when we were in trouble, always let us spend the night with our friends or bring people over to the house, always got up early to fix us breakfast and get us off to school (even though we are equally not morning people–I truly understand this accomplishment), and took me to school when I then missed the bus anyway. I even liked being sick because she’d fix grilled cheese, tomato soup, and 7Up. I liked when I had dentist appointments because instead of rushing me back to school, we’d go have lunch at Wendy’s and read the antique ads on the tabletops. She organized great family vacations and made the awesomest Halloween costumes–usually when we only made up our minds about a day before! She even sewed us a fort made out of fabric for the trees in the backyard.

I’m sure the more important, lasting skills she and Dad taught us were reading at early ages and how to treat everyone fairly, not to mention the importance of a healthy family dinner eaten together. They were also so supportive of everything we did which built our confidence automatically. It’s strange to reflect on these things now because they sure didn’t seem like big deals to me as a kid.

Anyway, thanks, Mom, for being a great mom and have a happy birthday! We love you. Now I’m going to embarrass you with pictures from your trip in June (and thanks to Margel for taking some funny ones!).

1. Looking lovely at Cahir castle
2. Uh oh, there’s about to be a rough boat ride on the Atlantic…
3. Not looking so lovely after the boat.
4. A town called Quilty!
5. At Slea Head
6. Aww, poor 18th century American prisoner
7. At Dunbeg stone fort
8. Climbing Ballycarberry castle
9. Inishmore, Aran Islands: gray day at Dún Aonghasa
10. Not the porticullis!
11. Hanging out in Kilmalkedar Church
12. Riding the dolpin in Dingle
13. Ice cream! Killarney, amongst the hen parties

Castles and forts worth repeating

Earlier this month, David and I and our friend Kathleen trekked out to Kerry for a Skellig Michael experience. That part will be in a later post, but while we were out there along the Ring of Kerry (my third time on at least part of it!), we stayed and saw a few things in the Caherciveen area, a town on the northern part of the Iveragh Peninsula.

1. I made a wrong turn heading to Portmagee and Valentia Island, but we saw a double rainbow out there!
2-4. Ballycarberry Castle is the best ‘ruined’ castle I’ve found. Mom and Margel and I visited it in June (and I haven’t posted those pictures yet!), and it was just as abandoned and crumbly this time but the greenery had been cleared (or trampled) so it was more accessible. This time we climbed way up inside it. Most castles in this condition have been blocked for safety, but this one is explorable. David and Kathleen are in #3 and I’m in #4 testing the 16th century construction.
5-6. Cahergall stone fort is across a couple fields from the castle. Part of this has been reconstructed, and the stairs are built into the interior wall. Some tourists showed up and ripped a HUGE fart. That’s my story about this fort. “It is likely that somebody of importance lived here about 1,000 years ago,” per the sign.
7. We shared the path to the next fort with several cows.
8. Leacanabuile stone fort from the 9th or 10th century is a hill away from the first one, perhaps the mother-in-law fort? I had been to this one in June too. No farting Europeans this time.
9. David and Kathleen evaluate the menu at a pub in Caherciveen.
10. This Off Licence (liquor store or ‘offie’) is also an art gallery.
11. On the way home through Killorglin, I snapped a picture of King Puck the goat.

Iceland: Reykjavík

Our last day was spent in Reykjavík after a little silliness with the apartment I’d booked for two nights. It’s a good thing we arrived when we did because the people who came right after us didn’t have a place to go. Anyone remember the Seinfeld ‘reservation’ show? We were relocated to a different building but it was a great place and still close to the main part of the city. BTW, about 200,000 of the 320,000 people in Iceland live in this metro area! The rest of the country really is sparse in people and towns. Reykjavík is an hour behind Ireland (and therefore four hours ahead of the eastern US).

1. I liked the flexing teeth on these windows
2-4. Hallgrímskirkja church with its 5275-pipe organ. Supposedly the design approximates the country’s basalt lava flow columns (see previous post from the beach at Vík). Out front is a statue of Leif Ericson, a gift from the US upon the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament (a few posts ago, Þingvellir).
5. Near the church: a museum and statues by Einar Jónsson
6. Quite the transport bike!
7-8. We found a cute little sushi place and really enjoyed it. We haven’t found any in Ireland yet.
9. Finally a roundabout going the right direction. These trees with the red fruits were rather strange.
10. A street in the shopping area; note the place to plug in your car!
11. Not sure why the English pub only has signs for Irish beers, but David did have a couple pints somewhere around here while I took a nap.
12-14. Streets downtown. The ‘mountain’ decoration on the blue house was made with individual shiny foil pieces that rippled in the breeze. #31 was our apartment building.
15. A number of places looked a bit shabby, including this apparent daycare. I liked the parking lot of strollers buggies.
16. Sun-Craft Viking ship installlation. David admired the stainless steel construction.
17. I loved this Free Stuff sign! There were items left in the little area by the happily painted wall. Great idea, but people would leave their trash here if you found this in the States.
18. The really nice one bedroom apartment where we stayed. This was the only place that didn’t have twin beds.
19-20. View from and of Perlan, a facility with a museum, rotating restaurant, and viewing deck built around big hot water tanks.

We had an early flight the next morning and managed to return the car and get to the airport just in time. To blow the rest of our króna, we bought breakfast and snacks. A few minutes later I learned why my simply-labeled croissant was about five bucks: it was full of bacon. Blech (and then I went hungry!).

We had another whole day and night to kill in London, and to get all the way from Gatwick to Stansted, thanks to a canceled flight and the difficulty of traveling between Iceland and Ireland. We made the most of it by stopping at Tower of London, getting some good food, and having a proper (if strangely decorated) hotel. The final adventure was a Ryanair flight, which lived up to its reputation. I was able to squash my bag into the required size and had checked us in online and paid for checked luggage ahead of time and brought our printed single-sided A4 boarding passes from home (you might think this is overkill in the description but all these points are essential if you don’t want to get kicked off Ryanair). They tried to sell us scratch-off tickets during the flight and played a fanfare upon landing. The seats didn’t even have the ability to recline and there were no tray tables. But we flew for about $65 total for the two of us! It’s ok if you prepare yourself psychologically for super-steerage and don’t plan to nap during all the sales pitches.

Summary: Iceland was the most beautiful place I’ve visited. Save your pennies, put on your hiking boots, and get ye there!

Iceland day 4: no puffins

On our fourth full day in Iceland, we woke up in the southern-most town of Vík (technically Vík í Mýrdal), which only has 300 residents but is a main stop along the ring road, as much as any place outside of Reykjavik is a main stop! Vík lies just below a volcano with a glacier on top of it (not the famous one from this spring, but it’s just down the road as well) and the villagers have to practice evacuations to the church on the hill and the farmers turn off electric fences on the way out the door.

1-5. We visited the beautiful black-sand beach with the troll-legend Reynisdrangar, black basalt columns, poking out of the sea. You can see a rock arch in the distance and this whole cliff area and the islands along the shore are inhabited by sea birds, including puffins. I have been on a semi-mission to see puffins this summer and while more than half the world’s Atlantic puffin population nests here, I didn’t see any among the many birds. We were visiting right at the end of the nesting season so they may have already been out to sea until next year. I learned they shed the colorful portion of their beaks after breeding season!

We also gave a lift to two Swedish hikers. It seems everyone in Iceland is dressed in zipoff North Face pants, Patagonia shirts, and hiking boots. David has a special sympathy for people laden with camping gear and huge packs, and we managed to squeeze these women into the back seat for a few minutes.

6. The church on the hill is the only place expected to be spared when the deluge of melted glacier comes down during a volcanic eruption. The long white building was our hotel.

7-11. A short drive back toward Reykjavik yields Skógafoss, currently 5 km from the sea but these cliffs used to be at the coast a long time ago. There is a campground right in front of the falls, which I imagine makes for great white noise while sleeping!
7. We had another beautiful sunny day and it was even warm enough for shorts, though the person who took our picture managed to get her finger in it. Sigh
8. Our peanut butter sandwiches and Pringles sure were a cheap, great way to eat lunch in the most amazing picnic spot we could imagine!
9. There are a whole lot of stairs (I think I counted about 380?) up the hill on the right so you can view the top of the falls and also keep hiking out into the highlands between the glaciers. There are more falls up ahead on this route as you get higher in the landscape, but we did not take the long hike.
10. The classic rainbow picture. Legend speaks of a treasure chest in a cave behind the falls.
11. These sheep were hanging out by the fence that went along the stairs to the top

12. On our way out of the parking lot at Skógafoss, we picked up two hitchhikers from the Czech Republic. They were heading to this backup waterfall (I think it’s Seljalandsfoss) down the road which we wouldn’t have seen unless they had directed us to it. These waterfalls ring the now-famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
13. Icelandic horses are shorter and stockier than those you find at home. You can book a trip to ride with the farmers and dogs in the fall to gather the sheep in from distant grazing lands. We saw little white dots up on the steep hills and heard that a few get stuck up there and make it over the winter! I liked the king of the hill poses these horses struck along the ring road.
14. And finally, the Blue Lagoon. My guidebook described it like Disneyland: overdone schtick but a must do in Iceland. The water is around 100F and is fed from a geothermal power plant. The minerals in the water are supposed to have a medicinal effect and though I noticed effects on David’s skin (he even put the mud mask on his face), it just coated my hair in a film that took several washes to remove. The surrounding lava field landscape is bizarre (“soul destroying” according to my guidebook!) and it was a fascinating experience. We also enjoyed the in-lagoon bar!
15. We stayed in Reykjavik the next two nights before wrapping up the trip. First up: Mexican food! I haven’t had any since I left the States. This place was owned by actual Mexicans! Strange how it felt kind of like home.

I took a short video of Skógafoss so you can experience it too.

Skógafoss waterfall, southern Iceland from Amy D on Vimeo.

Iceland day 3

On to our third full day in Iceland! We stayed overnight near Skaftafell to play in the park again.

1. A very overpriced hotel, where we stayed in what was essentially a trailer warmed by space heaters, and the hot water lasted about five minutes. It would have been fine if it weren’t the ONLY hotel for hours and priced accordingly. I guess the beds were comfy and we didn’t sleep in the car, so that’s something. The weather was in the 50s the entire time so we didn’t need the heat anyway.
2. The hotel restaurant, where some decent but not special pasta dishes ended up a $75 meal. Have I mentioned the expensive food? I couldn’t believe they were selling a bottle of Gato Negro wine for about $45; it’s always $3 at Walmart and Meijer…
3. The hotel did have location (near the national park) and view going for it.
4-10. Off we go on a glacier hike in Vatnajökull National Park (largest in Europe) near Skaftafell. This time we were able to wear our own hiking boots and I felt like I was walking on air compared to the previous day’s stiff rented climbing boots. We still had crampons and it was amazing to walk on total ice without slipping. You just walk hard so your spikes go in! I really enjoyed the several hours on the glacier more than the ice climbing. We ate sandwiches up on the ice and progressively became colder through the morning, but had just enough warm gear with us to stay comfortable. For this hike we still wore the harness but it was only a precaution in case someone fell in a crevasse–easier to hoist them out! No accidents on our trip, fortunately. We each had one ice axe in a slightly different angle and length from the climbing type. Picture nine shows blue ice where the huge bridge of ice had fallen just three days before. The guides have to redo their routes constantly because of the speed of glacier landscape changes. Totally recommended activity!
11-12. Duck boat ride on Jökulsárlón (the Jökulsár Lagoon), where ice is constantly breaking off the glacier and refilling the lagoon. The ice slowly floats out to sea. By now it was raining and the boat trip was a little lame, but the scenery was beautiful. This was the farthest east we traveled.
13. David tries to take home a piece of glacier ice from the lagoon in my gaiter (gaiters are the black things on his ankles, and he wears them at every opportunity), mostly because he wants to test the claim that it melts slower in whiskey because it’s so dense. I pointed out it would melt in the car and it didn’t even make it on the bus. Also, liquor stores are only open from 5-6 pm so it’s not like we could have gotten any whiskey anyway.
14. There was an Enter Net Nate Garbage Pail Kids sticker on the bus!
15. Donuts! A fine choice in scary-pig-grocery snack food. We were pretty hungry on our long drive back west.
16. Some of the bizarre landscape on the way back
17. Pizza for dinner in the only restaurant in Vik. This one wasn’t as expensive, but it was a good example of the limited choices in hotels and food: we were joined in the restaurant by a Spanish family whose teenagers had been texting in the lobby with us in the previous night’s hotel, as well as by our glacier guide from earlier in the day. This was a couple hours west of where we’d last seen these people! We gave the leftover garlic bread to the guide and her companions.

Iceland day 2

Maybe someday I’ll catch up! Work is kicking my butt and even when I’m not too tired to post on the blog, my arm wears out with typing all day at work. I’ve had a lot of long days lately and I’m starting to look forward to the next trip.

Back to Iceland, a few Tuesdays ago:

1. Giant marshmallow farm!
2. Just driving down the road, we saw several waterfalls along the volcanic foothills
3-4. There might be a town every hour or two, which might have a restaurant, but mostly the eating option was a gas station grill. Our meal here–two soups, bread, and fries–was about $20 and didn’t include drinks.
5. Expanses of lava stretching to the sea
6. First glimpse of the glacier we would be climbing later
7. Where mud meets ice
8-12 David convinced me to go ice climbing. You basically kick your spiked boots (crampons over the sturdy rented boots) into the wall and hammer an ice axe in from each hand, pulling yourself up and standing up as you go. A shower of ice chunks is constantly falling (note the pieces all around the closeup of our feet). I made it to the top all three times, but it was hard to grip the ice axes by the end. There was quite a bit of ash in the ice and we came back pretty dirty. I also managed to totally wipe out on the walk back and scraped up my knees. I must have caught my crampons in my pants or boot laces.