Monday, August 24, 2009

Bubbles and the garden

On the weekend, I went with the menfolk to Cedar Hills Park in Wiarton, to watch the bubbles while they went scuba diving. Isn't it a pretty place? And a beautiful day? *sigh*

Da boys had fun. :)

And they taught me something - it took us 3 hours to get there, and they took another 40 minutes or so to get their equipment on and tested. Same in reverse afterwards. All for about 40 minutes underwater where the real fun is.

I should apply this to my weaving. The warping takes a good solid 8 hours of work. And it is a terribly picky fidgity boring annoying thing to do. But really, in perspective.... a small price to pay for the joy of weaving.

Anyhoo... I digress. I was up to my usual tricks of trying to tag the wildlife too. This seagull graced me with his presence. I sense he was disappointed 'though that I didn't try to bribe him with food.

Back home in the garden, this sunflower is thriving under the birdfeeder. Apparently the birds missed one or two of the seeds...

And.... my tomatoes are starting to ripen!! Hooray!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back home

Have you ever been someplace that's so special, so different, that it's hard to let it go when you go back to your normal life?

Iceland's like that. I've been back for almost a week and I feel like.... without seafood and restaurants, I don't know what to have for dinner. Without the clean, clear, fresh air - I don't know how to breathe. It is incredibly hot and muggy here. Without being in Iceland, I don't know what to blog about!


Have I mentioned yet how two weeks of near constant rain and summer temperatures affect a garden? We didn't ask the house/dog sitter to do anything other then water the garden if the weather didn't do the deed.

The lawnmower broke just before we went on vacation anyway, and I didn't want to educate a city boy on how to care for the tomatoes.

So.... the grass was overgrown and the tomatoes were every which way out of control and there were weeds.... everywhere.

We hired a friend's 13 year son - Peter - to help with the weeding this weekend and got started. Peter cleared the driveway, the path to the back gate, the flagstone pathway and the front garden. Neil handled the fenceline garden, and cut the lawn with a rental lawnmower until ours can be fixed.

I weeded, and weeded, and weeded, as much of the rest of the gardens as I could. And staked the tomatoes, and cut their suckers. And discovered why the irises didn't bloom much and died abruptly - I think they are too crowded, too covered in mulch and plant remains, and two weeks of constant rain have rotted many of the bulbs.

Anyway... things are mostly back under control.

Neil's freshly weeded fenceline garden.

Neil's shade garden. It's his thing. We have distinctive garden preferences.

The tomatoes - back under control, sort of. While I don't have a person standing in the shot to give you perspective, consider that I am 5 foot 4 inches tall and standing to take this photo. It is not angled up in any way.

Something else that I found strange upon returning home are these black eyed susans. It just doesn't seem like it's the right time for them. It feels too early yet in the season. For me, black eyed susans are the harbinger of fall.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Iceland: some numbers

18 days
11 hotels or guesthouses
1 ridiculously hard bed
0 "soft enough" beds

0 incidences of salt and vinegar chips
At least a dozen incidences of searching grocery stores for said chips - I lived in hope

1 incidence, purely by the kindness of a charming waiter, of vinegar made available for french fries

6 completely new food experiences - puffin, whale, reindeer, hakarl, langoustine, monkfish and liquid nitrogen

5 hours. Until the very last night here, that was the longest consecutive sleep I could achieve in a country with this much sun in the summer. On the last night here, I almost got 7 hours!

5 hours on the plane, 4 hours ahead in time difference.

0 natural disasters - last year you see, there was this earthquake...

1 incidence of whale watching that resulted in 0 whales spotted and 3 hours of vomiting

1.5 Canadian lanes wide - that's how large Icelandic 2 lane roads are. In the West Fjords, .....largely ungraveled and often steep and blind...... that makes driving
rather interesting.

1 billion waterfalls encountered

1 volcano encounter

1 glacier

1 billion museums or 'centres'

Dozens and dozens of dirty brown rags categorized and photographed - how's that going Michelle?

18 days in Iceland? Priceless!

Questions? I'd be happy to answer.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Last day in Iceland :(

The last few days have been fun, but I have few pictures to show for it.

We started off thursday morning by getting up and deciding to go to Thingvellir, rain or shine. We wanted to go Wednesday night after dinner, but it was raining. Raining too hard even for the hotel outdoor hotpot, never mind a walk around the national park.

Got there.... rain mostly stopped for a bit. Went to Oxarfoss first to try out the tripod idea that Greg suggested. Longer exposures can be done better with a tripod, humans find it difficult to hold a camera steady long enough. And we did bring the tripod, after all, so we might as well use it.

Really cool water..... strange colours in the rock and moss. I think I have some work to fine tune this idea.

The rain started again in torrents midway up the continental divide. *sigh*

Neil went back for the car like a gallant gentleman, and I trudged up to the tourist centre at the top, which was somewhat closer. Pulled off layers and tried to dry out watching films of the lake and UNESCO world heritage sites while waiting for Neil or the rain to stop, whatever would come first.

Along with dozens and dozens of other tourists like me all hiding in the only shelter, short of their cars or buses.

Snorri is seen here overlooking the valley and the nation's guest houses for visiting dignitaries. The hotel that we would have been staying at was right across the parking lot from the dignitaries' guesthouses but it burned to the ground a few weeks ago and now it's a lawn.

Snorri's picture was taken in a rush, in the rain, before we got in the car and drove back to Reykjavik, completing our circle.

Errr... with a brief stop at the factory outlet store for Alafoss, Iceland's leading wool producer / exporter. The dollar exchange in the last year has effectively made this wool about half the price I can get it for in Canada, but I'm a little afraid of how little room I have left in the suitcases so I didn't end up buying anything.

We arrived in Reykjavik in the early afternoon and went to the Student bookstore at the University of Iceland to hunt down a book for a friend, and not finding it, went to the National Museum next door to hunt in their gift shop, since they did publish it in the first place. Sold out, all across Iceland and at the publishing house.

BUT.... on a whim, I asked at admissions if they had changed their policy on taking pictures in the museum. Last year, the answer was NO, and we were quite disappointed. This year.... the policy has changed as of April, and we can! Neil went back to the car to get the camera!

One drawback.... the lighting level is quite low in the museum and pictures are extremely difficult to take well. These few are the best of a bad lot. All are approximately in the Settlement Period.


A textile bit, probably tablet woven trim....

A reconstruction of what it is currently thought that a warp-weighted loom would have looked like based on later period evidence. It should be noted that there is very little actual remains of these looms from the Settlement Period. There are no actual whole looms. Loom weights, sword beaters, a pin beater, spindle whorls.... but no actual loom frames.

An axehead...

That night, we went out to dinner in Reykjavik with Michele, an archaeologist friend from Rhode Island, who just arrived in Iceland to study the nation's textiles. Elín, whom Neil has been corresponding with about bead finds in Iceland, joined us later for drinks. Much conversation and a late night later.....

We woke up friday morning to head off to the National Museum archives with Michele - me to look at textiles as her assistant and Neil to look at beads. We are not allowed to publish those pictures. While I'm quite sure they mean for profit, I'm erring on the side of caution, and applying it to this blog.

Except for this one of Snorri of course, seen here sitting beside the boxes of textile remains that Michele and I got through after 7 hours of eye-bleeding staring at small fragments, tiny weave patterns, the set of the spin ....all various shades of unrelenting brown.

And damned, but it was exhilarating. I touched (with gloves) fabric pieces that were quite possibly a 1000 years old. I took pictures of things that probably will never get released to public viewing because the museum has boxes and boxes and boxes and still more boxes of these things.....

Yes, I know I'm weird. :) But it's a good weird.

We went to the hot pots afterwards to rest our weary eyes.

And then out to dinner, again with Michele, to a place called Orange. It was an accidental find, in that we had aimed at another place nearby and were turned off by the crowds and dingy appearance of the place.

Orange is.... pretentious, terribly trendy in design, has at least the one waitress who couldn't bring herself to smile or even be polite, and was still.... a fantastic experience!

The food was divine and experimental, and there's weird science with liquid nitrogen both for the cooking thereof and for entertainment. I'll say no more. Go and look them up on the website, and if you get to Iceland - go with friends who love food and laughter.

Today.... our last full day in Iceland, we slept in deliciously, a rare thing for me, and then picked up Michele to go shopping and to amuse ourselves with the Gay Pride parade through downtown Reykjavik.

It was a party for sure, but way more tame then Toronto's Gay Pride celebrations - sorry folks. I know Reykjavik likes to think it can party, but it just doesn't have the sheer volume that Toronto's crowd can offer. And somehow the party mix is much more pleasant in Icelandic then in English.

Oh and there was the flea market, and more shopping, and a bite of harkarl - rotted shark. I had made it my goal to give it a try this year. Must not leave the country without doing so. It is memorable. I say say no more least I spoil the surprise.

Tomorrow, we're picking up Michele for one last visit and a stop at the Blue Lagoon, on the way to the airport.

I will miss the fresh air, the wild wild geology of this place and my first (hopefully not last) encounter with the National Museum archives, and all the seafood along the way...... but I am looking forward to seeing my dog and my waterbed again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2 days behind, 2 days ago

After visiting Jokulsarlon, I was intrigued by the glacier that we could see.... just outside the hotel room window. I wanted to get right up to it. Distances are deceptive in Iceland, and it wasn't really "just outside" the hotel room, but several hills away. So we took an access road for glacier climbers instead, and walked in instead. Not being in safety gear, we didn't attempt to climb on the glacier itself. Took pictures, didn't like them.

Did find this on the road for Darrell....

Snorri visits
with us. Click on the link, it explains better than I can at the moment. I think I'm coming down with a cold.

I blame Neil. It's all these darned waterfalls that he's dragging me to see. ;) Or the museums, I just can't decide. He got his waterfalls mixed up. I really wanted to see the one that you can walk behind and he thought it was this one, was convinced that it's this one. So he says... let's go, and starts plunging toward the waterfall. The mist layer is so heavy it's starting to soak us and I'm yelling 'no way, can't be this one" and finally he stops. He's gotten far enough and wet enough to understand the error of his ways, but he just had to wait for me to catch up with him to turn around.

This is Skogafoss, by the by...

Yet another 18th-ish century museum. Really well done, but just jammed packed full of mostly uninteresting stuff. Except for this thing.... apparently 17th century, and it's the remains of an upright for the warp-weighted loom, which was in use in Iceland well into the 18th century.

Now this one, this is the waterfall that you can walk behind. It's really really cool, and somewhat terrifying inside the cavern because the sound of the water falling echoes and vibrates and you think you're in the middle of an airplane taking off but it's all around you.

This is the Saga Centre in Hvolsvolur. It is focused on telling the story of Njala's saga. It's really well done in one aspect only - lots of large boards with pretty picture to tell the tale. But oh my.... where do I even begin on the 3 dimensional stuff they are using to flesh out the story?

The blade on the spear is wrong, the shield is the wrong shape, the helm is wrong, the broaches are wrong and the shape of the cloak is wrong! That's just one of maybe a dozen such characters, all filled with looming inaccuracies.

And then that day was over.... it was a long long drive to what is billed as Iceland's only 4 star hotel and restaurant. I might agree that the restaurant deserves 4 stars, but sadly, not the hotel. In fact, I think it's earned the dishonour of the hardest beds in the entire country. And the outdoor hot tubs weren't... hot. At all. *sigh*

Now... off again the next morning to.... the Hekla Volcano Centre. Wonderful presentation. A little light on the facts, if you want more of that science stuff about volcanoes, but really really well presented.

The Centre uses several modern techniques like a tilted floor and ambient noise to disorient and disquiet it's patrons, to emphasize the destructive power of volcanoes, and Hekla's history in particular. A very large eruption in the mid 1300s earned it the nickname of the gateway to Hell, because it's ash layer made it as far as Scotland and England, and destroyed farmland for miles and miles around.

These ash layers are part of Iceland's archaeological dating, because eruptions were recorded in some fashion as far back as 1104.

This is Hekla today - note that people are moving back into the area. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable living so close.

Hekla is calm today. Well, on the day I took this picture of the seismometer, anyway. :) It's very reassuring.

One last stop for the moment is Stong. It's a recreated Settlement Period (ie. Viking Age) longhouse, that got buried by ash during Hekla's eruption in 1104. Archaeologists have uncovered the site and a recreation was built in 1974 as part of celebration of the 1100 years of Iceland's settlement.

It's been very well built, but Neil and I both agreed that it really needs re-enactors to bring it to life.

Snorri approves.

This warp weighted loom is on temporary loan to the Stong site. It is beautifully set up, and has obviously had a very competent weaver behind it at some point.

Now, I have to apologize. I'm still two days behind in blogging! The last two days have been so full that I haven't had time to finish up this post about the previous two days so... you'll just have to bear with me a bit more. We met up with the lovely Michelle Smith, and explored new hot pots and lots of old brown textiles. More on that, and some liquid nitrogen, to come.....


Tuesday, August 4, 2009


It finally dawns on me that the difference between a 4 star hotel in Iceland and a 4 star hotel in Toronto is.... the city that surrounds it, in which they can find almost anything a demanding client might want, is nearly 10 times the size of the entire population of Iceland. But I suppose that's a digression....

The night before the day of Jokulsarlon. This is the Vatnajokull glacier at....oh, 10:30pm from the beach near our hotel at Hofn. So peaceful....

And Vatnajokull in the bright sunlight as we neared Jokulsarlon.

Jokulsarlon is a lagoon created by the melting of the largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajokull. It's filled with icebergs that have broken off from the glacier and are in the process of melting as they mix with the warm currents of sea water.

These intriguing boats will take you out into the lagoon for a brief run about, where a guide carefully explains the nature of glaciers and the formation of the lagoon, including the timelines involved. It is thought that the glaciers in Iceland were much much smaller in the Settlement period (ie, Viking Age) and that the settlers farmed areas now buried in glaciers. Imagine doing that kind of archaeology!

Glaciers are dirty at their leading edge, picking up the earth as it moves. When an iceberg turns over, having left all that dirt at the bottom of the lagoon, it is a beautiful crystal clear ice that slowly turns white as the sun crystallizes the surface. This is a freshly turned iceberg.

This one, Neil and I are debating.... does it look it a duck or a seal to you?

And speaking of ducks.... there is an abundance of wildlife living in or about the lagoon. And you know me, I'm a sucker for cute wildlife. Caught this cute baby duck in mid-shake....

And while we were hunting for seals in the lagoon, we caught this little bird of some sort in the rocks in front of us....

Found a seal! As the salt water of the sea mixes with the fresh water of the lagoon, seals often chase fish into the lagoon. It's an interesting mix of currents as the seawater mixes with the fresh.

Neil caught this artic tern on an iceberg with his meal in his beak...

Snorri had an overview of the icebergs "Why is it always water with these people?"

"This is so undignified...."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday in Hofn

Waking up in Myvatn the next day, I am much refreshed from the travails of the day before and it's a bright sunny day with winds from the southeast. Just over the hill and around the corner, we stumble on this site that we hadn't been expecting - Namafjall Hverir - another heavily loaded geyser site, much like the one near Gullfoss in the south.

The Namafjall region is close to Krafla, one of Iceland's still active volcanos. I start piecing together how geysers work, and their relationship to volcanos. Go, shoo.... look it up on Wikipedia. I did when I finally paused in the hotel at night. Did you know that Yellowstone National Park is basically just one huge supervolcano? That even just one explosion of a supervolcano could completely change our entire world literally overnight?

This is just one of the prettier pools of bubbling hot water, superheated by underground magma pockets.

This is a steam vent. I like this picture. I look so.... tentative.

Snorri just sighs at being threatened with hot steam once again...

This stop is planned! It's yet another waterfall - I don't really feel like that... that 'yet another' thing, because I really enjoy them, but I'm starting to wonder if my readers are going 'what another waterfall?' as you follow along.

This is Dettifoss. It is the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume discharge, and it is largely glacial runoff from the Vatnajökull glacier.

Neil pauses in the sunshine to enjoy the water flowing past him. We can walk right up to the edge of the top of the waterfall, and even stick our hands in the stream - it's cold!

Back on the road again, I've been making it my ambition to get some of the thousands of sheep that I've seen on film (ed - electrons dear, film is so old school).

We spent the night in Egilstaðir, where I wrote the last blog, but not the day leading up to it. It's getting a little confusing, the where and when of where we are, but don't worry.

Egilstaðir to Hofn is a long drive - 250 odd km, so we decided to skip the two waterfalls that would have been an 80 km detour, and just let the road itself entertain us along the way. There aren't really that many plannned tourist distractions on the east coast.

But the road itself.... now that's another story. It started to rain, quite likely the heaviest rain since we've gotten here. Very annoying. We found what looked to be a shortcut on the map that would cut off about about 60 km, with a secondary road over the mountains.

It's kinda twisty.....

.... but it was in better shape then the #1, and had some fantastic sights along the way. After we got out of the fog, that is. The climb up the mountain was ...eerie.
I could tell there was awesome scenery out there, but we couldn't see it. And then we reached the halfway point and started climbing down out of the mountains, and the sun broke out, the rain stopped, the fog dissipated, and there was a waterfall and picnic table pull over.

This is not that one, but yet another beautiful unplanned waterfall along the way!

I guess it's not surprising that there are so many waterfalls in Iceland, what with mountains, and glaciers, and all the rain it takes, all the freaking time, but... wow, there are literally thousands, all over the place.

I like this image, just because I got that blurry water effect of an open shutter to work so well, and these black (what we think are) rows of lava tubes.

Back into the car, back into rain.... *sigh*.

This is just the coast line, as we are starting to approach Hofn. It's still overcast and rainy, but the coast is getting... craggier. It's so pretty that I defy the rain to get a shot.

Then it's into a brief tunnel, only 1.3km, and out the other side.... the rain stops, the sun is shining, and there is our first glimpse of the Vatnajökull glacier.

We're in Hofn quite early, just around 3pm, so we decide to take a long walk around the town. Found another cat.....

And went to the Glacial exhibition, which was just chock full of science and yet very well presented - a mix of boards full of facts, frequently asked questions, a short film, and a trip to their rooftop to view the glacier itself with different peaks all laid out along the way.

In the exhibit, while I was still capable of absorbing the science.... I couldn't help but think that Marcus is just going to go totally crazy here. This entire country is a geologist's wet dream. You could spend a lifetime investigating the geology of Iceland and still not get it all.

Today, we head out towards Jokalsarlon for a tour of the glacier. Brrr.