Sunday, 7 September 2008

Ice Ice Baby

I arrived at 1am at my couch surfing host's place in Reykjavik and knocked on the window as instructed. "Am I in the right place?" I asked when the door opened. "I don't know...Are you?" My host was out at work and his two friends were waiting at his place. They weren't sure if he was expecting me but they said I could probably sleep there anyway. They then spent the next half hour admiring the very dashing vest the Icelandic man had knitted for the Finnish woman.*

*NB: I will be describing most people I meet rather than using their names as I can neither spell nor prounounce them.

A too-short sleep later and I was boarding an early bus to Skaftafell to meet Kamilla. In between napping, the bus passed through some amazing landscape and stopped off at spectacular waterfalls. I also got very excited about black sand, a romance that would continue for the following week.

Iceland is amazing, treeless, vast, empty, black, grey, green and unlike anything I have seen before. I thought Skaftafell was a town (as black dots on maps normally are.) It was a campsite. I later found out Kamilla had gone to two supposed "towns" and discovered first, a farm and second, an abandoned farm. Super cartography Iceland.

Kamilla had pitched our tent pleasingly in view of my first glacier (impressively, the third biggest glacier in the world - after the 2 poles). I was pretty stoked and feeling very outdoorsy and pseudo-butch. That night though brought the windstorms our guidebooks neglected to mention. Our tent creaked and groaned which made sleep impossible. At about 5am a polite Englishman politely yelled that we should probably pull our ten down before it blew away with us inside (windstorms in Iceland have caused cars to blow off the roads!) As the wind whipped us we gathered our belongings and forged a path to the toilet block to huddle with the other campers.

At 8.30am, bleary-eyed but stoic, we began to trek through the occasional rain and wind to Svartifoss, the famous waterfall to which I was pilgrimmaging. I think we are some of the only tourists who have experienced this site blissfully alone (aka stupid enough to walk up in the rain, early in the morning, after no sleep.)

We then visited the empty farm house at Sell...which is set up like an old farm house would've been set up...with beds...

The first tourist who woke us up quickly shut the door saying "Ooh! Sorry!" As if it were our house. But when 12 French hikers started up the stairs we quickly put our pants on and departed. Still, it was a good one hour nap which fuelled us as we collected our backpacks and tramped up to the crossroads in search of a ride...

We hitched to Jökulsarlon, and breath taking lake filled with icebergs broken off of the glacier. I touristed good, taking a million photos and squealing when seals surfaced. Then got collected by a nice man who took us a long way and was very chatty and informative, though by this point we were feeling the lack of sleep and joyously checked in to an uncommonly cheap and charming riverside guesthouse in Hella. The problem with large, comfortable beds is that you sleep in til midday.

It was ambitious to try and get to Landmannalauger in one afternoon, especially since our third lift (a family of 5 who squeezed us in the back with the picnic) offered to take us sight seeing and we agreed. Two more beautiful waterfalls later and we were standing at a crossroads at 6.30pm, 40km from our destination, and it was starting to rain.

Tents are useful. Fields are useful. I think I may carry a tent with me always - it'd be handy when I couldn't be bother walking home from a friend's house...or the towny...or the bus stop.

We camped in a ditch and got a ride the next morning with 2 geologists in Iceland to sign an agreement between Iceland, the US and Australia about geothermal energy. Travelling with geologists in Iceland is like stumbling upon enthusiastic art experts in Florence or Paris. Iceland has some of the "newest land you'll ever see," which is "like born yesterday in geology terms." 5000 years old, this means. I now know about lava flows and geysirs and geothermal energy. At Landmannalauger, Kamilla and I intended to hike we really did, but we ended up sitting in a hot spring for an hour and a half. Bliss.

Ted & Paul (I can pronounce American names) took the long road back, traipsing across a river or three and frequently losing the road which would've been adventurous (the first 2 hours were) except that our cold night at the crossroads was starting to take its toll on my health. I graciously thanked our drivers by asking them to pull over so I could throw up. EXACTLY what one wants to do in front of one's charming Norwegian companion. Anyway, turns out I wasn't exactly carsick. Had tonsillitis. By the time we arrived at our host's place in Reykjavik I had a fever. Delirium is also very attractive.

The next day was a bit of a right off. We went on a walking tour (learning about axe wielding child vikings, why they make houses entirely out of corrugated iron - no trees, and how come everything is so damned expensive) but I felt ill and slept through the afternoon, while Kamilla hitch to Thingvellir (where they invented democracy! See if anyone should be invading Iraq and showing 'em how it's done - aka killing them - it's the Icelanders. Ooh! And how much funner would a war be if the victims were harpooned instead of bombed.)

Refusing to be broken, I committed to a 9am horse ride the day after. Now whether or not my fever was related to the fact that I fell off half way in is debatable. What is definitely true is that mid-gallop my saddle slid to the right and I with it. Icelandic horses are a special breed with a smooth 5th gait (which I did not experience). They are also very small which was lucky as when I was catapulted me face first into the road I escaped with just scraped hands, bruised knees and a purple hip. Awesome. Just awesome. I did have a few good gallops after that (possibly to prove to the cute French instructor that I wasn't a complete git.)

That afternoon we hitched via some Spanish tourists, a local nurse and some Germans in a campervan, to Geysir (hot stinky water hurtling into the air) and Gullfoss (now THAT'S a waterfall.) We got a ride back squeezed in the front seat with an electrician who couldn't take us all the way, but handed us over to his son who he was meeting at a petrol station. All very odd.

Our final day in Reykjavik we headed to the national museum (free on Wednesdays!) which Kamilla found all very dull as she knows lots about Nordic history already. I was entertained by dressing up as a viking. She perked up at some massive whale bone carvings. Yes, all Norwegians do appear to be pro-whaling... (Note that by all I mean Kamilla.) We have had many a debate about the issue (Note that by debate I mean argument.) Though even I was complicit in the entertaining photos of Kamilla next to a restaurant serving whale pepper steak and am in full support of her making a t-shirt that says "If we had dolphins, we'd kill them too."

Early the next morning (as in 5am) I set out through the dark cold streets of Reykjavik to get to the airport and begin my epic day's journey to Prague to meet Liz and Stanley.

Iceland is amazing.

Go there.*

* You will need to be rich or have a tent and penchant for hitch hiking* if you want to go there.

*or a Norwegian companion with a tent and a penchant for hitch hiking

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Why all these cheap airline companies suck balls

Ok, so the internet and the airports are now packed to the gills with cheap cheap cheap airlines travelling all over Europe. Super, right? NOT SO. They get your money other ways, yes yes they do. The first is in the ridiculously over priced ticket that gets you to the random, tiny, middle-of-nowhere airport you are flying from. The second, and my most hated, is in their luggage restrictions. In this matter, it has been out and out war between me and the airlines...war I tells ya. (Note here that I have mostly been victorious, only paying excess once!)

Some companies will get you to pay online for 1 checked in bag of 20kg. Turn up with any extra weight and you will pay at least $10 per kilo. Per Kilo! This has led to me hunched in a corner of the check in, hauling out luggage, putting on heavy shoes in the middle of Spanish summer, clipping plastic bags with shoes to my little backpack, wearing 3 jackets etc... (actually when the security guard said "Please take off your...3 jackets..." it was pretty funny)

Some companies then proudly advertise that there is no weight restriction on hand luggage. Awesome. They are basically encouraging people to break their backs by putting all their heavy stuff in their carry on. Maybe it's just me, but surely it would be more efficient to put more stuff below than spend half an hour wrestling with other passengers to try and get your bag into the overhead compartment with their massive case full of what appear to be lead weights! Not to mention the fact that if we get turbulence (movie style turbulence) and the overheads open I would not want all my books, my boots, my sleeping bag, my towel, 3 jackets, and 3 glass bottles of vitamins FALLING ON MY HEAD!

On my last flight (London to Prague), I thought I'd finally got it together, leaving a bag of stuff at a friend's house and practically bouncing off to Luton Airport (4th of London's four airports that I've now been to). I proudly placed my 19.8kg suitcase on the conveyor and skipped off to security. And then it happened. The smarmy British wench over the loudspeaker said:

"Please remember that you are only allowed one piece of hand luggage. If you come to security with more than one piece of hand luggage you will be sent back to check in..." (that's alright, I thought, they always let you have a small handbag...) "...Please note that laptop bags and handbags count as one piece."


Cue me spending the next 10 minutes wrestling the contents of my handbag into my already full little backpack, eating my apple (which was going to be my aeroplane dinner since they don't give you those anymore), shoving things in my pockets and then strapping my rolled up canvas handbag to the side of my backpack. I considered shoving stuff down my pants but was glad I had not when I was subject to a pat down later on.

The thing is, that all of this hoo ha at airports today does jack for security. So far I have twice forgotten to take my little clear bag of liquids-in-less-than-100ml-bottles out before passing security and no one has noticed. I have carried a nail file through three times and nail scissors twice. But they make me drain my water bottle before entering so that I am busting throughout take off. It is ridiculous.



The Blurb

For maevegobash: yeah, I just like thinking/writing/talking about myself. That's what blogs are for, right? For vegepalooza: I have been vegetarian for 25 years now - so that's always for me. My mothers cooked a storm up in the kitchen and I am carrying the torch filling my friends bellies at every opportunity. I love food and want to share my recipes, tips and tricks here to encourage creative vegetarian eating. There will also be a lot of vegan recipes for my friends with more willpower than me (sorry kids, I just love the cheese). Anyway enjoy, feel free to criticise and most of all Happy Eating!