unallersimple: (snoopycomp)
Laptop is fixed... though £110 was waaaay too much to pay in my opinion. On the plus side though it means I get to update again, so here we have the last post about Iceland about my final weekend there (29th & 30th March).

While I had gone Iceland primarily to visit Anna I had long suspected her secret aim was to get me to meet as much of her family as possible. In these posts I've often mentioned the various relatives I've met so far and the last weekend was no exception. After two years of hearing Anna talk about her grandparents amazing pancakes I finally got the chance to go round to their apartment and try them for myself! Every few weeks her grandparents invite the family round for food. It's almost like a drop-in day, where relatives come and go when they can throughout the afternoon. I think the small size of Iceland and it's population creates a closer extended family unit than in other countries.
It was enjoyable to watch the family coming and going and spending time together, and to see Anna's 2 year old nephew walk around in adult shoes again! So cute and funny! It also made me giggle every time Anna opened her mouth to translate something, only to be interrupted again by her family, usually telling her that they wouldn't allow me home unless she'd taken me to certain attractions. I think the total number of Anna's family met during the trip added up to around 18 people, quite a feat! The pancakes were great too.

The next day was a beautifully sunny one with clear blue skies, perfect for one last sightseeing trip and bathing in a lagoon afterwards.

First up was the Reykjanes Peninsula where me and Anna walked between Europe and America in just a few steps! Iceland's location on two continental plates means that by walking over "Leif the Lucky Bridge" you can step from the Eurasian continent to the American one. The bridge covers a chasm which the two difting plates have created by pulling the land apart. The bridge is named after the Icelandic explorer Leif Eiriksson who is famous for discovering America 500 years before Columbus. The bridge is about 60 feet long and the chasm around 20 feet deep. The area also looked a little bit like the surface of the moon, I had great fun pretending I was an astronaut walking in high gravity collecting rock samples for a space mission. They are still in my bedroom. As people do over any kind of dividing line I had great fun hopping between the two saying "Now I'm Europe. Now I'm in America. Europe. America. Europe. America. Both at the same time!"


^The sign on the bridge


^The American Side


^ As well as walking from one continent to the other in under a minute you can walk between continents too!

After visiting various other places and consuming way too much Bingo we arrived at the Blue Lagoon, a hot spring turned into a spa which is one of Iceland's most famous attractions. The water is full of minerals like silica and sulfur which gives it a prettyful cloudy blue colouring. It's also supposed to be a great treatment for scabby people like me with skin conditions such as Eczema. I'm sure this is the case if you go there often however it just made my skin sting like hell! It's also really strange to be bathing in water of 40 °C while your face is freezing above the surface! Me and Anna soon dubbed it the "Goo Lagoon" after wandering into slimy piles of minerals on the rock floor. It gave me quite a shock at first because you can't see what you're standing in and I din't want to consider the alternatives! (Poo Lagoon still sounds catchy though.) The Spa was beautiful and there were bridges and little grottos surrounding the edge which gave it such a lovely atmosphere. It was one of the few times in my life where I wished I could see without glasses, I'm sure it would have looked amazing in focus.

Check out what it looks like here.

Anna was a legend driving me to the aiport at around 4-5am the next day.

I was very sad to go knowing that it would be a while before Anna could get to England or I could get back to Iceland, but I will one day. Hopefully soon, definitely when it's warmer weather!


x
unallersimple: (boat)
After spending the weekend in various cars driving around Iceland when the week arrived me and Anna were happy to spend large amounts of time chilling out in front of a movie with large quantities of Bingo and sunlollies. This week was very different to the first as Anna had to go back to work and in her absence I had a lot of revision to pretend to do. Mornings were spent revising for my Japanese exams and worrying whether I'd got the job in Japan (I found out the week I returned home). Despite my best efforts to resist temptation, revision sessions normally faded out into looking up things like retrograde orbits on Wikipedia. Interesting, though not very useful for my exams.

Afternoons featured ice skating, going to museums and meeting more of Anna's family. One day Anna's sister popped round for a quick visit and I got to meet Anna's nephew for the first time. It was a really nice moment, and I couldn't believe that he was nearly two years old already. I remember back in 2006 when Anna told me he'd been born! At one point he sat on my knee for a few seconds jabbering and giggling away. It was adorable, it was also Icelandic so I had no idea what he was saying! I also found it really funny to see him running around the house putting on his mum's shoes and trying to walk in them. Who knew toddlers in oversize footwear could be so amusing?

On Friday 28th we visited various musuems in the capital and one of the exhibits I saw really had an impact on me. It was a small piece about three American teenagers who had been falsely arrested for murder. The police force had no leads and faced mounting pressure from the public to capture and bring to justice those who were responsible. Though two of the three were later released, one was given the death sentence. Next to this information were some photos and some extracts from the journals he'd kept while on death row. I'm kicking myself now for not taking the time to write down any names or details as various searches on Google haven't led me anywhere. (Though it could be the West Memphis Three, I'm not sure.) But it reminded me that even though I may not like or understand the majority of what I see in museums, there's usually something that amazes, inspires or changes me. I risked a telling off to get the following photograph as the words from the death row journal really touched me.



On a final and sillier note, you may have read enough of this journal to know that I really enjoy going to foreign supermarkets. Well I saw something in an Icelandic supermarket that really surprised me. Imagine the following; you're in England and have just put all your food on the conveyor belt. What happens to the trolley now? It comes with you to the car park then you place it in one of the little trolly shelters until an employee wheels it back to the main entrance of the store. In Iceland when you go to the checkout you place all your food on the conveyor belt then just...leave the trolly there! I'm not sure what's more odd about this to be honest, the fact that different countries deal with their trolleys in different ways or the fact that I'm so astounded by this I felt the urge to write an entire paragraph on it. It was so funny to see Anna's reaction to my reaction as well, she was like, errr Lizzie what's the big deal? I was alarmed, I wanted to take the trolley through checkout with me. I had to leave it behind with a great deal of reluctance. I can't beleive they just leave the trolleys in the aisle!! It feels so rude and lazy for me to do that.


^ Trolleys just left in the aisle!!

Anyway I shall return soon with tales of pancakes, walking between America and Europe in only a few steps and swimming in a blue lagoon. ;)

x
unallersimple: (globe)
Sunday 23rd March

Before I start to ramble about the things we did I wanted to write about just how kind and welcoming Anna and her family were. From Anna's immediate family to cousins, aunties & grandparents (believe me when I say I met them all!) they all made me feel so welcome.

On Easter Sunday Anna's mum drove the two of us round some of Iceland's natural attractions for about seven hours. I was also bought a t-shirt, easter eggs, lunch and a souvenir during the course of the day! I felt so lucky to know Anna and have her as a friend. Icelandic people are so kind, helpful and generous, Anna and her family especially so.

We set off around 10am and I was honoured with front seat privileges while poor Anna was left to sit in the back and translate. I found it hard to not giggle at times as Anna's mum was chattering away about Iceland, it's history and details of what we were seeing while I could little more than nod, smile and wait for Anna to explain in English. At times Anna's mum would say a lot more than Anna did, especially towards the end of the day when I think Anna was getting a bit of sightseeing/translation fatigue. At one point Anna's mum was talking away and stopped to say, "Anna Birna! Aren't you going to translate?!". She also seemed to personify the pride Icelanders have of their country and their happiness and enthusiasm to show introduce it to visitors. :) Here's Anna & her mum at Þingvellir.



First up we drove to Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was the location of the Alþingi, the name of the world's oldest parliament which dates back to 930. It also has an amazing landscape as it's located in one of the parts of Iceland where the American and Europe continental plates are drifting apart. Þingvellir is right on top of these plates so the ground is being pulled apart leaving huge scars of rocks and fissures in its place. One is these is large enough to be classed as a canyon, its huge size making it amazing to wander through, more so because of all the prettyful snow!





Should you want to read into the area and its history you can check out the official website here - http://www.thingvellir.is/english . If you click on "history" on the menu on the top right hand side there is detailed information on the area and its past. To keep this post to a manageable size though I won't list any more information here.

I didn't realize how much I'd wanted to see a volcano, or at least a volcano creater, until we pulled up on the side of one. The same applies to Geyser viewing which is what we did next. It was so cool to stand on the side of this pool of boiling hot water, which absolutely stank of rotten eggs because of all the natural minerals in the area, and wait a few minutes for this huge eruption of water. Whoosh!!

This web page has some awesome step-by-step photos of the event.

Here's the only decent photo I managed to take of it between eruptions.



We then stopped at a huge gigantic waterfall called Gullfoss, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. I'll let Anna's photos do the talking...


^ See the tiny little people at the bottom here?




^Anna's mum taking a photo from a huge cliff top above the waterfall. What is that man in the brown jacket doing?!

After this waterfall we stopped to see a smaller one that I've completely forgotten the name of. Although I did learn that when the roads are blocked off with snow tour bus drivers take unsuspecting tourists to this smaller, less known waterfall and pretend it's Gullfoss!

Sometimes I find the interaction between people more interesting the actual place of interest. Having Anna's mum with us meant I got the chance to have some photos of me and Anna together instead of me and Anna taking photos of each other alone. Or, if I'm traveling solo, none of me unless I heckle other people to photograph me!

These are some of Anna's mum's photos that I love!


^ Anna down! While this may cause you to giggle at her - I did actually fall on my ass first. My truly amazing fall was sadly not captured on camera.

I have no idea where or when these were taken but I think they're awesome. It's also quite sweet when best friends unintentionally dress alike!





However, rather worryingly, at times Anna's snappy happy mum did take a lot of photos of me when I wasn't looking! Like this one for example, at a beach made of lava flows which are tens of thousands of years old. I actually took a bit of it back home with me as I thought it was really cool.



After a quick nap me and Anna went back to her family home for Easter dinner with the family. Later on I got to watch the Icelandic easter egg tradition of breaking the egg in its plastic wrapper before eating it. This was slightly alarming when they brought out a hammer for Anna's brother to smash his egg open!

All in all it was a tiring but amazing day. A huge thankyou to Anna, her mum and her family for making it all so special to me.

x
unallersimple: (stars)
Saturday 22nd March

Two things really stand out in my mind about the journey back to Anna's apartment in Mossfellsbaer, one of which was messing around on a huge sheet of ice while waiting for the ferry ticket office to open. Iceland during a cold time of year just amazed me. I know it sounds really silly to say but I'm not used to seeing so much ice and snow everywhere. It was just everywhere! I'm never one to pass up the opportunity to abandon what little cool I have and waz around, and you never know when you are going to get the chance to play on huge sheet of ice again. I got Anna to take some photos to capture the moment. They make me smile, though I'm not sure whether I'm actually slipping on the ice or trying to imitate a teapot...



The second memorable thing was the ferry ride. Anna had mentioned she always felt really travel sick whenever she took this particular trip and I'd put it down to her having a weak stomach. I apologise for underestimating her! How wrong was I!? Despite my best efforts to eat, walk around deck and have fun (remember my love of ferry journeys?) I was soon lying on the seats feeling sick and very sorry for myself. This journey was not like other ferry rides, the sea was rough. Rough! At some points of the journey people couldn't even walk a few steps without being thrown up/down stairs or into walls (which is funny when it's not you). Anna's method of hiding under a blanket was no longer something I laughed at but respected!

After a long day of traveling we'd settled down with sweets for a truly amazing episode of ER (Season 7, Ep 22, Rampage, watch it now.) when Anna got a phone call from her mum. I was worried for a second as Anna had this confused and alarmed look on her face but after a few seconds she turned round with this huge grin and said "Get out the house now! The Northern Lights are visible!!!" I was so excited, and I think Anna was all excited too at the thought of getting to show them to me. I was really lucky as it wasn't the time of year for seeing the Northern Lights and previously it had been too cloudy to see them. That night thankfully the atmospheric conditions were just right for a little aurora viewing. In our haste to see something before it disappeared we jumped up and dashed outside looking up at the sky. It wasn't until I was running around outside that I realised I was only wearing my pajamas and it was very cold! It was such a great moment though. We were both giddy and giggly with excitement and it was such an amazing feeling to see them. Have you ever experienced something that you didn't realize you wanted so badly?

The lights were not at their prettiest because the best time of year to see them had passed, but there was this amazing green streak brushed across the sky. It was so beautiful. Sadly they couldn't be captured on camera but Anna was kind enough to drive me to a spot with less lights so we could see them better. I couldn't have experienced a more fantastic & random situation if I'd tried that evening and as I always say, that's one of the things I love most about traveling! :D

x
unallersimple: (onsen)
Forgetting my current life for a post or two, on Friday 21st March I was happy to wake up to some gorgeous blue skies and temperatures that were above zero for a change. It turned out to be the perfect time to visit one of Anna's relatives' hot springs, as the day before we couldn't bathe outside because it was so cold.

The place we visited was absolutely amazing. It consisted of a small wooden hut nestled between some snow covered hills, a beach and the sea. Built onto the side was a few steps which led down to the pool, which was a small, blue concrete one which had been built to hold the hot water which flows out of the ground there. It was so perfect, the cabin was so cute and cosy and even featured four tiny bunks and a modest kitchen. Imagine my delight when Anna found a rubber duck by the sink - heaven! (As you may have guessed I really love ducks, rubber or otherwise.) Adding to the already beautiful surroundings, the hot temperature of the water combined with the cold air formed waves of steam which floated around majestically in the breeze. It's difficult and to explain how happy I felt there that afternoon, but to just chill out in another country in such an amazing, peaceful location with a friend was wonderful. It's these little moments that make life really special. When I was telling my housemate about it upon my return the smile never left my face.



The view facing the sea...



Aside from chillaxing and swimming we also had a great time splashing around with the duck.



For an hour or so we floated and soaked up the sun. There was no one around except one or two passers-by. You couldn't hear anything except the occasional car and the waves lapping up against the shore. I wrote in my travel diary that I never wanted to leave, though we had to drive back to Bildudalur that afternoon and Mosfellsbær the next day.





x
unallersimple: (boat)
Before I tap into my weird and wonderful imagination I just wanted to add a little note to say that I appreciate those of you who check this journal regularly. It must be a pain to keep coming back to the same website only to find that another few weeks have gone by without any updates. Normally when I travel I post a lot more, but then normally I can indulge in writing as I'm on my own. In Iceland it seemed really stupid to have Anna watch me type about her and what we'd just done when we could be doing more exciting things like running outside in pajamas to see the Northern Lights! (More on that later.) It's also really hard to write when I'm not in the mood for it, I feel so frustrated with my efforts which just seem to fall flat somehow. I first wrote the post below in Iceland but hated it so much I didn't make it public. I just want what I write to be different from the millions of other blogs out there. I don't want the experiences that have meant so much to me to be reduced to "Today I did this and it was cool then I did that and later I rode a unicycle up a tree and I love cheese". I try to make it informative where I can, and make the words interesting to read. So thanks for checking this out, and sorry I don't update as much as you and me would like! I've found with me with all things in my life, I'm slow but I usually get there eventually! So today I bring you the re-write of:

Road Trip to Bildudalur!

Anna: Say Lizzie, while you´re here would you like to visit the town I grew up in?
Lizzie: Oh that sounds awfully good!
Anna: It´s on the other side of Iceland though, a good six hours by motor car, is that too far?
Lizzie: That´s no bother at all, in fact it sounds terribly exciting!
Anna: We shall have to buy supplies too, there won´t be any shops for miles once we reach the house.
Lizzie: Your home town must be in the middle of nowhere! Oh I can´t wait, it'll be delightful, we shall have such an adventure! *

*This conversation took place but not in these exact words.

- - -

On Wednesday 19th March we drove over to Biludalur, Anna´s small hometown in the north of Iceland (it's on the tentacle type bit of Iceland, top left of the country!) with 175 inhabitants. Anna´s parents still own a house there despite moving to Mossfellbær some years ago and I felt lucky to have the chance to see more of the country, especially some of the rural areas. You can learn so much more about a country when you stay in someone's home and see more than just a country's capital city, not to mention the amount of money you save too!

To me and my delightful over-active imagination the trip felt like a waltz around a Famous Five story as we had to buy food supplies before leaving due to its remote location. Due to the snowy, windy weather and the unpaved mountainous roads we also had to swap Anna´s car for her parent´s jeep in order to make it up and down the hills! In the winter there can be so much snow that many of the roads are closed, and little bright orange shelters are provided in case your car breaks down or you get stuck in snow. Even though the journey was long I didn't mind because the views from the window were really interesting. I kept staring out amazed at the remoteness of some of the villages, and the cold temperatures too. I've never seen a place that gets so cold both lakes and sea freeze over! At times there was so much snow it was too bright and white to look at, and the road looked like liquorice weaving through a landscape of sherbet. The yellow sticks at the side of road are to mark the way when the snow gets too deep to see tarmac.



Speaking of confectionery, it was on this trip that Anna introduced me to a sweet called "Bingo", a little ball of aniseed flavoured toffee covered in chocolate that tastes divine! I loved them so much I bought six packets at the airport on the way home - they were gone within two days. :(

It also led to a funny conversation the week after when we were eating sweeties in the car.

Moi: Bingo?
Anna: No thanks, I'm still eating my Smurfs.
(She's referring to a pink, Smurf themed candy.)

Hehehe.

Anyway this is the main street of Bildudalur in some cold and snowy weather. I love it, never seen anything like it before.



Our days in Bildudalur were spent going on walks, visiting natural hot springs and going for drives around the area. Most of the time the temperature fell below zero and sometimes it would snow all day. This was amazing for me as I see snow so rarely back home I run outside to play as soon as I spy any! As awesome as my Hello Kitty hoodie is, it's not made for such cold so we also spent a lot of time indoors as a result of my feeble clothing. That and the fact that there wasn't really that much to do there anyway! A lot of time was spent on the Sega Megadrive and oh the nostalgia, when was the last time you played on one of those eh?! We guided Sonic the Hedgehog and Mickey Mouse (Alakazam!) through the levels, or in Aladdin's case, straight to his death in the lava. Poor sod never got to see Jasmine again with us at the controls. I was so taken by the now ancient gaming console that I longed to play on my family's Amiga 500 again.

We also watched some of the films left in the house and I now have especially fond memories of Evita. Not necessarily for it's quality but because I´m studying Eva Peron and Latin America at uni and know I will now find it hilarious to sing aloud "Don´t cry for me Argentina" in every Latin American Development lecture!

The town was so small, tucked away between the sea and the mountains and it was so picturesque and beautiful covered in snow. We visited two natural hot springs, the second was so special it deserves its own post but here's some photos of the first for now. We drove there when the weather was a bit wobbly, sadly too cold a day to bathe in the water, but it was still a fascinating and scarily isolated place to visit. I was also in awe of Anna's jeep driving skills when she drove us there on a mountainside road covered in ice, snow and the remains of rockfalls, it scared the hell out of me!

I love how the spring has a seaside view.



From the same spot, but taken facing the other direction.



On the way back I snapped the ickle airport comprising of two tiny buildings perches between the road and the sea!

When it was time to drive back to Mossfellsbær I did feel sad to leave the house & her hometown behind. I don't think I'll ever see another place like it, it was really special. I won't forget it. :)

Go further at http://en.bildudalur.is/ to see more of Anna's hometown. This website has some lovely photos of the place in the sun.



x
unallersimple: (this way)
Anna insisted that I update more often, so she has left me to it while she cooks us dinner!

This trip has had a very different feel to other ones I´ve been on. As I´m staying with Anna I have all the home luxuries and she takes me to see the sights, in short I get all the wonders of traveling without any of the planning usually needed! I also get the benefit of her local knowledge and expertise which no guide book or tourist information leaflet can beat.

On our first day (Tues 18th March) Anna showed me the school where she works (she´s a teacher´s aid) and we played on the swings for a bit while she talked about her job. It´s been really cool to see all the places that feature in her life, in the future when we talk online I can picture rather than imagine everything.

Later we went to a building called The Pearl so we could go up to the viewing deck (and eat ice cream!). We saw statues outside so of course silly photos were necessary!





We also saw the Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrímur church, the largest in Iceland) and harboring a love of people watching I was particularly taken with two boys playing on the statue at the front.



Perhaps the most random thing to me the world wide fame of the hot dogs! There is a hot dog stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, or in English, the best in town. Anna told me that there is always a queue and it´s especially well known for the time Bill Clinton paid a visit. A picture of him with his hot dog made it into the papers, and again a week or so later when he had a heart bypass surgery along with jokes that he couldn´t handle them! It´s so small for something so famous, check it out here .


Reykjavik is the capital holding around 200,000 people, close to two thirds of the entire population and it´s the only city in Iceland. What blew me away was the contrast to other capital cities such as London or Berlin. They are huge, clogged with people, cars, noise, anything and everything and house millions of people. Reykjavik felt like a small coastal town on the end of the world, peaceful, quiet and only a few people in the streets. It´s also safe enough here for people to leave their prams outside with their babies still sleeping in them and nothing will happen. (It sounds strange to me, but leaving sleeping babies outside in prams is actually common practice in Iceland. Anna and her sister would often sleep outside in this way as little ones. Her sister would even sleep outside during the night!) No one would dream of it in my country but that´s how small and safe Iceland is. Everybody seems to be related to or at least knows everyone else here. Last night Anna used the Icelandic family tree website, which has information on the entire population, to show me how she is related to Björk and the president of Iceland!

I struggle to comprehend all of these things!

We saw many other buildings that I don´t have space to type about. We also went food shopping and took a quick trip to her uncle´s house to view his sofa. (Because he was getting a new one and offered his current one to Anna as she bought a house this year, not because I enjoy viewing furniture belonging to people I don´t know). We drove there while the sun was setting and the sky was such a gorgeous shade of blue. I felt happy. I felt that wonderful feeling of inner peace and contentment I get when I travel. It´s amazing what going to see a stranger´s sofa can do.

:)

x
unallersimple: (stars)
I wanted to update sooner but me and Anna took a trip up to her hometown at the other end of Iceland and were without internet for most of the week.

I´d heard that flying to Iceland was like landing on the moon because of the volcanoes and cold climate, but I´d put that down to people getting a bit carried away with their poetic travel guide descriptions. Looking out the window however I found that it was really easy to imagine being an astronaut! (An overactive imagination, me?!) While coming into land all I could see was snow and an amazing, beautiful, white landscape.



So far I have mostly been very wet and very cold. I knew Iceland wasn´t the warmest place to visit but was surprised to find that in March the temperature is usually below zero! Brrrrr.

Anna has been zipping me round in the Delta Flyer (that´s her car, she likes Voyager). :D



I dont really have time to say more right now except...

...happy.

:)

x

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