July 24, 2015

July 24, 2015

Iceland, Day 4: Whale Watching and the Blue Lagoon

Because we had full daylong tours scheduled for days 3 and 5 of this Iceland trip, we took it a little easier on day 4. In the morning, we went whale watching (not to be confused with "whale eating," which I did on day 2).

As we walked to the dock, we were happy to see that the weather was finally—FINALLY—going to cooperate. Blue skies, sun, and temps in the 50s. Downright BALMY.

Iceland doesn't have an Army, but it does have a 3-ship Coast Guard. Ooh-rah.

We boarded the whale watching ship (one of several, hashtag capitalism), put on ridiculous coverall outfits for warmth, and headed onto the bay.

I will never look more outdoorsy than I do here.

Reykjavik, lookin' good.

We tooled around for a bit, looking for puffins, dolphins, and minke whales. We ended up seeing all three, though the fact that they were moving quickly and in the water make picture-taking very tricky.

Pretty much my best shot. You had to be there.

After a quick lunch at 10-11, the Icelandic version of 7-11, we hopped on another bus and rode to the Blue Lagoon, Iceland's most-visited attraction.

Not to be confused with the Blue Lagoons of other countries.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa. Its pools are made of mineral-rich wastewater from the nearby geothermal power plant (not as gross as it sounds). People can pay to swim, get covered in mud, and all the other sorts of spa-ish (spa-y?) things people do at spas. We saved ourselves hundreds of dollars and just walked around. The unnaturally opaque blue water combined with the rocky landscape were surreal.




Once we got back to Reykjavik (the Blue Lagoon's near the airport, so it's a 50-minute ride to town), we went back to Hallgrímskirkja to get pictures with blue sky rather than the grey sky of day 1.

Not too shabby.

In Day 5: A fjord, Snorri, and a return to Þingvellir.

July 13, 2015

July 13, 2015

Iceland, Day 3: The South Coast and Jökulsárlón

The third day of our trip was (alas) cloudy and damp. On the itinerary: an all-day tour of Iceland’s south coast, highlighted by a visit to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. An overview of the route we took:
See that big white blob? That’s the Vatnajokull glacier. It’s GIANT. More on that in a bit.

As you can see from the map, it takes a bit of driving to get to Jökulsárlón. We passed a lot of farmland on the way, which honestly started out pretty comparable to the farmland you’d see in America, plus or minus a volcanic hill or two.

Fields, sheep, trees? Could be Minnesota.

We got to visit the Skógafoss waterfall, which is probably delightful in good weather. In rainy weather, it’s pretty much “I get it, universe.”

Umbrellas pulled double-duty.

After lunch in the town of Vik—I was unable to confirm whether residents refer to themselves as “Vikings” but DEAR LORD I hope they do—the landscape started to take a distinct turn and feel more like something out of a Ridley Scott film.

What happened to the grass? Have we gone Interstellar?

Then the grass would come back along with snowcapped mountains and you’d be fine:

Whew.

Then you’d be all “O HAI GLACIER.”

Dude.

That was my introduction to Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier and Europe’s largest by volume and second-largest by area. It covers 8% of Iceland and averages 1300 feet thick. It’s a lot of ice, and famous ice at that—it was the set of the opening of Bond film A View to a Kill and some Game of Thrones action. My next steps were obviously to figure out if I could touch and/or lick the glacier.

Turns out, I could, thanks to Jökulsárlón. It’s Iceland’s deepest lake, and was formed when the glacier receded from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also filled with icebergs of all shapes and sizes.

Many of these icebergs auditioned for Titanic.

I got on the nearest amphibious boat, pulled on a life vest, and (figuratively) dove in. Pressure, temperature, and volcanic ash make the icebergs a weird combination of blue, black, and white. Even on a grey day, it was transfixing.


Midway through the ride, our guide whipped out a small glacier, chiseled off bite-sized pieces, and handed them out. It was like free samples at Costco and I was ON BOARD.


We also saw a lot of birds and one saucy seal.

“Come hither.”

The drive back to Reykjavik offered one more surprise: Seljalandsfoss, a 200-foot waterfall that you can walk behind. Let me tell you: it was treacherous. Wet, steep, and not at all ADA-compliant.


Once I got back there, though, the noise and motion were the absolute definition of “majestic.”

It was a big day, made even bigger by my discovery at the Vik service center where we had lunch of an I  Iceland Hello Kitty. WHO KNEW?

The beginning of a beautiful friendship. I call her "Hâllo Kitty."

In Day 4: Whales, dolphins, geothermal runoff. Y’know, the usual.

June 30, 2015

June 30, 2015

Iceland, Day 2: Gullfoss, Geysir, and Geothermal Shenanigans

The second day of our trip dawned bright and early, in that Iceland gets about 21 hours of sun a day in June. Geographical phenomenon aside, we were about to embark on a daylong tour of the so-called Golden Circle, a troika of Iceland’s most famous sights.

We started, for some reason, by stopping at Nesjavellir Geothermal field to take pictures of the steaming ground. Since this was my first encounter with geothermal activity, I was down with it. As the week progressed, I became less so. “The ground is steaming?” *snaps picture* “Let’s keep moving.”


First official stop: Þingvellir, site of the world’s first Parliament in 930. (Icelandic note: That letter that looks like a capital P is pronounced “th.” So Þingvellir is “Thingvellir.”) That Parliament was called the Alþingi (Althing), and is the source of the word “thing.” BOOM. KNOWLEDGE BOMB.


As if that weren’t enough, Þingvellir is also where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The area’s quite seismically active as a result, and those ponds in the picture above have all formed in the millennium since 930.

“In this corner…North America…and in this corner…Eurasia…ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?!

In the parking lot at Þingvellir, we were reminded that 54% of Icelanders believe in elves:

During one tour, our guide told us all about how elves are in the Bible. Not the KJV, obviously.

Second stop: Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s many notable waterfalls.

On a sunny day, there are delightful rainbows. Google it.

For quite some time, the Powers That Be wanted to turn Gullfoss into a power plant. They were prevented from doing so largely by the efforts of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, known as Iceland’s first environmentalist. She’s memorialized at Gullfoss.

Don’t mess with Siggy. Also, probably don’t call her Siggy.

Third stop: Geysir, a geyser whose name is in fact the derivation of the English word “geyser.” BOOM. SECOND KNOWLEDGE BOMB.

Before we were let off the bus, our guide made sure to tell us not to touch the water, stand downwind of the geysers, etc. The whole site was covered in caution signs, too.

Too bad I only speak Fahrenheit, baby.

The geyser erupted every 5 minutes or so, so I was able to see it both close up and from afar. You really needed both perspectives, since the thing’s so huge. (That’s what she said.)

Note TheBoy at far left.

After a quick visit to Skálholt Church, one of Iceland's sees from 1056 until 1785, we made our final stop: Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station, third largest in the world. Our tour guide was from Florida, so insert gripes about foreigners coming into our country and taking our jobs.

That Florida-to-Iceland move has to entail some climate whiplash.

The plant’s interior and exterior were filled with heavy machinery, all of which is probably interesting to people who like heavy machinery.



I myself at this point was ready for dinner, because it was to be the spotlight meal of the trip: the seven course Icelandic Feast at Sushi Samba.

Course 1: Brennivín Shot. According to Wikipedia, brennevin is schnapps made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway. Tasted like licorice.


Course 2: Smoked Puffin and Minke Whale


Course 3: Arctic Charr. Very similar to salmon.


Course 4: Lobster Cigar. Think spring roll.


Course 5: Reindeer Slider.


Course 6: Lamb Chop. At this point, I was in such a food zone that I almost forgot to take a picture.


Course 7: Skyr Panna Cotta and Raspberry Sorbet. Ditto on forgetting to take a decent picture.


Stick a fork in me; I was done.

In Day 3: I eat a glacier, go behind a waterfall, and find my Icelandic soulmate.

June 25, 2015

June 25, 2015

Iceland, Day 1: Arrival and Nauseam

Since we never took a honeymoon, our first anniversary was approaching, and we hadn’t stamped our passports since auld lang 2013, TheBoy and I decided to sample the best Iceland had to offer during a week in June. Spoiler alert: Lots of sheep roaming the fields, lots of lamb stew. Circle of life.

We took Icelandair, both because it flies direct from Dulles and because the best flight I ever had was Korean Air to Korea and I’ve been trying to recapture that glory for years. While Icelandair wasn’t nearly up to Korean standards (what COULD be?), they do name their planes.

No Ragnarok?

So there’s that.

Due to the curvature of the earth or some such, we left DC at 9 PM and arrived at Reykjavik at 6 AM despite an actual flight time of 6 hours. Mmkay. Our general post-flight grogginess was smacked into submission by the weather, described by our flight attendant as “Icelandic summer drizzle.”

Dude, where’s my sun?

Thankfully, we realized as we went through customs, exchanged money, and left the airport that everyone in Iceland speaks English and takes credit cards. Your humble blogger, who STILL has Jordanian dinar sitting in a desk drawer, was immensely relieved.

Those without credit can also pay with this colorful moolah.

We stayed in a short-term apartment rental. More guesthouse than Airbnb—there was a receptionist and maid service every other day. (Iceland’s major industry is tourism, and Reykjavik is jam-packed with lodgings of all sizes.) We dropped our stuff and headed out for some traditional Icelandic grub. TheBoy at regular human food, but I had “Icelandic Plate I,” which included multiple kinds of fish and sheepshead jelly. SHEEPSHEAD JELLY, guys.

Q: One of these things is not like the others, in that it’s edible. A: Mashed turnip, bottom right.

During the entire meal, I kept saying, “This is horrible. This is fantastic.” It was exactly what I wanted in that it was simultaneously disgusting and authentic. I didn’t throw up, but I was probably 85% there. Dig. Plus, the restaurant was across the street from Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland.

Can’t beat that view, other than with sunshine.

After eating/tolerating our lunch, met up with a walking tour of the city, just to orient ourselves and get a local’s perspective. Our guide, Hlolli,* showed us the Prime Minister’s residence…


…the Parliament…


…and told us all about the elves. In his words, “We call them ‘Hidden People,’ but I will call them elves for simplicity.” 54% of Icelanders believe in elves, and when you consider them spectrum of supernatural beliefs, it could be worse.

We had been up for something like 36 hours straight at that point, so we grabbed some food from a local supermarket—in which the refrigerated section was a refrigerated room—watched a little German QVC on cable, and called it a day.

In Day 2: The Golden Circle. Not about peeing, ya perv.

*Downside of having a name like "Hlolli": American tourists can't pronounce it. Upside: You get hlolli@gmail.com.

June 22, 2015

June 22, 2015

Domo Arigat

A number—by which I mean two—of my entertainment periodicals recommended upcoming USA network series Mr. Robot. Since an ad-free version of the first episode is currently online legally and for free, TheBoy and I decided to check it out. The gist, in a nutshell: The slightly bug-eyed guy who played Ahkmenrah in the Night at the Museum movies is Elliot. Elliot works for a cybersecurity firm keeping corporate databases safe, including that of Apple/Monsanto/GE/Cargill stand-in E Corp (a.k.a. Evil Corp). He’s got a lot of anxiety, a leetle drug problem, and a surprising number of lady acquaintances (best friend, therapist, drug dealer).

However, as so many hackers of our day and age are, Elliot is conflicted. Why should corporations have all the power? Who stands at the intersection of technology, privacy, and free markets? Who watches the Watchmen? And so on. So while Elliot starts out using his hacking wizardry to keep tabs on those he’s interested in*, he’s eventually tempted to use it for evil. *cue maniacal laughter*

The black hats (OR ARE THEY?) are led by a Christian Slater-esque vagranty typed played by Christian Slater. Your mileage will vary, but I liked him. Other than his, y’know, raging against the machine and such.

I’m curious to see where this thing goes; the cinematography reminds me very much of the Thomas Anderson parts of The Matrix; all muted browns and greens. My technical advisor/husband informs me that the tech is pretty spot-on, if necessarily time-compressed for dramatic purposes. I’ll say that it sounded REALLY good to me, but I am just a business major.

In short, this is the show I was hoping Scorpion would be. Stay tuned.

*Generally, I would use the phrase “those he cares about.” But with on-the-spectrum characters such as these, I don’t want to infer emotion where it doesn’t exist. Can Elliot care about anyone? TBD. For now, I’ll stick with “interest.”

June 4, 2015

June 4, 2015

In My Opinion: Pitch Perfect 2

Lemme say up front that I liked this movie. The review might not reflect that, but you know I would rather pick at the negatives. It’s my Korean genes.

Despite being a Gleek from day one*, I came late—enthusiastically, but late—to the Pitch Perfect party. As I mentioned in my review of the first movie, the three things that I liked best were Fat Amy, the songs, and the college setting.

I must reluctantly state that PP2 gave me too much of one and not enough of the other two, despite the five or so plotlines running through this film. Let’s start with that—there’s a lot of story, including:

1. The Bellas trying to redeem themselves by winning Internationals.
2. A new member of the Bellas trying to break out of her Legacy label.
3. Said Bella having a little fling with Benji
4. Fat Amy continuing a not-so-little fling with Bumper
5. Beca’s attempts to become a bona fide music producer

I once heard that there are only three plots in film**: fish-out-of-water, boy meets girl, and the Jesus story. IMO, PP was classic fish-out-of-water (Beca joins and then transforms the Bellas) with a bit of boy meets girl thrown in. But I’ll be darned if we don’t have one of two versions of all three plots in PP2 and not nearly enough singing/performing. There’s a version of a riff-off (featuring possibly the most random Green Bay Packers reference ever), and some good competition sets, but too many of the Bellas’ songs were throwaways to demonstrate how they’d lost their way. I found myself cheering for Das Sound Machine because those Germans were am punkt (on point).

As with PP, Fat Amy and Lilly seemed to exist mostly to throw out comic non sequitirs. PP2 added a third such character, Flo. Don’t get me wrong—I laughed. Hard. But we were dangerously close to “too much of a good thing” territory. I would rather have had more fish out of water. Or songs featuring drinkware. Or information on what happened with the Jesse/Beca ‘ship. But in the words of one of the great modern philosophers, you can’t always get what you want.

(I hope the next one involves DSM *and* robots.)

* May 19, 2009!
** Serious cinephiles, CALM DOWN.

June 3, 2015

June 3, 2015

Of Game Show Marathons and World Quizzing Championships

The time has come, the blogger said, to talk of other things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings of two of the highlights of my quizzing year.

First, it’s once again time for the 24-Hour Game Show Marathon. Friends-of-blog Cory, Bob, and Chris are running the shindig, and other quiz world celebrities are scheduled to appear. Most importantly, it’s all for a good cause: this year, Child’s Play. So even if you can’t tune in on Saturday, please go here and donate what you can. But, really, you’ll want to tune in on Saturday because as much as I love these guys, they’re insane. Insanity + no sleep + game shows x charity = win. Unearth your heart and do it.

Also on Saturday—along with D-Day and the Belmont Stakes because time is a flat circle—this year’s World Quizzing Championships. Check the website for your nearest venue (I'll be in Severna Park, Maryland) and sample questions. If you decide to go, take some pens and a lot of patience. This is the hardest, least-satisfying test I take all year, and you know how much I love tests. I myself am hoping to break the top 850 this year, but WHO KNOWS.

Add in the Tonys on Sunday, and it’s a big weekend all around. Gird your loins. Sharpen your brainpan. Book your Uber.