Saturday September 1, 2001
Yesterday was our last full day in Iceland and this morning we dragged everyone out of bed at 5am to get to the airport (50min drive from Reykjavik) for our flight to Paris. Yesterday was a typical "driving vacation around Iceland day" with a couple of hikes to see waterfalls, but the best part was a trip to a folk/history museum which was very educational and even entertaining (in spite of the educational part). Our enjoyment of the museum was facilitated by the elderly guide who showed us all the stuff and explained what it was and how to use it if possible. His demonstrations included things like how to hand-spin wool with the hand-spinning wool tool... sort of a heavy plumb-bob thing. He even sang "Old Folks at Home" and played the pump organ for us when he found out we were from U.S.A. I'm pretty sure he knows Edelweiss and Blue Bells of Scotland and pulls those out for the appropriate visitors as well. The falls as Skógafoss are particularly pretty, because they are tall, and the water is spread out into misty veils. There is a local legend that there is Viking treasure in the pool at the base of the falls. One brave or possibly foolish young man walked in and tried to get it, and as he grasped the golden handle at one end of the chest and pulled, it slipped away down to further depths in the pool, leaving him holding the handle. This handle is now the door knocker of the town church. We drove on to Reykjavik, motivated by a fear of not hooking up with Anna's passport-containing daypack. But we found the air freight company offices after only about 30 minutes of hunting and asking our way around a rather industrial jumble of hangars and offices near a small airstrip. I wish I could learn how not to sweat when I'm nervous.
The falls at Skógafoss are the backdrop for more than a few automobile adds... (picture shiny red Volvo sports wagon parked in front of the mist).
At Skógafoss, first we walked from a parking area to the base of the falls,
then we hiked up to the top - a great way to sneak a little PE class into the itineraryl
... and finally a little sibling conversation along the river fed by those falls.
Skógafoss Tom and Anna admire a real Viking ship (very tiny!)
Skógafoss And we check out the old church with a door-knocker made from a treasure-chest handle that was retrieved from the pool at the base of Skógafoss (legend has it...).
Skógafoss Traditional sod-roof farmhouses, with a just-slightly modernized version next-door.
The museum information proclaimed that the sod-roof farmhouse was used in Iceland up until the 1950's.
Skógafoss Our around-the-island driving tour finally comes to an end as we re-enter Reykjavik,
and pack for the flight to Paris (vacuum-pack travel bags are an important staple of our packing strategy!)
I am writing this after arriving at our apartment in Paris. It was a little shocking making the transition from Iceland to a large bustling airport, where most people are rushing around like they know where they are going and why, and are in a hurry to accomplish the transition. It also seems that everyone is talking funny. So we spent a few minutes stumbling around but eventually successfully called a shuttle service and got all of our family members along with all of our luggage (we think) safely to our digs in Paris. Which, by the way, are surprisingly nice, since we opted for one of the cheaper apartment rental options we could locate. We need to let Anna nap for a while to recover from the 5am wake-up call, so we won't hit the streets till late afternoon or evening. We can entertain ourselves trying to figure out how tiny little European washing machines work. Lynn is mumbling about going to Vaux-le-Vicomte this evening to see the Saturday night candelabra show, I think that this is French for "laser show".
Iceland Epilogue: If international travel is like driving, then going to Iceland is probably equivalent to say, starting the car and letting it idle (except that it is one of the more expensive places you could possibly pick to go to). The culture is simple and laid back. The people are good natured and not worried (there is NO crime!). The residents give little kids (like 8-9 years old) mobile phones and turn them loose to go where ever they want. The down side, I'm sure, is that if you want excitement and variety, the Reykjavik pub scene might get old pretty quick, and the winters would drive many people totally nuts. Vegetarians would be frustrated with the cuisine, not because they don't eat fruit and vegetables, but because they can only grow about 2 or 3 kinds and the rest are imported and not terribly fresh and a bit pricey. If I went back, I would spend more time in only 1 or 2 places, probably Reykjavik and one of the northern towns like Akureyri or Hüsyavik, or maybe the place we stayed on the Snaefullsness peninsula (with the great beach access, everyone loved it). Visiting Iceland poses several economic and logistic difficulties. It is expensive. The public bus that circles the island moves at a snails pace and takes forever. Renting a car is extremely expensive (I kept recalculating the conversion rate as we drove down the road, thinking "No! It can't be!), but after trashing a Toyota in 6 days, the cost was totally understandable. As a benefit, these factors keep away the softies, and you won't encounter too many snotty complainers dressed in designer clothing during your visit to Iceland. If you like open space and pristine, clean, natural beauty, there's a tremendous supply. If you don't like cool, cold, damp, blustery, changeable weather with drizzle and/or solid steady rain, stay away! Our children completely loved it, and still occasionally break into a rousing chorus of an Icelandic folk song, happily reminding us all of the days we spent bumping down the road, dodging sheep, and staring out the window at the fantastic country.
I think I've figured out this northern "Scandinavian" lifestyle thing (although Icelanders don't consider themselves Scandinavian and their language is the most different of all the Northern European countries with single cross flags, it sure seems Scandinavian to me). In exchange for putting up with long, frigid, dark winters and paying high taxes, you get no pollution or crime, low poverty, and a well educated and literate society. I think that historically, anyone who wasn't hardy, capable, and hard working just couldn't survive the climate. The affects of physical isolation are less and less significant with modern transportation, communications, and as more and more tourists visit, and as Icelanders travel more and more themselves. Even though the society is culturally still quite homogonous, the people are used to seeing visitors from around the world. Supposedly, the Icelandic economy is in a tenuous position because the fishing industry has been decimated drastically by strict quotas on almost all the primary fish. But there is a vibrant technology business and there have been many recent corporate immigrations from all over Europe. It's hard to beat those Icelandic energy prices, that boiling hot water just keeps surging out of the ground. The current social issue is just how aggressively to court foreign industrial development; possibly compromising the pristine local environment in the interest of economic gain. The disappointing news for visitors like us is that a lot of the quaint and formerly very active fishing villages have turned into virtual ghost towns just in the last 10 years or so.