So I got up at 5 this morning and headed over to the airport for my flight to Calgary. I think I've been to Alberta more times this summer than in my entire life. It's weird. Anyways, I stupidly took my antibiotics on an empty stomach when I got up this morning, and while I was standing in line at the airport I started feeling kinda pukey. So I forced myself to eat a muffin, because if you don't take those suckers with food bad things happen. So that was exciting, and mom was all worried because here she was sending me to Calgary again sick. Because y'know last time I spent 8 hours on the bus in anaphalactic shock. It was fun; you should all definitely put in on your to-do list. But I digress. Here I am at Vashti's in Calgary, and as soon as she runs some errands we're off to Vancouver. We're getting me settled in tomorrow and Friday, and then Saturday morning the girls (Vashti, Anne, and I) are heading down to Seattle for Bumbershoot, a big music festival. Anne's flying into Vancouver on Friday night, and I think it'll be a nice little trip. The last time I spent time with both my sisters at once was about 8 years ago. So this is long overdue. Plus it really is the best plan when moving to a new city and starting a new school to take off to a different city the weekend before classes start. Isn't that what everyone does?
So, I've been to a movie a day this week - Monday was The Devil Wears Prada, Tuesday was A Prairie Home Companion, Wednesday was Talladaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Thursday was The Lake House, and yesterday was SNAKES ON A PLANE! The only disapointment of the week was The Lake House, and honestly I expected it to be bad, but not as bad as it was. I honestly thought they would have some sort of logical explanation for everything, but they just sort of pretended that the whole crazy time difference never happened. And that there are no repercussions for bringing back someone from the dead and changing the past. Idiots. The best movie was a toss-up between Talladaga Nights and SoaP. I would recommend that if you're thinking of going to see Snakes, go opening weekend. The crowd last night was so much fun, everybody cheering and laughing their asses off. It was much funnier than anybody expected it to be, even with it gory violence and R rating. Well, R in the US and 18A here.
On August 6th we went to Skógasafn, the Skógar Folk Museum. The entire collection was put together by 80-something year old Þórður Tómasson, who began collecting when he was just 14. It's considered one of the best museums in the country, and we met Þórður, who played hymns for us on the old church organ in the church there, and demonstrated how to use a spindle to make wool thread. Then we went to Skógafoss, Skógar's resident waterfall. Legend has it that a settler hid a chest of treasure behind the falls, but no-one has ever been able to find it. We took in one more waterfall (I don't remember the name) before heading home, but this one was cool because there was a path to walk behind the falls.
On August 9th we just rehearsed for our Reykholt concert, and then spent the evening at the Blue Lagoon. It's considered Iceland's most famous tourist attractiong, and is hidden in the middle of a lava field between Keflavík and Grindavík. It owes it's existance to the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, which is powered by superheated sea water drawn from deep bore holes in the lava. After the steam passes through the turbines, huge condensors convert it back into water, which is pumped directly into the lava field. The minerals in the field naturally filter the water and return it to the sea. But the power plant pumps more water into the lava field than can be filtered underground, and where it pools above ground is the Blue Lagoon. The milky blue water is rich in blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), mineral salts, and fine slica mud that conditions and exfoliate your skin. Just swimming in it is good for your skin, and they also have silica stations where there are buckets of silica mud scraped from the bottom of the lagoon that you put on your face (or anywhere else you want). It sits in the middle of a black lava field, with sheets of steam rising off the blue water – very surreal. They've developed it alot recently, adding a restaurant, gift shop, and spa, but Ingunn says that when she came as a kid all they had was a wooden shack and a hose to wash themselves with.
August 10th was our concert in Reykholt, reknowned as the home of Snorri Sturluson, one of the great saga writers. They have a very interesting display on Snorri and the sagas in the basement of Reykholtskirka. It's also home to Snorralaug (Snorri's pool), a circular, stone-lined pool about 4 metres in diameter, fed by a hot spring. It looks like a little stone jacuzzi and is thought to have been built by Snorri Sturluson. Behing the pool is a passage believed to lead to the cellar where Snorri was murdered in 1241 by Gíssur Þorvaldsson. Our concert in Reykholt went well, and there were even a few random Canadians in the audience – a couple from Vancouver, and an Icelandic-Canadian guy from around Gimli. Today was also the day we found out about the new terrorist bust, and the new restrictions of carry-on. Panic!
Our flight was scheduled for 4:30 pm on the 11th, and Ingunn's mom spent the entire morning on the phone haggling with the airline, and our saviour Gunnar Snorri came through at the 11th hour. He pulled a bunch of strings and got permission for us – which ended up slightly unneeded, but better safe than sorry. After all the worry, and everybody (including the airline) telling us that we weren't allowed carry-on, turns out everyone had carry-on and they were only restricitng liquids and gels. Even in Minneapolis they didn't say boo to me except to remind me not to bring any liquid on. Well, live and learn. And don't believe anything the media or the airline tells you.
Well, I'm back on home turf. It was a surprisingly uneventful flight, other than the zoo checking in at the airport in Keflavik. They were also patting down everyone and looking through people's bags, which took some time going through security, but they weren't actually restricting carry-on (contrary to what we'd been told). I guess it was just UK to US flights, but who was to know! And my transfer in Minneapolis went fine, the airport was actually kind of quiet. Our Icelandair flight got in at about 7, and my Calgary flight left at 9, so I guess the airport wasn't that busy because it was a little lateish.... Anyways, I'm just hanging out in Calgary today, and I head back to Saskatoon tomorrow. I'll work on the bus on a last post about what we did in Iceland - my favourite was the Blue Lagoon. But more about that later.
And.....a last minute save by Ingunn's cousin Gunnar Snorri. After we got the runaround, Ingunn's mom called him because he's the head of Iceland's foreign service. And he got the Icelandic government, and the US Embassy, and Icelandair on the phone and got us and only us express permission to board the flight to Minneapolis with our instruments. I think we're going to put together a huge care package for Gunnar Snorri, because he is my new hero.
So thanks to a foiled terrorist plot the day before I'm supposed to fly from Europe to the US, I'm screwed. They're not letting on ANY carry-on luggage - and that means my viola to. So I may be stuck in Iceland for a while, because there is absolutely no way I am sending my expensive instrument in the belly of a plane to be tossed around by ground personnel. As of now, everybody is telling us that there is no way we can get our instruments on, unless we get permission from the US Government. But the US Embassy here says it's up to Icelandair, and that they can't do anything. Fuck.
We left Reykjavik on Friday morning and drove on a big bus across the south to Jökulsárlón, a glacial river lagoon. It’s an offshoot of the giant Vatnajökull glacier that covers a lot of the southeast. It’s a lagoon, attached to the ocean by a small river mouth so that lagoon doesn’t freeze. The lagoon has been growing steadily over the years, due to an increase in glacial melting – about 100 metres breaking off each year. The lagoon has also been used in several films, including two James Bond movies (A View to Kill and Die Another Day) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. For Tomb Raider they painted the amphibious vehicles they take tourists out in to resemble Russian ships, and for Die Another Day they blocked off the lagoon’s entrace to the sea, freezing it over. And then they totalled 5 Aston Martins on the frozen lagoon. After Jökulsárlón we drove back west to our farm/hotel Geirland, just outside of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. This is the farm that Ingunn’s dad Hallgrimur used to work on every summer, so we’re in his home turf.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur is very near the volcano Laki, whose massive eruptions in 1783 lasted for 10 months. Fountains of molten lava shot up around 1000 metres above ground level, and Laki spewed more than 30 billion tonnes of lava and 90 million tonnes of sulphuric acid. The black cloud that followed covered Iceland, killing crops and blocking out the sun, and 20% of Iceland’s population died. As well, the Laki cloud covered Europe causing crop failure, livestock poisoning, and starvation that led to, among other things, the French Revolution. A favourite story around Kirkjubæjarklaustur is that of a church pastor, who gathered his congregation in the church as the lava started to flow towards them, and proceeded to give a very fiery and passionate sermon. The lava miraculously split and went around the church, leaving it intact. The church is still there, surrounded by a lava field, but the only issue we could find with this story is that people can’t survive even just standing next to molten lava. It’s so hot, that even if you’re beside it you’d probably spontaneously combust. We were supposed to hike up into the Laki basin, as it is now dormant, but it was pouring and foggy and so they decided that if we wouldn’t be able to see anything then there was really no point. Icelander’s have lots of stories about religion and natural events, another one being a large eruption in the year 1000, the year that they accepted Christianity. Many saw this as a sign from the pagan gods that Christianity was bogus, but Iceland peacefully converted anyways so that they would be able to trade effectively with the rest of Scandinavia and Europe.
On Saturday we got up and were originally supposed to hike up Laki, but instead went on a hike to the waterfall behind Geirland. All the farms around the south have there own waterfalls, both for a source of fresh water, and before there was a national electrical grid many farms got their power from their own private substation at the base of their waterfall. In fact, one of Hallgrimur’s jobs when he worked here was to hike up to the waterfall and clear all the debris out of the grid under the falls. After that we changed into dryer clothes, as it had been pouring the whole time and we were all soaked. Then we set off to Fjaðrárglijúfur, a peculiar canyon carved by the river Fjarðrá, lined with steep rock walls. Then it was off to Fagrifoss (“beautiful falls”) on the Geirlandsa river just off the Laki road. Today was a day of falls, and after Fagrifoss half of us went swimming at the pool in Kirkjubæjarklaustur while the others went to the famous church that escaped the lava flow.
On our drive on Friday we crossed the Sandur, and stopped in at the Núpsstaður farm. The sandur is a broad desert expanse that lies across the southeastern coast, and is composed of deposits of silt, sand, and gravel carried down by glacial flooding when one of the two volcanoes underneath the Vatnajökull icecap erupts. The sandur is divided into two sections, the most visible being Skeiðarársandur, which stretches for 40 km between icecap and coast. Iceland has a Ring Road, and the very last part of it to be completed was the portion across Skeiðarársandur in 1974. They constructed large gravel dykes to strategically channel floodwaters away from the only road in the area, but it didn’t help much in the glacial flood of 1996. On September 29 a 5.0 earthquake rocked the Vatnajökull icecap, causing the eruption of a 4 km long subsurface fissure known as Gjálp. The next day the eruption burst through the surface, sending a column of steam 10 km into the sky. Meanwhile, the subglacial lake in the Grímsvötn caldera was filling with water from ice melted by the eruption, and on November 5 the ice lifted and the Grímsvötn reservoir drained in a massive flood, releasing up to 3000 billion cubic litres of water within a few hours. The floodwaters, dragging icebergs the size of 3 story buildings along with it, destroyed all the bridges across the sandur. The sandur is understandably unoccupied by anyone, and on the eastern edge we stopped at a small memorial to the 1996 flood, where they had on display some of the twisted metal girders that were a bridge.
The Núpsstaður farm is on the western edge of the sandur, and is set into a cliff side. The small turf roofed church on the farm, dedicated to St. Nicholas, is mentioned in church records as early as 1200. It was restored in 1657 and again in the 1970s by the National Museum, and is one of the last turf churches in Iceland that remains in general use. This farm was also home in the early 1900s to a postman and farmer who was said to be the only person able to cross the sandur in all conditions. Before they built the Ring Road, people would often detour to walk over the glacier, as the sandur is full of quicksand and other traps that claimed many lives. The postman’s 97 year old son still lives at Núpsstaður, and when we stopped by he was just o his way to the little turf church to scrub the floors!!!
On Sunday morning we packed up our stuff and loaded up the bus. We went to two more waterfalls (there sure are a lot of them), and visited the history museum at Skógasafn. We drove by Katla, an active volcano that is expected to erupt any time. There is a funny legend about Katla involving a nun and some magic pants, but I’ll save that for another time. Our bus driver had reported that we were in the area, and if Katla had started rumbling we would have been given a 30 minute warning to get the hell outta there! Now we’re back at Ingunn’s apartment in Reykjavik, and we had a very quiet day today seeing as we were all tired and sore from all the excitement over the weekend. And now I must return to Buffy.
We flew into Keflavik on Saturday the 29th, arriving at 6:30 am. We took a flight that left Minneapolis in the early evening on Friday, and since we were travelling east it "took" all night. Ingunn's dad Hallgrimur met us at the airport with her uncle Stefan to pick us up and take us into Reykjavik. The international airport is 40 km outside Reykjavik in Keflavik, where the US Army base is. They built the army base as a strategic North Atlantic position during WW II, and the US is only pulling out of Iceland now, as they are having to divert their resources towards the Middle East (ie Iraq). They built a base in Iceland because before the jet plane days, they had to stop and refuel in Iceland to make it to Europe. Also, during the Second World War, North America saw Iceland as the last European blockade before Hitler would expand to America - so it was an important asset to protect. So when Icelandair, the national and only airline with landing rights in Iceland, decided to build and international airport, they built it in Keflavik so they could just piggy-back on the runways the army base had already built. The Keflavik airport only does international flights, and Icelandair also has a domestic airport in Reykjavik on the Nes peninsula near the University, that services all of Iceland.
When we flew in Hallgrimur and Stefan took us over to Stefan's house, where his wife had a huge, delicious breakfast waiting for us. And this is when I had my first tast of Skyr, elixer of the gods. It's this yoghurt-like staple of Iceland made from skim milk. Traditionally they left the milk to ferment in a pig's bladder, and there was an enzyme in the bladder that turned the milk into Skyr. They have now of course identified the enzyme, and there are two companies that produce Skyr commercially. And like yoghurt they also make it in many different flavours. But the best way to eat it in my opinion is plain Skyr, with blueberries and a little Ryómi (cream). After breakfast at Stefan's, they took us to our temporary digs that we stayed at until Ingunn's apartment was ready. Michelle and I ended up in an apartment-style University of Iceland residence on Eggertsgata, while Catherine and Ingunn stayed in the guest room of Hallgrimur and Gudrun's friends Hans and Sölvig on Reynemelur. We tried rehearsing but we were too exhausted, so we crashed very early.
On Sunday we got up bright and early for church, because in order to get the church we were playing our concert in for free, we had to play at a service. So we headed over to Neskirka (Nes church) for service. Then we had some major rehearsing to do, as our concert was on Monday night. So we rehearsed our booties off, and played our concert. It went well, and a reviewer from the paper came. We are still eagerly anticipating the review, as it hasn't been published yet. As well, Icelandic Public Radio recorded our concert, I'm not quite sure why. Then on Tuesday there was more rehearsing to be done, and we said goodbye to Eggertsgata and Reynemelur, and moved into Ingunn's apartment on Bógahlid. It's a very nice, big apartment in a three story walk-up. She's close to downtown, and the University, so it's a very nice location.
On Wednesday we got up for our 9 am recording session at Neskirka, recording the Kansas Quartet by Thordur Swinburne for Icelandic Public Radio. It took about 2 hours to record a 20 minute piece, but I think it will turn out OK. Then we went swimming and after that to a big dinner at Hans and Sölvig's. Ingunn's brothers had both flown in that day or the day before - Gunnar with his wife Adrienne, and Benedikt with his wife Lee, daughter Elizabeth, and Lee's parents. Benedikt had gone fishing that afternoon with Stefan, and so we ate the huge catch he brought in - about 8 large cod. If was a fun night, but long and exhausting. Made even more exhausting by the fact that we got up at 6:45 this morning to go swimming.
The pools in Iceland are so cool! They're warm, and either very lightly or not chlorinated at all. They get the water from natural underground springs and every public pool also has 3 hot tubs (hot, hotter, and ow! burning!), and a sauna. In order to not heavily chlorinate, they have very strict rules about showering, with signs in the showers showing you where you have to wash before going in the pool. So we've been going swimming alot, because it's so nice, and even when it's chilly out, the pool is still around 20 degrees.
After swimming we walked back to downtown and met up with people (mostly Ingunn's family) for a noon hour organ recital at Hallgrimskirka. It's this huge church in downtown Reykjavik that was partly designed by Ingunn's grandfather. It's a good orientation landmark because it's about five stories taller than any of the other buildings around it. You can see Hallgrimskirka from anywhere in town, so if you're looking for downtown, you just follow the church! It also has a famous, super good organ, so there's always an organ recital going on. After the recital, the entire family (plus us) headed to the 66 North outlet store to pick up discount fleeces. And now we're just relaxing at Ingunn's apartment, in our new comfy fleeces, before we leave for our trip to the south tomorrow.
So that's all from Iceland for now. It's kinda cold and rainy, and hopefully our entire weekend in the South won't be this bad. It's kind of hard to hike in torrential rain!