Who would have thought a whale could be so heavy? Whales of Iceland

whale skeleton

It took some doing to find the Whales of Iceland building–it looks like a nondescript warehouse in a street filled with nondescript warehouses. Compounding things, it had some confusing signage on the outside and it didn’t look open. “Nuts to that, I’m cold and I’m going in,” I declared. Thankfully, what could have been my last words before I ended up in Icelandic prison turned out instead to just be yet another bit of complaining before ending up exactly where I meant to be, which is often the case. My most uttered sentence may well be “Where in the hell is–oh, there it is.”

Whales of Iceland has to be in a warehouse-it’s the only sort of building large enough to contain its displays: life size whale replicas. It’s hard to fathom the size of some of Earth’s largest inhabitants, hidden beneath the waves as they are, until you’re standing beside them. It’s still hard to comprehend, even then. At some point, my brain just kind of shuts down in a loop of “That’s really, really, really, really big. Like, really, really, really, really, really big.” Like, rilly.

For example, when I went whale watching, the boat had to maintain a pretty solid distance from the whales (I’m not complaining, I’m just saying), so it was difficult to get a sense of scale. At Whales of Iceland, you can definitely get an idea as to which species you could conceivably ride should you find yourself in the ocean with the power to command whales. You could definitely get an even better idea of rideability if Whales of Iceland would go ahead and fit all the whales with saddles, just saying.

orcaRideable.

baby orcaNot rideable.

orca smileRideable, and very amenable to being ridden. A++

narwhal frontUseful as a mount and a weapon.

narwhal

pilot whalesRideable.

belugaNot rideable.

actual right whaleThe SUV of whale mounts, eminently rideable.

right whale

baleen smileRideable.

blue whaleRideable, the double decker bus of whale mounts.

humpback whale

iceland whalesRideable, rideable.

sperm whaleRideable but may turn on you.

whale at whales of icelandIs this joke getting old? It’s getting old. Would still ride, though.

whale scale

whale

whales of iceland

interactive whale display

In addition to wandering around, pretending all of the underwater carnage you’d cause as Poseiden, lord of the sea and rider of whales, there is a educational display where you could learn about whale anatomy and physiology–the display itself would change as you learned about different functions, animating or playing video to illustrate the point that was being made. They also have a “swimming with whales” VR experience, though I had to specially ask for it at the cafe. My best guess is that having to check it out makes it less likely that the headset will, uh, walk away with a guest. Each entrance also comes with free coffee or tea, so you can warm up, sit, and contemplate your place in nature.

drinking coffee among the whales

Or flip through the guestbook, where people have drawn some remarkably detailed whales.

guestbook

guestbookdrawing

whale eye

…and vulvas. “Whale eye,”  indeed. THAR SHE BLOWS!

Ahem.

Once you’ve absorbed as much whale as you’re physically able, you exit through the gift shop (of course). In addition to the t-shirts, magnets, and keychains, they also sold what I believe can only be described as an orca whale that has been stretched on a torture rack and turned into a whale-shaped whale whip, for all of your whale riding needs. Seriously, guys, make with the saddles. Think of the photo ops!

loooooooong orca

whale of a time

Spotted on the Roadside: A Monument to an Online Empire

 

eve online monument iceland

eve online monument

eve online player monument

j monument

player names

tile lifting

Once upon a time, about a decade ago, there was a young man in the greater Seattle area who seriously considered dropping out of school to play Eve Online, whiling away his days in his parents’ basement, eating cheetos, and engaging in virtual space warfare and corporate espionage. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if that young man had followed through with this course of action, there’s no way he would have ever visited this monument to the game and its players that was dedicated in 2014 and we wouldn’t be married. His name would have been on the monument, though, so I guess all decisions come with sacrifices. The End.

Spotted in the old Reykjavik harbor, Iceland.

 

Iceland’s Golden Circle

I staggered back to the hotel around three am after looking for the northern lights and slept like the dead…for three hours until my alarm went off to rouse me for the golden circle tour. Almost every single part of me wanted to stay in that bed, save for the part that wanted to shatter the alarm clock with a rock first and then go back to bed. What kind of sadist tour agency books an early morning tour immediately after a late night tour? I mean, granted, that’s probably something I would have done anyway if I was in charge of scheduling as I subscribe to the “cram as much as humanly possible into one trip, sleep is for the dead” school of thought…at least until that alarm goes off in the stark cold morning and I’m the coziest hedgehog that ever curled into a blanket burrow and then I think “sleep is for me, sleep is for meeeeeee.” Either way, I always get up, looking forlornly at the bed, and this sullen state of mind usually continues until I get some food in me, also known as the Pre-Food Grumps™.

Iceland’s “golden circle” is a ~200 mile loop that comprises a number of tourist destinations, primarily Geysir, Gullfoss, and Þingvellir. Reykjavik Excursions must be familiar with the Pre-Food Grumps™, as the first stop on their golden circle tour is Friðheimar, which you will note is not on the list of three things I mentioned above. Friðheimar is known for growing tomatoes year round in greenhouses under artificial lighting. As you may or may not know, Iceland is a young land, geologically speaking. It’s still developing, and is very volcanically active. Natural forces bring Earth’s heat close to the surface, which allows the country to use inexpensive and clean geothermal energy to heat and light their homes…and to power these sorts of greenhouses to grow crops. Through the use of these greenhouses, they’re actually able to grow local bananas, a fruit you would never expect to find in their climate.

On the way to Friðheimar, our tour guide explained a bit more about food production in Iceland. Now, I am not mocking her at all–she was knowledgeable, well-versed in English, and I liked her quite a bit–but occasionally she would come up with a turn of phrase that just boggled the mind. For instance, when talking about geothermal activity in Iceland, she went on to explain that in some areas, the ground is too hot for people to bury their dead and that thinking about that problem was something that “put a little smile” on her face. Yes,  I often get a little smile when thinking about the problems of others, but generally that’s not something one discusses among company one doesn’t know particularly well. As we pulled into the Friðheimar parking lot, she told us that these were the best tomatoes we would ever eat, and they were grown completely without the use of “shamicles”. You would be wrong if you thought that “shamicles” has not worked its way into my regular vocabulary, and not always as a substitute for the word “chemicals”. As an example, the homeopathic natural remedy section at Whole Foods is FULL of shamicles.

tomatoes

so many tomatoes

marys menu

At Friðheimar, there was signage everywhere proclaiming that NOW is the best time of the day for a bloody mary. Jason is particularly suggestible when it comes to this sort of thing (I may or may not have tricked him into marrying me by leaving photos of wedding bands laying around) and this is how he ended up with the world’s finest bloody mary at 9am. At 9:01am, he learned that he doesn’t actually like bloody marys. I, too, am not a fan of the bloody mary,  though I briefly considered the “healthy mary” (green tomato, lime, honey and ginger, served chilled with sparkling water) or the “happy mary” (the healthy mary, but with added gin, hence the happiness). If you really want to get your motor revving bright and early, you can also elect to purchase a hollowed out tomato filled with schnapps. It was a little early for me to be hitting the sauce, particularly at the start of an all-day tour, so I passed. However, I remain intrigued by their dessert menu, which includes a green tomato and apple pie, tomato ice cream, and cheesecake with a green tomato cinnamon jam–so much so that I’m considering importing some of their products to try at my leisure.

bloody mary

Our next stop was Geysir, the periodically spouting hot spring from which the English word “geyser” also spouted. One of our fellow bus riders was so anxious to witness the phenomenon than he stood up and began grabbing his bags before the bus came to a stop, which prompted our tour guide to scold him with “You must listen to me or you will fall down and hurt yourself very badly!” to which Jason followed up with a whisper in my ear “and then I’ll get a little smile on my face!” which caused me to erupt in raucous laughter, like a different (more obnoxious) sort of geyser.

After we deboarded, we carefully made our way to the hot springs, as the constant water droplets cause the pathways to turn into sheets of ice. Nearby trees were crusted with ice solely on their geyser-facing side. The surrounding landscape was almost otherworldly, with smoking holes bubbling gases into the air, and every few minutes, the heavy sigh of Strokkur pluming boiling water into the sky. Geysir itself erupts infrequently.

In case the wonder of nature wears off, thankfully, there’s an adjacent gift shop with some really upscale items, like fur hats that I couldn’t stop petting until I worked out the price conversion and gagged a little…and then petted them some more because there was no way they were coming home with me. There were also some items that looked suspiciously like walrus pajamas, from the Danny Devito line for well-dressed walruses.

geysir hot springs

alien landscape

punching the sky

coated tree

walrus suits

After we’d had enough of water shooting up, it was time to watch water go down at Gullfoss. Gullfoss (or “golden falls”) is so named because of the way the waterfall lights up golden when the light strikes it just so, and has nothing at all to do with another phrase you may have heard, golden showers. I didn’t personally see the water glitter golden (it could have been the wrong time of day, too many clouds, or some other factor), but it is a gorgeous falls nonetheless. The popular legend about Gullfoss is that foreign interests wanted to turn it into a hydroelectric plant in the early 1900s, but that the daughter of the farmer who had leased the land, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, was so opposed that she fought a legal battle to prevent this from happening, walking to Reykjavik barefoot more than once, bleeding due to the rocky terrain, and she even threatened to throw herself into the falls themselves should she not prevail in court. Some sources say this story is true, others claim it’s false,  and since I’m not a research librarian and from all available evidence, you mostly read this blog out of pity for me and for jokes about butts, not accurate historical information, all I’ll say is thank you for your pity, and butts butts butts.

jason gullfoss

gullfoss 1

dont walk

gullfoss

gullfoss water

gullfoss pano

gullfoss iceland

 gullfoss flare

Next to Gullfoss is another gift shop, in case you found yourself with a desperate need of a keychain between your last stop and this one. I took a quick pass through (because you know me, I like stuff) and it was basically the same stuff I’d seen everywhere else on the trip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, I guess I just would have expected a little more variation from place to place–things that spoke more specifically to the exact place at which one is standing (“Sigriður Tómasdóttir threw herself into Gullfoss and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”, etc) but that just might be my American consumerism talking.

After reboarding the bus, the tour guide told us that we were coming up to her favorite part of the tour–the part where she stops talking for an hour, so if we’d like to nap and not miss anything, now would be the time. It seems all I needed was for someone to reassure me that I wouldn’t miss anything, as I fell asleep in seconds, drool running down my chin in a poor imitation of the waterfall. By the time the tour guide started talking again, I was feeling a bit more refreshed and a bit less like a member of the walking dead, saliva nonwithstanding. We had arrived at Þingvellir national park, the place where the north american and eurasian tectonic plates meet. You can actually see the continental drift between the plates, and walk along the Almannagjá fault, which is what we did. Other tours are available to go snorkeling between the plates in the Silfra fissure in the Þingvallavatn lake, which supposedly has some of the most crystal clear water in the world. I’m not the world’s most avid snorkeler, so that’s not a claim that I can personally verify, electing to spend my time doing something other than panicking quietly in a drysuit.

boulder cliff edges

cliff

walking path

rocky cliffs  pathway    j bundled             t walkway

church    

running water

pano

As we were leaving the park, the weather turned nasty. The skies grew dark, rain lashed at the side of the bus, and someone driving behind the bus felt the driver was taking things a bit too cautiously, laying on the horn the entire time he passed us. We saw him a few miles up the road being dug out of a snowdrift.

…It put a little smile on my face.

A Game of Crones: Mellzah’s 34th Nameday

Last year, I set thirty-three goals for my thirty-third year (you may recall, as I’ve talked about and backlinked to it nigh-endlessly). Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100% successful–I managed a good 2/3rds of the list, but a combination of over-ambitious scheduling, somewhat under-achieving, and a few other factors (weather and the like) prevented me from getting all the way there. At first, I was a little mad at myself–“I couldn’t manage to do thirty-three things in a year? Seriously?” especially given that I’m lucky enough to have much more free time than most: no kids, no job, etc. But on the other hand, it was partially my desire to have a well-rounded list, not just things to see but things to achieve, that was my own undoing. It’s one thing to make a list that says do/make/learn on it with an arbitrary timeline, and another to cast hundreds of resin brigandine armor pieces while learning a language and trying to do art for several different projects and…it was all just too much.

But even when I didn’t achieve my goal, I often made good strides toward it–I didn’t reach my goal weight, but I lost 70 pounds, while changing the fact that I had been slowly disappearing from my own blog for the last few years as my weight ballooned. I didn’t finish my sketchbook but I rediscovered my love of drawing. I didn’t run a 5k, but I learned just how much I actually hate running. And the successes I had changed my life for the better– my new recipes tried per week averaged way higher than one, which meant I tried so many new things, learned new techniques, and didn’t suffer the crushing boredom that usually comes with extended dieting. The peach tree I planted last year has little baby peaches on it now–a few years from now, it should produce enough to bake with as well as eat fresh. Either way, I’ve decided to not up the stakes with 34 things this year: I don’t want to spend the next year rushing from thing to thing just to check it off my list or feel guilty for not having done so. Instead, I’m just going to jot down some things privately and when I’m dinking around on World of Warcraft, maybe it’ll give me a reminder about the longer term goals that I have and how I could better be spending my time.

Speaking of spending my time, around January this year, I decided that I wanted to have a big, fabulous birthday party this year, akin to some of the parties I’ve thrown of old. A magical, wonderful, fantastical, frabjabular party. And since my birthday weekend neatly coincided with the season premiere of Game of Thrones, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to have a grand Westerosi name day celebration. Planning started in earnest almost immediately: this wasn’t the sort of thing I could half-ass and achieve the effect I was going for, which meant that just about everything had to be made from scratch or altered in some way to live up to my standards.

lsp

First up were the invitations. I used this template from Inn at the Crossroads and printed it out on some natural colored cardstock, and “gilded” all of the yellow elements on the card with gold tempera powder. Each invitation had a black feather stuffed inside and was finished off with a wax seal with a “hand of the king” impression…and no return address. Mysterious!

 

invitation

invitations

I asked guests to send a raven to RSVP, and many of the “ravens” I received in return were very clever, with my two favorites being the Poe poem “The Raven” altered to fit the theme, and the other being a raven finger puppet with a message of regret in Dothraki.

To set the scene, I wanted some large, eye-catching props, so to create the feel of a tourney ground in my backyard, I cut a number of vinyl shower curtains in half and painted house sigils on them. This was a lot more cost and time effective than rendering them in cloth, which is what I did for my Midnight Carnival (eight freaking years ago!). Instead of shelling out $100 for the officially licensed dragon eggs, I made my own from styrofoam ostrich eggs and about a jillion thumb tacks. Instead of shelling out $150 for the officially licensed map markers, I made my own crude ones with some air-cure clay.  Instead of shelling out $30,000 (plus shipping) for the officially licensed iron throne replica, I cobbled one together using an adirondack chair, yardsticks, fun foam, a glue gun, and some spray paint. I also bought and polished a number of silver servingware pieces from thrift shops (many for just a couple of bucks while the brand new ones in department stores are going for several hundred!) so that my feast could be appropriately schmancy. The idea was to save where I could so I could splurge elsewhere.

got house sigil banners

finished dragon eggs

iron throne

servingware

I also made my dress (which was supposed to be heavily embroidered but I ran out of time/ambition beforehand), covered an archery target with burlap and Joffrey’s stupid face, fixed up a foam bow and arrow toy set so it looked a little less plastic-y (there was no way I was going to let a bunch of drunk adults shoot real arrows in my backyard, a decision that was justified the first time an arrow launched over the fence and pegged a car), aged some “lost Nymeria” posters, and in proper Song of Ice and Fire fashion, made (and bought)  a fuckton of food:

  • Beef brisket
  • Chopped pork
  • Roasted chickens
  • Jalapeno artichoke dip served in hollowed out artichokes (they looked vaguely dragon egg-y to me)
  • Candied lemon almonds
  • Candied peppered pecans
  • Carrots with butter, honey, and lemon
  • Spinach salad with goat cheese, strawberries, and edible flowers
  • Spiced crunchy chickpeas
  • Brie with lavender honey and bourbon pecans
  • Fresh baked bread & salt
  • Lemon cakes topped with candied lemon slices
  • Apple pie
  • Strawberry pie
  • Salted honey rose pie
  • Spiced Dornish strongwine
  • Sekahnjebin

Plus, I had a case of red wine, and a keg of beer from Black Raven Brewing Co, so hopefully no one went hungry or thirsty or sober on my watch. These were all served on plates that looked like silver shields, and drinks were from goblets and silver coffee mugs that looked a bit like flagons, because every last damn detail has to be just so in my world, which might have something to do with me only being able to throw a party of this magnitude every few years or so lest I spend all of my nights waking up in a panic about plates and the weather forecast. I managed to take zero photos of the spread, because pretty much by the time it all comes together, everyone’s at the party and ready to eat. Besides, as I am not a food blogger, I manage to make even the most delicious food look unappetizing in a photograph. I just don’t have those skills.

I got so, so lucky with the weather for this party. We’d been having an unseasonably warm spring, and had three beautiful sunny and warm weekends in a row…so what was the forecast for my outdoor party? Rain. Cold. And every time I looked at the forecast, it got worse. Harder rain. Thunderstorms. Pretty much every screech of despair that happened in the house that week was because I had pulled up the weather forecast, save for a couple when I was trying to sew my dress and fucked it up pretty badly. There were a lot of screeches of despair that week. Luckily, the day of the party was dry and cool, with the rain holding off until past sunset at which point I didn’t care anymore. It would have been really hard to convince everyone to go outside if it was pouring, and while I could have probably fit that many people in my house in a worst-case scenario, I think everyone is much more comfortable if they have the option for fresh air.

oberyn

have you seen this wolf

So, I mentioned splurging up above. Splurging on what, you ask? On the elements of the party that I was dying to tell people about beforehand. Somehow I managed to keep my trap shut, and in the process, I probably took a couple of years off of my life holding it all in. If I have a secret, I will want to tell it. I will be dying to tell it. You should never, ever tell me a secret. First, I hired the amazing Ashley from Camlann to make fresh flower crowns for anyone who wanted them. Second, I was lucky enough to be able to hire the Seattle Knights to battle in my backyard. About twenty minutes before the knights were due to perform, I hustled everyone out into the backyard for an archery contest, with the prizes being some golden dragon eggs stuffed with small GoT swag–a hand of the king pin, a mockingbird pin, and a coin of the faceless men of Braavos. When the knights strode in, clad in plate and mail, jaws dropped. They did battle for an hour, sang me a birthday dirge, mingled with guests, took photos with anyone who wanted them, and were generally the most freaking awesome people in the world. IN THE WORLD. I may never have another party better than this one.

archery

20160423_184209

20160423_184341(0)

flower crown table

emily

house banners

joff target

joffrey target

jorrie

a and c

me and chantal

ash

 

georgia 1

 

flower crown

 

llllladies

 

j crown

 

knights battling

 

knight battle

 

 

smite

 

 

chris

 

d and j         georgia        jason 

  khaleesi

dany takes the throne

Hunting for the Aurora Borealis in Iceland

One of the things in Iceland I was most hopeful I’d see was the northern lights. The flight and hotel package included a northern lights tour courtesy Reykjavik Excusions, which was smartly booked for the evening of my arrival–I say smartly because if you are unlucky in your evening’s attempt, the tour company will take you out again and again at no additional charge until you’re successful or you run out of time. Even so, I tried my best not to have my hopes too high: there’s no guarantee that the weather and the lights will cooperate, and if I made it the focus of my trip, the big bucket list experience I was dying to have, I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment…and who the heck wants to have a big trip framed by disappointment? Thus, I kept in mind that having the best time in Iceland that I could was the focus, and the lights, if I saw them, would be a nice bonus.

Before my tour, I had a little time to check in to my hotel and get settled, post horseback ride. Given that I was so exhausted from the flight, I elected to use a little of that time to try and take a nap, saving a couple of hours before the tour bus picked me up to go eat dinner. This short time window was when I learned something important about Reykjavik: if you don’t have dinner reservations, you aren’t getting in anywhere, even mid-week. I tried no fewer than four restaurants and was turned away from them all. My hunger grew larger as my time grew shorter, and ultimately, I had to buy dinner from the Icelandic equivalent of 7/11, 10-11. My healthy purchases included a sandwich called a “pepperoni taco”, a bag of mini cinnamon rolls, bacon maple syrup popcorn, and a couple of kinds of candy I’d never seen before, including one called “Dracula Blood”, which was easily one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten (and just let me remind you that I’ve eaten salsa stuffed with mealworms and a centipede flavored jellybean). Dracula Blood tastes of salty pennies and licorice, and just when I’d gotten past the salty penny coating to the more pleasing licorice part, I discovered it was filled with salty penny gunk as well. One pastille was more than enough, regardless of the recommended serving size.

dinner

With dinner down the hatch, I made my way to the lobby to wait for the bus. So far, Iceland hadn’t been as cold as I’d been anticipating, so I elected not to wear my outermost snow pants. They were a little snug in the gut region (it couldn’t be all that candy for dinner, could it?)  and I’d already managed to break the zipper once, because I’d bought the cheapest possible pair online. Why spend the evening worrying about whether or not my long undies were showing through my fly when I could be in relative comfort without them? This was a decision I almost immediately regretted when I stepped off the bus into a snowdrift that went up to my knees, soaking my pants.

The cold was unbelievable. I have no doubt that I’ve been spoiled (weakened) by mild Washington and California winters; I’m no longer the same Wisconsin kid who could wait for the bus in sub zero temperatures wearing only a hoodie, the kid who looked cool* but didn’t feel cold. Lately, I shiver when the temperature in the house is a balmy sixty-five, and my poor husband has to tolerate the icebergs, formally known as human feet, that I plant on him under the sheets every night. I have never implied that being married to me is a treat, so if you ever found yourself thinking “Oh wow, Mellzah is so cool and wonderful and beautiful, I only wish she had a clone that I could make my bride,” you should know that you’d be signing up for a lifetime of tantrums and torture.

I’d brought along a few packets of hand and foot warmers, which barely made a dent in the bone-chilling cold. At first, I stuffed my hands in my pockets, but eventually, I pulled my arms out of my jacket sleeves and kept them pressed against my torso in the hopes that they would not need to be chopped off later due to frostbite. My feet, tucked inside waterproof boots and thick socks, went numb almost immediately. The icy wind bit at my cheeks as I stared futilely at the sky. I didn’t know what I hoped for more–the aurora borealis in the sky or the warmth you’re supposed to feel when you’re close to freezing to death. After thirty minutes or possibly much less (time has a way of stretching when one is in misery), I’d had enough and trudged back to my bus to await the trip back to the hotel.

The tour group, however, was not ready to call it quits, possibly because they’d reached bus capacity. The bus that picked up tourists from our hotel and several others met up with something like twelve other buses before we headed out, and if we went back before seeing the northern lights, that’s twelve busloads of people who would potentially be back the next night demanding a free second outing…in addition to any new bookings. With the limits of their bus fleet in mind, we trekked on to a different spot while I tried to rub feeling back into my toes. It was there that we got lucky. Our tour bus driver said that the aurora we saw that night was the best we could hope to see under the circumstances–those circumstances being that we were only four days away from a full moon, and the sky being so brightened by the reflected light not making for ideal viewing conditions, which, come to think of it, is probably why the week I booked the trip was significantly less expensive than one a week earlier or two weeks later.

I made my way off the bus, up an ice-slicked hill, looked up at the sky, and saw what I can only describe as a dirty gray smear that may or may not have been moving, and if someone hadn’t told me it was the aurora, I would have assumed it was an unremarkable cloud. It was certainly not the spectacle of dancing green lights I had come to expect from years of looking at photographs of the aurora, and even with my “anything you see is a bonus” mindset, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointment.

aurora

Cameras, however, can capture things that would otherwise be invisible to the human eye, and sometimes, post processing reveals things one didn’t notice at the time.

 

better aurora

 

…ah, that’s better.

 

*I was never cool.

Reykjavik’s Thriving Street Art Culture

my god its full of stars

acorn

black and white

creeper

dont panic

face peeping between buildings

faces

fish and hair tendrils

I was so thrilled by the art everywhere on Reykjavik streets–peeping around corners of buildings, on parking structures, even on temporary wooden boards meant to hide construction. Everywhere I looked, there was more art, and I tried to look everywhere, behind apartment buildings, down side streets, only chickening out at the prospect of climbing a teeny tiny ladder to get on top of a particularly art-covered building. I’m sure I still only saw a small portion. At one point, I was trying to navigate a path to get a closer view of one building and slipped on the ice, falling onto my purse so hard that all the air whoofed out of me. I was certain that I’d managed to break my phone, my camera, and no fewer than three ribs, but luckily, nothing broke. The only damage was a massive Iceland-shaped bruise that bloomed on my side, which turned shockingly purple with even darker tectonic plate lines which lined up with a seam on my pants. In other words, super cute. Also, as a mature adult, every time I felt an ache in that area for the rest of the trip, I would moan “Oooooh, my ass-land”, which never stopped being funny for me because I was overtired for the entire trip, but probably got old for Jason on the second or third repetition. The thing that deeply bummed me out were the instances when an otherwise beautiful mural was tagged with things like “faggot” and “kill your fucking self”, because if you can’t contribute, why not destroy something, right?

There’s so much more art after the cut, including some of my favorites! Continue reading

The Viking Horses of Iceland

viking horses frosted glass

My flight to Iceland departed on a Thursday afternoon and arrived bright and early on a Friday morning. In order to prepare for the time change and make the most of my time there, I thought it was best if I went to bed late on Wednesday, woke up very early on Thursday (3:30am early) and had no caffeine all day so I’d be good and ready to sleep on the flight. I dragged ass allllll day. Then the flight was delayed for three hours due to mechanical problems, so I had to put off sleeptime even further, looking longingly at the airport Dilettante cafe and all of the happy, perky people sipping their delicious mochas. By the time I boarded the plane, I was good and ready to sleep…only to discover that my seat was in the last row before the toilets and thus didn’t have the option to recline even a fraction of an inch. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The seats in front of me, of course, reclined just fine. Maybe farther than normal, even, because I felt like the man in front of me was practically sitting in my lap. I’m not generally one to feel claustrophobic on planes, but the seat situation coupled with my extreme tiredness was a bridge too far.  Have you ever been so tired that you didn’t know whether to cry or go limp and boneless in despair? That was me, except I was too dehydrated to cry and strapped into a seat with two inches of breathing room in front of my face, there wasn’t enough room for my bonelessness to achieve its full dramatic effect. The flight was just over seven hours and of that, I got maybe two hours of terrible, terrible sleep.

But somehow, that two hours was enough for me to rally once I landed in Iceland. After getting through customs and taking the bus from the airport to my hotel in Reykjavík, Jason and I had only a couple of hours to spend before it was time for the horseback riding excursion I’d booked, and since we couldn’t check into our room yet, instead it was just enough time to fuel up with a sandwich and black coffee at Sandholt beforehand. Our ride leader, Viggó, who looked every inch the tall blonde Nordic gentleman you’d expect from hearing that name, picked us up promptly from our hotel at the previously agreed-upon time and drove us to the Viking Horses stables, where I got to meet my very first Icelandic horses.

Icelandic horses are unique; the breed has spent 1,000 years in isolation after originally being brought to Iceland by Norse settlers. In fact, they are the only breed of horse found on Iceland. No horses are allowed to be imported to the island (no livestock at all, actually), and horses that have been exported cannot return; this is to protect the breed as any new disease has the potential to be absolutely devastating. As a result of their breed isolation, Icelandic horses are much shorter than your average horse, more akin to the size of a pony, but with the strength and stamina of a horse. They’ve got full manes and tails and a double coat to protect them against the weather, and in winter, this means that they are so shaggy and adorable that they can make a full grown woman in her thirties squeal with delight at first sight (I’m talking about me, of course). Their personalities are the best, too–not easily spooked (no predators in Iceland), willing to work, and so flipping sweet they could make a diabetic keel over while they inquisitively nuzzle and nose into their way into his coat pockets. This is a horse that moves into a hug instead of backing away and going “whoa there, human, let’s  maintain that personal space bubble, shall we?”. What I’m saying is, I love them. I love love love love them. 

curious

shaggy chops

At the stables, after I managed to tear myself away from the horses, we met the two other people riding on the afternoon tour–some lovely British girls on holiday. We chatted a bit and then it was time to suit up and ride. If you don’t have all the proper clothing, Viking Horses has a great stock of loaner clothing–my fleece lined water resistant pants were stuffed into my suitcase, so I grabbed a pair of their loaners to go over my jeans so I wouldn’t get cold and horsey. When we went back outside, we introduced ourselves to the horses we were going to ride in the pen by grooming them a bit, and then it was time to mount up and head out. This ride marked a couple of firsts for me: the first time I’ve ever ridden in an English saddle, and the first time I was able to get up on a horse without standing on a box (especially impressive because with two pairs of pants on, my leg mobility was more than a little diminished). All of the horses in the group were named after Icelandic features, except for mine, Neo, who was named after The Matrix. I can be trusted to pick out the trenchcoat wearing goth in any given group. Small (even by Icelandic standards), dark, and oh-so-shaggy, I wanted to minify him even further, put him in my pocket, and steal him away.

hekla

Our tour was the afternoon Mjölnir tour, which is a one and a half hour ride through Hólmsheiði hill and around the Rauðhólar pseudocraters–the deep red iron-rich rocks in the lava fields outside of Reykjavík. It seemed to be a popular riding area, as we saw several single riders and one very large group. One of the single riders joined us briefly, riding one of the most strikingly beautiful black horses I’ve ever seen, and without thinking, I complimented him on his horse in English. He agreed with me in Icelandic, and as ridiculous as this sounds, it kind of made my day that he understood me and I understood him. Not that I would have known how to compliment him in Icelandic, anyway, because I am awful and learned about five words before I went and was reticent to use them in case I screwed up and insulted someone when I meant to thank them. It’s actually deeply embarrassing how well nearly everyone I encountered in Iceland speaks English, when I know that given my five years of Spanish classes, I could barely direct a Spanish-speaking tourist in Seattle to the baño if need be, much less educate them about the geographical history of the area.

 

riding icelandic horses

red rocks iceland

ride scenery

It was a gorgeously crisp day outside, and the snow crunched delightfully underfoot. On a clear day, you can can see a semicircle of mountains surrounding the area as well as Reykjavík city. It was a bit cloudy during my ride, so no mountains, but it was scenic nonetheless. I was able to pop out my phone on the ride for a few quick shots, but I was primarily concerned with keeping my seat, unlike Viggó who was able to whip around in his saddle and snap photos of the group. While it’s true that Icelandic horses are more comfortable and less bouncy to ride, a bit like a moving couch, when riding English style not only do you have no saddle horn to grab onto if things get hairy, you also have one fewer hand with which to grab since they’re both on the reins. And things indeed got a little hairy–one of the Brits and I were dawdling toward the back of the group, and I decided to try and catch up, which meant passing the other horse, Hekla, named after an Icelandic volcano, also known as “the gateway to hell”. Hekla decided this meant we were racing, and both horses broke out into a gallop and I lost a stirrup, at which point I fully resigned myself to the idea that I was going to go flying off Neo’s back. Somehow, that did not happen and I regained control just before I would have crashed into the rest of the horses, but the shame of doing pretty much everything wrong in those few seconds lingered with me, because shame never really leaves me, it just hangs out in the background waiting for a quiet moment to resurface. Maybe as late as 20 years later. Maybe longer.

neo

om nom nom

aww sweet face

grooming

they see me rollin they hatin

i whip my hair back and forth

sweet face

horse pats

After we got back to the stable, the horses were unsaddled and they promptly began to roll in the snow, groom one another, and shamelessly beg for human affection. After we’d had enough pats and hugs, we were invited inside for an Icelandic snack–thick skyr loaded with plump blueberries and fresh cream, Icelandic flatbread and cheese, hot coffee, tea, and a slice of dense chocolate cake. We all chatted a bit more and I did my best to not bring shame to America by inhaling everything on the table and making loud, obnoxious jokes…I made softer obnoxious jokes instead. The Brits were on the tail end of their holiday while we were still at the very start of ours, and they told us the trouble they’d had with their rental car; namely that they were unused to driving in snow and went offroad almost immediately, with nothing to dig themselves out. One mentioned her utter loathing of tea and her inability to make a decent cup of it, which surprised me because I thought that was the sort of attitude that got you personally booted out by the Queen while she splashes boiling water in your face and makes a suggestion not to let the door hit you in the arse on your way out, but I guess I was wrong. So far they’d struck out catching a glimpse of the northern lights, and were giving it one last go that night. I wished them luck (a bit selfish as I was also going aurora hunting that night so clear skies benefited me as well) and we went our separate ways, them driving off and Svava, the Viking Horses manager, giving us a lift back to our hotel, but not before recommending several different heated pools we could frequent on our trip.

viking horses base of operations

light lunch

viking horses instagramEvidently this is my horseback riding shirt.

piano skull

greatest picture frame

a little light readingA bit of light reading.

I researched a lot of different horseback riding companies in Iceland before settling on Viking Horses for a few different reasons–I liked their Sleipnir logo which indicated to me that they embraced their cultural history, their commitment to small group riding (immeasurably better than huge nose-to-tail groups), from stalking a number of website photos their horses appeared to be the cutest (an important consideration), and far be it for me to say no to free lunch. I was ultimately thrilled with my decision to book with them. They responded to my messages quickly, they were so warm and inviting, and it was the perfect start to my time in Iceland. Takk!

Goofing Off On the Lewis & Clark Trail

commemoration stone

curious flat fish

quote rock

whale skeleton long beach

whale skeleton

whale wood sculpture

whale barnacles

sturgeon statue

forward

lewis and clark sturgeon

sturgeon rider

sturgeon riding

oh hello there

In Long Beach, nestled between the beach on one side and the shop on the other is the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail, loaded with statues and other items (including a gray whale skeleton!) commemorating their first contact with the Pacific Ocean. The trail connects nearby Ilwaco (home of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center) and Long Beach, a place in which I’ve engaged in many shenanigans but somehow had never seen this before, maybe because it didn’t involve riding down flights of stairs on an air mattress or shooting unsuspecting friends with a marshmallow gun. The trail itself is 8.5 miles long, but owing to having just hiked a bunch at Cape Disappointment, I wasn’t ready to dedicate myself to the entire thing. I’m thinking this summer, I’ll strap my bike to the back of the car and bike it. For now, just goofing around on a sturgeon will have to suffice.

A Cruise to Tillicum Village

 

Leave it to me to book a trip to Tillicum Village on a date when an enormous windstorm hits the city. The water seemed pretty choppy on the ride over to Blake Island, but not insane storm worthy, so I was surprised when the Argosy crew announced that the island had lost power and everyone was going to try and make do by candlelight as the food was already cooked. Uh oh.

Given the aforementioned “make do” information, I was all set to have this be a sort of medicore experience, a half-assed version of the full-priced experience I’d paid for, AAA discount nonwithstanding. It was actually intimate and charming. We were still greeted with a mug of piping hot steamed clams in nectar upon our arrival, the shells of which we crunched underfoot to add to the pathway to the longhouse. We were seated right by the stage, next to an elderly couple who split their wine flight with us as the wife insisted the husband couldn’t handle all of it himself. The food was all delicious–the salmon (sustainable), the stew, the rice, the bread, the blackberry cobbler made with locally sourced berries–we stuffed ourselves.

The performances were likely quieter than normal, and with no light effects or other distractions, I could really focus on how special it was to be there in that moment. I’m glad that it seems like everything done as part of Tillicum Village is executed with respect and care. The native stories were told by Roger Fernandes, a member and storyteller of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. The songs and dances were used with the permission of the native familes to whom they belong, which is really important–it’s why I took no photos, because they’re not mine to share with you. They also made sure to note that while you see totems on the property, they are actually not part of the traditions of the coast Salish people of Puget Sound and are actually sourced from the coastal tribes of British Columbia and Alaska. My expectations of the day were defied in every way, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

On our way back from the island, I checked my phone and saw that my area was entirely without power as well, a friend had lost a good portion of her roof, and she was driving over to my place to make sure a tree hadn’t crushed my dog (for the record, he remains uncrushed). The power was out for the remainder of the day, and I was grateful I’d stuffed myself on salmon earlier because even after spending 11 days in a blackout, I’m still terrible at stocking food you can eat straight from the pantry. Thank you, Tillicum Village.

It’s OK I guess: A trip to Cape Disappointment

cape disappointment

fogI thought it was pretty funny that they printed a sign for fog.

dense fogBut by gum, they were right, that fog was front and center. Evidently, it’s one of the foggiest places in the United States. Take that, San Francisco, and eat it with your regional treat!

dragonfly

lewis and clark interpretive center

use a dogs nose

dead mans cove

 

jason at dead mans cove

lighthouse at cape disappointment

lighthouse

jason lighthouse

mossy building

jason mossy building

lewis and clark cliff

poop rockPossibly the poopiest rock of all time.

As with a number of things on my 33 list, I didn’t have a big pressing reason to add visiting Cape Disappointment to its number. I’d never been, it sounded scenic, it was within a reasonable driving distance, hey, let’s go. It’s actually not a disappointment at all, between the superb Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the miles of hiking trails in Cape Disappointment State Park. We hiked from the interpretive center to the lighthouse which took us past the picturesque Dead Man’s Cove (man, everything here has such a cheery name, I can’t wait to visit Butt Rot Park and Misery Peak, maybe Mediocre Cliffs if there’s time). The lighthouse is a working lighthouse as the nearby Columbia River bar is extremely hazardous, so a sign sternly informed us to leave the coast guard the fuck alone and get the hell out of the way of any cars driving up and down the path.

I thought it was funny that in the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, there was a “lighthouse passport” with insane levels of achievement for collecting lighthouse stamps (seriously, I could spend the rest of my life’s vacations solely visiting lighthouses and I don’t think it would be possible to collect 420 unique lighthouse stamps…shit, I’m struggling with 33 activities in a year!)  and then when we got to the lighthouse, there was no actual stamper on site and I didn’t want to distract the coast guard for something as frivolous as a stamp for a book that I didn’t even buy. It turns out that a lot of the stamps for visiting the lighthouses are at locations other than the lighthouse, which means that you have to visit two places for every one stamp, and that half the achievement is just figuring out where in the hell you’re supposed to go for your stamp. What I’m saying is, filling a lighthouse passport will not be on my 34 list.