Date Archives March 2016

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!

Save

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.

Save

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.