sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

November 17, 2011

a day in reykjavik: iceland, day 3
posted by soe 11:00 pm

Wednesday got off to a bit of a slow start for us as apparently all the fresh air and exercise (and late night blogging) made us a wee bit tired.

Hallgrimkirkja on a Fall Day

Once we arose, we headed off to check out Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland’s biggest church. First, though, we headed across the street from the church to Loki’s Cafe, touted by every guide book we looked at as well worth a visit. They were right — her pancake platter was delicious. They’re crepes, really — one rolled up like a cigar and filled with cinnamon sugar, and the other folded into quarters and stuffed with jam and cream. Vacation food from heaven.

Hallgrimskirkja and Leif Eriksson

Fortified, we headed back across the street to check out what Rudi refers to as the Lego church, as it is very geometrical and does look as if it could easily be replicated by a skilled youngster with the right collection of toy bricks. Outside, keeping watch on the harbor stands a statue of Leif Eriksson, noted, as I’m sure you all recall from your early history lessons, for being the man credited with discovering America. The statue was a gift from the U.S.

Inside the church, it’s all pale wood and light blue cushions and clear windows. Very little stained glass to be seen here. I assume it’s so as not to prevent any of Iceland’s precious winter sunlight from getting in, but that’s totally a guess on my part. The church also has a striking organ in the back above the entrance. I understand the concerts are magnificent, but no one was playing it the day we visited. We decided not to go up in the tower because it was a gray day threatening the town with rain. We may try to head back on a finer day to check that out.

Hallgrimskirkja's Organ

The city center is straight down the hill, so we window shopped our way down. We stopped in a woolen goods shop and I considered yarn purchases, but none of it demanded to be taken away that day. We also stopped in a cd shop, but it’s hard to gauge music by the covers, so we postponed that purchase as well.

Settlement  Exhibition, Part 2

Downtown and looking to escape the drizzle that had begun, we decided to check out the Settlement Exhibition. Several years back, someone wanted to build a hotel in downtown on the site of an old house. They agreed to preserve the house, but after they dug it out, they found that it was sitting on the site of a much older house — one that dates to something like 870 A.D. The foundation of the house still exists and the museum they’ve opened in its spot (underneath the hotel whose construction precipitated the discovery) uses motion-triggered sensors, light beams, and other technological advances to its advantage in showing off the ruins.

After that, we went looking for the photography museum we’d seen the night before, but instead we ended up at the Reykjavik Art Museum, a gallery showing an assortment of modern art pieces. Let us say that Rudi enjoyed it more than I did and leave it at that. We did see a great mural depicting the harbor on the building next door, so that’s something.

Mosaic Part 2

In need of a bit of a pick-me-up, we walked up the main shopping boulevard downtown (Laugavegur), did some more windowshopping, and found a great yard that had been given over to street artists. There was some truly outstanding work, before ending up in a lovely subterranean teashop where we passed a quiet and rejuvenating hour.

Street Art Yard

By the time we left, the shops were closing (Reykjavik keeps the traditional European closing time of 6 p.m. most weekday nights), and we wandered through a grocery store looking at local foods before ultimately figuring out what we wanted for our own dinner — Thai food. We followed that up by returning to the bookstore we’d visited Monday night for tea and coffee, after a quick visit around the Volcano Museum’s exhibit.

Tjornin Lake Bridge -- Green

We finished up the night back at the hotel periodically running out to the floor’s north-facing elevator lobby windows to see if the clouds had cleared so we could see the Northern Lights. No luck so far, although the evenings are getting less foggy, so keep your fingers crossed…

A few more shots of day three here.

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November 16, 2011

fosses, a jokull, and an exploded geysir: iceland, day 2
posted by soe 9:44 pm

Tuesday was our planned adventuring day. When we bought our tickets to Iceland, included in the package was an Icelandic Mountain Guides tour offering a glacier walk, a lobster soup dinner, and a viewing of the Northern Lights (weather permitting).

Mountain and Farmland

We boarded the bus from our hotel at 11:30 a.m. and set off south from Reykjavik. Our guide was entertaining, offering us a nice blend of cultural understanding, history, political insights, and personal stories. We learned about Icelandic horses (Their horses have a unique walking style that allows them to have a competition where horses walk a course while their rider holds a full glass of beer; whoever has the most beer left in their glass at the end wins.), the Icelandic Sagas (I’m guessing locals would be upset that Barnes & Noble in the U.S. files their national history book in the mythology section), and the Vestmannaeyjar eruption of 1973 (when an entire island was forced to evacuate via the town’s fishing fleet when its volcano suddenly erupted in the middle of the night) among other things as we rolled through the agricultural belt of Iceland.

We paused for lunch at a rest stop and a few of us ran across the road to check out the tiny town’s farmers’ market (which mostly sold local arts and crafts) and the grocery store, complete with its aisle of yarn!

Yarn in the supermarket!

Then back on the bus for another bit of driving. As we got closer to the area where Eyjafjallajökull erupted, its presence became apparent. Icelanders are still working hard to combat the effects of the ash, which fills the rivers. Construction crews work through the night to dredge the ash to the banks to cut down on the pollution.

Ash in the River

We passed one set of waterfalls but stopped at the next. This is Skogarfoss, one of the larger waterfalls in the country:

Portrait at Skogarfoss

You can no longer see the soil for the ash.

Ash-Covered Grass

After admiring the waterfall briefly, we had to hurry back to the bus because daylight only lasts six hours or so in Iceland at this time of the year and we were getting on there.

I have no pictures from when the bus left the main road to take the access road out to the glacier, but trust me when I tell you that a lesser bus driver and a lesser bus would have us stuck out there still. I wanted to hold my breath, but honestly, it went on for ten minutes, so it’s good I didn’t.


We each were fitted with a pair of crampons to attach to our boots in order to keep our footing on the ice and an ice axe (to help us keep our balance, rather than for climbing).

Rudi Has Crampons and an Ice Axe

Our tour guide gave us a few encouraging words and then split us off into two groups. We hiked a bit over frozen ash and lava rocks first before we reached the ice.

Hole in the Ice

Here are some of the highlights from the Solheimajokull glacier:

Rudi on the Glacier

Fissure in the Ice

Hills of Ice

Frozen Ash from 1918 Katla Eruption


Icy Air


Holes and blue ice and air bubbles and frozen ash and fissures and … It was just impressive. There’s no getting around it.

You should click through to Flickr to open this shot. In it you can see the note I put in about where the ice used to reach less than a decade ago. No one in Iceland doubts the existence of global climate change.

Seljalandsfoss at Night

On the way to dinner we stopped at Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which is lit by floodlights, and we not only got to look at the front of it, but also got to see the back side of it, as there is a pathway that hugs the cliff behind the falls.

We scrambled down rocks lit by the guides’ flashlights and got quite damp from the mist of the waterfall and the steady drizzle falling down.

A Damp Sprite

Luckily the bus was warm as was the restaurant we stopped at which served us nice soup (vegetable for me and the non-shellfish eaters, local lobster stew for everyone else) and bread for a tasty supper.

Because of the ceaseless rain and clouds, seeing the Northern Lights was definitely out, so the guides took us instead to the Seltun Geothermal Area, which used to be a geysir until it suddenly exploded back in the early 1990s. It was dark and wet and sulfurous and although it was cool to see, it was universally decided we should not linger long.

Seltun at Night

Even without the Aurora Borealis, it was an amazing trip. Rudi and I just had enough energy to toddle down to the hotel bar for a couple of bedtime drinks (tea and a cappuccino) before we retired back to the room for the night and some well-deserved rest.

sprite and me on Sólheimajökull glacier

Check out the many, many more shots from our Iceland road trip on Flickr.

Category: travel. There is/are 4 Comments.

November 15, 2011

hallo from iceland!
posted by soe 8:58 pm

Greetings from Reykjavik!

Rudi and I took off from Dulles late Sunday evening for Iceland and arrived here six hours later at 6:25 in the morning. The plane ride offered a chance to watch a view short films and tv shows from Iceland and to nap a little bit in preparation for the day ahead.

I am always surprised by customs in European airports. I didn’t speak a word to the guy who looked at my passport and kept waiting for us to go through the “real” immigration gate. I remember thinking that in Paris, too. Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.?

After getting our passports stamped, we headed out to the lobby to buy our bus tickets to the Blue Lagoon. I’m not sure if the girl who sold them to us was surprised we were willing to hang around the airport for three hours until it was time for the bus to depart or because it was raining, but she seemed to be.

We passed the time in a cafe, with hot drinks and reading material. (I’m now a hundred pages into Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City, a police procedural set in Reykjavik.)

Volcanic Rock

Eventually, though, it was time to climb aboard the bus. Dawn was just barely beginning to brighten the clouds (at 9:30) as we drove first through the deserted American naval base, past a car engulfed in flames (no idea what happened there), and then through otherworldly lava fields en route to the world-famous Blue Lagoon.

Power Plant

The Blue Lagoon is overflow from the local power plant. Okay, that’s not quite true. The local geothermal plant uses the water first to create electricity and then the water ends up at the Blue Lagoon, where people believe the therapeutic powers of its silica-rich waters will help to cure a variety of skin ailments. I’m not sure about that, but it sure helps to make you feel relaxed!

Outside the Blue Lagoon

Okay, that’s not entirely true either. It might make you feel relaxed if the gale-force wind weren’t kicking up waves in your calming pool waters! It actually was kind of funny, because they warn women to try not to get long hair wet because it does funky things to it, but I don’t think there was a single woman in the pool with dry hair. Or a dry face. Or who hadn’t swallowed bucketsful of salty water. And I can tell you that the deckside lifeguard was decked out in full-on storm gear, like a fisherman. And the lifeguard stationed in the building’s second floor (so he can see all parts of the pool) has a window equipped with a windshield wiper. But the water was roughly 50 degrees warmer than the air temperature, so it did still feel luxurious to be able to paddle around in it, even as the equivalent of a Nor’Easter swept over us. Rudi and I stayed in more than two hours before climbing out and scrambling quickly inside.

The bus ride up to Reykjavik was a little harrowing between the winds and the unpaved, curving roads. I was really impressed with the bus driver’s skills.

We checked into our hotel just as sun was arriving in Reykjavik, so we only stayed long enough to put our stuff down before we were back out the door and following a footpath that led to a road that ran into the harbor.


Although we did not find a cafe along the water as we were hoping to, we did find a multi-use trail and we walked along it heading toward town. We passed some sculpture and a lot of lava rocks.

I had gotten a few yards ahead of Rudi and I turned around to see what he was shooting, when I noticed something else cool:

Rudi and the Rainbow

Yup! A rainbow! Can’t help but be a good omen for our trip, right?

We walked along the water as far as the Solar Voyager, the statue designed to recall the nation’s Viking heritage.

Solar Voyager Sculpture

Then we decided it was time to find a hot beverage and a bite to eat. The wind was strong and we were tired!

We ended up in a nice little chain cafe where we could eat croissants and drink tea and coffee with a view of the water.

As the sun was setting, we figured we’d better head back to the hotel. As we were walking along, though, we passed this cool-looking, but obviously empty house:

Hofthi House

Turns out, this is Hofthi House, where Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated the end of the Cold War. How cool is that?!

We rested for a while and then headed back out for dinner later in the evening. We went to Icelandic Fish and Chips where we had — you guessed it! — fish and chips. Quite tasty! We then walked a bit around town, found the Occupy Reykjavik park (far less impressive than Macpherson Square, but still nice to see), and ended the evening at the big bookstore in the center of town which was open late to serve us tea, coffee, and dessert. We’ll be heading back there to pick up some reading materials and cds, I suspect, before the trip is over.

Imagine Peace Tower

And so concluded Day 1 in Iceland.

More photos of the day available here.

Category: travel. There is/are 7 Comments.

November 10, 2011

autumn, celebration, and lunch
posted by soe 11:21 pm

It’s the Thursday before we go to Iceland. Whee!


Sorry about that.

I now return you to our regularly scheduled Thursday feature — three beautiful things from my past week:

1. Fall has arrived in D.C. and the trees are bedecked in lavish costumes of orange and yellow.

2. After my semi-annual dental check-up, I celebrate clean teeth with a raspberry cream milkshake and two macarons from Barracks Row restaurants, which I eat in a park under the setting sun.

3. Two of my coworkers and I — all of us survivors of the pre-launch mania — buy lunch, head to a local plaza, and eat outside on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. We chat and laugh and talk about things that have nothing to do with work. It feels so luxurious not to have to rush right back to the office.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

Category: three beautiful things. There is/are 1 Comment.

into the stacks: the physics of imaginary objects
posted by soe 2:57 am

The Physics of Imaginary Objects, by Tina May Hall

From the jacket: “The Physics of Imaginary Objects, in fifteen stories and a novella, offers a very different kind of short fiction, blending story with verse to evoke fantasy, allegory, metaphor, love, body, mind, and nearly every sensory perception. Weaving in and out of the space that connects life and death in mysterious ways, these texts use carefully honed language that suggests a newfound spirituality.”

My take: I picked up this slim volume from the library’s new book shelf by accident, mistaking it for another book whose title I can’t now recall. I kept with it because of its haunting, lyrical use of language. Hard to categorize, it’s probably less stories as the blurb suggests but instead a thematic collection of prose poems focusing on love and loss.

Because many of the pieces were somewhat distressing or disturbing, I can’t say that I liked the book, but I equally can’t say that I did not. I found myself entranced by it, pulled in inextricably as if caught in the book’s gravity, compelled to read page after page as if in a trance. If dark prose compressed into a few pages of lyrical narrative is your thing, I’d recommend this for its beauty.

Pages: 160

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November 9, 2011

into the stacks: cats are weird and more observations
posted by soe 2:51 am

Cats Are Weird and More Observations by Jeffrey Brown

From the jacket Powells’ blurb: “Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown’s drawings perfectly capture the humor and quirkiness of cats in all their strange and charming glory. Following the success of Cat Getting Out of a Bag, this all-new collection of color and black-and-white comic strips loosely follows the adventures of a pair of cats as they explore the world around them, indoors and out. Adventures include taking a nap, licking a shoe, attacking dust particles, hiding in cabinets, pouncing on fallen leaves, confronting the vacuum cleaner, patrolling the yard, and purring up a storm — all adorably rendered in Brown’s immediate and irresistible style. Sure to delight anyone who lives with cats and appreciates their sweet and batty behavior, this beautifully packaged gift book is the cat’s meow.”

My take: A Christmas gift from Sam hand delivered when he came to town earlier this fall, this graphic novel is the sequel to the beloved Cat Getting out of a Bag.

While I didn’t find this one quite as charming as the original, it still offered delightfully illustrated vignettes of a pair of cats doing catlike things. “Resistance Is Futile” portrays a cat demonstrating who the boss is to a pile of papers placed on a desk. “The Look” is familiar to anyone who has ever tried to avoid moving for fear of disturbing the cat dozing on their lap. And, honestly, “Evidence of Cat Ownership or Why Cats Can’t Have Nice Things” hit just a little too close to home in our present Age of Corey.

Overall, a sweet collection of feline-friendly comics and a pleasant way to spend an hour.

Pages: 108

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