Monthly Archives: August 2018

Iceward, Ho!

In less than a week we embark on an itinerary that one could fairly call “eclectic”, even by our peripatetic standards: 10 days in Iceland, followed by 4 days each in Paris in Prague. Why those choices? We’ve been to Paris many times and love it; it’s been 8 years since we were last there, and we felt it was time to go back. Prague has been on our bucket list for some time; we know many people who have visited and come back raving around it. And Iceland seems to have gotten very trendy in the past few years, with hordes of visitors descending upon the little island, so we figured it was time to do our part. Here’s our route, just south of the Arctic Circle:

2018-08-29 20_06_49-Reykjavík, Iceland to Reykjavík, Iceland - Google Maps To give you an ideal of the scale, the island is roughly 400 km across; our driving route, the aptly-named Ring Road (marked in blue) is about 900 miles (1500 km) long. You’d think that 10 days would be more than enough time to cover that distance, but it’ll be tight: a lot of the route is slow going, and of course there is a lot to see along the way. These include geysers, glaciers, waterfalls, volcanic landscapes, glaciers, waterfalls, volcanic landscapes, glaciers, and waterfalls. And geysers.

Some fun facts about Iceland:

  • The native population is about 350,000, but the island hosts over 2 million visitors a year. In other words, if you say to a random stranger, “Þú ert með fallegt land.” (“You have a beautiful country”), the highest-probability response, spoken ver-r-r-y loudly and slowly, is, “SORRY… I… AM… FROM… OMAHA.”
  • Those entertaining-looking glyphs Þ and ð in the previous paragraph are both pronounced “th”. (Fun sub-fact: English used to have such a letter too. Its name was “thorn” — really — and it looked rather like the letter y. So on those pseudo-Olde-English signs that you see that say things like “Ye Olde Haberdashery”, the “ye” is actually the word “the“. You’re welcome.)
  • Speaking of language, modern Icelandic is essentially identical to Old Norse. This means that present-day Icelanders can easily converse with Eric the Red during seances.
  • Iceland is renowned for its impressive variety of remarkably disgusting foods, which include fermented shark and “sour ram’s testicles”. (Research topic: Are there Chinese restaurants in Iceland, and if so do they serve sweet and sour ram’s testicles?) Supposedly they also make really good ice cream and hot dogs. Guess what we’ll be eating.
  • The famous volcano whose massive eruption disrupted North Atlantic air travel in 2010 is named Eyjafjallajökull. Do not be intimidated by the word, for it is actually surprisingly easy to pronounce: just remember that it rhymes with Þeyjafjallajökull.

At an average latitude of 65° — just a hair south of the Arctic Circle — Iceland is not famed for its clement weather. And of course at that latitude, you are stuck in more or less endless night in midwinter, and get to enjoy 24-hour daylight in midsummer. But we’ll be there in September, not far off the equinox, and so neither the temperatures nor the length of the day will be particularly extreme: sunrise will be at about 6:30 AM and sunset around 8:15 PM. The daytime high temperatures will be  about 50° F (11° C), the nights several degrees cooler.

What will be cold is the water, at a cryonic 36° F (2° C). The reason this matters is that we have booked a snorkeling trip (!) at Silfra, a volcanic fissure that is essentially the boundary between the two tectonic continental plates that Iceland straddles. (Hence all the volcanoes and geysers.) It is known for its stunningly clear water, volcanic rock formations, and hypothermic tourists. I’ll report on this when it happens.

Finally, we are of course hoping to see the aurora borealis. This is definitely a crapshoot; we’re at the early end of the season for it, and as of this moment the weather forecast calls for a lot of clouds and rain, at least for the first half of the trip.. But perhaps we will get lucky.

So wish us luck, watch this space, and remember this traditional greeting: “Þjónn, ég pantaði gerjað hákarl en þetta eru hrútur“, which according to Google means, “Waiter, I ordered fermented shark but these are ram testicles.”

 

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Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Droning Over OBX

If you’re not from the east coast of the US, you may not be entirely familiar with the Outer Banks, an enormous barrier island beach vacation destination in North Carolina. The term “OBX” to describe them is a relatively recent marketing invention; I don’t recall ever hearing it when I was a kid. In fact, the term “Outer Banks” itself only dates from the 1930’s.

The area is one of the longest pleasure beaches in the world: a 200-mile (320 km) strong of barrier islands more or less waiting to be destroyed by a hurricane. Unlike many barrier islands, OBX is (are?) not anchored by a coral reef, making them particularly vulnerable. Mother Nature likes un-anchored barrier islands to be movable: the oceanward sides of them erode away while the landward sides silt up and eventually merge with the mainland. Wave action then causes the barrier to re-form on the ocean side, and the cycle begins anew.

The problem, of course, is that houses are a lot less mobile than sand, and so the tourism and real estate powers-that-be engage in a constant and ultimately losing battle with the laws of physics.  But until that final capitulation occurs, it’s a great place to vacation, and my family and I have done so regularly. The tradition is to rent one of the gigantic multi-bedroom beach houses and to overeat for a week. Such houses are lined up along the beach, patiently generating tourist revenue and awaiting their destruction.

OBX 2018 Canon-044-Edit

This year was no exception, the new twist being that I now had a drone to fly. So here’s our house from the air (it’s the one in the foreground), followed by two panoramic views of the beach itself. (The lower one is looking northward at sunset.)

OBX 2018-003

OBX 2018-001

OBX sunset drone

That pier on the left side of the middle photo has a name of some historical significance. Here’s a ground-based shot that gives it away:

OBX 2018 Canon-037 In case you’re not viewing this on a big screen, it says “Kitty Hawk Pier”. Here’s a drone’s-eye view of it.

OBX 2018-002

This is the area where the Wright brothers inaugurated the air travel age in 1903, and do not imagine for one moment that the local tourism gurus let you forget it. The actual event took place a mile or two from this pier, in Kill Devil Hills, and there is of course a memorial there. There is also the actual course of the flight marked out, and you can easily walk its length in about 30 seconds as it is only 120′ (36m) long. (For comparison, the wingspan of a 747 is about 60% longer than that.) The flight took 12 seconds, and their luggage showed up three days later.

Another historical name that pops up frequently in the area is Virginia Dare. Roads, restaurants, you name it, she’s everywhere. Which is somewhat remarkable, because her sole claim to fame is being born here, the first child born to English settlers in the New World. That was in August 1587. Three months later her grandfather sailed back to England on a supply run, and when he returned Virginia, her parents, and the entire colony had disappeared altogether, thereby creating one of the enduring mysteries of American history. Ms. Dare — or at least her name — has had quite a good run of it since then, however, as everything from a soft drink to an icon of women’s suffrage, which is not a bad legacy considering that absolutely nothing else is known about her.

I’ll end this note with a non-drone picture, taken at night underneath the pier. I post it here entirely because (a) I like how the shot came out (it’s a 3-second time exposure) and (b) it’s my blog, dammit.

OBX 2018 Canon-024

Our next travel adventure will be in less than 4 weeks, to Iceland, Paris, and Prague. Watch this space!

Categories: US Mainland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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