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.”


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

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7 thoughts on “Iceward, Ho!

  1. howlevmuso

    One of your best entries yet. I learned a lot and got some serious laughs, too.

    A deep honorific bow to you for the tip about “ye.” It’s a minor life changer for me. If I went to cocktail parties I could dine out on it forever.

    As for the delicacies, pleeeeease consider tasting one or two and reporting to your devoted readers about them. Any pain surely won’t last too long. Tell yourself it’s for Science. Maybe you can find a tourist tasting menu and get it all over with at once with maximum data.


    BE sure to learn some Icelandic jokes before you go! And tell us all about the trip when you return. I’ve had a yen to visit Iceland, too.

  3. Michael Weiss

    Rich and Alice, Have a great trip! In Iceland you might pay attention to the environmental issues raised by Jerrod Diamond in his magnificent book, “Collapse.” You might read these chapters while in Iceland to enrich your observations. In Paris you might compare the level of security and police/army presence to what you saw 8 years ago–especially the “security barrier” around the Eiffel Tower, a sad sign of the times. In Prague there is an historic synogogue but a near-absence of Jews, thanks to the thoroughness of the German occupations. Is there any evidence of Einstein’s professorship in Prague? These years are a small piece of physics history pre-Berlin and deserves to be better known. My back surgery was a complete success, and Carol and I look forward to taking walks and hikes with you in future years. My lab at IU is now up and running, a wonderful environment. I was just nominated to be a “Distinguished University Professor,” which is nice. No perks like parking spaces, however. Two new grants began August 1. Some great new results on human sex reversal (more later). Daughter Leah defended her PhD thesis in physics at Cambridge UK and was elected to a Junior Fellowship at Clare College Cambridge. This is a three-year appointment. The middle year can be abroad, and so Leah has arranged a year in the Physics Dept at the University of Chicago — not far from Indianapolis! With warm regards, Mike

    On Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 5:24 PM Rich and Alice Go Globetrotting wrote:

    > richandalice posted: “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 bee” >

  4. Vicky Brago-Mitchell

    Sounds exciting! We’ve been to Paris, but not recently. Everyone seems to love Prague. And Iceland is the setting for lots of TV shows. We watched Sense8 a few weeks ago, one of its characters is from Iceland.

  5. Jeanne Beatty

    Good old thorn and wynn–one “th” is voiced and the other is not. Old English was hands-down the hardest undergrad course I took. Here’s hoping that you guys get the Icelandic hot dogs and ice cream that you order rather than anything dubious relating to a ram…

  6. I was just about reading about Iceland in one of my favourite trip reporter’s website (here it is: and I was considering a quick weekend getaway in November… but I suppose your reportage will be a perfect alternative! As for Prague, do yourself a favour and book a hotel not in the Old Town, especially if you (like me) have a defined tolerance towards Brits on stag dos. I stayed in Žižkov, underneath the TV tower, or in Smìchov. Perhaps a tad less scenic, but a lot more liveable!

  7. Awesome! I’ll be sure to look at the pictures once these bloody exams are over and done with… Also, there is a slight difference between Þ and ð. The former is nearly identical to the english “th” sound, but the latter is a shortened version which is kind of like a breathy “t” or “d” sound. Anyway, good stuff! Thanks for the pictures 🙂

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