Posts Tagged With: nautical

Aurora, Sorta

Big news, kinda! We saw the aurora last night! And I write this with exclamation points in order to obscure the fact that in reality, it kinda sucked!

So, yes, we did in fact see the aurora. However, we saw it through a thick cloud haze that utterly obscured the majesty of the thing. What we actually saw was a vague, ever so slightly green, barely visible and poorly defined curtain of light that waxed and waned and changed shape over the course of a few minutes. It occupied a band covering a good 60° of the sky, though only sections were visible at a time, and barely visible at that. It was thrilling in concept only — box checked! — and did not remotely compare to the jaw-dropping display that I beheld in Alaska over 20 years ago. But we have another shot at it: they (the aurora mavens) are forecasting with near certainty that there will be a display tonight. (Yes, there is such a thing as an aurora forecast.) It has been cloudy and drizzly all day but the weather forecast calls for some clearing around midnight. So we will try again; this may be our last good shot at it because the aurora forecast projects the likelihood of a display to drop off significantly for the remainder of our stay.

Before I relate today’s travels I first want to revisit one of yesterday’s stops: the “pseudocraters” dotting Lake Mývatn. I didn’t have enough battery power in my controller to fly the drone yesterday, but remedied that oversight today. An aerial view conveys a much clearer picture of the collapsed cones and their setting on the lake.

Iceland Myvatn Pseudocraters Drone-02-Edit

Nice, huh? (I love my drone.)

Breakfast this morning was an excellent buffet with an, um, unusual view. Remember that this is a “farm resort”, and if we had somehow had any doubts about this, they were dispelled when we sat down at our table, adjacent to a large picture window looking into the cow pen where the cows were all hooked up to milking machines. I was thinking about this whilst pouring milk over my cereal, as I felt the urge to tap on the window and thank them. It is not a vista that one frequently encounters when eating breakfast in the Washington DC area.

Our original plan was to go whale watching today, but we jettisoned that idea when it became clear that the overcast, intermittently drizzly weather would make that an uncomfortable experience at best. Moreover, we are really past the end of the season; the whales hang out here in summer, so we’d be unlikely to see more than one or two this late in the year. We’ll wait for our return to Hawaii in February if we start jonesing for whales.

The whale tours leave from the town of Húsavík, near the very northern end of the island. Despite having abandoned the idea of whale watching, we decided to head there anyway, in part because it was said to have a somewhat quaint and scenic port, but mostly we wanted to get as far north as we could. Iceland does not quite reach the Arctic Circle, but we wanted to get as far as we could in order to garner some bragging rights. So we actually drove on for about 25 km past Húsavík, until we reached a peninsula that is close to the northernmost point in Iceland. (There is another peninsula that juts a few kilometers farther north, but it was inconveniently distant.) So here we are, intrepid explorers all, at the northernmost point of our journey after finally getting a bit of use out of our four wheel drive:

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If you can read the GPS display in the image, you can see that we are at 66° 12.256′ latitude, about 40 km (25 miles) shy of the Arctic Circle. Guess we’re going to have to go to Scandinavia to cross that line, but this’ll do for now. Unsurprisingly, it is not an especially hospitable place, a desolate rocky coast littered with coarse pink and orange seaweed (!) washed by a low surf. This is a pretty representative view.

Iceland Husavik 2018-012-Edit

You will be unsurprised to learn that the wind was pretty strong and the weather conditions raw. We only lingered long enough to high five each other, take a bunch of photos, and clamber down the rocks to the surf so that we could dip our hands into the sea and tell our friends that we had touched the Arctic Ocean. We now consider ourselves to be officially awesome.

That mission accomplished, we headed back into Húsavík to have lunch and nose around. It doesn’t have a whole lot to offer other than the whale tours, a whaling museum (which we did not visit), and this locally well-known church that shows up in every picture of the town.

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The church was built in 1907 with wood imported from Norway, and the interior sports a nice nautical blue ceiling as befits its locale. The ceiling beams resemble an inverted boat hull.

The harbor was of course occupied almost entirely by the whale watching boats, which ranged from oversized high-powered Zodiacs to this queen of the fleet, designed to resemble a 19th century whaling vessel.

Iceland Husavik 2018-043-Edit

We left Húsavík after a late lunch (and a very expensive one, like just about everything here) and headed back to Mývatn. The weather remained overcast with an on-and-off (mostly off) light drizzle, so we stopped at a couple of the prominent geothermal attractions on the way back to the farm. The first of these was Dimmuborgir, the so-called Dark Castle, which is basically — no, not basically, entirely — a collection of lava slag heaps threaded by a walking trail. If that sounds unromantic, look at this picture and tell me I’m wrong.

Iceland Myvatn 2018-045-Edit

It looked sufficiently unexciting that we contented ourselves with taking some obligatory photos from this viewpoint, using the bathrooms, and moving to our next stop, which was a lot more impressive.

That would be the Hverfjall cinder cone, a truly monumental formation that reminded me of a lava version of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in Australia. Black, 150 meters (500 feet) high and a kilometer across, it’s about the most ominous-looking thing you can imagine, and it took a drone flight to do it justice. So here is what it looks like from 300 meters (1000′) in the air and 800 meters (half a mile) away.

Iceland Myvatn Cinder Cone Drone-002-Edit

There’s a trail, walkable in about 15 minutes, that follows the least-steep side from the parking lot up to the crater rim. Janet and Tim made the hike; Alice napped in the car while I flew the drone.

And that was today… so far. We ate sandwiches in our rooms for dinner as we await the predicted improvement in the weather, anticipating a much hoped-for view of the aurora after midnight. I’ve already dialed in my camera settings in a display of faux optimism, or perhaps a dose of sympathetic magic. I’ll let you know tomorrow if we got lucky.

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Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lights! Camera! Christmas!

OK, so why do people put up all those lights on their houses at Christmas? I ask this because my wife and I spent a pleasant half hour last night driving through one of the more over-the-top local displays, which I’ll show you in a moment. I’ll start you off with something very traditional from that display, your basic go-to Peace On Earth setup:

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I’ve been told that the tradition of Christmas lights is actually some kind of Gentile copycat thing rooted in Judaism’s Hanukkah menorah with its eight candles. (Just like the whole Hanukkah gift-giving thing is basically a result of Jewish kids getting jealous of their Christian counterparts.) It’s a really interesting theory with no basis in fact, although in researching this I did stumble across my favorite headline of the day: “Jewish Hanukkah Menorah Now a Favorite Irish Christmas Tradition.” Since Ireland has all of 2500 Jews (about the same as Morocco, as it happens), I have no idea how this came about. But I digress.

Christmas lights are a surprisingly recent tradition, the whole candles-on-the-tree thing having started only in the 17th century. Many people — hopefully those with good fire-suppression systems in their homes — still follow it. My ex-wife is one of them. I can remember many happy Christmases when the kids were growing up, when she would light the candles and everyone would bask in their Christmassy glow while I glowered from the corner with a fire extinguisher in my lap.

The whole thing really took off in 1880, when Thomas Edison introduced the first outdoor electric Christmas display; you can pretty much take it from there. The first electrically-lit White House Christmas tree was turned on by President Grover Cleveland in 1895. In 1925 a consortium of 15 lightbulb companies created the NOMA corporation, which became the dominant Christmas light purveyor for decades before folding in 1968. It was during the 40’s and 50’s when decorative bulbs became available that things really took off and gave rise to today’s elaborate displays of holiday electrical oneupmanship.

One of our best local displays is at a nearby state park on the Chesapeake Bay (I live in the seaside town of Annapolis) , and as you might imagine has a fair number of nautically-themed setups:

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So you’ve got your sea monsters, anchors, sailboats, etc. But this being Maryland, you’ll drive among a bunch of electric crabs, oysters, and herons as well. Not to mention flying saucers with friendly-looking three-eyed aliens, who I suppose attended the birth of Jesus. (“We bring gold, frankincense, and the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Demodulator.”) Speaking of whom, even a newly-incarnated divinity needs to eat (at least, I assume so), so our local display includes this one, sponsored by a local pizza chain:

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(Yes, the pizza at upper right is animated and flips up and down out of the Elf Baker’s hands.)

I’ll close with the World’s Scariest Electric Teddy Bear (about 15 feet tall), and my personal take on Heironymus Bosch’s driveway at Christmas. You can see the complete set (14 shots) at https://www.flickr.com/photos/isaacman/sets/72157674697937173 . Happy holidays!

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Categories: US Mainland | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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