Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Friday, November 16, 2012

The South of Iceland--Not So Tropical

Hello, adoring fans!  After a week of procrastinating, Tara has demanded that I finish the last Iceland post before I forget where the pictures were taken.  So, let's get to it.

Iceland has a lot of volcanoes.  That is because it is on the boundary of two tectonic plates that are ripping apart from each other.  So, how can you not go see the rift?  On the left side of this picture is the North American plate and on the right side is the European plate.  Sadly, there was no dinner plate to be seen.
What's down this hole?  Molten lava.  Just kidding, but I do like to picture myself standing astride this crack as the earth was torn asunder while using fun words like astride and asunder.
It so happens that the same place where the plates are separating is where the first parliament in the world was held.  It has the terrific name of Þingvellir.  If all those letters don't show up on your screen, you must have forgotten to install the Icelandic font pack on your computer.
We were walking along the creek when we realized that it was full of massive trout.  Most were about the size of a house, but some were more like the one that you probably can't make out in this photo, which was only as big as a small cottage.  It turned out that they were all swimming up the creek from the lake to spawn.
Given the whole splitting of the plates, it probably won't shock you to see that there have been some lava flows around.
Next stop: Geysir.  No, not some old geyser, but Geysir, which was the first known geyser and the place from which all others get the name.  It is in a field of other geysers, and it doesn't really erupt much anymore, but at one point it erupted regularly and massively.  We followed some apparently stupid tourists through a back gate thinking that was the way in and wound up standing right next to some geysers.  Made for good pictures, but it could have been ugly had they erupted.
It looks like such an innocuous hole in a calm lake--until it blows your head off with scalding water.
Here is the original Geysir.  At least it gets a nice grave stone.  They used to throw soap into it to make it erupt, but even that trick will no longer work.
This geyser is the most regular in the world.  And, no, I don't mean that it goes to the bathroom every morning without fail.
I mean that it erupts every 5-6 minutes, in a super fast poof! of water.  I stood with my camera shutter half depressed for about 2 minutes to make sure I got it as it was spewing the water into the air.
In completing what is known as the Golden Triangle of Icelandic tourism, we went to Gullfoss, some nice waterfalls that don't really compare to Dental Floss Falls (see Tara's earlier post), but which are a whole lot easier to reach.
A different perspective.
We got to the big national park in southern Iceland late in the day and thought that we only had time to hike to either the waterfall (Svartifoss) or the glacier (Skaftafellsjökull--I can only imagine Icelandic tongue twisters).  As it turned out, some other tourists pointed out that we could drive most of the way to the falls because it was off season.  Nice.  These falls are famous because of the black basalt columns behind them.
It was starting to get too dark for pictures, but you can see the columns nicely in this one.
Then we still had some time to walk out to the glacier.  I enjoyed the mossy fields that we walked through to get there (though we were on a paved path).
And there was a frozen glacial lake at the foot of the glacier.
Then I found some girl who wanted her picture taken despite her attempt to get me to turn back long before we made it this far.
Glaciers look so black and white, but someone had nicely laid out this rainbow of glacial rocks to remind us just how lovely they can be.
We stayed in a cabin at a local farm, where they kindly upgraded us to a room with a private bath because they weren't full (maybe a $500 value or so in uber-expensive Icelandic hotels).
Tara's favorite part of being on this farm was 1.) eating sheep for dinner; and 2.) waking up to sheep outside our door.  Icelandic sheep seem extra hairy.
Road shot of the some mountains.  Just in case you forgot that Iceland had mountains.
Everyone told us that we needed to go to Jökulsárlón, which is a lagoon filled with icebergs.  It is so otherworldly that they use it in movies all the time, including one of the Bond movies and Tomb Raider.  It turned out to be as cool as promised.
The icebergs sometimes flip over, exposing their melted and very blue sides.
The lagoon didn't exist until the 1930s.  As global warming melts the glacier at the edge of the lagoon, it continues to grow.
Yes, I really wanted to hopscotch my way to the middle of the lagoon.  Unfortunately, icebergs are slippery.  And the water was cold.  So you have to settle for this, and even balancing on this one was a challenge.
My ice cube is bigger than your ice cube!
I threw a rock through the ice to see how solid it was (for example, was it solid enough to support a 170-pound man) and discovered that it was pretty thin.  Tara first chastised me for disrupting nature in this way, then discovered that it was really a lot of fun to see how far you could toss a rock and see if it would break the ice.
The water was too cold for me, but these eiders make good coats for a reason.
I don't know where this is, but I like the picture.  Somewhere on the south side of Iceland.  Probably out of a car window.
Last stop: Westman Islands.  The weather looked nice on the ferry ride over.  Seas were calm and Tara didn't even vomit.
The chain has several islands, only one of which is really inhabited, but this fortress-like rock that rises maybe 500 feet in the air has a house on top!  If I'm ever a supervillain, I plan to buy this house.
Look how sunny it is as we pull into the harbor!  This town had a massive volcanic eruption in the 1970's, with lava flows like this one stopped from clogging the harbor with the help of hundreds of boats spraying water at the lava to cool it.
We had heard that Iceland is so safe that people often leave their babies on the street while they shop.  This turns out to be true.
Among other things, the Westman Islands are famous for puffin hunting.  People string themselves from ropes and bounce along the face of a cliff grabbing puffins during the three month nesting season.  Sadly, it was out of season, so we had to acquire our less-than-tasty puffin from an overpriced tourist restaurant on the mainland.
You might have to click on this picture and blow it up to see, but it is a mural all about the local fish processing plant!
When the volcano erupted, everyone was able to flee the island on boats.  However, several buildings were buried under deep lava.  They have now erected tombstones for the historic buildings that were lost.
I made Tara climb the volcano that had erupted, of course.  We couldn't really find an official path, so I just kept making us walk towards it.  And then it started to rain.  I am unclear on how I managed to get Tara to smile for this photo.
The volcano is very red and produced a ton of red pumice, which is far more fun than black pumice.
The island has a second volcano, too!  Who wouldn't want to live on an island small enough to walk around in a few hours that has two active volcanoes?
This picture is the volcano's perspective of the town.  When asked what it was thinking, the volcano replied, "That sure does look like a tasty town down there!  I'm thinking about eating it for dinner soon!"
What could make Tara less happy than rain while hiking?  Sleet and snow!
This area is sometimes called the Pompeii of the North because they are digging out some houses and buildings buried in the eruption of the 1970's.  Turns out that it is about .000000001% as cool as Pompei, but I think it would be pretty interesting to visit in about 2000 years and see what people are saying about it.

And that brings us to the end of Iceland.  We had a really nice trip there and would recommend it to anyone who has a decent paying job or is good with credit card debt.  Good travels!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Shark, Whale, Lamb-dogs, and Other Foods of Iceland

Iceland has a good selection of foods so disgusting that only people isolated on a freezing island trying to survive would eat them.  The food would make it hard to live there, but in the name of research, we tried them all.  Here are the highlights!

First, Iceland loves yogurt.  The local yogurt is called Skyr (pronounced skeer) and is actually almost edible compared to most yogurt.  They have a huge selection that takes up about a quarter of the refrigerated space in the store.

On our first morning trip to the grocery store, we bought the following: twisty donut things that are one of the few tasty traditional Icelandic foods, rhubarb jam (Tara loves a country that has rhubarb flavored things--I feel differently), a skyr, and something called "leit ab mjolk" with pictures of pineapples on it.  Obviously, I bought the last one and it scared Tara from the start.  Mjolk surely means milk.  So, I assumed that it was some crazy flavor of milk.  Wrong!  It was gross yogurt.  Boo.

A closeup of the things that Tara cares about.  From these, we learn that the word for Mango in Icelandic is Mango and the word for rhubarb is rabarbara.  Now you are prepared for Iceland.

Tara with one of the twisted donut things.  They aren't bad with some jam on them.

Here is me trying my "Leit ab mjolk."

Here is what I think of the "Leit ab mjolk"!

We went to the local marketplace and found the food sellers.  We especially enjoyed the huge selection of dried fish.  And by enjoyed, I mean that we reminisced about horrible dried fish that we had eaten throughout the world.

This concoction seemed to be a cake topped with shrimp and hard-boiled eggs.  Order now for your next birthday!  We were too afraid to try it.

We found a candy vendor selling this coconut-covered chocolate-coated things and she said that they were filled with a coconut filling.  I love coconut, so I immediately bought one.

It turns out that the filling was more like a slightly coconutty marshmallow goo.  Not ideal, but far from the worse thing that we ate.

The most famous "restaurant" in Iceland is probably this hot dog stand, called Bæjarins beztu pylsur,  which means "Best Hot Dogs in Town."  Icelanders generally consume local meat, and since there are no pigs to make their hot dogs tasty, they mix beef and lamb.  If you are like me and believe that lamb is not very good, then you are left thinking that the best hot dogs in town are subpar.  However, the crunchy fried onions that are standard on all Icelandic hotdogs (along with a mayonnaise-like remoulade, fresh onions, and a mild mustard) are amazing.

Here's Tara enjoying hers.  A pylsa (hot dog) costs about $2.50, making it dirt cheap by Icelandic standards and explaining the very log line of locals always waiting.

After confirming that Tara liked the local skyr yogurt (she says that the American skyrs are terrible), Tara started buying in larger quantities.

Rejecting skyr, I started eating bacon flavored chips for breakfast.  Hey, it's bacon flavored, and bacon is a breakfast food.  Luckily, despite my fear that "beikon" actually meant yogurt, they did turn out to be a pretty good bacon flavor.

Endless soup is popular in restaurants as a meal.  We would have never paid the $15-20 for it, but it was the style of meal on our glacier hike trip, so the choices were a lamb stew (this one) or the pasta sauce next to it that they called tomato soup.  I didn't like either one, but still managed to eat 5 or 6 bowls.

Here are the dregs of the lamb stew, showing you all the constituent parts.  Lamb.  Yuck.

Dessert in Iceland is often a glass of skyr.  In this case, it was blueberry flavored.  I ate it because it was there.  And because I like the Icelandic word for blueberry, which is blaber.

Tara took a picture of me eating yogurt to prove that I had.  Doesn't mean that I liked it!

Or did I?  No, I didn't.

Iceland has a lot of fish and chips.  Since they seem to be the same expensive $15-20 whether you buy them in the fast food place or in the posh fish and chippery, we went high end.  They are served with skyronnaises of different flavors.  Thanks to the Americans next to us who gave us the skyronnaise sampler when they finished because there was no way that we were paying the $10 extra for it.  Also thanks to those people who left a nearly full bowl of potatoes on their table when they left.

Licorice is popular in Iceland, though not with Tara.  Here is a licorice filled chocolate bar.  It wasn't bad, but Tara refused to even try it.  That's right, I ate multiple kinds of yogurt and fish, but Tara wouldn't even try a tiny bit of chocolate.  Lame.

Here's what you've all been waiting for, but it doesn't look so exciting in this picture.  This is hakarl, aka rotten shark.  They start by putting this stuff in vats and burying it underground for 6 weeks.  Bacteria similar to yogurt bacteria breaks it down.  Then they hang it up to air dry for several months.  Then they cut it up and serve it.  If you took gefilte fish and dipped it in ammonia before serving, you would get a good idea of what hakarl tastes like.  Having said that, I expected worse.

Tara had her first bite with a bit of bread, and apparently hadn't gotten the full taste, so she actually had a second bite!

Here is the hakarl that has been pulled out of the ground and is now hanging up to dry for several months.  It comes from the Greenland shark, which can't be eaten without going through this process.  I really want to know who thought "hmmm...maybe if I let it rot underground for a couple of months and then hang it to dry for a few months, it will be edible!"

Tara hanging out with some drying hakarl.

Okay, this one might get us into some trouble.  Iceland, for inexplicable reasons, flaunts the whaling ban and hunts a limited number of minke whales each year.  In a moral failing, we ordered a whale steak.  Our verdict: it tastes almost exactly like beef.  So, now that we've tried it, we have no idea why anyone hunts whales because cows are a lot cheaper.

This is a guillemot.  What's a guillemot you ask?  It's a sea bird in the auk family (same family as the puffin).  I would describe the texture as somewhere between pork and chicken, but it is a very red meat.  The taste is quite fishy, meaning that I disliked it, but Tara thought it was good.  She also liked the sugar potatoes--potatoes with a bit of sugar on them, that came as a side dish.

Iceland has a lot of soft serve ice cream.  We stopped at this place along the northern coast that is one of the most famous.  As a self proclaimed soft serve expert, I thought that the ice crystals were too large and that the taste was a bit lacking (not quite sweet enough), but I do like that you could choose a number of flavors of magic shell-like coatings for your cone.

Also popular in Iceland are burgers.  We got some incredibly delicious burgers at Hamborgarabulla Tomasar (Tomas's Burger Joint). They were expensive ($25 for two burgers and a large fry), but were exceptionally good burgers. Apparently, Tomas is known as the burger king and has started several burger places in Iceland.

The fries that came with the burger were also excellent--they undercook them just the way I like.

At our country hotel one night, Tara ordered the dinner consisting of a lamb roast.  Given that we were on a sheep farm, I suspect it was as fresh as you get.  For lamb, it wasn't bad, but I'll still take beef or pork any day!

For dessert, she had this piece of skyr cake, which is popular in Iceland.  Not bad.

Breakfast at the hotel was a buffet and a mix of American and European.

I was especially intrigued by this toothpaste tube of caviar, despite knowing that I don't like caviar.  But it's in a toothpaste tube, so how could I resist?

I squeezed some onto a cracker and it came out in a fun star shape.  Unfortunately, it tasted like salty super-fish, confirming that caviar is not good no matter how it is packaged.  Though, maybe had I had my toothbrush with me, it would have been more fun to brush my teeth with it.

Our hotel package came with two welcome drinks, which we finally redeemed on our final night in Iceland.  Tara found the most expensive drink on the menu, which was a mojito made with brennivin, the Icelandic caraway liquor.  It was $20, so we figured she was getting the most bang for her buck.  I ordered the same thing minus the alcohol.  Can you tell the difference?  Nope, neither can I.  We weren't impressed, but Tara loves caraway, so she did like the local liquor.

Icelandic pancakes are a lot like crepes and are very traditional.  The rolled up ones just have some sugar inside and the folded over ones have jam and whipped cream.  Very tasty, but it would take about 50 of them (maybe $200 worth) to actually fill me up.

This is a love ball.  A love ball is a doughy donut-like thing with raisins and cardamom.  Not as good as it sounds because it is on the dry side and could undergo more frying to improve the taste.

The cafe where we were eating had something called rye bread ice cream for breakfast, which sounded interesting, but we were almost out of money and didn't really want to go to an ATM machine for $5 for a scoop of ice cream (and it was $5 for a scoop of ice cream...).  Luckily, the people next to us ordered it and only ate part of it.  Now, normally, I only take food off of other people's tables that is untouched or scooped out of something, but we saw an opportunity and took it.  Rye ice cream, it turns out, is basically what you get if you crumble rye bread into ice cream.  It wasn't as bad as it sounds, but was a bit strange.

Finally, puffin was out of season (all the puffins leave Iceland in late August), so we had to find the overpriced touristy restaurant that still had some.  We really only wanted one order to try, but I was unclear in ordering and made it sound like we each wanted an order.  Oops.  Puffin is a texture that is sort of like cow tongue.  If you've never had cow tongue, then go try some and you'll understand.  Sadly, its taste is like rotten anchovies.  I suppose this makes sense for a bird that eats entirely little fish, but it was still sad.  Doubly sad was that we then had two plates of the stuff to eat.  We can't recommend it.

Well, that wraps up foods of Iceland.  New animals eaten included guillemot, puffin, whale, and Greenland shark (which Tara says doesn't count because we had eaten other shark before).  Recap: they were all gross except for whale, which was just like eating a cow except that you feel bad after eating it.  Icelandic yogurt (skyr) is less bad than most yogurt.  Icelandic hot dogs have lamb in them, which makes them worse than good ol' New York street dogs.  Some other stuff is decent.  Overall, Iceland wouldn't be on my list of suggested culinary destinations, but, then again, I do like eating snow and ice, and they had some especially clean tasting snow!