Tag: Iceland

TSOJ: An Interview with Myself

I sat down with myself, as I often do, in a chair in front of my computer and asked myself a few of the questions people have asked me since returning from TSOJ. This will be my final blog entry for a few months because I have a couple secret writing projects I am working on.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

I have always enjoyed traveling.

How did The Summer of Jon come about? 

TSOJ happened through a series of fortunate events that I will not detail here in fear of boring everyone to death, but the main reason I was in Europe on my own was because I am not an understanding travel companion. My wife has endured a few of my trips and did not want to spend her vacation on a forced march across Europe. I am aware of my “problem” but I cannot help myself. If I am somewhere new I want to see everything, and, sometimes that leads me to avoiding things like food, rest, and bathroom stops. For example, when I did the Norway in a Nutshell and got on the wrong boat I did not eat for about 13 hours. I refused to pay for a boat hotdog and decided that I just wouldn’t eat. A personal decision like this is not always popular with my family members.

How did you plan your trip?

I have never used a travel agent and actually enjoy planning trips so I spent a great deal of time putting the pieces together for my trip. I always start with my airline ticket. I spent about a month watching airfare and trying to estimate when rates for the summer would drop. Flying from Seattle to Europe is not cheap, but Icelandair usually has the best rates and there a few oddities about the airline that made me finally go with them. The first oddity is that all of their flights go through Iceland (not that odd considering the name of the airline). You can chose to fly right through after a layover in Iceland, but why would you do that? A few days in Iceland is a great way to shake off the jet lag and there is no stranger place to visit. You can extend your lay-over and the airline ticket cost is the same as if you stopped for an hour. Iceland is expensive, but it has the best hotdogs in the world and has the world’s only penis museum.

The second oddity about Icelandair is that it is cheaper to fly open-jawed. My flight went: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Munich–Iceland–Seattle. Had I gone: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Oslo–Iceland–Seattle it would have been more expensive. I knew that I would start somewhere in Scandinavia and end somewhere in Southern Europe, so I went to the airline website and began plugging in dates and different flights until I hit one that would be as cheap as possible and allow me some flexibility in planning.

After I had the flight booked, I decided where I wanted to go in between my arrival and departure. This part of the planning is the most fun for me. I knew I wanted to go to Oslo, Prague, and Vienna, and I wanted to go back to Copenhagen and Berlin. All I had to do was connect the dots. Then I looked for the cheapest and most efficient way to go from point to point. (Fly if in Scandinavia, train if in the European main land.)

The final piece was then hotels. There are lots of affordable spots to stay in Europe, but I found that I could save a ton of money by staying in places with shared bathrooms. Some people may not like this, but here is a little secret: Most of these hotels have only a few rooms that share the bathroom, so it isn’t too bad. You will also have a sink in your room. I also make sure that breakfast is included in the price. You can get an inexpensive breakfast in Europe, but I like being able to pig out in the morning and breakfast restaurants are not on every corner.

If you were to re-plan your trip, what would you do differently? 

I would trim a day off of Reykjavík and add it to my time in Prague. I would also take one of my Munich days and add it to Vienna. All of the places I went were wonderful.

Logistically, I would take earlier trains, or reserve a seat. Trains leaving after 10AM are filled with college-aged-backpack-wearing EuroRail users so there is always a battle for seating and the trains are crowded. An early train is less likely to have those EuroRail folks because it is before they are awake.

What were some of the highlights?

The Vigeland statue park in Oslo. Getting on the wrong boat on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. Eating Thai food in Berlin. The evening bike tour in Prague. Vienna…just all of Vienna.

What was the loneliest moment?

Good question. I can tell you exactly when because it was strange. I was walking along the waterfront in Copenhagen. There is a nice wide path that leads all along the waterfront to the Little Mermaid statue.  It was a beautifully clear day and I had been on the road for about a week and a half. I was listening to my iPod and a Macklemore song came on. The song reminded me of my family and wished they were with me. I recovered by eating some ice cream.

When were you the most lost?

I don’t know. In Norway if you count distance, Copenhagen if you count time it took me to get back to a familiar place, and Munich if you count directional sense. I still have trouble understanding how I got so turned around in Munich.

Why do you get lost so much?

I have decided the reason I get lost when I travel is because there are no mountains around. Where I live it is easy to get oriented by looking at the mountains or ocean. Flat land confuses me.

What scared you the most? 

Climbing the church spire in Copenhagen. I really did want to turn around and go back. I don’t know if I could go back and do it again. The afternoon bike tour in Prague was not for the weak-kneed either.

What was the strangest thing you saw? 

I saw a lot of odd things, but in Copenhagen I saw dwarves ( not little people, but like Lord of the Rings dwarves). I don’t know how else to explain it but I went into a store in Copenhagen and there were people dressed in felt tunics and felt pants. The tunics and pants were embroidered with fancy designs. They had those pointy shoes with a bell on the tip and had little deer-antler knives tucked into their belts. They were not dressed up for some party, I could tell that this was the clothing they usually wore. It was like a time machine had dropped them into Copenhagen and they were trying to figure out what the hell happened. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but refrained because I didn’t want to get stabbed to death by a dwarf in a supermarket.

What is the dumbest thing you did? 

Aside from getting on the wrong boat in Norway? Probably eating the sandwich in Prague that was “Mexican flavored.” Really, really bad choice. Oh, buying my day-glo shoes in Berlin could be considered pretty dumb, but I kind of like them now.

What is the smartest thing you did? 

Before I left I would have to say buying my backpack/carry-on bag from EBags. It is a great suitcase thingy. Once I was on the road I think most of my choices were pretty good.

What’s the deal with bike tours? 

There is no better way to see a city in my opinion. The bus tours are okay, but bike tours allow more freedom and it is a great way to meet people.

Will you ever have another SOJ? 

I hope so, but who knows. I think people need to do their own Summer of ______________.

Don’t you think it was a waste of money? 

Travel is never a waste of money. I will quote Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”  

Let’s end the interview like they do on Actor’s Studio. 

Okay.

What is your favorite word?

Euphony

What is your least favorite word?

Cacophony

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Words

What turns you off?

Conflict

What is your favorite curse word?

I don’t really swear. (I have just been informed by family members that I do swear.)

What sound or noise do you love?

Laughter, specifically the laughter of my family.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Techno music.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would like to get paid to write. I wouldn’t mind being a tour-guide.

What profession would you not like to do?

Anything where I have to sell stuff.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That was funny.

Final Thoughts on TSOJ

The Summer of Jon lasted 28 days and now that I am back home it seems like it happened a long time ago, or in a dream.  It was a trip of a lifetime, but I hope to do a few more trips of a lifetime before I kick the big can and become fish food (not the Ben and Jerry’s flavor, I doubt there is much rotting human flesh in Phish Food). Hopefully, time and distance  will give me the ability to say what aspects of the trip were truly memorable and make connections to my understanding of life.

Enough of that and on to the banal observations of an aged man traveling Europe on his own.

10. Traveling alone is only lonely if you want it to be. These days it is easy to close off to the world. Early in my trip I thought listening to my iPod as I walked around was a good way to keep myself company, but in the end it closed me off from talking to other people and interacting. When I started leaving my iPod in the hotel I started meeting people and no matter what people tell you, Europeans are friendly. They are not American-sloppy-open-mouthed-kiss friendly, they are a little more reserved and each nation has its own flavor of friendliness, but I had zero negative interactions with people on the road. (Okay, the guy behind the desk at my hotel in Munich was a bit of a grump, but if I had to wear tight suits in ugly colors I would be grumpy too.)IMG_1399

9. Knowing the exchange rate and running a few calculations is always a good idea before arriving in a country. This seems like a no-brainer, but when you travel through multiple countries in a month things can get confusing. When I arrived in Reykjavik I knew the exchange rate was 125-1, but I hadn’t run a few simple calculations so I ended up getting $400 worth of Icelandic Kroner s instead of getting $40 worth from an ATM. My mistake was a windfall profit for Iceland, I had to spend more there than I had intended since Icelandic Kroner s are not accepted anywhere else in the world. (Yes, I could have exchanged the money in the airport, but even an idiot like me knows to never exchange money in an airport.) When I ordered a beer on my first night in Norway and the bartender said, “97 Kroners,” I didn’t think twice about handing over my credit card. When I got back to my hotel room and checked the exchange rate I found out I purchased an $18 beer. From that point on, before I let my hotel wi-fi and traveled to my next destination, I looked at the exchange rate and figured out what $50 US was equal to in my next country.

8. Germans walk my speed. I like to walk with a purpose, so do Germans. There is no leisurely strolling and blocking the sidewalk in Germany and this is the way it should be. If you want to lolly-gag then go to Italy or find a beach.

7. Five days worth of clothing is plenty no matter how long you are traveling. Your room sink or tub is a great little washing machine if you don’t want to waste time in a laundromat. It takes two days for cotton shirts to dry inside a room, but about four hours next to a window.

Wash, rinse, dry on mini-ladder.

Wash, rinse, dry on mini-ladder. Clothing from the Johnny Cash travel collection. 

6. Those stupid little packing cubes really are handy. I thought they were overpriced and for OCD sufferers, but once I was on the road I loved my packing cubes.

5. WiFi in hotels can be lame, but Starbucks stores usually have pretty good connections and it is free if you register a Starbucks card (which doesn’t make it free, but I have had a zero balance on my card for about five years and I was still registered). You can also stand outside of stores and steal wi-fi if you have no shame. The wi-fi outside the Apple store in Munich was great.

4. Pay toilets are stupid. Europe needs to rethink this one. There is nothing else to say here.IMG_1880

3. In Europe vices are viewed as personal issues, in the United States vices are viewed as societal problems. The view of Europeans (huge generalization here) is that if you want to do something stupid go ahead, just make sure it doesn’t bother anyone else. In the US we make laws restricting vices. It is probably why the US leads the world in prison population.

Europe may not allow high-fives, but most of the time they let people do what they want.

Europe may not allow high-fives, but most of the time they let people do what they want.

2. When I would tell married couples (especially couples who are close to my age) that I was in Europe traveling alone I got two very different reactions. The men would get a glossy, far-away look and ask, “By yourself? How did you make that happen?” The women would turn the faces clock-wise about five minutes and squint, “Your wife must be pretty special.” The look the women gave me indicated that they really didn’t believe me and that there must be more to the story. I often felt like I was being accused of something devious.

1. My wife is pretty special.

TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Iceland

I flew out of Iceland yesterday evening in what I would term a winter storm. Winds were blowing about 50 miles per hour, the temperature was no more than 50 degrees, rain was blasting the airport, and because it is Iceland we walked about 300 yards in the monsoon to get to the plane. Once aboard I wondered if the weather was great for flying and then I thought, “This is summer weather for these pilots, this is nothing.” I was right, we took off like we were flying on a clear summer day in Seattle. Two hours later I was in Norway where there are more trees in a square mile than the entire country of Iceland.

Iceland is one of the stranger places a visitor can go. The land is one part of the strangeness, the strangeness of the length of days, the strangeness of the language, the strangeness of the food, and then there is the people. The Icelandic people are friendly, but they also do not hide their feelings. They tolerate tourists because without the tourist dollar the economic hard times would be even more difficult. The stunted trees of the country symbolize the people best, hunkered down against a hillside just surviving the wind and storms that blow through the land. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of hope in life, they deal with it by gritting their teeth and pushing forward. There is a Nordic sense of doom hanging everywhere. Men tinker on their homes preparing for the 10 months of bitter weather, women knit thick sweaters and probably don’t own a light summer dress, and kids wear their jackets without complaint. Everyone knows that July is when they can relax and take a deep breath, but no one seems to do that, they prepare for the next storm. They avoid being too happy about the present and focus on preparing for the bleak future. This general attitude makes the financial crisis even harsher for a people who are far more focused on the future than the present. The moments of joy are always tempered by the reality of a fate that has been a part of the Nordic heritage since they began telling stories in their strange pirate language. Pirate is probably offensive the these Vikings, although Pirates and Vikings have a great deal in common Pirates never settled a country or carried a heritage for thousands of years. Icelandic lore (along with recent history to support the story) said the Reyjakavik was founded when one of the Viking leaders, Ingolfur Arnarson, tossed a couple logs overboard somewhere out at sea and followed them to land. Where the two logs landed is modern day Reyjakvik. Leaving the founding of a city and nation up to fate (or in this case two logs and the tides) is not something that one can celebrate as grandly as one can if you are escaping religious persecution like the American lore (less supported by history the further we get away from it) but it says a great deal about who the Icelandic people are, they have been tossed about by the sea, but they deal with it. There is not a great deal of whining in this country, there is the Sisyphean attitude, and as we all recall, Sisyphus conquered his punishment by being happy in his endless task. I think Icelanders would be happy being compared to Sisyphus.

Questions about Iceland and Icelanders:
Are there any actual laws related to driving in the city? I was never sure if while standing at a crosswalk if I had the right of way. Some cars would wait, others blew right through, some waved me to go and then nearly ran me over. Sidewalks were often used as auxiliary portions of the road. Many of the vehicles were built like many of the off-road trucks in the US: big tires, lifted off the ground, and large enough for me to believe the driver was suffering from some form of inadequacy.

What’s the deal with beer? I bought a beer at a supermarket and the checker told me that it wasn’t beer. He then informed me that you could only buy beer at the wine store which was closing at 6 PM. I think he expected me to stop the purchase of my beer and dash downtown to get “real beer.” I talked to the owner of the Micro Bar about the beer situation and he told me that light beer is simply beer with 2.25% alcohol content. You can buy this type of beer at a store, but beer with a higher alcohol content must be purchased at the wine store. I asked if Icelanders drank beer, because to me the stuff in the can was horrible, I realize that it was light beer, but it was bad light beer. The beer at the Micro Bar was good and the IPA that I had there was as good as any beer you can get in the US. The owner of the Micro Bar admitted that the best beer in the world right now is in the US, but he wasn’t sure he liked the way we sold beer because when he lived in the US be spent a lot of time drinking too much beer because it was readily available. Good think we Americans could care less about getting fat. I think the general attitude of Icelanders (and this is a sweeping generalization) is that if you are going to drink then you should drink until you fall down.

What’s the story with the alphabet? I don’t even know where to start here. The language is a complete mystery to me. Everyone speaks English because no one else speaks Icelandic. I don’t ever want to suggest that the language should go away because so much of what makes a culture unique is built into the language of that culture. I only said one Icelandic word the whole time I was there, “Tak.” Which means, “Thanks” and is the same word used in Danish, so I was able to thank people but there was an additional portion of the thanks: Fyrre, or something like that.I was not confident enough to even try but it sounded like Tak Fear to me.
The rest of the language did not seem to follow the rules associated to any language I know. Somewhere in the past the Vikings that came to Iceland decided to do their own thing when it came to the language. I think the language is based on runes and therefore more like a symbol based language than a phonetic one, so if there is no basis for phonetics there is no way for me to figure out what is going on.

Do I look like an Icelander? Most of the time when I ran into people in Iceland they started out by addressing me in Icelandic. In a country as small as Iceland they say that everyone knows everyone, so I guess my twin is running around Iceland speaking Icelandic. I know some of you are thinking, “Wouldn’t it be natural for people to address you in their native language?” Sure, but I witnessed most tourists being addressed in English first. When my family stayed in German for a month I had people talk to me in German many, many times. I can understand that, we were away from the tourist areas but I do look like a German, probably because my ancestors come from the German/Dutch area in the north. (Good looking, smart people I assume.) What’s the best thing to eat in Iceland? For a quick, almost cheap bite, I think everyone should hit the hot dog place and get a couple dogs with everything (three sauces, fried onions, fresh onions). If you want to make your mouth happy then you must eat Plokkfisker with black rye bread. The bread itself is so good that I almost bought a loaf to eat by itself. White fish, cheese, butter, onions and potatoes have never tasted better.

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TSOJ: Iceland’s Harpa Tour

Iceland's Harpa Conference Center.

Iceland’s Harpa Conference Center.

When I asked the Tourist Information Dude when tours of Harpa took place he wasn’t sure. He said that he doesn’t get many requests for a tour of what is an amazing building. I am not an architectural nut, but I do appreciate beauty in all forms, and the Harpa is a beautiful thing. The building has already been through enough trials to fill the harbor surrounding it. When the dazzling building started the Icelandic people were riding high on a banking system that soon came crashing to the earth. The money behind the building was one of the broken Icelandic banks and very soon after the building began it stopped. It stood as a reminder of the economic crisis for years, a modern building sitting open to the elements slowly given over to fate. No one wanted to finance a building in such difficult times, but in the end pragmatism took over as they discovered it would be more expensive to tear it down. Some people actually rallied to let the building stand as a symbol of the country’s financial ruin, instead of finishing the building they wanted to let it sit rotting in the harbor. Knowing that this thing of beauty was almost given up on is shocking. The architect of the Harpa is the same architect who built the Copenhagen Opera House which looks to me like a garage door left open to the harbor, but it is still one of the many buildings in Copenhagen that leave an impression of modern movement. Before the Harpa Iceland’s iconic building is the Hallsgrimskikja church overseeing the entire city. One can see the hope that was built into the Harpa, a hope for the future of a small nation, and one can also see why it is a symbol that Icelanders embrace as they hope for a better future.

The view from the west.

The view from the west.

I arrived for the 3:30 tour early and had time to walk around the building a little bit. I was in Iceland about six years ago when the Harpa was just getting started so seeing it completed was on my list of things to do. At 3:30 our tour guide, Christiana, began our tour on the ground floor.

The glass was modeled after the hexagon shaped rock formations found all over Iceland.

The glass was modeled after the hexagon shaped rock formations found all over Iceland.

One of the first topics she covered was the controversy with the construction of the Harpa. What started as an expansion of the money flowing through Icelandic banks ended as a rescue by the government and people of Iceland. It was a long building process and there were various concessions made to finish the building so that the building could become the centerpiece of growth for all of Iceland. Although Iceland sits between North America and Europe many people don’t consider visiting, so the Harpa has become a do-it-all building focused on bringing companies with offices in North America and Europe to Iceland for conferences. The greatest challenge has been building more hotel space to accommodate these conferences. Not every CEO wants to share a shower at a guesthouse.

The colored glass is designed to make different effects as the sun shines through.

The colored glass is designed to make different effects as the sun shines through.

The Harpa is beautiful from the outside, but the real beauty of the building is on the interior. This makes sense because Iceland is not a place where you want to stand outside too often during nine months of the year. During the winter months LED lights around the exterior windows mimic the Northern Lights which would be something to see, but I doubt I will be visiting in December.

Lots of different shapes making construction even more complex.

Lots of different shapes making construction even more complex.

The smallest concert hall looked a little like a lecture hall one might see in a university, but like all the halls in the building it can be transformed from concert venue to lecture hall to place to take a tour of. Christiana changed the lighting from green, to red, to purple, to blue.

LED lighting in all of the smaller concert halls gives the ability to set a different tone for different concerts.

LED lighting in all of the smaller concert halls gives the ability to set a different tone for different concerts.

Deep Purple for Deep Purple?

Deep Purple for Deep Purple?

Each room had the ability to control sound. The acoustic technology used to move sound was one of the most impressive things about the building. Each room is world class and constructed as a box within a box. Therefore multiple concerts can be going on at once without noise interference.

Oak slats from the USA designed to carry sound. Behind the slats is a sheet of felt that can be raised or lowered to amplify or dampen sound.

Oak slats from the USA designed to carry sound. Behind the slats is a sheet of felt that can be raised or lowered to amplify or dampen sound.

The third room we went to looked pretty plain, but again, there were multiple uses for the room. It could be split, walls could rotate, and it was the only hall where there was electronic amplification. Christiana said that she attended a Bjork concert in the hall and the next day was in the hall for a CrossFit competition. (Bjork and CrossFit are big in Iceland.)

In concert hall three, these rotating pieces of wall allow the sound to carry (wood surface) or dampen (cloth surface).

In concert hall three, these rotating pieces of wall allow the sound to carry (wood surface) or dampen (cloth surface).

The main concert hall was simply beautiful. I suppose Christiana sees this place everyday and so it is nothing new, but I was really blown away. You can look at the pictures, my writing will only spoil it.

The main concert hall is amazing.

The main concert hall is amazing.

Not a bad seat in the house.

Not a bad seat in the house.

The view from above the stage.

The view from above the stage.

Behind each of the walls were these huge white rooms. Again, the walls could be moved to either dampen or amplify sound. When we stood in the big white room, I wished I had visited during concert season. Maybe when I am a billionaire I will come back and watch an Opera.

Alongside the entire main hall are these huge rooms designed to carry sound. Choirs have hidden back here to sing along with the concerts amplifying the sound even more.

Alongside the entire main hall are these huge rooms designed to carry sound. Choirs have hidden back here to sing along with the concerts amplifying the sound even more.

The tour took about an hour and was well worth the time. I don’t know why more people tour the building because it is awesome. So next time you are swinging through Iceland, drop in and spend some time at the Harpa.

Mirrors on the ceiling and pink champagne in Iceland...

Mirrors on the ceiling and pink champagne in Iceland…

 

The Summer of Jon (TSOJ): Now Appearing In Iceland

The Summer of Jon has begun.

Yesterday, or two days ago, I flew from the 90 degree weather of Seattle to the 55 degree weather of Reykjavik Iceland. Almost everything went smoothly with the exception of me getting through the TSA security checkpoint and then finding my seat on the plane. It took me three attempts to get through the metal detector. The first one was because I had not emptied my pockets…rookie mistake, and the second time was because I had not taken off my belt…doh! Finally, I got through, bought a ten dollar beer for lunch (I doubt there will be a more expensive beer on my trip) and then arrived at the boring terminal S at Seatac in time to see that Egypt was on the brink of some difficulties. Thank goodness we have the Trayvon Martin case to distract us. (Guy follows someone, ends up shooting him, admits to shooting him, and there is a trial? Only in America and The Soviet Union during the Cold War.

My seat, which I had carefully selected for leg room, turned out to be a big fat lie. There was no leg room. Little graphs on the internet (I’m talking to you SeatGuru) don’t always give the full picture when making little charts of the best and worst seats. The good news was that I was sitting by a young couple, so they were going to talk to me, and the baby in front of me was cute. I don’t mind a crying baby, I have always been able to ignore that noise just ask my wife.

I did not sleep a bit on the seven hour flight, but did enjoy watching Django Unchained. It is wrong to laugh loudly when watching a movie this violent, so I am sure the young couple seated next to me wondered if I was some sadistic, tall, moron.

Arriving in Iceland by plane is usually (from my vast experience of flying in here twice) boring. Clouds, clouds, clouds, ocean, ocean, are we going to land in the ocean? Tarmac and rain. Not yesterday. It was beautiful. I could see a good chunk of the island all spread out like an egg in a frying pan. I zipped through customs and then spent the rest of the morning like a child asking when it is time to go. It was only 6:30 am and the Blue Lagoon didn’t open for another two hours. I went to an ATM pushed a few buttons and then found myself deciding if I was going to get 40,000 IK or 200,000 IK. My little hamster wheel of a brain knew the exchange rate was 125 to 1, but was that 400 dollars or 40? I ended up with more Icelandic money than I need, but there are hot dogs to buy and at least three things to do. I bought a coffee for 500 IK and then drank the precious liquid.

Soon enough it was off to the Blue Lagoon. The bus trip there was just as shocking as the last time I was in Iceland. I would be no one in Iceland owns a chainsaw. Trees don’t exist on this planet. There are some trees in Reykjavik, but most of them are wind-beaten little numbers that are just trying to survive.

The Blue Lagoon was great. I got a bathrobe this time and spent a few hours soaking in the blue waters of the lagoon. Part of my package was a buffet lunch. I had a difficult decision to make, stay in the water and wait another hour while my skin turned to mush or put on my robe and sit in the relaxing room. I went for the relaxing room. They had those zero gravity chairs (I doubt there is science supporting this zero gravity thing, but I found a chair leaned back and tried not to fall asleep. I watched the people frolicking in the waters below and then had what I thought was a moment of sleep, but when I regained consciousness there were new people all around me in their zero gravity chairs and it was time for lunch.

I did not eat on the plane and took it out on the buffet, a sushi buffet, oh the carnage. I think I ate 20,000 IK in sushi but passed on a drink since I would have to pay extra for that. I then decide it was time to wash off the Blue Lagoon and head to the hotel.

Everything went like clockwork until I went to charge my iPod. I soon found myself on an epic quest to find an iPod dock in downtown Reykjavik where the only thing you can really buy is Icelandic sweaters, wool, gnomes, books on gnomes, viking stuff, and stuffed puffin dolls. I walked until I found a blister on my foot, but eventually found the charger.

I then wandered into the Hallgrimskirkja church (good luck pronouncing that one.) The church can be seen from just about anywhere on the island of Iceland, not just the city…this is an exaggeration, but it sticks up a bit. I went in and wandered for a moment until some guy in a hoodie got onto the keyboards and busted out some serious music. His little fingers were flying, his feet were working away also. It was awesome. I stuck around until I stomach told me it was time to eat a hot dog or three.

I ended my first night by taking a sleeping pill that worked like a charm. So it is off to breakfast and then to the penis museum.

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An Icelandic dinosaur coming to life at the airport. Why? I don’t know, it is Iceland there are lots of unknowns.

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For 500 IK you too can enjoy two sips of coffee.

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The Blue Lagoon overpriced, touristy, and oh so worth it.

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A tiny panoramic picture of the Lagoon.

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Blue Lagoon hairdoo, ready for a nap.

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The entrance to the Blue Lagoon.

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The Hillgrimslakf;alkfzhvlmnieuhfkldnf church. My hotel is 25 Icelandic meters away.

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The church pews’ backs can move to look forward during services, or can swing the other way during organ recitals.

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Dude in a hoodie playing that funky music.

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The best hot dog in the world. 1 of three that I ate yesterday. 350 IK.

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The Harpa Opera Hall. I’ll be there tomorrow.

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Two more hot dogs in their little handy table.

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Businessman with a block for a head? Maybe saying something about the financial crisis in Iceland.

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Leif Erikson is like, you can go that way if you want, I’m off to AMERICA!

 

Let The Summer of Jon Begin: Top Ten

 

Top Ten things I am looking forward to during The Summer of Jon 

 

 

10. Eating three hotdogs each day while in Iceland at Bæjarins beztu pylsur.

 

 

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the b...

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the best hot dog stand in Reykjavik.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. A full day at the Blue Lagoon. (Slippers and robe included.)

 

 

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

8. Seeing Munch’s The Scream.

 

 

Munch The Scream lithography

Munch The Scream lithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Spending some time in the Danish Design Museum

 

 

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Kl...

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Klint at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery

 

 

English: The "Elephant Gate" at the ...

English: The “Elephant Gate” at the Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5. Taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour.

 

 

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm (Photo credit: TXMagpie)

4. Touring Potsdam on bike

 

 

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineya...

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Walking though Vigeland Park (Froger Park) in Oslo.

 

 

Vigeland Children

Vigeland Children (Photo credit: Will Cyr)

2. Vienna’s outdoor evening concerts/movies at city hall.

 

Vienna's Town hall (4)

Vienna’s Town hall (4) (Photo credit: Elena Romera)

1. A full day bike tour of Prague.

 

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed ...

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed from Petřín Lookout Tower. The view is approximately 180 degrees, from north on the left to south on the right.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Top Ten Concerns/Fears/Obsessive thoughts

 

 

10. The exchange rate. There is going to be some weird money on this trip. The Icelandic Kroner’s current exchange rate is about 125 to 1. This sounds good, but I don’t want to have to use skills from my Algebra 1 class in 1850.

 

 

9. Angry German bakers. I could avoid German bakers altogether but then I would have to avoid German baked goods…not gonna happen.

 

 

8. Being on time. I will show up to the airport three hours before my flight just like I am told, but once I am on the road I don’t want to spend time waiting.

 

 

7. Italians walking slowly.

 

 

6. Italians cutting in line. Okay this can be anyone cutting in line. Getting off the ferry in Victoria last week I purposely stepped in between a family that was cutting in line knowing that they couldn’t pass through customs as two groups. There is a line people! Get in the line or I will get all Clint Eastwoody on you. (Not the talking to a chair Clint Eastwood, but the Clint that stares into the sun and spits on stuff.)

 

 

5. Heat. I am a delicate flower and heat will make me wilt.

 

 

4. Not being able to speak the primary language of any country I am visiting. Yes, I am going to assume everyone will speak to me in English. My multiple years of Spanish class will probably not pay off in Iceland. Actually, my Spanish is only good for laughs these days.

 

 

3. Being stuck someplace where they play Techno music.

 

 

2. Being stuck on the plane next to someone who wants to talk too much.

 

 

1. Gypsies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Summer of Jon: There’s an App for that

I am one of those annoying people who love Apple products. My first computer was an Apple IIe and I have never strayed. My nerd friends have given me grief over my loyalty to Apple because they are nerds and knew something about the flux capacitor that Dell Computers used. “Did you know that the Apple III uses a processor that can only push 10 megabits of information every 10 seconds, but the new Dell can push 12? And it costs $100 less than your Apple III.” (I don’t really know how to express nerd talk because it annoys me so much that I don’t really pay any attention to it. I listened to three guys arguing about X-box 360 verses the PS3 the other day in a pizza place and it ruined my day. It wasn’t like I was eavesdropping, they were just loud and so stupid they could not be ignored.) Anyway, I have taken my fair share of shots back at the nerd crew who disdain Apple products, but in reality, I know nothing about computers and my criticisms are not effective. It’s like trying to explain why you bought a new car to a gear head. “I wanted to buy a car/computer that worked. I like the way it works. I like the way it looks. I know it is more expensive, but I just want to put gas in it and then drive it. I don’t need to know how it works.” These responses usually drew lots of honking laughter sounds from the nerds/gear heads.

My only effective arguments about Apple products verses any other computer company come down to this: Would you rather have an iPod or a Zune? If you said Zune, there is no hope for you. You will soon be meeting in a church basement with 10 other people in what I will loosely call a “support group.”

My second argument revolves around Microsoft’s stupid use of two spaces between paragraphs as a default setting in Microsoft Word. Why Microsoft? Why? Why? Why? I have learned to live with it, but I hate it. I even hate how I have given up the fight on my blog. I don’t even try to indent my paragraphs anymore. It is a sad state of affairs, and it is the main reason I like Apple because it has always been a computer company that thinks of form as much as they think about function.

As I approach the countdown to The Summer of Jon I have scoured the App store looking for the right travel Apps and various other pieces of software for my trip. I have a few favorites, but my new all-time favorite App for travel is TripIt. TripIt is one of those programs (Do we still call them programs?) that manages all of your travel details. My Summer of Jon trip is going to be more complicated than other trips I have taken. I’m hitting multiple cities over a longer period than I have ever done before. I have to keep track of a bunch of hotel reservations, flights, and stuff I want to see. In the dark ages, I would print out reservations and pack five travel books for every city I’m hitting, but during the Summer of Jon I will be keeping all that information in my little TripIt app. Each time I make a reservation for a hotel or flight, I get a confirmation email that I forward to TripIt. TripIt magically (nerd magic I assume) puts that reservation into my little file. If I want to visit the penis museum in Iceland then I just add that to my itinerary on the date I want to go. If I have an address for the penis museum, I can add that and the app will map it for me. (Yes, there is a penis museum in Iceland. Why would I go there? I’m not sure, but weird stuff like that is what the Summer of Jon is all about.)

Will this little app prevent me from making stupid mistakes? No, I will manage to make at least 100 mistakes during my trip, but that is what makes travel great: getting lost, going to the wrong hotel, eating the wrong thing, watching television in a language I don’t understand, and being confused by the norms of another culture. I can’t wait.

 

 

The Summer of Jon

Picture of George.

I am a George. There are Kramers, Jerrys, and a few Elaines out there, but I am a George. Now, I don’t mean that I act like George Costanza or want to be George Costanza, I simply mean that I enjoy humor that is uncomfortable. Kramers are people who like slapstick, Jerrys like observational humor or situational humor, Elaines are…I’m not sure of what Elaines are but I just started drinking coffee this morning and my iTunes update has me in a bit of a tither. (What happened to my interface? I am now going to have to spend ten minutes figuring out where everything is again. If you are reading this from a work camp in China my problem probably sounds minor, but let me assure you iTunes updates take a toll on the human soul.)

The Summer of George is one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld. George freed from all of his responsibilities, plans to spend the summer in self-indulgent activities. It is the fantasy of many adults and a fantasy that I will be living for a month this summer. I have taken on a few additional work responsibilities at the old salt mine and will be getting some extra cabbage at the end of December. I should take this money and invest it in green energy or find a PO Box in the Cayman Islands to send it to, but instead I am going to ramble. By yourself? Yes, by myself. Don’t you have a family? Yes, and they are encouraging me to go which either means they love me or they can’t stand me.

Where am I heading on my Summer of Jon? Well, since I don’t have airline tickets yet I will give you a rough outline: Reykjavík, Oslo, Norwegian Fjords, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Munich. I have been to a few of these locations before, but this time I will be able to travel “Jon style”: Cheap hotels, getting lost without getting in trouble with my family, eating occasionally, walking fast, spending zero time looking for bathrooms, and seeing at least ten sites a day. (You might see why no one wants to travel with me.) While the details are still up in the air, I did receive the first real evidence that this trip will be taking place: my suitcase.

I will be traveling for about 30 days and taking one carry-on bag. Is this foolish? Maybe, but it isn’t like I am going to be attending the Opera in Vienna in coat and tails. Now if someone wants to meet me in Vienna and take me to the Opera, I would be happy to send along my measurements, but what I want to see in Vienna hangs on a wall and isn’t going to care if I wear shorts and a T-shirt. What I want to see in Oslo is a painting of a dude holding his face standing on a colorful bridge. You don’t need to dress up to order the best hot dog in all of Europe. (Reykjavík if you were wondering. There are three reasons to stop in Iceland: the hot dogs, the Blue Lagoon, the countryside of Iceland.) This trip will be an informal, come as you are , event.

Let the planning for the summer of Jon begin. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!

Young Kids, Museums and Travel

When our kids were young we took them to London and Paris. There were people who asked, “Aren’t the kids too young to appreciate Europe?” Well, they may have been, but my goals were not to have them “appreciate” anything, I just wanted them to see the world from a different angle. I wanted them to have a mind altering experience early enough in life so they did not see the world as their enemy, which, in my opinion, is how many Americans view the world.

Now the trip did not always go smoothly, Emma might have been too young to care about the Elgin Marbles, but the trip did allow them to see the world is not a homogenized chunk of Home Depot, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Safeway strip malls crowding each American city. They came back to the USA with an understanding that things are different other places and that isn’t a bad thing. They tried new things and found out that “different” isn’t a threat to an American way of life that must be snuffed out. I believe that if more Americans traveled overseas, not just in military uniforms, the world would be a better place. Only 37% of Americans have passports. That statistic is probably skewed by economics (some people cannot afford to travel) but I believe there is a large group of Americans who never want to leave the country for any reason.

The trip also established two unintended consequences the first being that both of my children have the travel bug. I could not be happier. We went back to Europe with the kids in 2009. We visited Iceland, England, France, Germany and Denmark. Did the kids have a great time 100% of the time? No, but both of them are pleading for us to go back and see new places. You will not hear my kids say, “I hear the French don’t like us” or “What’s there to see in Iceland?” because they know that every place has its own magic. Now, maybe we could have established this idea here in the US, but if you travel much in the US you begin to see that corporations are doing a good job of making the American landscape all the same. Sure, Europe has some of the same problems, but the cultural differences between places is something that even the largest corporations cannot change.

The second unintended consequence of our travel is something more important and that is the shared memories of adventure. Some people have advised me to save money for the kids’ college years, but instead I have spent our money on travel. I have invested in memories instead of the future. Now this might be foolish but I don’t see the point in squirreling away nuts for the winter when those nuts have a pretty good chance of becoming rotten. Memories are investments also. They are the type of investment that always increases in value and my kids have memories they will be able to share with their families some day.

So, should you take your kids on a trip someplace far away before they are old enough to appreciate it? Yes, and then take them again, and again.

 

The Flying Wiking

No one wants a taxi driver to laugh when you tell them where you want go, especially when that place is your hotel, or what you thought was your hotel.

When my family arrived in Iceland everything went reasonably smoothly, reasonably being defined by our travel history is arriving in the right place and not being lost. We got onto a plane in Seattle flew for 8 or 9 hours and ended up at Keflavik Airport at around 7am. We were a little tired, none of us could sleep on the flight, but we arrived on time, went and exchanged dollars for Icelandic Kroner and hung around waiting for a bus to take us to the Blue Lagoon (more on this place in another post.) We did the Blue Lagoon and then caught another bus to take us into Reykjavik. When the bus driver asked us where we were staying I said, “The Flying Viking, do you know where that is?” The bus driver laughed and then asked for the address. I tried several times to pronounce the street name. The Icelandic language is one of the greatest practical jokes in the world. There are about 50 letters (I might be exaggerating here, but it is my blog) and many of them I had never seen before. If you think German sounds like you are clearing your throat to spit, let me introduce you to Icelandic. One of my favorite jokes during our stay in Iceland was to ask for the crossword puzzle (a real knee slapper.)

So the bus driver acknowledged that the street in question existed and that I would have to take a taxi to get there because the road was too narrow for the bus. Now when you book your hotel from a computer in the Northwest corner of the United States and there are not 100’s of guides to Iceland waiting at the local bookstore…well let’s just say you might be tempted to take a risk and go for the hotel with great ratings and a low cost. Well, maybe you wouldn’t, but I would, so the Flying Viking it was.

The big bus drove us from the Blue Lagoon to Reykjavik, through what can only be described as the strangest countryside I had ever seen, like the moon covered with moss. We arrived at the bus station in Reykjavik and transferred our bags to a van.

“Vhere are you going?” the van driver asked.

“The Flying Viking.”

Van driver laughs, “The Flying Wiking? Do you hawe an address?”

“N:OEHfha;owug? NIEfuhl;a.ufg?” Finally I just showed him the alphabet soup of an address. “Do you know where this is?” I didn’t know Reykjavik was the size of a small American town but anyone who lives there for more than a week probably knows 1/4 of the people living there.

“Yes.”

So we drove through the outskirts of the town and then into the downtown area and finally we arrived at our location, a street of typical Icelandic houses. The driver got out and wandered around for a moment and then returned with a lady who had keys to the “Flying Viking.” She led us around a house to a shed/garage that had been converted into a guest house. I tipped the van driver and we pulled our bags into the shed. The key lady didn’t speak any English so she handed over the key and disappeared.

Now it is times like this when it is hard being the dad. There were bunk beds in our shed, but there was a small kitchen, a bathroom that smelled like rotten eggs (all the bathrooms smell like rotten eggs because of the thermal water used to power everything in Iceland) and there was a television that played one channel in English, one channel in Danish and one channel in Icelandic. The English channel was a 24 hour American Christian Evangelical one, full of bad hair and brimstone.

We were tired, staying in a shed and I thought we needed at least four days to see the best of Iceland, my family was not pleased.

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