Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Month: November, 2013

A Whirlwind Trip to Iceland

One of my best friends just turned 40, and to celebrate, a few of us, including her, went to Iceland for a long weekend.  What an unexpectedly great mini-vacation!  For about $1,000, we had a round trip flight out of JFK to Reykjavik, three nights at the Reykjavik Natura, and two tours (to be spoken of later).  What a baaah-gain! I did zero research before going to Iceland (my friend did all the bookings), and it was great to have everything pretty much taken care of.  Iceland is a beautiful country, just growing in its tourism industry, so not yet overrun with crazy photo-taking tourists from around the world.  And we got there in time for the first big, steady snow of the season, so everything was coated in a blanket of pristine snow.  It was cold, yes, but I expected that, so I was somewhat prepared both mentally and physically. Here’s a quick run through of what we did over the three and a half days in this country of 300,000 people, about the size of Virginia:

iceland-map-1

We took a red eye flight from JFK into Keflavik, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Reykjavik, both of which are in the southeast of Iceland.  But with the time difference (5 hours ahead of New York), the five-ish hour flight brought us into Iceland at about 1am EST.  And from our arrival, we were on the go pretty much the rest of the day. The first thing that took getting used to was the inflated prices of everything.  Others had told me that Iceland prices are way higher than US prices, and that was no joke.  The other thing that took getting used to was that the sun didn’t rise until about 10am and then set around 4pm.  Literally, the sun did not get high in the sky.

Our first stop from the airport was at Blue Lagoon, a man-made geothermal spa that was “accidentally” formed from the running of a nearby geothermal power plant.  It supposedly has healing waters, and it’s called “blue” because the water is a tinted light blue.  A little scary when you think of it, that it’s created from the waste of the power plant, but oh well.  In any case, it was really cool to be soaking in this hot water (high 90 degrees) while the outside air was in the low 30s (it was cold enough to be snowing).

30 Blue Lagoon

After a few hours lounging, we headed into the city, checked in at our hotel, and took the public bus into downtown.  We took a nice walk down Laugavegur, a street lined with shops and cafes, as the snow fell and the temperature dropped.  We arrived for dinner at Fish Market, with a great seat in the lounge to celebrate my friend’s birthday.  We wanted to take full advantage of Iceland eats, so we ordered appetizers with puffin and whale as well as the langoustine main dish (basically a mini-lobster).  All was totally yummy, and we got a free dessert which was as big as one of the entrees!

fish market meal

The next day, we did the Golden Circle tour, the most popular and recommended tour to do in Iceland.  We got on a tour bus and went to several places, all where we could get out and take photos, a walk, and enjoy the sights.  What we saw:

  • Thingvellir National Park – a beautiful expansive national park, the site of the first Icelandic parliament in 930, and the location where two tectonic plates (the North American plate and the Eurasian plate) converge/ diverge
  • Gullfoss (Golden Falls) – an impressive and powerful waterfall
  • Geysir geothermal area – site of hot springs that bubble up into the sky, kind of like Old Faithful
  • Fontana steambaths – a spa with natural steam baths and pools in the open air.  The tour includes a gimmicky experience of seeing bread baked in a pot in the sand, heated by geothermal activity.

golden circle

That night we ate fish and chips and Icelandic Fish and Chips, which was quite good.  Overall, the food we ate in Iceland was tasty.  Not as I had expected.  Our next full day tour was an all day trip including a glacier walk, a visit to a folk art museum, a traditional Icelandic meat soup dinner, a view of a beautiful waterfall lit up by night spot lights and a full moon, and a hunt for the aurora borealis.  The glacier walk was way cool.  We had crampons strapped to our boots, and hiked up the glacier, even through a short snowstorm.  Unfortunately, we were not successful finding the Northern Lights, but the full moon was gorgeous, and with the new snow on the ground, we had some beautiful short walks in search of the aurora.

day two tourWe got back to our hotel around midnight and crashed.  A long day.

The next day was a free day, our last half day before heading back to the airport.  We headed back downtown, had a hot dog at a famous stand that has been frequented by Bill Clinton (that’s their claim to fame).  It was a delicious hot dog, which we ate outside, under a bike shelter as the snowflakes fell.  Well worth the search and the wait.  And cheap, relatively speaking = 380 Icelandic krona (about 3 bucks!).

What a fun and easy trip.  All courtesy of Iceland Air.  Check out their package deals!

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Recent Reads

I’ve been plowing through books on my iPad these past months.  It’s nice to be back to reading more regularly after not for so long.  And I’m getting used to reading on an e-reader.  BUT, my love of physical books is not diminished.  If I had a bigger house and more room for more bookcases, I’d be buying more books.

Recently, a friend posted this on his Facebook feed:tsundoku

That is me to a “T.”  I love just having books upon books around me.  I’ve got at least 4 books on my nightstand, a bookshelf in my bedroom, an even bigger one in the living room, and I’d have another one if I could!

But back to the books I’ve been reading.  Here are some that I’ve read all the way through (meaning they were enjoyable.  I also have a slew of books that I started and couldn’t get into for whatever reason):

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

mo meta blues

This was a lot of fun to read.  Questlove is a philosophizing music nerd.  He even says he probably would have been diagnosed with autism if he were a child in today’s age.  The book is a mix of stream of consciousness, allusions and references to music from all kinds of genres, socio-political commentary, and just plain autobiography about this musical genius/ giant.  I get these fixations of finding a person/ group/ concept and doing a lot of background research to understand him/her/them/it better.  So The Roots have been on my recent fix, mostly from seeing them on the Jimmy Fallon show (see previous post), listening to Questlove on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and subsequently watching their music videos on YouTube.  They’re an interesting bunch.  This is a book I want to buy for my bookshelf.

Just finished How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway.

howtobeanamericanhousewife_

I came across this on my Overdrive app for one of the public libraries that I belong to, and though I was worried about the starting point of it being about a Japanese woman married to a US serviceman post WWII (a bit cliche, in my opinion), I thought I’d give it a try.  And it was surprisingly good.  There was the usual heartache-y storyline that comes with the whole culture clash thing and the struggles and sacrifice that an Asian warbride experiences.  But instead of focusing on the love story, it focused on her, her daughter, and her relationship with her brother and family back in Japan.  The white husband was barely present.  I get tired of that overplayed story of the Asian woman/ white man relationship which provides escape for the Asian woman from a repressive and oppressive Asian culture.  So this had more depth of story and character development.  Not worth buying, but it was a good read.

A friend of mine bought me this book in preparation for a trip we’re taking to Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason

jar city

This was a mystery/ suspense story (nothing too intense for me; I’m a wimp when it comes to books, movies, and TV shows).  Also a good read.  Interesting story line, not very predictable, set in a country I don’t know.  This was actually in book form, so that was a good break from the usual e-reader format.  I’m curious to know what else this author has up his sleeves.

Also read Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

last-night-in-montreal_custom-de6516950fab317e2ef64547bcb0f3b4886945fb-s6-c85

I really don’t remember how I came across this, maybe from a book review online.  But it was a happy accident.  This was a really beautifully written book about a girl and a boy.  Basically a love story but told in such a lyrical way, nonlinear, through memories of different characters.  All to describe the life of the main character Lilia.  It’s too hard to explain the book’s storyline because it really is simply a love story.  But tie in a father and mother with unique stories, lots of road tripping across the U.S., Montreal, a detective with his own quest.  And I was drawn in.

Books have always been my escape from reality, not that reality was bad or anything, but a way to jump into another world as an intensely connected spectator.  I love deep and complex characters.  I love beautifully crafted language.  And with this world of online borrowing, I can just start a book, see if I like it and then move on if I’m not hooked right away.

Here are some books I started and just couldn’t get into:

  • Too Big To Fail (about the stock market crash in 2008)
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (not sure, it started off OK but I just couldn’t get through it)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad (another that started off well and then got tedious)
  • Bel Canto (ditto)
  • Please Look After Mom (a translation from a Korean author – I wanted to like it, but maybe I’ll need to try again)

What suggestions do you have out there?

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