I’ve always wished to be a more creative  person.  I can think of a hundred ways to adapt an idea, but the idea is nearly always someone else’s brainchild.  It always amazes me what a creative mind can think of, especially when I see art or listen to music.

Today, one of my Facebook friends posted a video of some unique sculptures.  I only check Facebook occasionally, so I suppose it’s making the rounds, but it was new to me.  My favorite of these amazing sculptures was the lady holding onto the world as she blows away from it.

0816 Lady and world

 

I went online to see what I could find out about the sculptures and quickly found that there are several websites related to the topic.  Each has a few different sculptures in its gallery.  I especially like the “Mustangs” in Texas, . . .

0816 Mustangs

 

. . . the kids jumping into the river in Singapore, . . .

0816 Kids jumping

 

. . . the “Break Through” people in Philadelphia, . . .0816 Break through

 

. . . and the tripping man in Brussels.

0816 Tripping man

 

Last summer, Ted and I saw the “Shoes on the Danube” sculpture in Budapest . . .

0816 Danube shoes

 

. . . and “A Man at Work”  in Bratislava.

0816 Working man

 

We’re surprised we didn’t see the “Unknown Official” in Reykjavik earlier this month.  It’s a small city and we had a pretty extensive two-day tour.  Maybe next time.

0816 Unknown official

Ted always said there’s no challenge to forecasting summer weather in St. Louis–just put in a high around 90, a low in the 70s and a chance of afternoon heat-induced thunderstorms.  It looks like Ted’s formula still works, based on the forecast I saw on the noon news today.

wx4castsmart

 

 

 

In April 2014, I had a minor surgical procedure to fix a trigger finger–the ring finger on my right hand.  Surgery always creates some degree of swelling, but I was told not to re-size any of my rings because the swelling would go down in 12-18 months and then my re-sized rings would be too big.  The swelling did go down enough for me to wear my rings, but only about two-thirds of the time.

Today, nearly two-and-a-half years after the surgery, I gave up and took my rings to the jeweler to be re-sized.  On the days I can slip them on, they often require some effort (or soap or lotion) to get them off, and I’m starting to get a callus on the side of my knuckle from the friction, making the knuckle even thicker.  My rings need to be enlarged about one-eighth of a size–just enough to slip them over my knuckle without pushing or tugging.

I like to wear rings, I have beautiful rings from Ted, and I’m tired of not wearing them regularly.  When I pick them up on Friday, I should be able to wear them whenever I want to again.  Yes!

We had a wonderful time this afternoon and evening visiting with our friends, Cheryl and Dave.  We met them on our European river cruise last summer.  They live in New Mexico and are on their way to North Carolina to visit their daughter and grandson, with lots of interesting stops along the way to geocache.

It was great to talk about our families and to exchange travel adventures with them.  They went to Australia in January and spent some time with another couple we met on the river cruise, Tracey and Mark.  We hope to visit Cheryl and Dave in Fall 2017 when we go to the balloon race in Albuquerque, and we want to see Tracey and Mark when we go to Australia–maybe in 2018.

What a pleasure it is to travel, make new friends, and then spend time with them again.  Thanks for including us in your travel plans, Dave and Cheryl.

This is the picture

I forgot to have our

dinner waitress take

of Cheryl, Dave,

Ted, and me.

Who to vote for?  Who to vote for?  This is a little late, but it’s too good to ignore.

So close to the truth!

The candidates could have been Jim Henson’s models.  Top -> bottom:  Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz.

Yes, we had adventures from the first day to the last day of our vacation.  We chose to keep a positive attitude and to call the events “adventures” instead of asking “What else can go wrong?”

The first leg of our journey was our flight from St. Louis to Atlanta (June 27).  It’s summer, so afternoon thunderstorms are not unusual.  Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and Alabama were getting hit hard, so we had to fly due south along the Mississippi River until we passed the storms, then turn east to reach Atlanta instead of taking the diagonal.  This added 30-40 minutes to our flight time, but we had no problem catching our connecting flight to London.

Paris was a very “adventurous” city for us.  On Bastille Day (July 14), security was so tight that we needed a police escort to return to our hotel.   Twice we had to wait on the sidewalk before continuing on our sightseeing way.  One time we had the “opportunity” to observe a march for racial equality in Paris; the other time we watched hundreds of Scandinavian bicyclists pass and exchanged conjectures about the riders with other bystanders (July 16).  Then there was the scary cab ride from our hotel to Charles DeGaulle Airport (July 17).  As we were in the process of checking in at the airport, we were informed that we had to evacuate that area of the terminal.  Someone had left untended luggage in the area.  No bombs exploded.

When we arrived in Stockholm (July 17), we went to our pick-up point and discovered our name was not on the transfer list to be taken to the ship.  They took us anyway and said everything could be straightened out after we were onboard.  No problem–our documents proved our name should have been included.  The same thing happened when we were arranging the shuttle pickup from Bergen to Reykjavik.  We showed our documents again and all worked out well.  An adventure, not a calamity, right?

When we were in St. Petersburg, we temporarily lost our tour group in the morning of the first day (July 20).  At the end of the second day (July 21), high winds delayed our hydrofoil boarding and our return to the ship.  The result was a late departure from the port, but the ship waited for all of us.  No big deal, right?

We had another late departure from Berlin (July 25) because the train arrived late and all but eleven passengers from the ship were onboard the train for the various excursions of the day.  The “welcome back” event when we finally arrived at the ship was so heartwarming, it might nullify the “adventure” status of the late arrival.

In Flåm (July 29), we were unable to take our much-anticipated “Norway in a Nutshell” railway excursion because of mud slides from a storm the previous night.  We saw one of the most beautiful fjords in the world instead.

Flying from Bergen to Stavanger (July 31), I had an attack of claustrophobia in my tiny little personal airplane space.  We changed seats.

When it was time to come home (August 2), Ted’s boarding pass printed very nicely, but mine didn’t.  For some reason, “government regulations” required that I print my boarding pass at the airport.  It printed fine at the airport

After only a few hours of sleep, we were up at 4:30 am for the 5:00 am shuttle to catch our 10:30 am flight home (August 3).  Just before boarding, eleven other passengers and I were informed that we were randomly selected for an additional deep security check.  Our flight was already delayed for two hours, and there was another delay waiting for some passengers.  The cabin doors on the plane were being closed before Ted–and about 100 other passengers–got on.  Everyone was onboard before takeoff–at 1:00 pm.

The fuel pump on our car died on our way home from dinner.  We had it replaced with a new one that works fine.

Everything always turned out well, but it seems to be true that you have to be prepared to go with the flow.  I would do it all again and I know Ted would too–even with the “adventures.”

I’m finally caught up with recording our awesome northern European vacation in this blog, but there are still some thoughts and events I want to remember when I look back on these entries.  (Any regular readers?  Maybe you want to scroll backwards to read the formerly missing entries.)  To any grammar nerds reading my posts, I think I’ve corrected all (most?) of the mistakes I made.  If you found one, go back to see if I caught it.  If it bothers you, let me know and I’ll fix it.  After all, I’m a grammar nerd too.  And maybe a little bit of a perfectionist.  Maybe.

Every time I went to the laundry on the ship (two or three times, but three trips each time–load washer, load dryer, empty dryer), there was at least one man ironing.  I never knew so many men ironed their own clothes.  Ted does, because I hate ironing and, many years ago, he got tired of waiting for me to get around to it.

In downtown London, at least one car in five must be a Prius; in Denmark, Teslas were easy to find on the streets.

It was odd to see kids wearing Mickey Mouse ears in Paris until we remembered there’s a Disneyland in Paris.

On our coach trip in Britain, our tour guide told us that by the time we went home, we’d all qualify for a degree in operating plumbing systems.  She was right!  I had no idea there were so many creative ways to turn on a faucet or to direct the bathtub faucet water to the shower head.

It’s not unusual for men and women to share restrooms (toilets or toilettes) in Europe.  This isn’t as personal as it sounds.  Most restrooms have stall-size “rooms” with walls to the ceiling and the floor, so privacy is complete.  There is usually a male or female icon on the door (I assume the difference is the urinal) and you choose the appropriate one.  Then you wash your hands in a general area with multiple sinks.  In practice, it’s fine, but it felt a little weird for both Ted and me to go into the same area together.  It is also not unusual to have to pay anywhere from 20-70 cents/pence/whatever to use a public toilet.  In England, it cost 20 pence.  Our tour guide described it as “20p to pee.”  We always kept change in our jacket pockets.

Good news:  While we were away, we missed six weeks of election phone calls, six weeks of election advertising, and both political conventions!  Yea!

I’ve never worn a jacket for so many consecutive hours!  We wore at least one jacket nearly every day (only four exceptions) and we had them on all day and all evening because we were outside all the time.  At home, when we put on a jacket, we go somewhere, we come home, and we take it off.  Maybe we put it on again later to go somewhere else, but we don’t wear it all day.

I’ve never set an alarm clock for so many early risings in a row.  We had only one day to sleep late–when we were at sea all day between Talinn and Gdansk.  I have always planned at least one day a week to sleep late and/or a day with fewer activities to give myself a break.  We were up early and busy all day every day.  The good part:  We had no trouble falling asleep at night!

In Britain, we never had a wash cloth in our hotel rooms, but the bath towels were huge!  A bathroom safety fact:  Europe does not allow electrical outlets in bathrooms except for electric shavers which have special prongs to fit the outlet.  I always had to dry my hair in the bedroom.

In Stockholm, two young women crossed against the light in front of our bus.  Our tour guide remarked sotto voce, “You are breaking the law and we have the right to kill you, but you are young and beautiful, so you may cross.”  In a face-off between our bus and a van (the bus won), our Berlin tour guide noted that “We are stronger than a van.”  The traffic lights in the cities turn yellow before they turn red and also before they turn green.  Drivers take green lights very seriously and horns will honk at anything that requires a delayed start or the use of a brake pedal.

A double bed in a European hotel means two twin beds pushed together.  The beds are usually made up separately, but sometimes have a shared blanket.

In Scotland, it’s appropriate to “address the haggis” before eating it.  Robert Burns, a Scottish poet, wrote Address to a Haggis.  The poem is read before the haggis is eaten at formal meals.

There are enough hedgerows in England to circle the equator two-and-a-half times.

Hay bales were wrapped in plastic everywhere we went.  Given the frequency of rain showers, my guess is the plastic keeps the bales from rotting.

In Iceland, there are earthquakes every day.  They are small and not usually noticeable, but the ground is always shaking.

The onion-shaped domes on the Russian palaces and churches are onion-shaped for the simple reason that onion shapes don’t collect snow.  The snow slides off, so its weight does not become a structural problem.

English was spoken nearly everywhere we went, but it wasn’t American English.  Sometimes it was easy to know the “translation”; other times, I had to see/hear it repeatedly to figure it out or ask a native.  Here are some words we heard frequently.

Pop in = drop in (pronounced “pope in”)

Way out (signage) = exit

Give way (highway sign) = yield

Bend (highway sign) = curve in the road

Circus = roundabout

Takeaway = carryout

No overtaking (highway sign) = no passing

Dual carriageway (highway sign) = divided highway

Ring road = beltway

Child minder = babysitter

Towel = sanitary napkin

Semi-skimmed milk = 2% milk

Zebra = a white-striped crosswalk (Russia)

 

Ted and I are really glad we flew home from Reykjavik on Delta last week instead of this week!  We took off only two-and-a-half hours late.

What a mess!

 

Even after nearly six full weeks of traveling, neither Ted nor I was eager for our vacation end.  At the same time, when today arrived, we were ready to go home.  I think that’s the best of both worlds:  we’re still having fun, but we look forward to home.  Too bad it wasn’t quite that easy.

Our shuttle to the airport was arranged yesterday.  Three shuttles were going to serve our group, taking us to the airport according to our flight times:  4:30 am, 7:00 am, and 1:00 pm.  Our flight was at 10:30 am.  Guess which shuttle we were assigned to.  In the end, only one couple had a 7:00 am flight, so they were assigned to a cab and the rest of us were given a 30-minute reprieve and didn’t have to report to the shuttle until 5:00 am for the 45-minute drive to the airport.

We went to the hotel business center to print our boarding passes and the next “adventure” began.  Ted’s boarding pass printed just fine, but mine brought up an error message informing me that “government regulations” required that I print my boarding pass at the airport.  Fine, we’d have plenty of time to do that before our 10:30 am flight.  Then, around midnight, we had an email from Delta announcing that our flight would be delayed an hour and fifteen minutes.  At 7:00 am another email arrived to tell us the flight would be delayed an additional hour.  Of course, these were useless communications to us since the shuttles were already set up and we were at the airport by 5:45 am after only a few hours of sleep.

Ok, we’re at the airport, drinking coffee and hot chocolate with a sweet roll (no breakfast at the hotel before 6:00 am) and basically killing time with our new friends, Jim and Jory from North Carolina.  They were on the same flight as Ted and me.  Jory had to print her boarding pass at the airport too, but all was going well.  As we neared our now 12:30 pm departure time, we headed for the gate.  We would have gone sooner, but we couldn’t get near the gate until one hour before our flight.  Security or something.

Fine, we were waiting to go to the rest room for the last time before we boarded when the gatekeeper came on the PA and announced a dozen names of people who were to report to the check-in desk.  Jory’s name and mine were included.  All twelve of us were mystified.  We were told to bring our carry-on luggage and to surrender our passports to the gatekeeper.  Then we were taken through the airport and on an elevator to a secret (to us, at least) room where we saw a sign that explained what was going on.

We are apparently security risks to the U.S. government and TSA.

We are apparently security risks to the U.S. government and the TSA.

 

In pairs of men or women, we were taken into an adjoining room for an additional pat-down and our luggage, purses, etc. were opened and the contents carefully examined.  When all twelve of us passed inspection, we were taken back upstairs to the gate area and told we could go to the head of the line for boarding.  Our passports were returned and we moved along.

Reykjavik is a small airport and does not have jetways–you have to climb stairs to get into the plane.  The larger international planes, however, are parked farther from the terminal, so we had to take a shuttle to get to the stairway to get on the plane.  I waved at Ted and Jory waved at Jim (they were standing in line as we were leaving to board the plane) and I gave Ted a thumbs-up so he wouldn’t worry (much).  When we tallied things up afterward, Ted had been through five security checks between arriving at the airport and boarding the plane (showing his passport, answering security questions, and getting his luggage scanned) and I had been through six.  I thought TSA in the U.S. was bad, but Reykjavik takes security very seriously.

The first-in-line priority for those of us who were super secure ended when we boarded the shuttle.  At that point, it was everyone for him/herself.  It took us twenty minutes after arriving at the plane to actually get up the stairs and into our seats.  Since the extra security check and the boarding process had taken most of the hour Jory and I had planned to wait in the boarding area, allowing no time for a restroom stop, I used the restroom on the plane.  As I was returning to my seat, I heard an announcement telling the crew to prepare the cabin for takeoff and to lock the cabin doors.  My first thought was “Ted isn’t here!”

I spoke with one of the stewardesses and she used her phone to call another stewardess who had apparently heard the same thing from other passengers.  After a quick check, another announcement told the crew to leave the front cabin door unlocked.  It was probably at least 20-30 minutes before the second shuttle load of passengers (half of the passengers on the flight, including Ted) arrived at the plane.  Ted said they spent at least 15 minutes at the gate waiting for four passengers.  Maybe those passengers were on a delayed flight like ours and it was easier to wait for them to make the connection than to put them on another flight.  Anyway, by the time the passengers from Shuttle No. 2 were finally seated (with only one door open to enter the plane instead of two), the plane was full instead of half-full.  Our 10:30 am flight took off at about 1:00 pm.  Delta:  Don’t Expect to Leave The Airport.

Question:  Don’t you think the crew would know before take-off how many passengers are expected on the flight?  Did they not notice that half the seats on a fully booked flight were still empty when they received the order to prepare for take-off?

As it turned out, our seats were directly behind Jory’s and Jim’s, so we could exchange comments during the flight to Minneapolis and, when we arrived, the four of us went through customs together.  This time we were able to head for the “U.S. Residents” line and I heard my favorite words from the customs officer:  “Welcome home.”

Luckily, we had a three-hour layover in Minneapolis so, even with our delays, we still managed to be on time (just) for our flight to St. Louis.  Kari and Teddy were at the airport to take us home, and the vacation was over.  The adventures, however, were not.

We got home from the airport around 3:30 pm, having been awake since the equivalent of 11:00 pm the previous evening with nothing to eat except the sweet roll at the airport and lunch on the plane hours ago.  We were hungry, so we went out to dinner and were eating pizza (six weeks without pizza!) by 4:30 pm.

Our plan was to go directly home without passing “Go” and go to bed, but that didn’t work out too well.  We got within a half mile of the house and the car died.  We walked home to wait for the tow truck and, two hours later, it arrived.  After that, we went to bed and slept twelve hours.  No early wake-up call in the morning, no sightseeing scheduled.  The vacation was fun, and it’s good to be home.

Many thanks to Kari, who stocked some essentials in the refrigerator so we didn’t need to make an immediate grocery run.

 

Ed. note:  The fuel pump on the car died.  The new one is working fine.

Our second day of touring in Iceland was a two-part day.  The morning was spent sightseeing in Reykjavik; the afternoon was . . . well, I’ll get to that.

Before I go on, I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post that our guide sounds like he’s from Minnesota.  He has a northern accent in his English and his favorite expression is jajaja, as in “We should stop for lunch.”  “Jajaja.”  Or “That’s an amazing sight.”  “Jajaja.”  Just say ja three times as quickly as you can:  jajaja.  He says it so often that most of us on the tour are saying jajaja to each other and smiling when we do so.  He said he is often critiqued for telling stories that are too long, but we all found them interesting.  Stories about gremlins, trolls, etc. are good for the long winter nights in Iceland (or for amusing passengers on tour buses), so there is an abundance of these tales.  Sometimes he goes off-track a little and uses his second-favorite expression:  “. . . but that’s another story.”

As a Lutheran, the closest I’ve come to Lutheranism as a way of life was growing up in the upper Midwest where the German and Scandinavian populations make Lutheran churches a familiar sight.  In northern Europe, however, the Reformation had a profound impact, and in most of the countries we visited on this trip–including Iceland–Lutheranism is the state religion.  As a result, the Lutheran churches are huge and many are converted (not really a pun) Roman Catholic churches.  In fact, they are often referred to as simply the “Protestant” church with no further denotation, as opposed to the Roman Catholic church.

The largest Lutheran church in Reykjavik.

The largest Lutheran church in Reykjavik.

The sanctuary of the church. At first glance, it appears stark, but there are many beautiful sculptures and designs throughout the building.

The sanctuary of the church. At first glance, it appears stark, but there are many beautiful sculptures and designs throughout the building.

The pulpit is in the front; the huge pipe organ is in the back. The seat backs on the pews can be flipped to allow the congregation to face the altar for worship or the organ for concerts.

The pulpit is in the front; the huge pipe organ is in the back.  The seat backs on the pews can be flipped to allow the congregation to face the altar for worship or the organ for concerts.

 

Reykjavik made the news in 1986 when President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev met there.  We stopped at the house where the meetings were held.

These meetings were the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

The Reagan-Gorbachev meetings in this house were the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

 

As we were driving around the city, we saw this person on a bicycle.

How many bags can a bag lady bike?

How many bags can a bag lady bike?

 

We went to the Pearl (so named because of it’s dome-shaped roof) and had the opportunity to see Reykjavik from its highest point.  It’s a very pretty city and we lucked out–it was a sunny day.

The city on one side . . .

One view of the city.  See the Lutheran Church?  You can’t miss it!

 

We had a chance to see an old restored farm just outside the city.  It was very interesting to go into the buildings.  Many have sod roofs and the main house is attached to the stable with a tunnel-like hallway so that stock can be tended in bad winter weather.  The rooms are very small, and the furnishings are very cozy.  Small also means easier to heat in the winter.

Some of the houses and the attached stable.

Some of the houses and the attached stable.

The parlor.

The parlor.

The upstairs bedroom for the children.

The upstairs bedroom for the children.

 

The farm had a small church, complete with a model ship.  The church’s capacity was about twenty worshippers.  Men sat on the right, women on the left, and criminals (if any) in the front, facing the congregation.  One man from our group asked about the “fence” around the altar.  He must not be Lutheran or he’d know it was the communion rail.  The kneeling space is pretty minimal.

The farm had a church where the family and its neighbors could visit. Men sat on the right, women on the left, and criminals (if any) in front facing the congregation and perhaps deciding to change their lifestyles.

I’m not sure all the parishioners could see the pastor’s face while he was in the pulpit, especially since this guide was quite short and his head is above the crossbeams.

The model ship in the church.

The model ship in the church.

 

And then it was time for a lunch break and the afternoon treat:  the Blue Lagoon.  I had never heard of the Blue Lagoon, but it is apparently a defining experience of visiting Iceland, as in “Did you swim in the Blue Lagoon while you were there?”  It was about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik and, on the way, our guide pointed out that we were passing the Swedish embassy:  IKEA.  (Laughter from the group.)

The Blue Lagoon is on a peninsula of Iceland.  Of course the ground is lava, so it is porous.  There is a salty hot spring 300 meters below the surface of the Blue Lagoon and it is believed that regular use of these lagoon waters promotes youth, health, and longevity.  There is even a special line of skin products to enhance your experience.  My enhanced experience included the first “gang” changing room I’ve used since I graduated from high school.  When in Reykjavik, . . .

Ted was skeptical, but took the plunge (literally) and we had about two hours to enjoy the warm (99°-106°) water.  Afterward, Ted agreed that it had been a very good experience and very relaxing.  Not to mention that we both look younger now.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t take pictures in the actual Blue Lagoon because it would be stupid to bring a camera into a swimming area and there was no place to leave it once you exited the locker room.  As a result, I only have a picture of the sign at the entrance.  I can’t really describe the experience–maybe that’s the magic of the special waters–but it was a wonderful afternoon and a highlight of our Iceland visit.

This one is self-explanatory.

This one is self-explanatory.

Not the actual Blue Lagoon, but a pool just outside the lagoon with water just like in the lagoon.

Not the actual Blue Lagoon, but a pool just outside the lagoon with water just like that in the lagoon.

My friend, Elaine took this picture in the Blue Lagoon in November. It was 30 degrees and windy. She had a warm hat on her head.

My friend, Elaine, took this picture in the Blue Lagoon in November.  It was 30 degrees and windy.  She had a warm hat on her head.

 

Finally, as we were walking in downtown Reykjavik on the last day of our vacation, I saw a sign at a bus stop that fit our trip.  There is a brand name of sportswear in northern Europe called 66° North (the rounded Arctic Circle latitude).  The company has a variety of advertising posters, but this one perfectly described the cool weather (mostly mid-50s to mid-60s) we experienced as we traveled, wearing one, two, or even three layers of jackets, in countries at approximately the latitude of Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska.

This is where we spent six weeks.

Where we spent our vacation.

 

 

 

I’m not sure why our tour today is called the Golden Circle Tour, but it is, so there!  It was an all-day tour and I learned as much about geography today alone as I did in a full semester when I was in college.

To appreciate Iceland, the first thing you have to know is that it is the second newest inhabited land mass on the planet.  Only New Zealand is newer.  Iceland was formed by shield volcanoes.  These are volcanoes that erupted under the “shield” of the Ice Age glaciers during warm periods.  Instead of building a cone, the weight of the glaciers forced the lava to spread out.  The landscape in most places we saw looks like miniature moguls for skiing.

The second thing you need to know about Iceland is that the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet in Iceland.  It is the only place in the world where the mid-ocean ridge can be seen on land and the effects of two major plates drifting apart can be easily observed.  The North American plate is rising, the Eurasian plate is dropping, and the two are moving apart at a rate of about two centimeters per year.  The area between the plates is called the Rift Zone.  The changes in the land are happening so rapidly, they are easily observed over a period of just a few years.  Iceland must be heaven on earth for geologists!

The rising North American plate is on the left; the dropping Eurasian plate is on the right.

The rising North American plate is on the left; the dropping Eurasian plate is on the right.  They are moving apart.

The rising North American ridge.

The rising North American ridge.

Everywhere we went, there were signs of the tectonic plates moving apart and rising/falling.

Everywhere we went, there were signs of the tectonic plates moving apart and rising/falling.

 

I expected Iceland to be similar to Yellowstone.  While there are similarities (both have hot springs and geysers), each is unique.  Iceland’s ground is very hot.  There are places where the dead cannot be buried because the bodies would literally be boiled.  Icelanders heat their homes with hot water.  You don’t have to go very deep to find 300-degree water.  It is carried in pipes above ground, and swimming pools and hot tubs abound–nearly all outdoors.  They are used year-round and provide nice, warm venues for watching the northern lights.  At our lunch on the Golden Circle Tour, we ate at a restaurant in the relatively small geyser area.  Geyser water and geyser bread were on the menu.  The bread is buried in the ground and removed after 24 hours.  It tasted just like regular bread, but it’s hard to imagine the earth being warm enough to bake bread.

Geyser bread baked in the hot ground.

Geyser bread baked in the hot ground.

 

We saw two especially interesting geysers.  One is called the weather forecasting geyser.  On a clear day, the water cannot be seen in this geyser, but when the air pressure drops, the water rises.  If you can see the water, it’s going to rain.  (Based on our experience in Iceland and the other northern countries we’ve visited, you can probably see the water most days.)

The other interesting geyser erupts every 5-7 minutes.  It’s not as big as Old Faithful, but you don’t have to wait long to witness several eruptions.  We were standing right at the ropes for one eruption.  We could tell the geyser was getting ready to erupt because the water in the basin started sloshing back and forth.  When it erupted, a huge bubble rose out of the ground and then burst into the geyser flume.  The bubble lasted only a fraction of a second, but it was amazing to see it rise several feet out of the ground and then explode.  Wow!

You can see the splash of the water from the burst bubble.

You can see the splash of the water from the burst bubble.

A geyser field we walked through.

A geyser field we walked through.

Don't stop before you read the last line.

Don’t stop before you read the last line.  A tourist with a drone sent the drone over the dangerous ground to take pictures.

 

One of our “comfort stops” was at a small shopping mall.  When they were building the mall, a rift in the earth was discovered.  Instead of changing the site, they built the mall over the rift, strung red lights over the bottom of it, and covered it with glass.  The mall includes a museum-like exhibit all along the rift.  It was very interesting and definitely not like any mall I’ve seen before.

Separating tectonic plates beneath this shopping mall.

Separating tectonic plates beneath this shopping mall.

 

Only the birch tree is native to Iceland, so trees have been imported from other northern locales, including Alaska.  Forests have been planted and Iceland expects to be timber self-reliant within thirty years.  Still, trees don’t grow overly tall this far north, so there is a saying that if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest, stand up.

Fishing, especially cod, used to be the main source of revenue for Iceland, but tourism has taken its place and is now Iceland’s greatest source of income.  Another major source of income is the production of aluminum.  The bauxite is imported, but the abundant and inexpensive hydropower and geothermal energy greatly offset the cost of the bauxite.  Aluminum smelting, a growing industry, is a topic of debate in the country among environmentalists and economists.

Most of the landscape we saw looked otherworldly.  Over time, the lava becomes soil and can be farmed, but there is relatively little farmland, so food prices are very high.  Ted and I had dinner at a local restaurant that featured a buffet and we spent over $100 on the meal–far more than an equivalent meal would have cost in the U.S.  On another evening, we went to a local restaurant with two other couples.  A plate of spaghetti with a glass of wine cost $80 for the two of us.  Horses are numerous in Iceland for recreation and for food.  They are the equivalent of cattle in the U.S.  Horse beef and foal are on most menus.  Although we were told horse beef is better than cow beef, we couldn’t bring ourselves to order the roast foal.

This ground is lava and it's rising, dropping, and moving apart everywhere you look.

This ground is lava and it’s rising, dropping, and moving apart everywhere you look.

Even in this pretty setting, you can see there is very little topsoil and the ground is moving.

Even in this pretty setting, you can see there is very little topsoil and the ground is moving.