Friday, July 31, 2009

Initial Impressions of Iceland

I’ve been in Iceland for two days now and like it a lot so far. There is much to explore and our days are full. Some of my first impressions are:

  • It’s cold. Even in late July, one can wear a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater and a jacket. The temperature varies throughout the day, so layering is a must.

  • It’s cheaper than it used to be, but still expensive. Many of the prices, especially for tourist-related services, have been raised accordingly to pre-devaluation of the kroner levels. Nevertheless, it’s still cheaper for tourists than it was a year or two ago and will probably remain that way for a while

  • It’s spacious. The land is vast and the population small.

  • I like the people. Not only are they beautiful, they are proud, individualistic and quite egalitarian. Sixty percent of Parliamentarians are female and they have the world’s first openly gay prime minister.

  • Reykjavik is a very walkable city. I’m putting on well over 10,000 steps per day without a problem.

  • Reykjavik is surprisingly loud. Frequent airplanes plus traffic, harbor noises, skateboarders and blaring music make one suspect that there aren’t many noise ordinances here.

  • It’s light in summer. It’s hard to feel as though as it’s late at 10 p.m. when the sky is still fully light. This takes some adjustment.

Climbing Mount Esja

If you are looking to get out into nature, get a bit of exercise, and not spend a lot of money, climbing Mount Esja, just outside of Reykjavik is a good option.

It’s an easy drive from the capital. Or you can go by bus, taking bus 15 from the main bus station and transferring to bus 57. Check the schedule ahead of time though because there can be a delay of an hour or two between buses.

The trail goes up from the parking lot where the bus drops you off. It’s at a consistent incline. Dress in layers and bring water, a snack and a hat. Walking sticks are helpful if you have them.

The trail is well-mapped and there are six points along the trail, followed by a rocky peak that is a difficult climb. Each point offers increasingly wide views over the capital, the water and the harbors.

Enjoy the panaromic views, the sound of mountain waters rushing down the rocks, the various wildflowers growing amidst the rocks and the long-haired sheep grazing nearby.

At the base of the mountain, a small café offers delicious health shakes, as well as snacks and modern toilets. There are port-o-pottys in the parking lot. When waiting for the bus, stand out at the road so that the bus driver can see to make a stop. She will then pull into the stop in the parking lot.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Local Minnesota

If you happen to be in the Twin Cities and want to experience some real Minnesota culture, Captain Black’s Bar and Grill, in the southern bounds of the metropolitan area, is a place where you are unlikely to see a tourist, or non-local, in sight. If you like cars, you can take in a race at the Elko Speedway (9660 Main Street in Elko, Tel: 952-461-3090) while you are there. Or, you could just stop by for the buck burgers (yep, $1 a piece) on Thursday nights.

Service is excellent, despite the bar atmosphere, it’s very kid friendly, and the menu (most of which is fried) has almost nothing over $5.

Fancy, no. But a good deal? You betcha.