Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to "Do" Iceland in 2 Days

Take an Obligatory Tourist Photo in the Airport.  When the passport control person stamps your passport, and you notice that it's really light so you can't see the "IS" easily, go back and ask politely for a fresh darker stamp, and they will look at you like you're a funny American, but they'll give you one.  So now you have two Iceland stamps.  Sweet.

Rent a car.  Get a map.  There's only one paved road around the country, and you need funny kinds of insurance.  Like Gravel Insurance because the roads are - well - gravel.  And Ash Insurance because of all the volcanoes.  The lady at the car rental counter will tell you that if you drive around the southern part, you'll feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.  You look around at the tiny airport and think that you already are in the middle of nowhere.  It gets more nowhere-y than this?  Wow.

3)  Take the first obligatory picture of yourself.  You want to go to the Blue Lagoon first, because it's close to the airport, but if you get lost, you'll wind up in downtown Reykjavik, which is cool because then you can say you saw it.

Wow, you think, Iceland looks a lot like the desert around Victorville.  I came all this way to see Victorville?  Really?

Turn back around and get to the Blue Lagoon.  Ok, so they don't have this in Southern California.

Take a picture of yourself in front of the milky blue water.

Take a picture of your husband holding Cool American Doritos while being a Cool American.

Pay a lot of money to swim in the Blue Lagoon.  Yeah, it's overpriced, but it's the only place in the world that is what it is.  So you go by yourself while your husband waits in the cafe using their free wifi (the only thing that's free at the Blue Lagoon).  Just beware of your hair.  Cover it up with a shower cap, or don't get it wet.  Because all the minerals are great for your skin - your skin will feel amazing - but do a serious number on your hair.  Your hair will feel like straw for days afterwards, and it will take lots of hair masks until it comes back to normal.

After the Blue Lagoon, drive to the coast and see the sea.

You might find a fish carcass.  In which case you should hold it up proudly.

This lady watches out for all the vikings on their voyages.

The thing about Iceland is that, since it's right where two plates collide, the scenery changes drastically from minute to minute.  One minute: Southern California (only with red-roofed houses and full riverbeds)

The next?  Niagra-freaking-falls.

Get up close to the Falls at Gulfoss, but not too close.  There's not really any guardrails.  People will be right up on the edge, dangling their feet in, and you think they're pretty crazy, because if you fall into that swirling mess of water, you are not coming out alive, that's all I can say about that.

Take another picture of Gulfoss.

People like to pile rocks up for good luck.  It's pretty neat.

At midnight, if it's summer, go out and look at the daylight.  Kids have soccer matches at midnight.  I guess it makes up for the fact that they probably hibernate all winter.

Stay in a little tiny cabin next to a campground.  They have kitchenettes, so you can buy food at the grocery store and cool, because Iceland is 'spensive.

Pet an Icelandic dog.

Pay about $15/gallon for gas.

Drive the southern part of the Island.  It takes about four hours to go to Glacier Bay, where you'll see lots of glaciers floating around. 

Get a view of a Glacier.  Lots of busses will stop by here and you can go walking on the glacier.  But if you go a bit further, you'll be rewarded.

This was my first view of a glacier.  If it's your first time seeing a glacier, you might cry, too.  I bawled my eyes out like a little baby.   Words don't describe it.  Words can't describe it.  You think it's so sad that people will never see this in their lives.  People need to see this.  It's amazing.

J stacks up rocks like locals.

It's amazing, these little delicate flowers that grow in the tundra.

Check out more glaciers in Glacier Bay.  Stand next to a tour bus tying to pick up their wifi signal so you can check in on 4Square.

There are tons of these waterfalls coming out of the ground, just hanging out, waiting to be looked at.

Play in Skogafoss, another waterfall.  Are you ever going to get jaded of all these waterfalls?

Go right up to the bottom, because there aren't very many other tourists, and get splashed by all the spray.

Bond with cows.  Seriously, get out of your car, and go right up to them, and lay in the grass, and pet them.  They might snort at you.  But they might also lick your hand, which scratches.  You feel slightly smug being vegetarian, because you know you'll never eat these babies.

See another waterfall.  By the way, it's about 10pm right now. 

Go home, try to sleep through all the light.  If you have a hard time sleeping in daylight, take tape.  We stopped at a store and bought some to tape up the blinds.  

The next morning, drive back to the airport.  And start making plans for your next visit, which will, undoubtedly, last longer than two days.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Can't we all just get along?

It's Crazy Season again - have you noticed?  Your friends' facebook feeds are full of political venom for whatever side they're not on, and the news is full of "talking heads" spewing vitriol and hatred.  I have been trying to bury my head in the sand and focus on things I like.  Like podcasts.  And Thomas Tallis.  And the UK Bachelor (Spencer Matthews seems like a total jerk, but he sure is a good looking jerk).  I've stopped listening to anything political.  I listen to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me to get the week's news, and that's it.  I listen to audiobooks in the car.  I don't look at HuffPo.  I basically live a life of blissful ignorance in my mountains.

But politics has come to me.

I have an Obama bumper sticker on my car from 2008.  When I still believed in the Hope and the Change.  I haven't taken it off because I still like Obama.  I'm just not in love with him anymore.  

So my friend Sandor is visiting from London with his girlfriend Lotta and her son.  Yesterday we're waiting in the car while Sandor goes into the grocery store to buy beer.  And these rednecks in a white Toyota Tundra drive past really slowly mouthing obscenities at us (two women and a 4 year old in the car - stay classy, rednecks) about how Obama is a F*cking A$*hole, piece of $hit, etc.  They are driving past all threateningly, and kept on with the yelling for a minute or so, I guess because I kept my sunglasses on and refused to show any recognition that it was going on.  Finally they drove away.

So here's the immediate result:
Obama got a higher weekly direct debit amount from me, because honestly, we need a Democrat to put more money into education so that the future generation isn't so fantastically and outrageously full of shit.

The secondary result is that I am becoming more and more aware of the vitriol in politics - on my facebook feed, for example, on any given day I see dozens of cartoons or bumper sticker slogans making it seem like we're at war with each other.  If the Aliens landed tomorrow, and saw this venom, they really would think that we were two countries at war with each other.   

Look: I'm a Democrat.  But more than that, I'm an American.  I am not ashamed to say that I love this country, and I tear up when I hear "I'm proud to be an American."  God, I love that song.  I think this is the greatest country in the world (even greater than Iceland) and if I were stranded anywhere on the planet with no money and no prospects, I'd be happy as a clam to be in a Wal-Mart parking lot, because I know someone would help me.  I'd take being American, even on the worst days, over any other country.  I feel truly blessed to live in this country because it's based on freedom; and I recognize that it doesn't always live up to those ideals.  But when I travel to other countries, my passport doesn't say, "Democrat."  My passport says, "United States of America."   

I love this country, and I am sick to death of all of us declaring war on each other.  There's a war on Christmas.  There's a war on liberty.  There's a war on free speech.  There's a bloody war on Christians.  There's probably a war on my socks being waged somewhere.  Why all the warfare?  Is it helping?  Does it help people to somehow feel victimized, like they're being attacked, and need to fight back from some enemy who is out to get them? Does that strengthen their resolve?  Why do we need to constantly feel so threatened?  Is fear the only thing we respond to?

Because honestly, I like peace.  And cozy security.

How many of us have ever stopped to think that it's in the media and elected officials' interest to have us all fighting with each other?  Because if we all got along, what would Fox or MSNBC report on?  What outrages would they uncover?  What culture wars would they discover?  If we all got along, what would politicians run for reelection on?  

Have you ever thought that it's just a big joke?  That the lobbyists in Washington sit around with news executives and segment us apart bit by bit, and it's actually in their interest to have us all hate each other?  

And so here's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to make peace.  Below is a list of 10 things I agree with conservatives on.  See, we aren't so different:

1)  If you have a better cell phone than me, you probably shouldn't get food stamps.
2)  You really shouldn't be getting food stamps if you're separately buying alcohol and cigarettes for yourself with cash.
3)  Abortions really shouldn't be handed out like candy.
4)  The deficit is a bad thing.  
5)  Terrorists are also bad.
6)  Illegal immigrants are, by definition, breaking the law.
7)  A family should be able to own a shotgun.
8)  The ACLU goes wonky sometimes.  If a town wants a nativity scene, for pete's sake, let them put up a nativity scene.
9)  The CEO of a company can believe whatever he wants to about gay marriage.  I don't care.  As long as he's not discriminating against anyone, he should be able to do business and create jobs anywhere he wants, and let the market decide if they want to patronize him.
10)  In a perfect world children would be raised by two parents.  Preferably one of them would be at home most of the time. They might have some kind of ritualistic worship of a higher power that unites them.  They would eat dinner together. 

Now, who wants to make peace back with me?  Any conservatives want to list things they can agree with liberals on?  Maybe we can realize that we aren't so different after all?  Here's an idea of places to start:

1) The planet's resources are finite?
2) In a country as rich as the US, no family should ever be hungry.  And the government might need to step in to help them if times are tough?
3) A lot of illegal immigrants come to the US because there are low-paying jobs waiting for them.
4) Things like roads, public schools, bridges, libraries and parks are generally positive things in a community.
5) We really spend a huge amount of our budget on defense.

Anything else?  

Can we start to focus on what unites us, rather than what we don't like about each other?  

Thank you for letting me rant.  That is all.  I'm done now.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Piss off a King (aka Why you should Always Mean what you Say)

Now that I'm back home, I've been walking at the lake every day again, working off all the pain au chocolate, muller rice, and Pret a Manger brownies that always seem to make their way into my mouth when I'm in England.  The walk around the lake is about 3 miles, and takes me about 50 minutes to complete.  I've been doing it every day, in the evenings when it's not so hot.  Generally I listen to an audiobook - right now I'm listening to one called Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla (he so totally got a raw deal in posterity).  But the other day I caught up on a bunch of podcasts from BBC History Magazine - their History Extra podcast is one of my favorites.

If you read Pillars of the Earth, you kind of know the story of Thomas Becket, who was martyred when soldiers sent from Henry II murdered him in 1170.  Poor Henry.  I have a lot of sympathy for him.  To start with, he appointed Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury because he and Thomas were supposedly friends.  Thomas had worked for Henry as his Chancellor.  Then Henry appoints him Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas has a "Road to Damascus" conversion, and suddenly Thomas is fighting Henry every which way.

So for years Thomas is driving Henry crazy, and Henry is stuck with an unruly Archbishop who won't put royal supremacy over papal law and do the things Henry asks him to do, as King.  And Thomas is all, "I'm standing up for the power of God," when he was probably just being a little brat.  Ok, maybe he was partly standing up for God, but there was definitely a part of him that was being a brat.

So then Henry, after years of putting up with this ungrateful man, has a hissy fit.  Apparently Henry used to have lots of hissy fits, and people just ignored him until he calmed back down.  He was seriously emotional  Well, you would be too if your wife was supporting a rebellion against you; one that was led by your sons.  Doh!  So Henry has a hissy fit and says, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"  And some younger men of Henry's, who weren't so familiar with his hissy fits, are all like, "oooh, we will!  we will!  We'll impress the king and kill the Archbishop!"

So they go riding off into the night like a bunch of punks, show up at Canterbury, kill Thomas, and then Henry has to do penance.  He has to dress as a penitent, go to Canterbury on a pilgrimage, and beg forgiveness of everyone so that the Pope doesn't excommunicate him.  At this point, I'm kinda like, "Poor Henry," right?  He was just doing his thing, having his hissy fit, and it got all taken out of context.

Which is why there are two lessons for the day:

First, don't be a yes-man Chancellor, and then suddenly get a spine when you're appointed Archbishop.  That isn't going to be good for you if you like your head attached to your shoulders.

Second, if you're a King, and you're surrounded by yes-men who are eager to please you, watch it when you talk about people you'd like to have killed.  Because you just never know when you're going to have to wear thorns and beg forgiveness of people you can't really stand.

BBC HistoryExtra Henry II Podcast:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Places I've been in the past 6 weeks:

1) New York
2) Lancaster PA
3) ALA in Anaheim
4) London
5) Iceland
6) San Francisco
7) Home in my mountains

That's why I've gone all incommunicado.  Too many airports.  

And now I'm all busy doing laundry and cleaning and getting to know my cats, who had forgotten about me and much prefer Melanie, our petsitter.  Apparently she fed them a lot of wet food.  I don't like cleaning up puke more than I have to, so they don't get much wet food from me.  Bummer for them.

But hey, I'm back, and I'm alive, and I'm going to be blogging again.  (She always says this...and then she disappears again...I'm so fickle....)