Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Sad Truth About Jökulsárlón

Tourist sites are never as glorious as they are commonly depicted, and I knew that very well going into my day at Jökulsárlón, or the Glacier Lagoon, in Iceland. Surely, the glaciers would not be as bright and blue as in the photos, the seals wouldn't be twirling through the water, and the sun would not be shining. This held true at Jökulsárlón, but for a different reason.

The glaciers have mostly melted away.

Compared with the photos I had seen of these magnificent blocks of ice, the glaciers were quite tiny and sparse. The sun did shine, but that only seemed to melt them even further into the lagoon. People dream of seeing glaciers flip and break apart, but under these circumstances, the glacial majesties just shrink even further. Case in point: this video I took, below.

I don't like getting political on here, but I'm not trying to make any sort of statement other than global warming is very, very real. It's one thing to hear about it on the news, or read about the greenhouse effect in a textbook, but actually seeing it? It left me speechless, and not in the good way.

Additionally, while on our boat tour, the guides took a block of ice that's 1,000 years old, passed it around, and axed it up for us to taste. Of course, I obliged, but I felt a sense of guilt at the same time--as if I were taking a baby away from its mother, as odd of a comparison as that sounds. That ice will likely never be part of the glaciers again, and when broken up into smaller pieces, it will melt even more quickly.

Did I have an enjoyable time at the Glacier Lagoon? Yes. And quite frankly, I feel a bit bad that I'm droning on about such a serious topic on this lighthearted blog of mine, but there is no other way I can describe my impressions from that day.

But let's look on the positive side, no? That day filled me with wonder, adventure, and a childlike curiosity as we made our way along the southern coast of Iceland.

I visited the mighty but humble Skógafoss waterfall...

...wandered through the rocky, black-sand beaches of Vik, juxtaposed against a lush green landscape...

...sat on the Diamond Beach, named for the glacial remnants washed up on the black sand, just a short walk away from Jökulsárlón...

...and even trekked behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, marveling at its power and force.

So, did Jökulsárlón disappoint me? Yes, but it wasn't it's fault--rather, I'd argue that it is our own. Regardless, I'm glad I went, because who knows how much longer it will be a glacial lagoon?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Reykjavik: The World's Northernmost Capital City

Did you know that Reykjavik is farther north than any other world capital? Straddling the 64th parallel, it's barely outside the Arctic Circle. But if your idea of a perfect July day is 65˚F with sunshine until midnight, look no further!

Iceland has a complex history, which the Saga Museum does a wonderful job of presenting. In the late 800s, Norsemen discovered the island, settling in Reykjavik by the 870s. I'm not going to get into a history lesson, but the centuries that followed were marked by feuds, witch trials, the bubonic plague, and even the discovery of Vinland by Leif Eriksson.

But enough Icelandic history.

With the Icelandair Stopover program, Reykjavik is more relevant than ever (and no, this is not a paid advert). Anyone traversing the Atlantic Ocean via Icelandair has the option to do a "stopover" in Reykjavik for up to seven days, no extra charge. Honestly, I'm not sure if Iceland would even have been on my list without that program, but now that I've spent three days there, I want to go back again and again and again.

Is it expensive? Yes. My stay in an eight-person dorm at the Loft Hostel (which I highly recommend) cost around $60/night with breakfast. But that's the beauty of doing a stopover--I could spend just enough time to see some of Iceland's main sights without committing a week or two to an expensive destination. I plan on doing the stopover again in the future--there's so much more I want to see and do (like climb Eyjafjallajökull!), and it's much easier to break up the cost.

My time in Reykjavik consisted mostly of roaming the city, which is full of small museums, colorful homes, and street art. Of course, I had to visit the infamous Icelandic Phallological Museum, aka the penis museum. If you think it's erotic, well, it isn't. It's literally a bunch of mammal penises in glass jars, similar to a science museum. Gross, interesting, and educational at the same time. The best part is what inspired the founder to curate this collection. As a child, his weapon of self-defense was a bull's penis! Could you imagine?!

Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the food. I do not eat meat or fish, and I was hard pressed to find a restaurant serving Icelandic cuisine with vegetarian options. On the other hand, the beer is great! Just be careful during the summer when you're at the bar--one minute, it's 9:00 p.m., and the next minute it's midnight! I loved the midnight sun, but it definitely messed with my sense of time. ;)

Of course, I spent the majority of my time adventuring through Iceland's plethora of natural wonders. Stay tuned to learn about 1,000-year-old glaciers, Iceland's tallest waterfall, and puffins!

P.S. Never in my life have I seen so many man buns.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Tapestry That Told a Story in Bayeux

Have you ever heard of the Norman city of Bayeux? My guess is probably not, but no visit to Normandy should be complete without it.

What makes Bayeux different from your average small French town, though? That would be its famed tapestry, measuring at 229 feet long, 19 inches high, and nearly 800 pounds.

La Tapisserie de Bayeux, or the Bayeux Tapestry, recounts William the Conqueror's reign. The tapestry covers year 1064 through the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where William conquered England. The story is told entirely by the images on the tapestry. Fear not, though, as the museum admission includes an audioguide that gives you a detailed account.

Photos were not allowed in the museum, but here are some images to give you an idea:

Have any of you visited Bayeux? I want to give a special shoutout to Zoe of Paper Macaron, for it was her post about Bayeux that not only taught me about the city, but also inspired me to visit!