Tuesday, August 31, 2010

9 á Íslandi - from Reykjavík to Kirkjubæjarklaustur

Renting a car in Iceland is very expensive.  As in VERY expensive.  But driving around the southeastern part of the country was one of the best things we could have ever done.  I was worried about driving on mountain roads, on gravel and fording rivers, none of which I'd ever done.  Watching an official video on how to drive in Iceland did show me what to expect, but by showing me what COULD happen it worried me as much as it reassured me!  And reading that the insurance policy didn't cover damage to the underside of the car, smashed windows or windscreens from flying rocks, drowning of the car in rivers and other equally interesting possibilities, was not very comforting either.  BUT, when I know I'm afraid to do something, I love challenging myself to do it, and so I signed the papers and got ready to explore the country with the aid of an road atlas, a very detailed route-plan the agent had given us, and something I never EVER want to do without:  a GPS! 
The highway was nice.  Just two lanes, a maximum speed limit of 90kmph, and rather little traffic.  And the views were relaxing, if not extraordinary on a first impression:  mountains, green fields, horses, sheep, houses...  But then, slowly but steadily, we entered what looked ever more like the world trolls, faeries and gnomes should inhabit... (of, to use a more modern reference, it looked more and more like the ideal setting for Lord of the Rings)...

Our first two important stops were at two beautiful waterfalls:   Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss.   They were definitely not big (but they did fall from some height), but what they may have lacked in size they wholly made up with charm:  the moss was as bright green as it could be, the volcanic soil a rich, deep, velvety brown-black, and the white foam contrasted beautifully against that all.

Those were places that really felt you feeling that there MUST be some elf or troll hiding somewhere up there.   And they were practically unspoilt:  there was nothing but the gravel road that lead to them, a gravel parking lot quite some distance from the falls, and a toilet.   Loved it.


Our next stop was a glacier we could see in the distance:  Sólheimajökull.  The guidebooks said it had been covered with volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajökull's latest eruption, and you had to take quite a long, winding, and somewhat rough gravel road to reach it... how could we say no to that?   When we finally reached it,we found ourselves in what anyone could have mistaken for an alien world: the barrenness of it, the glacier just ahead, the ash giving the ice a sort of metallic gray cast, broken by bluish tinges here and there... it was SO beautiful, so unusual, so quiet...  We couldn't believe this was just the first half of the first of our 4-day drive...


If you haven't been to Iceland or a similar place (IF there's a similar place!) this all may sound as exaggerated, but really, every time we drove to a new place, I felt like we going through the gate to a new world, a mysterious, unearthly world.  Reynisfjara was no exception.   First, we had to drive on a narrow road with water on both sides and with strange columns rising from the sea in the far distance.  It was breathtaking.  And we weren't even there yet.  Then, the road went up, and up, we reached the top, got off, walked to the edge of the cliff... and there it was, massive, MASSIVE, columns rising from the sea, or planted in the middle of the black beach as if it were some gigantic zen garden.  The wind was blowing, it was drizzling somewhat... the whole scene had such strength and power... 

The road to our destination was across surreal lava landscapes, mostly lava fields, and places like Laufskálavarða and its stone cairns and Fjaðrárgljúfur, a canyon bore through during the last couple million years.  Some of the lava fields were a few metres deep (tall?).   It was a strange barrenness, because plants did grow there, but mostly moss and tiny, hardy flowers.  On our left side, there were always mountains, most of the time covered with clouds, but every now and then the clouds would part, exposing the glaciers beyond and above.

Finally, we drove past Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Geirland, where our hotel was.  We were tired, a bit wet, and all we wanted was to rest, have a nice, warm, tasty dinner (which we did, in fact have)  and prepare for next day's adventure...  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

9 á Íslandi - Reykjavík

(please, patience, this post has many slideshows and it may take a while for them to load if your connection is slow... sorry!)

We spent some 5 days in Reykjavík, from July 21st to 25th and then again from the 28th to the 29th.  Like I said in my previous post, we LOVED IT.   When we came back, we felt the same sort of energy like when you fall in love, because we quite literally fell in love with the country and its capital.  I have taken so long to write this first post about Reykjavík because, frankly, it was such an unexpectedly wonderful experience I didn't know how to begin, and I've had already quite a few (unsuccessful) attempts at writing this post.  So, I've decided to just throw at you whatever that comes to mind about what I loved about Reykjavík, and I'll stop when I get tired, LOL.  And for inspiration, I have not only 932 photos and videos, but a Björk play-list with my favourite songs:  Human Behaviour, Triumph of a Heart, Crying, I Miss You, Mouth's Cradle, Big Time Sensuality, Pluto, One day, Violently Happy, Cvalda, Declare Independence, Kata Rokkar, Hunter and Innocence.  So, here we go!

I loved the contrast of colours, from the green moss, rich dark stone, blue water and sky, hazy mountains and isolated red or blue houses on the way from the airport, to Reykjavík's red, blue, gray, green, black roofs and walls; window-sills expressing the life within with tons of figurines, vases, candle-holders; crazy graffiti around Laugavegur (downtown Reykjavík's main street); the bay (Faxaflói) changing colour during 20 hours of sunlight; flowers red, yellow, purple...

I loved its sculpture, surprising you from any corner, in the middle of the street, strategically placed at the water edge, accompanying a church...

I loved its light.   To be able to take a midnight boat trip to watch dolphins and whales while the sun sank, to see a dolphin play with the undercurrent generated by the boat's bow, to see puffins fly around and fly far...

I loved our hotel!  I loved the terrace, and its jacuzzi, where we were lucky enough to stay warm in a cool evening and toast to our 9th anniversary.

I loved its night-life, the street filled with (yes, half-drunk or fully drunk) young people having a hell of a good time, singing, bar-hopping even while holding drinks from the previous bar, laughing loud, and being the walking definition of merry.  I loved bumping into a bar where Klezmer Kaos, a French Icelandic klezmer band, was giving people an energetic and fun beginning to their night (because things started going after midnight!).

I loved an old bookshop, which didn't even seem to have a name, where I found (and finally bought) three dictionaries and primers printed in Copenhagen and Reykjavík between 1862 and 1922.

I loved that it was a small city, with small museums that let me see so many things Icelanders value without feeling overwhelmed, with the possibility of taking numerous relaxing strolls.

Technically, it's not in Reykjavík, but you can visit it as a day-trip:  I loved the Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lónið), its blue and warm water, its white silica mud, the fantastic contrasts between the blue water and the black lava-stone.  And on top of that, we had perfect weather, warm and sunny.

We were so crazy about seeing as much as we could, and we had to contend with jet-lag and just too many hours of sun, so I loved its cafe's and stopping for coffee and cake whenever we needed a bit of extra energy to keep exploring.  And, believe it or not, it had awesome vegetarian and vegan fare too.

And I loved its people.  Friendly, but not overly so.   Open minded enough to have a lesbian Prime Minister, have legalised marriage, and have the tourism board advertise their Gay Pride festivities all over the city.

Get the message?  I LOVED Reykjavík.   And the trip around the Southeastern part of the country was no less wonderful, but will need its own post.   Man, I mean, I LOVED that city.   And, like most people in love, I probably drove you crazy (or, more accurately, away) by talking too much about it and, WORSE, by showing you too many photos of it.  But couldn't help it.  'Cause I LOVED the place.  Got it?  Good.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Human Centipede

"The Human Centipede", the closing film of the After Dark horror film festival @ Bloor Cinema:

NOT something everyone can stomach...

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Friday, August 20, 2010

BLACK DEATH @ Bloor Cinema

After Dark's horror film fest's "Black Death", a mediaeval horror tale... Ignorant men of god, a curse worse than black death...

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Toronto's "After Dark" horror film fest!

For horror fans, a week chockfull of films from every horror sub-genre at Toronto's Bloor Cinema.

Tonight (and for the opening gala): The Last Lovecraft, a horror comedy where geeks save the earth from sea-monsters. Probably not everyone's cup of tea...

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Monday, August 09, 2010

9 á Íslandi

I'm a Björk fan.  I'd been dreaming of travelling to Iceland for 10+ years.  And Reykjavík's just over five hours by plane for Toronto.   My decision to spend OUR 9th anniversary in Iceland couldn't possibly be construed as anything but MY pure self-serving interest at work.   And it was a damn good trip.  One of the best.  Ever.  Ever.  It was so nice, both of us would move there in the blink of an eye, or probably even less.

So, what is this place that, quite literally, made us fall in love with it head over heels?

That, I'll do my best to describe in my next few posts.  We spent 9 absolutely wonderful days, celebrating 9 wonderful years together, and were surprised again and again by how charming and beautiful the country is.

It's been a month since my last post, but I'll certainly make up for it with the following posts on our trip.  In the meantime, all I'll say it was the best possible way to celebrate.  And on the 23rd (our anniversary night): a bottle of champagne (a tradition we picked up, curiously, from friends when we lived in Beirut), sitting in a jacuzzi with the cool evening air around, views of Reykjavík and Flaxaflói bay while the midnight sun set, a dream fulfilled...  Yeap, we've certainly begun the road to our first decade together bloody fine.   

interesting entrance

peculiar entrance to the Runnymede branch of The Toronto Public Library, near the Runnymede TTC stop.

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Runnymede Theatre

On West Bloor Village, near TTC stop Runnymede, we came across this Chapters bookshop in what was former Runnymede Theatre! What a beautiful find!

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Another tasty discovery at Smokeless Joe's

This time I tried La Stout Ghosttown Absynthe from Quebec. Superb dark beer. A must try.

And for us vegans, the place even offers a hearty Chilli no Carne!

This has definitely become our local favourite spot (besides Fresh on Spadina).

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