Tag Archives: Travel

Sunday Edition


Our drive to Arizona is always interesting. This year was no exception. When I am on holidays, like this one, I always know I will miss CBC radio. When I am in the US, I have come to love National Public Radio  but not quite with the passion I hold for CBC radio. Today we listened to a celebration of 1,000 shows of Sunday Edition, one of my favourites, hosted my Michael Enright. To celebrate the illustrious event of the 1,000thepisodes in the series, they replayed classics from the past shows.

The show opened however, with a personal essay by Michael Enright as it usually does. Today the topic was radio. Here is part of what he said,


“Radio kills distance. It shrinks time into manageable components.

At its core is connection. It puts us in touch with one another. It is personal, it is immediate; it is intimate.

It is there to comfort when we hurt or tease, and distract when we relax. It is there when we need to know.

It is family. It is the community meeting place in the towns and villages of Newfoundland, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the North. It is the newcomer’s great companion in the unforgiving city.

Radio, the CBC’s kind of radio, cannot be wallpaper. It has to be engaged. Watching television is a passive behaviour.

Radio demands attention and compels involvement.”

The special show we listened to our first day out on the trip, included small snippets of some outstanding interviews over the years. They concentrated on people with passion. Passion for many different kinds of things. These are my kind of people. Their passion makes them interesting.

There was an interview with Stephen Lewis on the AIDS epidemic; Margaret Atwood on how writers think; John Cleese on how to gently, but firmly, poke fun at religion; and Azar Nafisi, one the best critics of English literature in the world today, on how she refused to wear a veil when she was teaching at the University of Tehran and was dismissed as a result. There were many more. All were interesting.

They also repeated some outstanding interviews with musicians and some fascinating recordings. There was 12 seconds of revolutionary music at the beginning of “West End Blues” by Louis Armstrong.  I never realized how wonderful the opening is. Steve Earle sang his classic country song “Copperhead Road” and talked about it. Petula Clark talked about how she participated in a recoding of “Give Peace a Chance” with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their “bed-in” at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

There was a reading of part of one of my favorite poems of all time by William Blake, namely “ Auguries of Innocence”. You should read it all but here is a small part of it:


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…

Man was made for Joy & Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

We are indeed “clothing for the soul divine”! Well at least Blake qualifies.

CBC radio–I love it.

Travel Sluts

There is little doubt that Chris and I are travel sluts. We have already traveled this year from Arizona to Manitoba by way of Utah, Iceland, and now to Ottawa. After the last trip, we were so tired we thought we would not travel again for quite a while. Well, it is less than 3 months since we got home and we are off again. Yes, we are travel sluts.

So what is a travel slut? It is a person who is promiscuous about his or her travel desires and is willing to travel without a lot of courtship or foreplay. We took this trip without much forethought. The opportunity arose and we took. Surely that is a travel slut.

I had a narrow 2-week window of opportunity between teaching engagements with the Manitoba Real Estate Association. That was a window that had to be filled. Hence here we are meandering toward the nation’s capital in the autumn. Ready for the best and the worst.




Travel  is like sex


At the end of the trip I reflected on travel. Travel is increasingly difficult. Particularly in airports and aircraft for large people like me. Increasingly, Flying is torture. At the beginning of these chronicles of Iceland I complained about the time wasted in the airport. I did not mean to imply that we were not having a great time. Once we arrived in Iceland we had awonderfultime. Getting therewas something else entirely. It was torture, but I still think it was “worth the trip.”

When we were leaving Iceland, A.O. again showed up to drive us to the airport. We all loved him by then. That was where the fun ended. The airport experience was a melee.

First we stood in line to get our boarding passes from a machine. This was meant to speed things up. It created turmoil as many people could not figure out how to use the machines.

Then came another long line-up for security. Always fun. Walking around in socks with belts removed leaving pantaloons precariously held up by the ether.

Next came waiting to board. We sat for about an hour by our gate and then were forced to get up and standoutside the gate. It appeared there was no reason for this. The Ticket Agent was not there. He showed up about 20 minutes late. Many of the old people in our group (OK we were all old people) found the standing intolerable. But no one could talk to the officials to let one or two sit in plain view of the staff. That was much too risky. What they feared I did not know.

The trip to Toronto was almost unbearable. No food and hardly any service for 5 and ¼ hours. Even though I had paid for extra legroom it was still very uncomfortable. I wish I could afford first class or business class. Or I wish I was not so cheap. Life is hard when you are stupid. Travel is always hard.

Travel opens the mind like fresh air can open a house. Travel allows us to learn that there is much more to life than the opinions we hear from our local pundits around our favorite watering holes in our own hometowns. Thank god for that.

Travel is like sex: the positions are untenable; the pain insufferable; the cost abominable; but the results are immeasurable.



Strange Food in Iceland


Part of menu from a restaurant in Iceland

Icelanders are strange. In many ways, and not least in the things that they will eat. Here is a partial list of things that they eat:

Fermented shark

Happy marriage (a pie with oatmeal crust0

Love balls (a desert)

Moss soup

Kleina (twisted pastry)

Sheep’s head soup

Black death ( schnapps made from fermented potatoes and caraway seeds.

Sour ram’s testicles

Blood pudding

Fish stomach

Added to that, horses are popular in Iceland. So is horsemeat. Many people cringe at the thought of horsemeat, but the fact is that 90% of that horsemeat is eaten by tourists!

Of course what seems  strange to us is natural to others.

Booms follow Busts; Busts follow Booms



The National Bird of Iceland: Cranes


Our coach driver, A.O.,  pointed out how Iceland was coming back from their recession that was brought about when  their 3 major banks failed in 2008.  He said that Iceland was the only country to have paid back its IMF emergency loans. He said that now the country was back in a big spending mode. I had already noticed that cranes were omnipresent. It reminded me of Shanghai, which at one time reputedly had 1/3 of all the cranes in the world. In China our guide had said the crane was China’s national bird. Perhaps that was now true of Iceland. I hope that this spending  spree does not mean that another bust will follow the current boom. Busts are not pleasant.  Yet that is how capitalism seems to work. Booms are followed by busts. Bust  cause a lot of pain. I remember what John Kenneth Galbraith had said, “A balloon never deflates in an orderly fashion.”

Waterfalls for the Gods

Godafoss. (foss means waterfalls)

Iceland astounds.  I no longer remember too much about my expectations before I arrived in Island, but one thing I know. Whatever they were, Iceland exceeded those expectations immeasurably. It was truly astounding.         In my view, the glory of Island though is found most vividly in its waterfalls. I can’t believe there is another place in the world where waterfalls abound as they do in Island. It is truly astonishing.

One of my (many) favorites was Godafoss. It means “falls of the gods.” Of course, for a waterfall guy all waterfalls belong to the gods. The name is entirely apt for its beauty alone.  However there is more to the name than beauty. In about 1,000 A.D. the lawpeaker (leader) Porgeir Porkelson of the Icelandic Parliament had to decide whether or not Iceand should remain pagan or change to Christianity.  He weighed the matter for 24 hours.  His reflections were not religious but economic. He decided Iceland could improve trade with Europe if it converted, so he decided everyone was now a Christian. No travelling evangelist was needed for the purpose. There is no evidence that the people had a choice. As always the people get to follow their leader. After the choice was made Porgeir tossed all his idols into the falls and the name Godafoss was born.





I am sure that one of the reasons for the amazing abundance of waterfalls is the fact that so many trees have disappeared from the island on account of neglect going back about a 1,000 years. Starting with the Vikings people ravished the countryside of trees and the country has paid the price ever since. The soils have mainly blown away without the tree cover. As a result even after more than a 100 years of trying, only 1% of the trees have been replaced. Trees need some soil to grow. As a result the rainfall too often does not soak into the ground but rushes along causing floods, but also glorious waterfalls! Iceland pays a heavy price for that beauty but we visitors get the benefits.




A bunch of us travellers begged for our driver to stop for this fall. This was one of the times he could do that, because there was a spot to stop. Often it was not possible as the roads were very narrow and stopping was impossible unless there was a place for parking. Too often Iceland provided no place for cars let alone buses to stop.



Seljandsfoss–This was my personal favourite

There are so many magnificent waterfalls it beggars the imagination. For a self-professed “Waterfall Guy” (along with “Bog Guy”, “Wild flower Guy,” “Sunset Guy,” “Lighthouse Guy”, and even “Church Guy”” of course) I found heaven. For a while I got upset at every waterfall our coach passed by. How could these Cretans not stop? Eventually I caught on that if we stopped at them all our trip would have take 2 centuries not 2 weeks.




Everywhere you drive water tumbles down mountains.


Gullfoss–One of the most photographed waterfalls in all of Iceland.  I have never seen a country with as many  waterfalls as Iceland. This is the land of the gods.

Would you not agree that all the waterfalls are the falls of the gods?





I love Churches


I confess (the appropriate word here) that I love churches, but not to go inside for worship. I love them to take pictures of them. If they don’t have art inside or stained glass windows, or sculpture, I rarely stay long. My bad. I like churches; I just don’t like going there very often.


In Reykjavik one evening after dinner Chris and walked up the hill to get a view of Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland that was designed to resemble the columns of Iceland’s basaltic lava that we saw later at Reynisdrangur (near 4 pillars). It is the second highest building in Iceland at 73 metres (240 ft.)

Blönduóusskirkja in the town of Blönduóuss. We thought this was interesting because to us the church looked like a rock. I thought that was significant.

The church in Siglufjorour in northern Iceland was silent and empty. The bar was filled with Icelanders madly cheering football (soccer) fans

This Church at Modrudalur was built by a man to honour his deceased wife. Like many churches in Iceland it was very small.  The mega-churches of the U.S. and Canada don’t seem to have many any headway in Iceland. I prefer the small ones.


Stöovarfjördur church i another tiny church. In fact it has been “converted” into a Guesthouse.

Most churches in Iceland are Lutheran. They “won” the wars of the reformation. This one is in the south of Iceland. AO, our guide, said that in Iceland only 2% of people now attend church regularly. Do they need a revival?


Pingvallarkirkja church (which you can see in the distance on this photograph) is inside the National Park and is associated with the original Parliament of Iceland which they claim was the first in the world.


This is a Catholic Church. To me it looks more like a grain elevator than a church. I should say I also love grain elevators. I call them prairie castles.

Icelandic Penis Museum

Photo courtesy Wikepedia

The most interesting thing about traveling is what you learn along the way. Some of it is down right surprising. For example, I learned that Island (Iceland) actually has a penis museum. I am not sure if that is a great cultural achievement, but there it is. We actually did not go to see it but we learned about it

It is actually called “The Icelandic Phallological Museumand may be the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammals found in a single country. I had never heard of it before, but Phallology is an ancient science, or as some would call it, a pseudo-science that recently received some attention, not all of it prurient. Many genuine academic fields relate to the penis including history, art, psychology, literature and other artistic fields like music and ballet. Now serious students and others, such as non-serious students, can engage in the study of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion. I am not sure why anyone would want to do that, but they can do that in Island.

The museum contains more than 215 penises and penile parts from a wide assortment of marine and terrestrial animals. No doubt it would be interesting but we decided to give it a pass. Maybe next time. Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from travel?


Best Tour Guides Ever!

On the way to the Saga Museum, in Reykjavik Iceland about 8 of our  group hopped on one bus and then transferred to another  On the second bus, I sat beside 2 lovely young girls, after asking their permission of course. They kindly obliged. After all, I looked harmless enough. Soon I engaged them in conservation. “How old are you,”I asked?  “Almost 13” they confidently replied. I told them I had a granddaughter nearly the same age, back in Canada where I was from. I told them we had lots of Icelanders in our province. They were surprised at that.

I asked them if they could be my tour guide. I started off asking if they knew where the Saga museum was. It took them a while to catch on what I meant. I probably did not pronounce Sagacorrectly. But they figured it out and assured me we were on the right bus and headed the right direction.  Good.

“What I should I see and do in Iceland,” I asked.  They hesitated but only briefly. They mulled over the question, then one of them said, “The hop-on, hop-off bus was really cool.”  I said I had been on one in London and Paris and really enjoyed it. I could see a lot of the city easily and efficiently.  Great idea.

I complemented the girls on their excellent English. This pleased them greatly. I meant it too.  It was amazing how proficient they were with a Grade 6 or so education. It was indeed impressive. “How did you learn English,” I asked. “In school,” was the response.  Clearly they enjoyed practicing their English in a real life situation.

I think my complement gave them confidence and they were off and running with a blizzard of suggestions. They quickly pointed out a school, and then another school. They also gave suggestions for restaurants. “Sushi is very good,” one exclaimed.  The other quickly added, “And the fish’n chips near the museum are really good too.”  “That is the restaurant where my sister works.”

They had a wealth of ideas about shopping explaining about all the wonderful things we could buy. They worried that their advice would be too costly. I assured them that old men like me would die very soon anyway so there was no need to save what little I had.

By the time we reached the museum they had to get off the bus and insisted this was where we had to get off too. They were a bit disturbed that we did not get off. One of our friends had talked to an adult who said, “Next stop.” It turned out, of course, that the girls were right. We would have been better off getting off when they said we should. The adult was wrong.

All in all the conversation, over heard by all our friends was a classic example of what one can learn by taking public transportation in a foreign city.  Often they are the highlight of the trip. This was certainly the highlight so far. In fact with their bubbling enthusiasm these 2 young girls where the best tour guides I ever had. I thanked them profusely.

I was only disappointed in myself. I should have got their names and had a photo taken of us. Darn I muffed that!

Iceland: A Warm Welcome is in our nature


When we arrived in Iceland, our first stop was not the hotel. They were not ready for us. So we drove to the Blue Lagoon.This is Iceland’s most famous tourist attraction and gives a real feel for the country. According to my guidebook, it is a “dreamy, steamy spa complex that epitomizes the country’s faintly unearthly reputation.” ]Interesting little wooden bridges covered with thin strips of wood to ease traction and which cross  the lagoon’s milky turquoise waters and hot pots in front of steaming vents of hot water.

The lagoon is not actually a natural phenomenon. It is a by-product of Iceland’s nearby Svartsengi geothermal energy plant. It pumps mineral laden hot water from up to 2 km (1.2mi) below the surface of the earth (not the centre like Verne envisioned) at 240°C. This is later cooled by a procedure that harnesses the hot water for electrical power and fresh water.

The runoff water is close to the body’s natural temperature 100°C. it is claimed that psoriasis and eczema sufferers (like me) often feel relief. Sadly, I did not notice the relief, but I enjoyed it.

Iceland has captured the power of the natural forces underneath the surface. The homes of Iceland have been provided with cheap and environmentally friendly hot water produced by geothermal energy.  This is water heated naturally under the earth’s crust that escapes near to the surface here. About 80% of Iceland’s power is provided by geothermal conditions. The largest geothermal plant in the world is located right beside the Blue Lagoon and supplies water to the lagoon.

This allows the Icelanders to take an open-air swim when it is cold outside. It often gets cold, though I was told it is warmer here than Manitoba in the winter. And colder in the summer! Apparently about 1.6 million people visit the geothermal pools in Iceland each year. They have made it part of their lifestyle.

As you can see, I found some very scary creatures in the pool.

We all took a turn in the pool and all enjoyed it a lot. A free drink for each of us was provided with our admission. The water is partly fresh and partly salty. I found it easy to float. It was a delightful way to spend a couple of hours soaking up water and the rays of the sun. I left early to take some team pictures, without me of course.