Thursday, August 15, 2013

Iceland - Language

One of the first things I noticed when we arrived in Iceland was that everything in the airport was in English as well as Icelandic. We assumed that this was due to it being an airport - while we knew that most young Icelandic people could speak English, we weren't under the impression that it was such a dominant language in Iceland. 

We soon discovered that English was just as dominant in the city of Reykjavik. Most signs and menus were in Icelandic first, with English "subtitles". 

My next thought was that it must've due to the increasing tourism industry in Iceland - they must want to cater to as many people as possible. But then, why was there only Icelandic and English, and no other languages? Surely there were a lot of tourists from Japan and China as well.

My questions were put to rest the following day, while we were on our first tour. We were taking a buggy tour, and the young man (he was 21, so I'm allowed to call him that) who was touring us around spoke English without any catches. 

We first asked about the languages they learn in school, and were told that most people speak Icelandic in school until about grade 3, when they start taking English in the same manner that we learn Core French. Then in secondary school (high school) they must also learn Danish, a relic from when they were under Danish rule.

That still didn't fully explain why he could speak English so well though. Quite frankly, I can "speak French" too, but you wouldn't find me speaking nearly so well as he did. It was quickly explained though when Gilles asked again why he could speak English so well, specifically. He responded, looking sideways at Gilles with a sheepish expression on his face, that the only television in Icelandic was the news, the rest is in English.

All of that said, there are differences in the way English is spoken. The most noticeable was their unconscious use of the word "Yoy". It is used in the same way that one might use "Um..." or "Ya", when not actually answering a question. (It is inserted at near random between thoughts, or parts of thoughts).

The other main difference I noticed was the pluralization of words. Without fail, each time a word changes or remains the same to become plural without adding an 's' at home (such as mouse to mice or sheep to sheep) they would still add an 's' (resulting in 'mices' and 'sheeps'). It was a most peculiar trait, and one that I found to be quite interesting.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's a Jet Boat!

Summed up pretty nicely... big metal souped up motor boat (with a diesel engine, bench seats and handlbars).

It was a lot of fun - racing along the river, missing the rock wall faces by mere feet, and going speeds I really don't want to know. We did 360s and ramped rapids... it was basically tubing within a boat. Tons of fun, and a light way to wrap up our honeymoon. This tour was through Iceland Riverjet.

After that we headed back to the city, where we finished Gilles' shopping, then went and booked our shuttle back to the airport. (We get picked up at 7am  local, which means our day will begin at about 6:30am - and we will get back to Saskatoon at about 10:30pm, so it will be about 11pm by the time we get through customs. While that sounds really good, 11pm at home is 5am here... so we are in for a long day tomorrow!

We also "cashed in" our tax free forms - Gilles got about $50 back and I got about $100 (they are based on a percentage of what you spend).

\Finally, we went to pick up our last groceries... yogurt and ramen noodles (yup, we're eating like kings tonight!) Haha...

Next we need to make this apartment look like we were never here (apart from he fact that they need to clean the linens and the towels), and prepare for sleeplessness!

Just a thought before I go though -- I will still have a couple of Iceland posts after we return to Canada - there are a couple topics that I want to tackle that didn't fit into the day-to-day posts. See you back on Canadian shores!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reykjavik by Day

Today was a pretty low-key day as we didn't have any tours scheduled. Gilles slept in again and I went and read my book - "Icelandic Folk and Fairy Tales" at Kaffitar while enjoying another cappucino croissant and a latte. Interesting fact - kaffitar translates directly to caffeine, and if you break down the word a bit kaffi means coffee. See? I have learned something.

I came back to the apartment at lunch time and Gilles and I went out to eat - as far as across the road at a nice little bistro. The food was acceptable, but nothing to remark over.

We then went to the National Gallery of Iceland - the main art gallery in the city, although it is one of several. The current exhibitions were Treasures and Memento Mori. Both Gilles and I preferred 'Treasures' it included a number of works from the 1850s - late 2000's, focusing on both landscapes and portraits. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed but some of the paintings were absolutely spectacular. Memento Mori focused on mushrooms and insects, and was... interesting.

After that we continued to the National Museum of Iceland. There were two floor, each absolutely packed with relics, beginning from when Iceland was first populated all the way to the modern day. (Seriously, there was  pregnancy test in the museum display!)

Here are some of my favorite photos:`

Swords, axe head, spear ends, and the metal centre of a wooden shield.

Roman-style crucifix, predating those used currently with the crown of thorns.

Drinking horns, as well as the original 'clothespins' - used to pin the cloaks of men over one shoulder.

The helmet and chainmail together weigh upwards of 15kg.

Drinking horn, carved by a South Icelandic farmer in 1598AD. 

I found this particular piece particularly odd. The Danish family in question found it appropriate to have themselves painted posing beside the crucifix. In addition, the family is separated male vs female, and the male side of the family each posed for their own face, where one person posed for all three females (they all have the same face).

Traditional Icelandic knit patterns on the mittens (recently knit)

Once used as a calendar in Iceland, the wheels include the year, the months of the year, the days of the year, and the christian holidays.

Replica of a 19th century home, including many of the articles that were included, up until about the 1950s.
Possibly some of the most antique items in the entire museum, an Atari (with Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. games), and a VCR.

Apparently the relics of the 20th century are laptops, collectible barbies, velcro shoes, alarm clocks, cell phones, McDonald`s toys (even though there is no McDonald`s in Iceland), and pregnancy tests... (yikes!)

Tomorrow is our last day in Reykjavik, before we fly out Thursday morning. We will go for a ride in a jet boat early tomorrow afternoon, after brunch. Tonight we filled out all of our tax-free forms, so tomorrow we will also be bringing them into the travel office for our tax rebate! (Yay for "free" money!)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Helicopter Ride & Whalewatching Take 2

Today was certainly an entertaining day! We started the day out by getting lost attempting to find our way to Nordurflug for our helicopter flight. (In my defense they told us it was at the domestic airport which is where we went - unfortunately they forgot to mention that it was at a private hangar on the opposite side of the runway, so we had to get a cab around).

We arrived there in plenty of time though - time enough to fill out their manifest forms and enjoy a couple of cookies while waiting for our helicopter to arrive and be refueled. We partook in the Waterfall & Valleys tour by Nordurflug, and bought out the third seat so that we could have a private tour.

The views were absolutely outstanding. Unfortunately I learned that while I do not get airsick in planes or seasick, I do get motion sickness from helicopters. Fortunately we had one stopover in a valley full of geysirs timed at the perfect moment so it allowed me to gather composure a little over halfway through our ride, and I didn't actually get sick.

The views were absolutely outstanding. You are able to get so much closer in a helicopter than in an aircraft - in some cases we were clearing mountain faces by barely a metre. Here are some of my favorite photos from the tour.

After our helicopter tour we went out for dinner at a cute little Italian place around the corner from our apartment - I had a personal lasagna and Gilles had a pizza sandwich (it was literally a pizza folded into a sandwich, with a salad inside).

We then did a little bit of shopping and then headed out for attempt 2 at whale watching. Our first attempt was in awful weather (very windy, cloudy and cold) and we didn't see a single thing. They gave us a voucher to come again for free, and boy am I glad we did - this time we found three Minge whales together (that kept coming up again and again, too many times to count), along with some harbour porpoises, and the birds were diving and we saw some puffins! We definitely didn't strike out this time. I managed to get one decent photo of a minge whale.

Tomorrow will be a lazy day while we check out some museums and galleries, and then on Wednesday we will be partaking in our last tour - a jet boat ride.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure

Today was an interesting day from the get-go. We didn't start our day until about 1:30pm so I went out to a coffeehouse while Gilles slept in. From there I was able to people-watch, while enjoying an amazing latte and croissant. (Apparently a cappucino croissant means a croissant with a slight bit of coffee ground dust on top, and melted chocolate in the middle... yum!)

I went back to the house at 11:30 to pick up Gilles, and we went out for a pizza lunch and then did a bit of souvenir shopping before heading to the depot to wait for our snorkeling pickup.

It was a refreshing ride after yesterday's - our driver was personable and happy... even when we came to a huge car accident that blocked the entire highway. We sat on the side of the road for about 15 minutes while he talked on the phone (presumably with the depot) to find a side road for us to take to get around the accident. Eventually they were able to tell him that there was a gravel road about half a mile back that we could take - only catch was that we would have to drive through a river to do so. (Bad pic, but you get the gist).

Sidenote: Deaths via car accidents are very rare in Iceland. There were a total of 7 in all of Iceland last year. This year they are up to 9. They have a car and truck that got into an accident up on poles beside the major highway, alongside a wooden board that holds a tally of the number of deaths in the current year.

Once we reached the dive site, we were instructed on how to put on the base layer (called a teddy suit, basically a one-piece snowsuit), then the dry suit, then the hood and finally the gloves. The hood and gloves were made of wet suit material. Once we had all of this on we had to open the neck of the dry suit (which was uncomfortably tight) and crouch down to push as much air out of the suit as possible. Essentially, we vacuum packed ourselves.

Unfortunately the gloves were very clumsy so this is the only photo we took of snorkeling - but take our word for it, it was absolutely beautiful. Because it is glacier water, the water was very cold (2 degrees Celsius), but it was also very very clear. At the deepest point, we could see clear to the bottom 100 metres down.

There wasn't any fish to see or anything like that, but there was lots of plant life, and it was interesting to see how the earth was essentially splitting apart there.

Once we finished snorkelling, we were able to do a bit of cliff jumping again. This time the cliff was only about 3 metres high, so it was easy after the rafting cliff yesterday. That said, it did look higher as you could see right down below the water for a long distance.

On the way back from snorkeling we stopped at a service station with another 3D map, where our guide described how the plate tectonics are working in the area - essentially we were in no-man's land, the space between the North American and Eurasian plates. He also talked about some of the folk tales in the area, as well as explained how the different mountains and volcanoes in the area were formed, and how the water was filtered underground through the volcanic rock many kilometres before actually joining a lake about a kilometre from where we were snorkeling. I found it very interesting especially since we were told a similar story by another one of our guides (on the snowmobiling day) but each story focused on a different area based on their areas of expertise. The place where he is holding the key is where we were snorkeling today.

On the way back I talked to him some about the Icelandic Sagas (I took a class on them in University), and he recommended his favorite, which I had not read. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of it now, but I do know that it is one in which Thor and Odin are in an epic battle, so I will keep looking until I find it.

Our journey is nearing its end. Tomorrow we are going on a helicopter tour, then likely doing a bit of shopping and then going whalewatching again (we have a free voucher). Then we will be likely going on a jet boat the following day, and taking in the 'Viking Nightlife'. We will likely then cap off the trip by visiting some museums on our final day before flying out.

Then it is back to real life again for a few days at least, before flying out to Boston for the Inbound Marketing Conference! (For work).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

River Rafting in Iceland

Just a note before I start - I know lots of people have been reading these posts but I don't know who -- so please, leave a comment at the bottom, even just to say hi!

And now back to the original program!

Today we went river rafting on the Hvítá River. It was a different tour from the rest, because while all of the other were completely customer service focused, this one... not so much. We started by riding in a van where two of the four guides in front of us were fast asleep, one was listening to music, and the other was completely focused on the road and didn't offer any comment. (Okay, so we weren't exactly talkative at this point either, but we have been spoiled so far since we got here, so we were expecting the guide to take the lead, and start telling us about what we were driving though, etc. The ride was 75 minutes, then we arrived at the place where we suit up for rafting.

At this point it became clear to us that no, even though we were the only two in the van we would not be the only two people rafting - there were 51 passengers (a far cry from the 5-10 that we had grown accustomed to!) They had everyone wait in the main lobby until all of the groups arrived. Then they herded us into the "big room", where they explained how the wet suits, splash jackets, life jackets, and helmets would work. I must admit that they did much better at this point.

We were directed into two changing rooms (one for the men and another for the women), where we put on the apparel. I had read many reviews ahead of time with people talking about how cold they were, so I wore a coat between my wet suit and my splash jacket. I knew that it would get drenched, but I also knew that it was a good quality coat that would keep me warm wet or dry. After putting all of these on they gave us wet shoes to wear, and we were off to two, full-size large school buses.

It was difficult to take pictures during this trip (didn't want to lose the camera!) but the swells got to be about a metre high at their highest point while going down the river. We rode (and paddled) in these beauties:

About halfway through the run we stopped at a cliff, where we literally got to jump off a cliff. We weren't told exactly how high the cliff was, but I'm guessing about 10 ft. The picture below shows the cliff in the background as a few jumpers swim back to the boats (the piece of cliff jutting out on the right hand side of the photo).

After we were done river rafting for the day, we headed back to Reykjavik where the Gay Pride festival was in full swing. It was so exciting to see, especially after Putin made it illegal to even tell children that gay people exist yesterday. So frustrating. Anyway, I digress.

When we got back to the city a party was in full swing. Cotton candy being made on the corner by our apartment. A mainstage set up a few blocks down with live music playing. People EVERYWHERE.

Unfortunately we caught the very tail end of the celebration - by the time we got our groceries and had supper the celebrations were over. That said, it was still wonderful to experience what we did see!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Golden Circle Tour by SuperJeep

Today was a lot of fun. It ended up that our entire tour group today was Canadian - although three of the Canadians had been living in India for work lately. Originally though, one was from Calgary, one was from Edmonton, and one was from Toronto. It was great to be able to share the same sense of humour with our tour group, and be able to truly relate with them - something that we weren't able to experience to the same degree so far on our trip. Essentially, we learned today the travel cliche of 'you are from the same country as me? Friends!'

That aside, today was a fun day. Our tour guide was full of energy- a true individual. He was a snowmobile operating, 5 language speaking, opera singing (literally a professional opera singer), graphic designer tour guide... Summed up, he was a lot of fun.

We rode throughout the day in what can be best described as a monster truck:

We started by driving to the geysirs - the main one in the area, Geysir (apparently the geysir all others are named after), goes off every 4-8 minutes. The trek to get down there was gorgeous.

We really enjoyed seeing the geysirs. Neither of us had seen one in person, and we both found them fascinating. The water was so clear, and it was really neat how Geysir sucked the water down about half a foot right before 'blowing'.

After visiting the geysirs, we continued on to a glacier where we did a little bit of snowmobiling. How many people can say hat they have been snowmobiling on a glacier? Essentially we were driving on ice with a bit of slush on the top, and random puddles up to a foot deep throughout.

Next we went to the Gulfoss waterfall, which was absolutely spectacular.

We finished the day by heading to the Skjàlftinn earthquake simulator - it was 6.2 on the Richter scale - absolutely crazy. I can't imagine my whole world rocking like that.

Tomorrow we will spend the day river rafting, then do a cliff jump!