An unexpected apology from Air France

(I wrote this a long time ago but forgot to hit the publish button)

I flew from Paris to Bucharest yesterday on Air France. The plane was late coming in and the turnaround made us about an hour behind schedule.

I didn’t really think much of it, hour long delays are within a reasonable period. Perhaps if there was a connecting flight and I got stuck… But it was just a direct flight.
I wouldn’t say the delay was transparent, it made me hustle from the airport (crawl in traffic is more like it), check into the hotel, and jump on another taxi to the University for the presentation.

So, here’s the point. I received an email today from Air France apologizing for the hour delay; letting me know it isn’t standard and they are crediting my account 2,000 miles.

Let me assure you that the delay you experienced on this occasion was not in
line with the high levels of service we aim to provide.

As gesture of genuine regret for the inconvenience suffered on this occasion, I
am pleased to inform you that 2000 Miles will be credited to your Flying Blue
account within the next few days.
-Air France Customer Support Email

That’s pretty cool. I have never gotten such an email or apology from American Airlines, Northwest, Southwest, British Airlines, or any other that I’ve used.

Thanks A.F.

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The whirlwind continues – Athens, Greece

Another week, another city in the travel blitz before summer and high prices arrive. This week’s target was Athens, Greece. More than any other trip, Athens did not match my expectations. That’s not good or bad, just not what I expected.

I expected a city like Paris that is surrounded in history with archeological wonders and important architecture everywhere you looked. I thought the city would be full of tourists and the businesses that cater to them. I expected hummus, baba ghanoush, pita bread, eggplant, and feta cheese on every corner. I expected restaurants to throw dishes on the ground all the time to celebrate and draw attention from people passing by. I expected it to be hot and polluted.

I found nothing as I expected.

History and Architecture.

Athens has more than its share of architectural wonders. You can stumble across a humble excavation between houses or turn around and see the massive Acropolis standing behind you like a sentry. I expected Athens to be like Paris and other cities where the icons are the center of tourism money and efforts are made to get as much of that cash as possible.

However, the museums and archeological sites close at 3 p.m. That is much earlier than I expected. I thought the Acropolis would always be open, at least accessible like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the 2 dinosaurs outside Palm Springs or the Thing in Arizona.

So, unfortunately, I actually did not get up close to any of the Greek ruins. Nope, none, nada. I could see them through fences, but that’s about it. So you’ll need to plan ahead for this. Fly in the night before so you can get that early start. My flight landed at around 10 a.m.. That didn’t leave me much time when you account for transportation and checking into the hotel.

Airport Transportation

the money shot
Athens has lovely transportation. The buses, metros, and trams are very nice. However, the bus from the airport to the city can be crowded and it seems like it takes forever. You need to expect the ride to last 1 hour and probably more during rush hour. However, it is fairly cheap at 3.20Euros.

The metro will be extended to the Airport in 2010. I’ve read the taxi cabs can be expensive, but I didn’t use any.

Modern Greek Ruins

While I didn’t get a close view of the ancient ruins, there were plenty of the modern variety. Athens looks like a city that underwent a tremendous building boom (for the 2004 Olympics?) and then fell into a sudden bust. There are half-built concrete shells all over the city. For every new shell, there is an old, decrepit building falling apart; unused and untouched. It almost looks like a war zone with pockets destroyed by bombs.

Greek Food

I’d like to say I visited Greece for its history. I might even like to say I came for the architecture and island life. The truth is I came for the food. I love Greek and Mediterranean food. I had a checklist of what I wanted to eat. The standards you’d find at any Greek restaurant around the world.

I did find a touristy restaurant when I first got to the city that had great baba ghanoush, hummus, and cheese pie. The hummus was actually on the dry side and not smooth. The baba ghanoush was to die for. The pita breads were puffed, and the cheese pie was a simple dish with feta in a crust.

Athens, Greece
Politi.co
Anatolian Cuisine
3 Mitropoleos Street
metro: Syntagma
Athens, Greece
210 894 0170, 210 894 0180

This was my introduction to native Greek food and I was stuffed and happy. But I still found some room to visit the street vendor with odd looking pretzel-like bread. These popular rolls have a slightly sweet flavor with hints of peanut-butter (tahini?). You’ll see the Athenians snacking on this bread throughout the day.

That night I searched for a tiny restaurant far from the tourist crowd. I found a place whose only neighbors were auto shops and a gas station. It’s interior was artistic with hand-made lamps that looked like bad abstract expressionist paintings having sex with Ikea drop lights. This seemed rather promising.

I ordered spanakopita and the chef’s special rice. The spanakopita was a huge serving of baked spinach and cheese in a pie-crust. I was expecting filo dough. This was followed by a huge plate of the chef’s “risotto with vegetables”. Let’s just say it was inspired by the idea of risotto. However, it was very tasty. It had rice, feta, mushrooms, peppers, and carrots. Once again I ate until ready to burst.

There were two more items on my check list that I needed to find the next day: Haloumi, a firm cheese that is grlled and baklava.

American coffee just plain sucks in Greece

I started the next morning with a cup of coffee from the hotel. The hostess presented it with pride and I didn’t have the heart to tell her it looked like it was going to rip my head off and tease me afterward. I could’ve probably stood my spoon up in the cup. Surprisingly, it was drinkable with a hefty portion of creamer and sugar.

I ordered another coffee on the ship to some islands. The “barista” spun around threw something in a cup and whooshed it with steam. This he handed to me for 3 euros. I looked at it like someone just farted on my toast and said, “did you just serve me powdered coffee?” Keep in mind he used a perfectly good espresso machine to blast the powder with steam.

“It’s American coffee” he replied. Ugggh, I said give me some espresso I didn’t want “American coffee”. Don’t get me wrong, I like American coffee. I love “jus de chaussettes”, as the French call it. Sometimes I really crave a big cup of Starbucks instead of the cute little coffees in Europe. But powdered coffee like that is just bad.

This reminds me of an adventure I had with the ever fabulous Durward. We had a goal of drinking coffee at a different cafe every sunday for a year in San Diego. Our worst was a donut shop near the trolley line in National City. They gave us a white Styrofoam cup with hot water and asked us how many spoonfuls of coffee crystals we’d like. Then, she held the powdered non-dairy creamer like it was gold and watched to make sure we didn’t take more than our allotted amount. Don’t even ask about the sugar!

Let’s just say that Greece left me a little decaffeinated.
symphony of orange
At our first island, Hydra, the majority of the boat rushed on shore to attack the tourist shops and dockside cafes. I mosied over to a closed museum (it wasn’t even 3), photographed some cats and a memorial, then climbed up the steep streets to see the town. I shouldn’t say climbed, as that would imply I was a healthy mountain climber. My ankle has been sore, so I limped up the hillside.

After clomping my way through the town I stopped at a tiny cafe next to some children playing. They asked me into the kitchen to point to what I wanted. I saw some stewed artichokes and potatoes in a lemon sauce. That’s what I want. A Greek salad was also suggested. The resulting meal was great, especially the salad! The tomatoes and vegetables tasted like they were picked from the garden that morning.

I also had some dinner guests. Two wild cats shared my feta with me. The younger one was the first to say hello. I gave him chunks of cheese that he would quickly scamper away with to eat in peace. The older guy, with gooky eyes that just begged to be cleaned, was more relaxed. He sat by the table and purred as the cheese was served.

This was the Greek food I was hoping for. I wanted some authentic food that I couldn’t find in the typical Greek restaurant but didn’t know existed.

The ship to myself

waterThe ship announced lunch was being served as soon as we got back on board. I was stuffed, but went down for curiousity sake. I saw what looked like bingo-aholics excitedly downing big lamb meatballs and rice. No thanks.

I went upstairs and had the ship to myself for about 30 minutes. it was great to be away from all of those damn Americans! I haven’t been around so many Americans in a very long time. They are exhausting. They can’t go five minutes without complaining about something. blah blah blah blah, but it was cold, blah blah blah blah, she was late, blah blah blah blah it was too expensive… Is that how you enjoy your vacation? How about staying home and complaining about each other.

It was also exhausting because I couldn’t ignore the conversations. It’s easy to tune out other languages; but American English, especially southerners, breaks right through the filters and makes its way straight into my brain. It felt like my mother was sitting at every table and I was waiting for her to say “taaayyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeddddddddd??????!!!!” Who knew three letters could take so long to be pronounced.

But all good things must come to an end and the lunch-fortified fellow travelers found their way back up to my little eden. Luckily we were just about to pull into the next port, Poros, with 30 minutes to explore the tiny town. It was just enough to take some photos and purchase some postcards.

One more to go

Time was running out and I still had some eating to do. Luckily we had a longer stop at the next island, Aegina. I rented a bike and rode back and forth for an hour. It was surprising to see a Yahoo! yodel button at the bike shop:

My Greek ChariotPipinis Travel
2, Kanari street, Aegina Greece
+30 22970 28780

.

The bike was fairly cheap at 5 euros for an hour and it let me rationalize an extra meal. I wanted some of that grilled cheese. I went into a restaurant around the corner from the bike rental and asked if they were open. A guy pointed to a door at the back of an empty patio. I walked in and found myself in what appeared to be someone’s family kitchen. There were two birds, a television, mom, dad, grandma, and the daughter. There were also two tables. I asked if they had the cheese and some mint tea.

Greece 2009
This was probably my favorite meal in Greece. I’ve had Halloumi cheese in San Diego as a fancy entree. Here it was good ol’ comfort food; served on top of french fries, pita, lettuce, tomatoes, and lots of mayonnaise. The tea came in a mug with a three dimensional smile and was sweeter than what’s her name in Misery before she goes psycho. It was a big plate of greasy, salty, stick to your greek ribs loving. To top it off, a commercial came on the tv for CSI: Miami. I don’t know how that show follows me around the world. I hated to leave this place but the boat was getting ready to leave.

How dare you leave on time!

The boat was ready to leave the dock, but first it gave out two big blasts to warn people to get their ass on board. Just as the boat was leaving a woman below deck starts yelling, in her bible belt best voice, that her friends are not on the boat. Sure enough two women, with hair closer to god than most could pull off, start yelling at the ship to come back and get their asses. They greeted their rescuing ship not with an apologetic thank you but arguing they were not late and the boat left early. It’s funny how EVERYONE on the boat was on time but these two belles, yet the boat was at fault. Suck it up ladies, you were late and the boat should’ve dumped you back on the dock for acting like divas.

The last box to check off

I went out that night for the last item on my culinary list. I wanted some sticky sweet baklava. I wanted something that would make my teeth ache for weeks. I wanted something so sweet it made me seem like what’s her face in Misery before she went psycho. I actually found a baklava store at the bottom of the acropolis that was open late at night. Let me tell you, it was good, damn good.

pARTymusic-cafe
11 Odysseos Street | Karaiskaki Square
Athens 10436, Greece
phone: +30 210 524 5700

With all my checkboxes for mandatory Greek food filled, I was ready to find a cafe with wifi to make some skype calls. I found a great place right next door to the hotel. Cafe pARTy is a tiny, artsy cafe with very friendly people and a strong wifi signal. I was able to call everyone, including my parents.

“Hi Mom, I’m in a cafe in Athens.”

“Did you find a girlfriend? I want you to bring home a new wife!”

“No Mom, there are no women in Greece. They must’ve left when they heard I was visiting. Maybe next trip…. “

We have this running joke. I doesn’t admatter what destination I’m in. Imagine her surprise when I found one in Rouen. Unfortunately Joan was a little tied up at the time and couldn’t commit. However, she was practically burning with anticipation of meeting mother Drake.

Was there anything other than food?

Here are some random observations of the trip:

  1. There are lots of wild dogs in Athens. They are much friendlier than the dogs I’ve met in Bangalore, Bucharest, and Tijuana. The Greek islands are filled with wild cats.
  2. Nothing is free in Greece. I was a bit surprised at the cost of food, I thought it would be cheaper than Paris. Just don’t be surprised by the extras for water and tip. It wasn’t as expensive as London, just more than I expected.
  3. The public transportation is great. Buy a daylong ticket for 3 euros and get access to all of the metros, trams, and busses. Take those busses to see the city’s neighborhoods. You never know what will be around the corner.
  4. Don’t forget the museums and such close early.
  5. Bring a book or something to do on the island tour. There’s a lot of time to catch up on writing postcards and reading.
  6. Stop to try the different cookies, breads, and pastries. They remind me of the panaderias in Mexico, only not as sweet and more complex flavors.
  7. Try to find foods that you can’t find in your hometown’s Greek restaurants. There’s a lot more than hummus, tabouli, and pita bread.
  8. The flea market is boring. It’s the same old crap you’ll find at any commercial swap meet. Save your money and time and visit a different set of markets.
  9. Smoking is allowed indoors. Don’t be surprised by people smoking in restaurants, hotels, on the sidewalks, etc. The Greeks are heavy smokers.
  10. The city felt very safe. There are your standard tourist attraction beggars, but I didn’t see locals guarding themselves against pickpockets and the streets felt safe to walk around at night. You might worry more about the dogs than crime.
  11. Everyone told me Athens was dirty and polluted. I didn’t find that to be the case. There was a lot of graffiti and abandoned buildings. But the weather was fantastic, the streets were well maintained, the metro was spotless, and the air was clear. I can imagine it is worse in summer. I think their new public transportation has probably solved a lot of the pollution issues. There’s not a lot of traffic for such a large city.
  12. The airport offers 45 minutes of free wifi. However, I couldn’t figure out how to refresh that time period. I didn’t even see an option to purchase access. There are also kiosks with free internet usage scattered around the airport.

A Swiss Weekend

I’m on the train from Geneva back to Paris after a long weekend filled with cheese, cheese fondue, cheese making, more cheese fondue, and a few sites in between. It truly was a cheesy weekend.

I visited with Silvana, a fellow Yahoo!, and her husband Brian at their abode outside Geneva. They’ve got a great flat with a view over lake Geneva. Trigger and I enjoyed watching the fog rise over the lake as I plugged away on the computer. Yep, it’s always a working weekend.  I added caching and some user-friendly features to InsiderFood.com. So let’s get to the cheese and fun activities.

Geneva

I rode the TGV directly from Paris to Geneva and would recommend paying the extra 10 euros or so for first class. It’s nice to have a power outlet and room to stretch out, read, etc. While Gare de Lyon in Paris is large, bustling, and confusing, the Geneva train station is smaller, quieter, and still a bit confusing.

I needed to grab a surface train from Geneva to Lausanne to get to casa Silvana. There were no ticket windows but plenty of little computer kiosks. They’re fairly easy to use and are more satisfying than the coffee I suffered through from the station cafe.

Keep an eye out for the surface trains. The screen only mentioned a single train, but I barely missed one on the platform and another arrived as I was waiting for the one mentioned below in the main station.

Geneva was not an exciting city. I was expecting something very “Swiss”. I didn’t know what that would mean, but Geneva was not inspiring my Swissness. I would compare a Swiss vacation in Geneva to a trip to California and staying in Sacramento. The mere thought sends shivers down my spine, although it could be worse… Riverside!!!! AGGGGH

Not to completely diss Geneva; they had some nice Catholic churches that were stripped of their fabulousness during the reformation, the lake is super clean, the United Nations had some interesting buildings, and I found a great Hello Kitty smart car. The Hello Kitty car was enough to give the city an ounce of respect.

We also had our first fondue experience in Geneva. The Swiss Chalet featured a huge pot of the melting goodness with piles of bread. I was afraid that I would trip and roll down the street like the chewing gum girl in Willy Wonka, only my inflated bratbody would be creamy yellow instead of purple.

After the Chalet we discovered a great Russian orthodox church. It was small but full of gilded goodies. More than anything, it revved us up to visit France, a mere stone’s throw away.

Evian was our destination. We’ve got water to drink.

I didn’t know what to expect of Evian. I figured it would be a small, artistic village on the side of the lake. There would probably be some shrine to the water and a huge industrial complex in the center of town. The people would probably be quiet and friendly.

Fortunately we arrived for the Carnival, their belated Mardi Gras celebration. The Evianers know how to party. It was a blast to watch the parade and the interaction between the paraders and the parade watchers. Everyone knew each other and particularly enjoyed blasting horns, pelting with confetti, and spraying silly string on their neighbors.

The ground was littered with confetti, hats, children writhing in pain after throwing confetti in the face of the wrong person (who shall go nameless :) ), and the detritus of a festive event. The parade was so good they decided to have an encore as all the floats returned down the same street in a faster, albeit still explosive manner.

We finally went in search for the Evian spring after the parade. Lo and behold it was right there on the main street. It is a gorgeous Art Nouveau folly. It looks like it belongs in Disneyworld. It was closed for the parade but the spring is always flowing for whoever is thirsty. We drank our fill and then climbed the hill to see the rest of the city and lake.

Evian is a great town. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in pre-modern architecture, the spas, and enjoying a small city that knows how to party.

The ride around the lake

We continued our trip around the lake and stopped off at a restaurant named after Alexandria, one of Napolean’s nieces. It was a bit hoity toity, but good for a rest stop.

Montreux, where the uppity ups spend money and listen to jazz

We drove through Montreux, a city known for its jazz festivals. Its a beautiful city and looks like it costs thousands of dollars to even walk on the sidewalks. It reminded me of Beverly Hills, only without the hookers down the street and people on every corner selling maps to stars’ homes.

Lausanne

Laussane at night
We didn’t pull into Lausanne until after 10p.m. and I was pretty damned tired. The city was fascinating. It’s an ancient city on the shore of the lake. It sits on the edge of a very steep mountain and the city rises like a terraced rice paddy. The city is built with layers and bridges fly over buildings as they cross from one section to another. I have a fear of tall bridges and these were freaky high. It reminded me of the futurama drawings of cities with monorails that zoom through sky scrapers.

The city’s heart is an ancient chateau and cathedral high up on the mountain. The views are amazing as the city pulsates below you.

That was the end of a great day touring the towns around Lake Geneva.

Gruyere – cheese, cheese, and more cheese

We planned a few activities for Sunday. Visit the Chateau de Gruyere, the cheese factory, an artist space for Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely (thanks Jana for the correction), and finally go to the Ice Palace, a fantasy construction of frozen water.

Gruyere was supposed to be a quick stop to look at the cheese factory, buy some cheese, and see the chateau. We were not expecting the town to be so fabu! We spent the entire day here and threw our plans out the window.

The Maison du Gruyere is a small factory, restaurant, and gift shop. There’s a small trailer out back with two men making the cheese the old fashioned way. They started with buckets of milk and a huge copper cauldron heated by a wood fire. The cinders floated up and into the milk. I was sold, I wanted some of this cheese!

Inside is a more modern fromagerie with a large glass cave for cheese fermentation. Wall-e’s little buddy works inside here. The robot travels down the rows picking up large cheese rounds, flipping them, and placing them carefully back on the racks. It also does the hokey pokey when it reaches the end of the aisle.

The gift shop was super expensive but had some unique items. I got some postcards and butter from Gruyere. Yep, no cheese.

The Chateau de Gruyere

Above the cheese factory sits Château de Gruyères and village. The village reminded me at first of many towns that live off the chateau’s tourist traffic. But this one was different, it had soul, artistic blood, and a huge fat kitty that loved everyone.

What can you say about a tiny midievil village that boasts not only artisinal cheese makers, a wonderfully restored chateau, and an H.R. Giger museum/cafe. This ain’t your standard tourist trap.

The chateau tour starts with a short movie about its history. The small auditorium projects images against every wall and ceiling to give the user an immersive experience. I have to say it was very well done. I’ve seen a lot of places attempt this without the sophistication of this chateau.
Chateau de Gruyère in Switzerland
The chateau has been nicely restored and is completely open to tourists. There are no guides and equally few areas are off limits. You are free to explore the rooms and grounds.

You are also free to photograph to your heart’s content. The only rooms with restrictions include delicate fabric and works on paper, so don’t use a flash! Each flash is like sticking the object in the sun for a day. It makes paper and cloth based items fade quickly.

The windows look out onto the Swiss mountains and landscapes. It was nice to have a few openings without glass for better picture taking.

The chateau at one time was owned by an artist who made some restorations and decorations. Corot was invited to spend some time and helped paint a room. It’s quite a time warp as you go from ancient castle to impressionist parlor.

The ramparts surround the back of the castle and provide various openings for photographing the scenery. You could also shoot invading armies and dump boiling oil on the uprising cerfs if needed.

H.R. Giger museum

Giger is a polarizing artist. You either like or appreciate his art or run out holding your stomach and swear in disbelief. It’s an erotic vision without the eroticism, violence and degradation join self-idolatry. Giger is most known for designing the sets and monster from the movie Alien. His figures morph between human and machine, organic and industrial.

It’s surprising to see his museum and cafe in such a small tourist village. But it actually makes sense when you think of the artistic pulse that has survived in the city, especially after Daniel Bovy took over the chateau in the 1800’s and invited his friends to help decorate the chambers.
raspberries and coffee with la double crème de Gruyère
The village also houses multiple restaurants that naturally encourage large cheese-based meals. I threw caution, and a month long diet, to the wind and had fondue two days in a row. I survived yesterday’s pot so why not? I even had raspberries with la double crème de Gruyère afterward for dessert. I’m so full of dairy products my udders are swollen. I also bought some bizarre local specialty. It’s a spread made with mustard, honey, chocolate, and god knows what else.

Gruyere ate up the day like a fat Ted wolfs down melted cheese on bread. Before we knew it we were on the freeway trying to get back to Geneva before my train took off. We made it about 10 minutes before the train took off. I was able to waddle onto the train just in time.

Paris is only a few miles away. I don’t think I could look at cheese for a few days. But I could use an Evian right now.

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Visiting Iceland

Flashback 5th grade, Miss All-breath’s class: Ok kids, the big country is called Greenland, but it sucks. It’s just a big glacier and very difficult to live on. But notice this smaller chunk. It’s called Iceland and is really a cool place to live. It’s actually fairly warm and in about 10 years there will be a band called the Sugarcubes, then Bjork, then Sigur Ros will transform what is thought of as music in the world. So the moral of the story is don’t believe what the Vikings always say. Sometimes they lie. Like when I bought the 50 lb chunk of cheese from Vikings-R-Us and discovered it was really just plastic. Bastards…

Ever since that fateful day in Miss All-breath’s class I’ve wanted to visit this mysterious, fraudulently named country. It was one of my top goals when I moved to Paris in 2006. Fortunately the Icelandic economy crashed a few months ago and I could suddenly afford the trip. Sometimes Bush’s disastrous policies can lead to some good. An international economic crisis can mean good opportunities for travel.

In case you are wondering, we called her All-breath because she drank about a dozen cups of coffee and Tab soda mixed together every morning and her breath would make your hair stand on end.

So here I am eating muesli at my hotel on Sunday morning. The sun won’t rise for about an hour, which is a good thing. I’m going to grab my tripod and camera and photograph the rising sun over the shoreline. I’m sore from yesterday’s tour of the country. But mostly, I’m content. I’ve finally made it to Iceland and it has been wonderful.

The Icelandic people are very friendly and polite. The water tastes like candy. The air is crisp and clear. And the weather is cold, especially for this Californian, but it’s not crazy cold like Chicago or Buffalo. It’s certainly not Alaska or Montreal cold. It’s cold like the coffee you poured 30 minutes ago and thought, ooh coffee…

Speaking of traveling, my lesbian sisters need to get their butch and femme asses over here. Show some support for the new Prime Minister. Don’t expect Dinah Shore Weekend; but you will find an open-minded, friendly country that desperately needs your travel dollars.

Swimming pools

Everyone here swims. Reykjavik has a great Olympic swimming stadium that the city uses as a social area, exercise space, and relaxation. It costs about 1 euro to enter, that includes a locker/key. You can use the indoor Olympic sized swimming pool, but most head outside to swim or soak in heated water while their heads slowly freeze. I didn’t see the hot tubs during my first visit. There is a set of tubs with different temperature water next to the large sauna. You can soak those tired muscles and backs for hours in these while meeting the locals.
Iceland 2009
Today I am going to the Blue Lagoon. It’s like Salton Sea in California, only without the retching stench of rotting who knows what, decaying buildings, and fish bone shores. No, it’s like Salton Sea in that it was created as an accident.

A geothermal energy plant began pouring the cooled water they brought up from the deep below the surface into a shoreline covered in lava rock. This water contains all sorts of minerals, salts, clays, and mysterious healing goodies. People began swimming in this oddly blue pool and bragging about how wonderful it felt. Soon it became the “blue lagoon” with its clay sold in Nieman Marcus makeup areas.

Geothermal goodness

Icelandic Geothermal PowerplantAs a Southern Californian, I feel guilty taking long hot showers. First there is the ever-present drought. Add the energy needed to heat the water. Hot showers equal hot dirty sin in my mind. So imagine my relief to be in Iceland where there is unlimited water and it’s heated by the ground. No energy is used to make the water hot. It feels so good to take a sin-free hot shower.

I visited a geothermal energy plant yesterday. It’s what you would expect: big pumps, turbines, lots of pipes. It also had some interesting guides and even an earthquake simulator. Speaking of which: Where’s my earthquake? I miss them and was hoping to experience at least a 4-5 richter jolt while in Iceland. They have them all the time, but do they save one for me? Nooo.

Falling on my ass

I’m a city-slicker. A warm-weather city slicker. I spent 6 weeks in California this year to avoid the winter in Paris. This leads to my shoe collection. There ain’t a damn thing I own for walking on ice. I went to BHV but they don’t carry shoes for people like me that wear pontoons for shoes. So imagine me trying to walk on icy paths leading to waterfalls, geysers, and overlooks. Oh, it was entertaining! My ass is black and blue from falling all day. Combine that with a backpack and camera fanny pack and I am one tired, sore fool this morning. I think I fell more than the entire tour group combined. I was ready to just sit on my ass and skoot around like a beggar in a Flemish genre painting.

Icelandic food

It’s a good thing I’m a vegetarian. There’s some really gross meat products over here. There’s a shark dish that rots in the ground for three months to be dug up and allowed to aerate for another 3 months. They also eat dried sheep faces and ram balls. And this was before the country went bankrupt!

I brought some goodies from Paris in case the news reports of mass famine were correct. I brought some Poilane bread, clementines, and comte and mimmolette cheeses. Luckily I haven’t been forced to eating crumbs from the bottom of the bread bag. There’s plenty of food here. There’s also some nice restaurants that are quite inexpensive. I had a great mushroom soup an garlic bread for about 7 euros the first night and an Indian meal last night for about 10 euros.

I think I may buy some sheep faces for my friends in Paris. I’m sure they’ll enjoy them.

Search for the mythical Northern Lights

i went on a Northern Lights tour last night. It was doubtful they would appear as the sky was filled with clouds in Reykjavik. However, there was a very slight chance and what the heck.

Our tour bus made a quick stop at a Viking museum next to the Alcoa aluminum smelting plant. They had a mockup of a fantasy theme park based on northern European culture. We then went to the most western part of the country in hopes of escaping the clouds. Although there were gasps of potential wonder, we just stood around in the cold and took photos of eachother and the non-Northern Lit ocean.

Iceland Photographs

I’ve uploaded a bunch of photos to Flickr. I am trying to get used to the digital SLR. The more I use it, the more I think I prefer film. I also realized I ignored much of the advice I gave to my students.

I had my light meter set to spot instead of center-weighted, which requires much more care. I also kept forgetting to cover my eye pieced during long exposures, light can come in and change the meter reading. I didn’t buy a filter for my new lens and the lens got smudged. I forgot a grey card and/or to set my camera’s exposure and white balance to work with snow scenes.Oh, and I forgot to fully charge the battery. I still got some interesting photos and my trusty Panosonic point and shoot worked like a viking trooper.

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