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.

Related articles by Zemanta

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Back in sunny London

I took a cab to the train station this morning. i didn’t feel like messing with two metros and what not. the train trip was nice and empty, so I had a good seat. Does the story ever end at that?
Flying by the countryside

Fighting for a seat on an empty train

There was this clueless woman on the train. Someone dared sit in her seat, so she stopped in the aisle for 5 minutes debating with her daughter if they should ask the person to move. Finally they got up the nerve. Keep in mind that 75% of the seats were empty. Finally, they got their fat asses into a seat and I decided to walk through the car and back out to the platform. I hate sitting in a seat while people squeeze by.

Finally, the train is ready to leave and I grabbed the premium spot with a table and electrical outlet! The seats on the train either point towards the rear or front. In the middle are the premium seats that face directly at each other. They have a little table in between.

It’s great when you have an empty train, but awkward when staring in someone’s face for two hours as they pick their nose and read gossip rags.

Well, the bitch actually decided she didn’t like her assigned seat and tried to sit in front of me. 80 empty seats and she wants to take away my leg room. 30 seconds later, I farted and she decided she didn’t want to sit there. “I want to face the front of the train,” she whined as she grabbed her daughter and left.

After that, the ride was smooth. The guy on the other side of the aisle curled into the fetal position and snored. I was able to write two blog posts, get my ass creamed by the computer in chess, and fumble through some hands of solitaire.

London really is the capital of bad food

I’m on the Eurostar returning to Paris from a busy trip to London. I cannot remember another week in my life when I consistently ate horrid food. I’m talking really, really bad.

I mentioned this to my buddy Glen who remarked: London restaurants make good food as good as any city in the world. But they are the best at making awful food. Amen, glory hallelujah, and pass the bread.
London Cityscape at night
It’s truly amazing my stomach and tongue didn’t go on strike and leave me stranded. I even tried to find good places. I walked for seemingly miles among the west end looking for a new place that had good food. But over and over, i ended up on the short end of the fork.

I will say that my hotel’s breakfast bar had edible food. But when the culinary highlight of the day is medium strength coffee, toast, and Weetabix, you know something is going down the wrong way. It’s a good thing I was on a business trip. I kept the receipts for the expense report and they remind me of such lovely meals.

Day one: Canela – a Portuguese/Brazilian cafe.

This was an easy place, they are across the street from the hotel, it was late, I was hungry, I bit the bullet. Their vegetarian options were pretty sparse, so I got the vegetarian lasagna with salad and a plantain dessert thing. The lasagna wasn’t bad before it took a ride in the microwave express for 5 minutes. Throw some salad on this nuclear lunch and you’ve got a slab of pasta/cheese with broccoli, smothered with wilted salad and dressing. YUMMMY! Fortunately, this was filling enough for me to save the plantain thing for later, oh how lucky…

Day two: Yahoo! cafeteria and Sartaj Limited

The Yahoo! cafe had a lovely serving of pasta with veggies and tomato sauce. It wasn’t awful, just typically British and mediocre. I think this sums up a lot of the food I eat in London. It’s edible and mediocre. You forget what you ate 30 minutes later. Unless you end up burping the flavor every 30 minutes; like today’s unfortunate falafel wrap. *burp*

Dinner was at Sartaj Limited. The menu promised unique Balti food, a rare cuisine in India. I figured, what the heck. It couldn’t be bad. Everyone says you can get good indian food in London. Which is true. You can also get some horrible Indian food in London. Like the Hari Krishna cafe on the last trip where everything tasted like it was cooked in dish detergent. At least it was all you can eat.

But I digress, let’s savor the flavor of Sartaj. I asked the waiter what was so special about the cuisine and why were they the only ones to provide such a service outside of India? The answer: we serve it in the cooking dish, a small wok.

Stop the presses! I think we have a true culinary revolution! They serve the food in the food in the iron skillets that they cook in. Now that is novel! Have I ever had anything like that before? Oh yeah, every truckstop dive in America has their skillet eggs and potatoes. But those dives are not Sartaj!

So, I told the guy I would like the quintessential vegetarian Balti dish. Did I mention I was the only customer for about 40 minutes? I also ordered some variation of naan, raita, and water.

He asked if I liked it hot. I chuckled and said “does the pope shit in the woods?“. Of course I like it hot, I grew up on the Mexican border. Make me sweat, make my nose run, make me beg my momma for mercy, give it to me hot and hard,… ooh, maybe I’m giving away too much information…

The waiter gave me a single glass of water, about three gulps worth and left to chat with the other person working in the cafe. Remember, there are no other customers in sight. After a while, I get the fabled iron skillet of Balti legend. It’s a mixture of onions, peppers, and onions with a spicy broth. The raita is yogurt with a chopped cucumbers on top and the naan had some kind of greasy, pressed creature inside it.

Hold me back, I knew I was in for some dining pleasure with this.
On the train to London
I will say the food was spicy and i appreciated the snot dripping out of my nose and flavoring the dish. I had to mix in some raita to soothe my rapidly eroding tongue as the water lasted about three bites. The creature inside the naan started to look like Bambi and the waiter was nowhere to be seen.

I’m a bit of a silent sufferer. I’d rather sit in the chair and stew in a pool of self pity than get up and pour myself another glass of water or steal a napkin from one of the many empty tables for my waterfall of a snotty nose.

After the dish was finished, I started to cough, sniffle, and read my book until the waiter decided it was time to acknowledge me again. That’s ok, he was busy with the other customers, no wait, I was the only one.

This meal was edible, as spicy as I requested, and not the same ol’ same ol’. I’ll give it that. Besides, it wasn’t the worst thing I’d eaten that day. I walked around the area for a while and decided it was time to hit the hotel and finish that lovely plantain thing from the night before.
Let me start by describe this thing visually. Imagine a soft cake/pie with layers of plantains (a starchier, less sweet cousin of bananas). It reminded me of a gingerbread/plantain tart. How could such an exotic dish go so bad? I took one bite of this lovely piece of goodness and nearly broke a tooth on the top plantain, while my lower jaw made its way north through something best described as brown semi-solid goo. It had no flavor and reminded me of legos in mud. Yummy, give this one to Durward!

Day 3: Questo the Italian Buffet and Diana’s Diner

I grew up with buffets. I was the youngest of six kids and a night out for our family included a trip to the smorgasbord, where kids ate free. My mom always had healthy advice for us: “Skip the salads and head straight for the meats and desserts. Load up on the expensive stuff!”
I love buffets, from the good, the mediocre, and the bad. You’re gonna get crap, you pay too much, but oh what a selection! I remember people fighting over hamburger patties, cut in half, with a slice of cheese on them at Hometown buffet. That’s the spirit a buffet should inspire. Give me more dammit and don’t you dare take my fifth serving of canned peas!

So, I couldn’t pass up an Italian buffet with promises of pasta and pizza. I instantly thought of my friend, moo, who would join me at Shakeys for the pizza buffet. He would actually visit the vomitorium to get rid of the first batch so that he could continue going through the buffet lines another hour. It’s all about getting your $4.99’s worth of grub.

I walked into Questo and saw the enormous buffet after sitting down. It stretched from one end of the wall to another. Unfortunately, that wall was only 4 feet long. I ordered the buffet (approx. $12) and a Pepsi (approx. $4) and asked where the pizza was. “Oh, the pizza is extra, that’s not included) 16 bucks for four feet of buffet and a Pepsi.

How bad could this food be? I honestly was driven to sample everything to find out what was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten. It seemed like a challenge to find something with a satisfying texture or taste. The eggplant parmesan consisted of micro-waved eggplant with tomato sauce brushed on and two crumbs of mozzarella baking in a steam table, the pasta was decimated broccoli/cauliflower with white sauce and penne, there was a semi-solid polenta thing in ketchup, and dry basmati rice with a single stem of saffron waved over the pot during cooking. I was in hog’s heaven.

Just as I declared the polenta thing as the truly worst thing I’d eaten in 2 1/2 years, I noticed a customer going to another buffet bar in the back. Could it be? Am I lucky enough to try yet another treasure trove of culinary delight?

I grabbed my plate and headed for the promised land. I was amazed to see a salad buffet bar. But, do I go against my mother’s advice? Should I skip the salad and grab some ice cream from the freezer next to it? Nah, that’s not included. It’s another 4 bucks for a scoop. So, i marveled at the salads and started grabbing spoonfulls of pre-processed macaroni, egg, bean, etc salads.

The polenta remained on top as the worst dish. Frankly, it will take a truly hideous dish to knock that sucker off its throne. I only wish I had brought my camera to document the awards ceremony.

To top off this luxurious lunch, the cash register guy tacked on a mandatory tip and crossed out the “NOT” in the “SERVICE NOT INCLUDED” statement at the bottom of the receipt. They must have known I was cheap and would have left without some coin on the table. Don’t worry, you were not forgotten. :)

After the lunch, I was feeling a bit less than healthy. *falafel burp just happened* I wanted to tread lightly for dinner and settled on a tiny diner that looked like it belonged in a hippie movie. It was no-frill comfort food. I should have gone for a classic breakfast, but was tempted by a vegetarian risotto. How could this be bad?

I will say that the restaurant was pleasant, the people were nice, it was very affordable, and I did enjoy my meal for what it was worth. I got a salad and the risotto. It’s just a shame to call it risotto. It should have been called veggie stew and rice. They used long grain rice instead of the stubby, starchy stuff of risotto legend. So, I’m giving them a pass. The place was pleasant the food was perfectly mediocre, not over-priced, and didn’t leave me burping risotto for the next two days.

Day 4 Yahoo! catering and Browns bar and restaurant

I was in a big meeting day 4 and 5 and Yahoo brought in trays of snacks and sandwiches to quench our hunger. I hadn’t slept well the night before. It was probably the polenta getting its revenge. For some reason I was also hungry all day long and kept grabbing cookies, snacks, and coffee in the morning. By noon, I was ready for something with protein and tried the egg salad triangles and tomato-cheese finger thingies. Once again, perfectly mediocre and hardly satisfying. But it’s all good once you’ve eaten enough brownies, diet coke, and cookies.
Yahoo! Din Din in London

Afterwards, the meeting participants went out for a real dinner. Some Browns restaurant. It was almost forgettable due to it’s perfectly edible food that actually had taste and texture. I actually licked the plate clean. No, really. I was that impressed. I picked up the plate and began licking it clean, first the front and then the back.

Day 5: More Yahoo! catering and attack of the killer falafel, scone and potential pizza.

The second day of the meeting also had an assortment of cookies, snacks, and tea sandwiches. I prepared for this spread by having a large breakfast at the hotel. I skipped the Weetabix and went for eggs, hash browns, and mushrooms. Yep, they eat mushrooms for breakfast in England, those silly chaps.

The catering was unremarkable and less than filling. So, I figured I would get something for the ride back to Paris. I should have gone to a decent sandwich shop by turning left at the office door. But no, I had to make a right and go towards Soho and the land of bad takeouts. I stopped at the first falafel place and ordered a sandwich to go. I spotted some pizza with corn as a topping and thought that would be good if I was absolutely desparate on the Chunnel and didn’t feel like eating my shoe.

I knew I was in trouble when he dropped a ball of falafel and it bounced off the floor and landed back in his hand. He promptly placed a few of these super bouncy balls in the microwave to heat up. Oh yes, this was going to be good. These were wrapped in a large pita with a shmear of hummus a tease of flavor and a hint of taste. I asked for the pizza to be left cold, no need to heat up this wonder.

Needless to say, the falafel was really awful. It wasn’t as bad as the polenta from earlier in the week, but truly bad. I’ve been burping this chickpea-garlic flavor for the past few hours. *falafel burp*
Scary pizza from London
I was starting to thing twice about the pizza sitting in my luggage. Could I really be hungry enough to eat it? I’d better not chance it, so I bought a scone at Le Pain Quitodien. This restaurant is actually pretty good. It’s a chain of bakery/cafe’s. Leave it to me to buy the worst thing in the cafe. The scone was bad. It was flavorless and dry. Perhaps I’m jaded. I’ve been spoiled by the sublime scones at Rebecca’s in San Diego. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out today’s scone was a bomb.

So, now I sit on the train heading to Paris. I’ve got a piece of scary pizza in my luggage, I’m burping falafel from lunch, and writing about a week of truly bad food. I can’t wait until my next trip to London.

Related articles

Now playing: Mogwai – Acid Food