The spring 2009 honor's class is traveling to Iceland as a class trip. Share in their adventure by following the student blogs.
What I Learned in Iceland
It's Monday morning and I've been sleeping and doing laundry and that's about it. My husband has been very, very nice about not making me do my usual chores but did have a strong request for clean underwear, and everything else could wait. He missed me! I am not in Iceland anymore. I got a bad cold from being wet in the Blue Lagoon. Someone had taken my towel and I stood there in the wind too long looking for it. Good for me that it was the last day and I get to be sick here at home where I have all my stuff in place for making being sick as trouble free as possible instead of being sick in a foreign country where I don't even know where the drug store is.
I am so glad I went to Iceland. I saw a rugged, raw beauty that I've never seen in my lifetime. Volcanic rock stretching as far as the eye can see. I loved the way the mountains just grew up out of nowhere and reached heights that were cloud covered. I'm amazed that the island has the geo-thermal capabilities that it does that allows the heating capabilities that it has. Cheap heat. What a concept! The Blue Lagoon is so beautiful that if I lived in Iceland, I'd go there once a month for a spa treatment but only if I could have a towel watcher. Freezing wind and I are not good companions.
I liked the Iceland ponies. No, I did not ride one. I didn't climb a volcano, either, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the beauty of one. The ponies were different from American horses in that they are shorter, their heads are smaller and they are stockier. They remind me of Mary Lou Retton. She was a gymnastic champion that was unbeatable, unstoppable, unmatched, and a true competitor. Her size was her best asset and she used it to her advantage. That's what these horses reminded me of. Although I am used to seeing larger horses, I wouldn't underestimate an Icelandic pony for a minute. They're built for the land they live in. I would not like to hear that they want to breed them to be bigger or different. They are what they are supposed to be. Unique unto themselves.
I loved the black sand on the beach. I kept feeling it to see if it felt like our sand and isn't that funny? How many ways can sand actually feel? When we were on the beach and our guide was searching the water for "puffinses," I was feeling the sand and looking at the terrain that made up the beach. It was rocky, and the ledge where the seabirds were nesting seemed to go up so far, I felt that if I were to continue staring up to find the top of the cliff I would fall over backwards. The design and texture of the cliff itself had such endless photographical possibilities!
The whole of Iceland has endless photographical possibilities. The architecture, the people, the food, even the weather can be shown in a photograph.
I was glad to have met the students at the university. They are so comitted to their projects, so eager to share with anybody who takes the time to talk to them. I was humbled by their eagerness to learn and impressed by the fact they had stayed up as long as they had to get their project to work. I have no doubt in my mind they were successful.
I'm where I am supposed to be now and yet I keep hearing echo's of Amber's laughter, seeing Nicole's and Rita's smiles, hearing Brett's comments about life that he is witnessing and I realize I miss these people. Cynthia is the perfect person to bounce one liners off of because they come back with an addition from her so fast it is as though we are reading a script. Dr. Peterson's laugh, when she is tickled with something she just heard is so genuine and true it makes you want to hear more laughter coming from her. Mike was a true joy to be around. He is a wonderful 'different' from the construction workers that I'm used to. I was comfortable in his presence. Caleb has such incredible talent with his Nikon and with the piano. I could listen to him play for hours and if he ever makes use of that talent in a commercial application, I would pay to listen to him play - he is that good. Becky made it possible for us to watch the Pens. Thank you for that!
I brought back some great Icelandic jewelry and two t-shirts and a small bottle of Icelandic vodka that I thought I'd use as a gift, but I'm re-thinking that. They are things that I can touch and wear and taste. My most prized momento of the trip? A lucky-stone type rock that is about two inches around that I picked up on the beach and had the people I hung out with all week sign. It is on my desk here in my office to the left of my monitor. The front has Iceland 2009 written on it by Cynthia. I can pick up that stone, hold it in my hand, turn it over and read the signatures on the back and think of the night we all signed the rocks. I had such a great experience with the people that were on this trip. Nicole is correct in saying there is diversity in our group and I too think that is what made us work. We didn't have a 'leader' because we didn't need one. We all respected each other and showed that respect. We were able to talk about such a wide range of topics that we never got bored in each other's company. I found the opposite to be true. None of us wanted the experience to end. The different prospectives we each brought added to the magic of the week and I never felt I had to tolerate the company of anybody. I felt genuinely happy to be experiencing the moments we shared.
The leaving from the campus when we got back from the airport was abrupt. I was hitching a ride, so there was no chance for a long, drawn out parting of the ways. I wanted hugs. Promises of emails. Telephone numbers. But in the end, I was glad I didn't stand there and make a fool out of myself by bawling like a baby because the trip had ended. I do regret the absence of hugs. My arms felt empty.
The truth is, Cynthia is going to be in touch about this month's activities on campus. Nicole has my number and we're all going to NYC this summer if the scheduling works out.
Here's what I really learned in Iceland. Aside from the geo-thermal energy and the volcanos and glaciers and the evidence of climate change. I learned that my choice to take part in that experience was one of the better choices I've made in my life. My desire to pick up my cameras and shoot is back after a five year absence. I've missed a lot of technological changes and I'm going to be rusty but I can't wait to start it up again. I learned since I've been home that I can't think of Iceland without thinking of the wonderful people I shared it with. I'm having a form of withdrawal from them. But the best thing I learned in Iceland is the friendships we formed there came back home with us. We are all just a phone call or an email away from each other. What a comforting thought!
My thanks to every individual that made this possible for us.
Dr. Peterson, thank you for you. You are a truly remarkable woman and a wonderful human being. It has been an honor to have gotten to know you. Thank you.
Our guy in the Hotel Bjork missed us!!
The choice to do the photographs of the group on the beginning of their ride was a good one. When they got back, Amber said she was NEVER getting on a horse EVER again! She stands there, dramatically and emphatically waving her hands to drive home that point in case anybody was in some doubt. Then she rubs her back side, complaining that her butt hurt. I couldn't help but laugh. Rita, on the other hand, was wanting a longer and faster ride and she said her backside was just fine. Then the reports of the horses that just wouldn't listen started to come in. The whole horse experience was something that I really believe in my heart that I will not regret passing up.
Trausti picked us up at 12 and brought us back to the Hotel Bjork and Oddurrrrrr the Grrrrreat front desk guy was in attendance, welcoming us with a terriffic smile while handing us our keys. I said, "You missed me, didn't you? Admit it! You missed me!" His answer was "Extremely!" That made me laugh! As well as the rest of the group standing there. Is that a sense of humor or what? Fact is, the whole hotel staff have been so wonderfully patient with our group. We've lost things, needed things, couldn't find things, couldn't pronounce things, needed directions to things, and the staff, especially Oddur, was so helpful. Thank you for your help, hotel staff!
Horseback riding today..most of us
This morning the group saddled up and took a riding tour. I declined to ride - my excuse is I feel sorry for the horse having to carry my weight and I'm sticking to that. Because it's true. But I did offer to take photographs for the group.
Before I go any further, you should know the wind is blowing really hard and it is gusty. Imagine Penn State's Fayette campus in a strong wind. Are you there in your imaginations yet? Now, think about how, if you turn your face into a really strong wind and it takes your breath away, how hard it is to catch your breath again. That is how hard this wind is blowing. I'm standing there with my 2 inch square digital camera in front of me trying to steady it and the wind is blowing ME off balance! I tried to steady myself against a horse lorry and that helped. I tried to steady the camera against the corral fence and found the rails are made with 2 inch PVC and the posts are 6 inch PVC plastic. Great idea, but the wind was blowing so hard it was shaking the fence. As the group went riding off with the wind, I came in to catch my breath. I've found that a small digital camera is great in some applications but there are drawbacks. It is impossible to free hold a small digital camera steady in strong wind and get a good shot. Period
I haven't had mine long enough to know it very well, but after I take a shot, it shows on the viewing screen for a few seconds before it comes back to the subject. Not a good thing for action shots or getting all the shots that can be had with a SLR. The capability may be in my point and shoot, but I don't know where. Great lesson for me. Familiarize myself with my equipment BEFORE I need it and can't find the function.
Also, I found out there are very good products for keeping out rain and wind on the market and I don't have them. Well, I do have a good weatherproof jacket, but the pants are another story. If you decide to go "tramping about" or go "walkabout," get yourself some good gear made by reputable outdoor suppliers. Going the cheapie route doesn't pay. In the elements, your experience is so much better when you have what works. Your memory will be what you experienced instead of how you experienced it.
Waterfalls and Oceans
This morning we started out at a waterfall that is in the middle of a huge controvery because it is a beautiful spot that nobody wants to ruin to build a hydro-electric plant. It was something like Coopers Falls, but bigger. The weather was so much nicer than yesterday! We stopped at a humongous waterfall that was so awesome that I wished I had my Nikon D2H with me. I was inspired to shoot the whole surrounding area and was really getting wonderful shots when the battery went dead and my photography screeched to a halt. Caleb has a Nikon that is similar to mine and I got to take a few shots of him by the falls, but I was so frustrated!!! Well, that'll teach me to be too lazy to bring the perfect tool for the job.
The really great part about this is that anybody who has known me for any length of time knows how monumental having that need to shoot awakened in my is. To those of you who know this, I'M BAAACK!!!!! The bad news is the camera is a gazillion miles away.
The next stop was a glacier. I'd never seen a glacier before and I don't know what I really expected. What we saw was so huge and seemingly alive. The ice is really as blue in the cracks in real life,but the top is like dirty snow after it's been at the side of the road for a few weeks in the winter. But don't let that description deter you from wanting to see one. It was so great standing next to it, looking up at it, and being so close to it that it was hard to verbalize any one emotion. We had packed a lunch and we ate outside the van, standing there munching on ham and cheese and looking at ice. I thought about my friends and how excited I would have been if I could have called them up and said, "Yes, I ate at a glacier today. Where did you have lunch? Mickey D's? Ah, too bad!" Not that those french fries wouldn't be good. But a GLACIER!!!
I ve figured out what this country reminds me of. The setting and the weather in the movie "Braveheart." The deeply saturated colors that were the background of the movie is the closest description I can come up with that would something you can identify with. There. I've given you something to think about.
It's time for breakfast and we're going to the south coast today.
Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls... They'll come to you.
This morning came so fast!!! Amber and I spent the entire night jabbering about the day we had spent together with Cynthia running up and down Laugervagur a million times like a couple of pinballs. Seeing this, tasting that, buying out an entire tourist trap and having to lug those purchases the whole time. Amber swears her arms are 2 inches longer from the weight of the packages. I thought we'd hit the sack and crash but there were too many events to go over and too much coming up to anticipate. I swear it was 2 am before I went to sleep.
We left the Hotel Bjork this morning at 9 and we got a tour of the geo-thermal power plant. Of course, the real workings were off limits, but the plant was immense. And the architecture! I took my shots of the amazing center steps that were hardwood with lights embedded into the wood. Beautiful. More glass and steel, but put together with style that could match Frank Lloyd Wright's. The rain was pouring and making puddles jump and dance.
The look of the countryside outside of Reyjkavik is stark. One of the first thing I saw that was unique was a small house that looks like the doll houses that're sold at that place on Route 51. It was painted white with a red roof and if I were to stand inside it and spread out my arms, I could have touched the walls. What made me smile was the the three foot round dish antenna on the roof. There, in the middle of the lava rock field is this picturesque tiny cottage with a huge antenna sticking out of the roof. Smile. But further down the road, there was a grass roofed dirt hut with a small door in the center. It looked like Iceland's version of a Western Pennsylvanian root cellar. If I'd have had my way, the bus would have been stopped to allow the photographers of the group to take their best shot. What a beautiful scene. It get's better. We went to Althingvellir National Park. There, in the middle of a cliff, in the middle of nowhere was water falling. Not quite the amount that goes through Ohiopyle, Smaller, but waayyy higher and just as beautiful in a different way. What I noticed was there was absolutely no litter. None. I looked on purpose. None! In the whole park, I saw a half of a snap. Like a shirt snap. That's it. I was so impressed. No papers, no plastic bags, no cigarette. Nothing. Not even on the side of the road and we were on that road for three hours, off and on. The only litter was plastic that might be used to wrap round bails of hay hanging in tatters from a fence now and then. While our tour guide was telling us about "wolcano's" and "glassyairs", it was so wonderful to listen to his accent. He was so knowledgable about his home and his pride in his home came through. Sitting there, looking out of the window at the volcano fields saturated with the rain and the color the rain was bringing out of the moss, he has every reason to be proud of this beautiful country. I sat there trying to roll my R's as he was doing and I'm a failure at his language and he has such a command of mine.
Becky got a mini movie of the next waterfalls, Gullfoss. Now those were bigger than Ohiopyle, higher, and more dramatic. There was a snow field that hadn't melted yet but had collected some windborn dust that made a design reminissent of our painted canyons in the United States.
All in all, we saw some awesome waterfalls and they're here for the viewing.
We have to switch positions - the lobby is closing. Later.
Running around in Reykjavik
We left the Hotel Bjork at 11 am and we just got back! Six hours of exploring a foreign culture was not enough. Especially with Cynthia and Amber! There is soooo much to see and figuring out! Things like bus schedules written in Icelandic creates quite a challenge. Which, when we tried to do it, led to fits of giggles from the three of us as well as the five or six people waiting for the bus in the shelter.
We went into the same store four times buying Heidi hats, gloves with no fingers - Hey! they're great when you're going through your change and trying to figure out Kroner and how many you have and if you have enough for the bus - and Rune t-shirts that have the ancient Icelandic alphabet on them, which is still mostly used today. (Did I mention it was sometimes thirty degrees, sometimes forty degrees - it changed all day.) If you google Icelandic Rune symbols, you will be able to see what I'm talking about. The last time we went into that same store, we asked Ali (we'd been in his store so many times, we knew his first name and that he had fished early this morning and was cooking that fresh fish for his supper) where he would go to get something to eat that would be genuine Icelandic food that we would be able to experience and was not a tourist trap. He didn't hesitate when he said the Sea Baron. He gave us directions that took us to the harbor and a sea green-painted corrigated tin building that had was exactly what he had promised. A hole in the wall joint that had a refrigerated case showing what we could order. There were fish kabobs made out of lobster, salmon, mink whale, cod, and probably eight other kind of fish that could be freshly grilled with what ever vegetables we wanted. And lobster soup. Lobster soup, mind you. Not chowder. So, lobster soup it was. And it was sooo good! I couldn't identify the flavor of the soup. Whatever spices that were used were foreign to me and my palate. HOWEVER! That soup was delicious! There were four good sized pieces of the sweetest, tenderest lobster I have ever eaten. It was by far the freshest tasting soup I've ever had in my life. If we get the chance to go there again, I'm there. My only challenge will be do I get what I know is delicious or try something new? Hmmm...
So, we walked back to the hotel and now we're sitting here swapping cultural stories with Johann the front desk guy. He was telling us how his company sent him a free book that he had to pay five dollars for the customs fee to get the book. We were trying to find out if we could trade stuff from the U.S. for some Icelandic things, but the customs would make it too expensive. We decided to drop the idea.
So, it's up to the room to pack our stuff in preparation for tomorrow.
Low battery. Bye!
Sleep!!! At last!!
I can't believe I went that long without sleep! Goes to show how long a person can go when there are interesting events to witness. I had thought I would sleep on the plane but the full moon was so huge at 39,000 feet that I was literally "Moonstruck." Dr Peterson was so kind to offer me her window seat since she was planning on sleeping the whole trip. She was successful. I spent the whole time looking out the window at the moon. It was so bright, I could only see one star and the sky was a deep, dark violet. Underneath us, at first, the clouds were like a lumpy blanket of cotton balls with patches through which glimpses of the ground could be seen. Then, the clouds seemed to even out and they looked like a movie set that uses dry ice to create fog. The resulting effect was just what it was. Out of this world. Beautiful. I couldn't take my eyes off it. Moonstruck. Thinking of what was ahead. Thinking of what I left behind. Appreciative of the great group of students and faculty that I was traveling with; the more I'm with them, the more I appreciate their individual personalities and their energy.
I was also thinking of how I wish I could have shared this trip with my husband. He is a pilot and I missed his reassurance when things were out of the norm. Like why, when the air at 39,000 feet is supposed to be so thin that the fuel efficiency is better, why does it seem like the airplane hits "potholes" that wiggle the water in the glassses?
Cynthia is badgering me to 'get it in gear' because we're late for the flea market. I'm in no need of fleas, but she wants to sell hers.
Greetings from Reykjavik!
I forgot to thank Susan Crampton Frenchik and Dr. Osagie for their hard work and contributions that enabled us to be on this adventure, so I'll do that now. Thank you.
This morning we arrived in Reykjavik as the sun was rising and the water from the air was deep, deep blue with pieces of ice floating in the ocean like crushed ice in blue cola. That ice was a surprise to me. For some reason I thought icebergs were Titanic-sinking huge, but from the air, these pieces of ice looked harmlessly puny; a gazillion of them - all puny. Perhaps an Icelandic fisherman would have a sharp rebuttal for that statement, but he isn't here.
We passed the Naval base that is now, we're told, student housing. The land is starkly barron, with what looks like moss or lichen growing on the rocks, but completely devoid of trees. For miles and miles. And miles and miles. Did I mention miles? It's the sort of place you either see the beauty and wonder of it for what it is, or you see a moonscape. Sort of like Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I like both places. The photography opportunities are phenomenal because of the changing cloud patterns causing varying degrees of light. There was one spot of seashore on our left that was absolutely breathtaking in it's beauty. The morning sun hadn't burned off all the moisture in the air and there was just enough mist to create movement when the sunlight hit the mist and sea spray. The volcanic black of the wet lava sparkled like black diamonds laying randomly in blue green water. The place seemed to exude a magic that was almost tangible, making me want to stop to absorb as much of that feeling as as I could. But, we were on the bus and had to move on. DANG!!!!
Rut-Roe! I have to shut off this laptop. Later, OK?
Standing in the parking lot early this morning was so awesome. The energy that was going through the group was electrifying in its excitement. ICELAND!! We're on our way to Iceland! We practiced saying a few Icelandic terms but just between you and me, I'm too excited to remember them. I'm still trying to grasp the fact there are 32 characters in their alphabet. Geeze! How does one pronounce a character? Dr. Peterson assured me I wouldn't have to sing the Icelandic alphabet and that made me wonder if there IS a song like the American ABC jingle! I'll find out and let you know.
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