Emily C. Skaftun

(skŏf • tŭn) n. A writer of speculative fiction.

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Israel in summer, part 2: To the sea of Gallilee

In the morning our tour started. Our group is really small—there’s the Texans, two women from NY, Mary the blond and Randi, the odd couple of Nori and Ken, and Sadira, master of scarf-wearing. Our tour guide/driver, Tomer, is much more mellow than whoever picked us up from the airport, thank the stars.

We started at Ceaserea, where the ruins are impressive in the way of all ruins. The amphitheater is still used for shows, which seems really cool. On the other end, restaurants nestle among the ruins. I would have enjoyed visiting them if we’d been there without the group. We also stopped at a section of aqueduct on the beach, which was very pretty with the blue Mediterranean behind.

Aqueduct and sea behind.

Aqueduct and sea behind.

Next we drove to Haifa, and paused to look the Bahai shrine up and down–literally. We looked up at it, and then we looked down at it. I would have liked to see inside the actual building, but it is nevertheless neat to have seen two of the shrines now. The gardens are incredible. I wonder what it takes to be allowed to walk the length of them. A shame that everyone isn’t doing so. What good is it to create a marvel and not let people fully enjoy it?

The Bahai shrine, from the top.

The Bahai shrine, from the top.

From there we sped on to a Druze village. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t noticeably different from any other little roadside town. We had a decent but not mind-blowing lunch and then were harangued by merchants wanting to show us their “hand-made” merchandise, which I am sure I could buy at Target.

Next we stopped at Megida (Armageddon), which was more ruins and hot hot heat. It takes a lot of imagination to appreciate ruins, and I was out of that brand of imagination for the day. One nice thing is that they let people crawl all over the ruins here; they’re not all precious about them like so many other places. But I guess that goes with them being not all that impressive, really. We did walk down to a tunnel dug under the city walls to reach the town’s water source. Pretty cool thing to have done in ye olden times, and a welcome break from the heat.

The original Underground Tour.

The original Underground Tour.

Our last tourist stop was at the Jordan River, supposedly the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It was pretty. A great many people in robes were being baptized there, and across the way horses were running about for no apparent reason. We were able to just step into the river, where tiny fishes nibbled and tickled our ankles. Have I been saved now?

These fish live on a diet of almost exclusively sin.

These fish live on a diet of almost exclusively sin.

Finally we reached the Kibbutz where we stay for two nights. I am still not totally clear on the kibbutz concept, and hope it gets explained tomorrow. Our accommodations are what you’d expect from any hotel. We had a nice dinner and nicer chat with our traveling companions, and then Husband and I tried to walk the “promenade” that loops around the kibbutz but probably were going the wrong way and so we turned around and came back that way. Lame.

Israel in summer, part 1: Tel Aviv, or nothing is open

I joke that we are trying to visit all the “I” countries—Iceland, Israel, etc. It’s not true, of course. We’re in no hurry to see Iraq or Iran, despite the lovely things I’ve heard about the city of Tehran.

Actually this trip was Mom’s idea. Is it a religious thing? That residual Catholicism can be hard to get over. Who knows. Mom said let’s go to Israel, so to Israel we went.

We were met at baggage by a caricature Israeli—he really reminded me of the tour guide from the Simpsons episode—fast-talking and impatient. We made it to the hotel to find it perfectly adequate despite the tour company’s attempts to upsell me—I’m glad we didn’t pay more to upgrade. Our hotel was two blocks from the beach, which is amazing. It’s really nicely integrated into the city with a boardwalk and cafes and anything else you could want.

We had dinner at a place on the beach. Great ambiance, okay food, lousy service. Don’t be in a hurry!

By the time we got in and sat for a minute it was Shabbat, and our options were somewhat limited. We walked just a tiny bit, marveling at all the stray cats in the city. They meow with no discernible accent.

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Dinner at the beach.

Saturday morning the Husband woke up feeling unwell and didn’t join us for the day. The museums Mom wanted to see were closed on account of Shabbat, and the buses weren’t running, so we walked all the way to Old Jaffa (Yafo)—about two miles—along the beach. It was really lovely. The old city is amazing and well restored. Unlike a lot of ancient sites, it’s been in constant use, which is nice to see. We attempted to visit the market on the way back, but (duh) it was closed. So we just walked back.

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A typical scene from Yafo.

It is beautiful here. Oddly more "mediterranean" than I'd expected.

It is beautiful here. Oddly more “mediterranean” than I’d expected.

We rested a long while then sought dinner around sunset—only to find that it was some kind of fast day, and NOW, even the things that had been open for Shabbat in relatively easygoing Tel Aviv were closing. Oh, you haven’t eaten since breakfast? Well too bad. We finally resorted to eating at the same restaurant from the night before. Ugh. Why weren’t we warned about the holiday? Seems like something the folks we bought the tour from might have told us.

Are you feeling independent today?

Photo: Pixabay Sparklers are okay, but I always crave big fireworks on Independence Day. Photo: Pixabay
Sparklers are okay, but I always crave big fireworks on Independence Day.

 

I have high expectations for the Fourth of July, which were instilled in me before I can even remember properly by perfect celebrations at my childhood best friend’s farmor’s.

Farmor lived next door to them in a beautiful house on a lily-pad-choked pond almost entirely encircled by houses in Seattle’s north end. Together with my friend’s three siblings, I spent many a summer day in that pond called a lake, swimming and diving off farmor’s dock and even fishing, but for some reason the Fourth was special. I suspect that reason was FIREWORKS.

Back then there was no ban on setting off fireworks (not that our ban has slowed the practice down much anyway), and most of the adults at farmor’s party would have spent ridiculous sums of money at area Indian reservations. We were always well supplied. Add to that the fact that at least half the other houses surrounding the pond had done the same thing, and it made for a pretty spectacular display. No one ever lost a finger at these parties, and we kids got to stay up late. What more could you want?

As an adult, I find it’s hard to re-capture the magic of the holiday. Without a reliable plan it tends to sneak up on me, and I end up doing something so non-memorable that I honestly can’t recall more than one Fourth of July in recent years. There are never enough fireworks! Bummer.

One year I spent the summer backpacking in Europe, and on the Fourth of July I was staying at a shady hostel in Rome—some guy’s apartment that he’d crammed bunk beds into, that was the only bed I could find that night. I asked the guy if he knew where folks would be celebrating the American holiday and he offered to take a bunch of us. So off we went, but for some reason no one but the guy remembered to bring the hostel key. When we weary travelers wished to return home before the hostel guy did, he became the hostile guy. Were we feeling independent? Not so much. Needless to say, the Roman Fourth of July wasn’t the party I was looking for.

Ten days later I found myself in La Rochelle, France, on Bastille Day. As a parade passed by with marching bands and red, white, and blue flags, I felt patriotic stirrings and reflected on how easy it is to tug on those particular heart strings.

What is Independence Day? Like all holidays, it probably ought to mean more to us than explosions and potato salad. But I’m not convinced it has to be a celebration of our violent separation from England either, or a day to pat ourselves on the back for living in this bizarre and arrogant upstart of a country (which, don’t get me wrong, I love—for all our problems America has many fine qualities too). For me, though, the holiday is a more personal one.

In the excellent movie Smoke Signals (based on The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie), a father asks his son on July Fourth, “Are you feeling independent today?” Since that year in Rome I’ve taken this as my Independence Day mantra. Can I take care of myself? Am I doing what I want to do? Have I, at the very least, remembered my house keys? It’s nice to check in on these things from time to time.

Whatever Independence Day means to you (alien invasion? I hear they’re making a sequel to the movie by that name), I wish you a happy one. With fireworks.

 

This article originally appeared in the July 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

What, more postcards!?

It’s well past time for another installment of stories on postcards! These are postcards I picked up in Norway that now are going out to backers of the Norwegian American Weekly’s Indiegogo campaign.

 

We start off with a touching family reunion…

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And continue on a (slightly overrated) time travel adventure…

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Survive a possible global catastrophe…

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Brave some extreme road conditions…

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And solve an architectural mystery…

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We hunt elusive prey…

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And finally, a word from a serpent…

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Following the king for a day: eight observations in no particular order

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Press passes make me feel so official!

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Press passes make me feel so official!

1. The king is super punctual. I don’t know if the trains run on time in Norway, but the king certainly does. I was given a fairly detailed press schedule ahead of time, with some non-standard times (7:29 p.m.?). I was thinking of it as more of an estimate, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t dead accurate.

2. Covering an event as official “press” is boring. I vaguely remembered this from my meager experience pretending to be a journalist (don’t tell anyone, but I am not really much of a reporter), but it reminded me even more of being on crew for a theatrical production—a lot of hurry up and wait. Some of this waiting could have been avoided if I’d known just how entirely punctual the king was, I suppose.

3. Hanging out with the press is even more boring when they all speak a language you’re still just learning. The bus ride to and from Tacoma with the Norwegian press? Nap-inducing. Of course, everyone on the bus could speak English, but also of course they chose not to. Don’t mind that woman in the last row. She’s just napping and definitely isn’t interested in your conversation.

On a personal note, this made me realize just what a long way I have to go with Norwegian. I’m getting close to being able to read and can almost understand simple Norwegian sentences spoken by Americans, but a busload of real Norwegians? Forget it. A word here and there. Pathetic.

4. Journalists are on the same team. You hear about cutthroat reporters trying to get a scoop, and I’m sure that’s the case for certain kinds of stories, but at least on this beat there was a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. However, I could see this being a problem, because…

5. Journalists who travel together all get the same perspective. I’ve read a bit about how this happens, especially on foreign beats, with war correspondents, etc., but sitting in that Norwegian press bus unable to understand the words I could easily see how this happens. When all members of the press are at the same press conferences, shooting photographs from the same angles, typing up their notes while chatting over sandwiches, how different are their final stories going to be? Not very, would be my guess.

6. If there are professional photographers covering the event, unless you too are one, don’t bother trying. Okay, I got a couple of usable shots with my borrowed camera that I barely knew how to use, but I got access to many more by asking the pro photog from PLU to share his shots with me. I got the shots for this week’s story through the Norwegian embassy from the royal press secretary. My time onsite would have been better spent taking notes.

7. Women will never advance in many fields as long as the shoe gap remains in place. The male reporters, photographers, and organizers all wore basic men’s shoes: decent looking and functional. The women all wore heels. There was a lot of walking, including times when we needed to almost run in order to get around a building to the next photo op. Guess who got there first? Kine Hartz, from the Norwegian Embassy, had a little pair of flats in her bag that she switched into a couple of times when things were slow, but the heels always came back out. And switching shoes also slows a person down. What if sensible flats were the accepted norm for woman too?

8. Norwegian VIPs are more “just folk” than American ones. All over the PLU events security boundaries had been set up, all of which the Royal Palace staff wanted to move closer. We were constantly waved closer in, in a way impossible to imagine for, say, President Obama.

The previous Sunday, at Seattle’s Syttende Mai celebration, I found myself at a table with Thorhild Widvey, Norway’s Minister of Culture, and this seemed perfectly natural. Our leaders and politicians don’t seem quite so approachable, and it’s a shame. One gets the sense that even though Norway is a rich and powerful country, it’s also kind of a small town. Or at least I get that sense, as I watch the king laugh and joke with students and reporters alike.

This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Kvikk Lunsj v. Kit Kat: A comparative analysis

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun I decided to see how Kvikk Lunsj and Kit Kat stacked up, literally and figuratively.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
I decided to see how Kvikk Lunsj and Kit Kat stacked up, literally and figuratively.

Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly

Around this time last year I learned of the Norwegian Easter phenomenon that is Kvikk Lunsj. It seemed that the country went wild, yearly, for this… what was it? I’d never heard of it.

The name threw me at first. It’s a lunch thing? Like maybe an energy bar?

Coworkers scoffed at me. I did more research, turning up photos. Oh, it’s a Kit Kat!

I was informed, by many sources, that I was wrong. Kvikk Lunsj was far superior to Kit Kat. Not even in the same league. That seemed likely, given what I already knew about the relative quality of American versus Norwegian chocolate. I set out to see how the two candies stacked up.

I think it’s pretty clear that in packaging, Kvikk Lunsj wins hands-down. Its cheery red, yellow, and green design is bold and much more appetizing than Kit Kat’s orange (and I love orange). The label is simpler and cleaner.

But Kvikk Lunsj’s advantage doesn’t end on the outside of the packaging. Inside it has “Søndags-turtips,” a description (på norsk) of a hike in Norway. (Which I can almost read; hooray for a year of Norwegian classes!). This is obviously far superior to Kit Kat’s… foil.

At first glance, they remain remarkably similar. The Kvikk Lunsj looks slightly larger, just slightly in every direction, than a regular-size Kit Kat bar. Both are divided into four wafery sticks, but Kvikk Lunsj wins the design competition with Freia’s bird stamp outclassing “Kit Kat” in the chocolate’s embossing. Okay, initial points go to Kvikk Lunsj.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun At a glance, the candies are remarkably similar, inside and out.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
At a glance, the candies are remarkably similar, inside and out.

The ingredient lists for both are similar, with predictable variations and, one assumes, higher-quality ingredients used in Norway. This last one is pure speculation, of course. No points awarded in this category.

Is Kvikk Lunsj healthier? Of course the serving sizes aren’t the same on their nutrition facts labels, making an apples to apples comparison tricky, but… no. Gram for gram, the Kvikk Lunsj has more protein, but also quite a lot more fat. Points to Kit Kat for health, shockingly.

Taste is, of course, the most important factor in a candy bar. For my money they were close enough to the same as to be almost indistinguishable. However, one thing both I and Molly (whom I roped into my research) noticed was that even though the Kit Kat appeared to have more chocolate covering it, the Kvikk Lunsj tasted a little more chocolatey. For Molly, this made the Norwegian version the clear winner. I’ll go ahead and give Kvikk Lunsj those points.

So all things being equal, it looks like Kvikk Lunsj is outclassing Kit Kat. But things, here in the U.S., are rarely equal. You may not have a handy local Scandinavian store, like I do, where you can pick up a Kvikk Lunsj. Or even if you do, you may find the price a bit of a shock. Mine cost $3.50, versus the Kit Kat’s buck or so price tag. I get it. Importing things from Norway isn’t a cheap proposition. And the Kvikk Lunsj is slightly larger. But it’s not so much larger that three Kit Kats isn’t a lot more.

So here is my Easter recommendation for you (and I realize this is sacrilege to some of you): Buy one Kvikk Lunsj. Unwrap it; eat it; enjoy it. Save the wrapper. Then, anytime you feel the need for a Kvikk Lunsj, wrap the saved packaging around a Kit Kat bar—it’ll fit. Tell yourself that what you’re about to eat is really a Kvikk Lunsj. Save $2.50.

Happy Easter!

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

What is work/life balance?

Can I tell you a story, hypothetical blog readers? This is the story of my year so far.

January was shaping up all right. My traveling companions and I had planned a trip to Iceland, and that was truly a wonderful week. I owe you many postcards, which you may or may not get to see. Iceland in January turns out to be a marvelous land of fire and ice, with daylight made entirely of sunrise/set glow and steaming hot baths to warm up in everywhere. We even saw a volcano!

Amazing, right?

One of the amazing things about the trip was that I managed to do it at all. You see, the previous year had been largely about learning how to work a full time dayjob, as the Editor-in-chief of the Norwegian American Weekly. This was my first time taking a whole week off, and it went beautifully! I essentially did four weeks of work in three, leaving just a little for my more-than-capable assistant to finish in my absence. The Monday after our trip was press day, and it was one of the easiest ones ever. It was like I finally had this newspaper editor thing under control.

That Monday I had a very welcome, mild jetlag that woke me early feeling terrific. It felt like New Year’s Day–without the hangover. I started writing again. I set goals. I got shit done. Life was going to be good.

That Wednesday, in what I thought was going to be a routine staff meeting, my work life collapsed. The publisher of the newspaper told me that the issue I was already working on would be our last.

A few days later he changed his mind and had us put out more issues, which was a relief in the sense that I was maybe not losing my job–oh, and that 125 years of publishing history wasn’t being flushed down the toilet–but it was also a lot of work. I wasn’t writing in the mornings anymore; I was weeping ugly stress tears.

Two months later, it now looks like we’ll be okay. I feel like I’m starting to crawl out of the hole that chaos dropped me into. Somehow I’ve managed to write one story. I was kind of a bad writer and sent it virtually un-edited to the anthology I wrote it for, because I just couldn’t manage to write it in time to get feedback. Other writers take note: never do this. I will be shocked if they accept the story (but at least it’s drafted, right? sometimes even a missed deadline is useful).

We are running an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the newspaper.
If you’d like to donate, please visit
www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-the-norwegian-american-weekly.

Tomato, tomat, tómatar

Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.

Photo: Henrik Omma / Wikimedia Commons
You say “tomato,” I say tómatar.

It’s been a while since I worked in education (teaching composition to mostly indifferent first-year college students), and even longer since I was a student in the full-time sense, so today when I think about education I think about language. You see, about a year ago, having begun work at something called the Norwegian American Weekly, I started learning Norwegian.

I never picked up much beyond “tusen takk” and “klem” from my Norwegian family, and when I’d tried as a kid to take Norwegian classes I quit as soon as my parents let me, because it was boring and irrelevant.

Or so I thought, right? I couldn’t have known then how relevant it would later become to me.

At various points I have flirted with languages—French, Bahasa Indonesia, American Sign Language—with very limited success. Weirdly, none of those felt very relevant to me either. Today I feel confident in exactly three hand signs: “thank you,” “awkward,” and “bullshit.” I don’t suppose this will be very helpful in conversation with a deaf person.

Even on the brief trips that I took to Indonesia and France, I got little use out of my very limited language skills.

Fast-forward to about four weeks ago. I was in Iceland, hooray! On one of our first lunches we went to Hamborgarafabrikkan, and as I was staring at that long word something clicked, and I exclaimed to my friends (probably much too excitedly), “It’s the hamburger factory!” On the matseðill, many words looked familiar. And not just words like tómatar, that any rube could puzzle out, but also things like rauðlaukur, which seemed similar enough to a norsk rødløk to mean red onion.

Of course the English version was printed on the other side of their menu (which deserves a whole story in itself), but I was amazed how much even my limited Norwegian allowed me to read (simple) things in Icelandic.

It’s these kinds of connections that make learning relevant, of course, but also fun. If only my English students could have found my lessons on proper apostrophe use as exciting! But perhaps they found it more challenging to find examples of this in their daily lives to relate to.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Fire & ice: winter tours in Iceland

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Bárðarbunga from the air

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Bárðarbunga from the air.

I recently took a week off to visit Iceland. Iceland in winter. We’d been to the country before, right around the summer solstice, and loved it. So part of the impetus for this trip was to see how we felt about the place when it wasn’t summer—when it was covered in ice, and when the sun barely made an appearance.

The eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano, with spreading lava field in nearby Holuhraun, began after we booked our trip, but immediately made the top of our list of things to see while there.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun The long view shows just a portion of the vast lava field laid down by the volcano. For scale, the mound that’s been built up is around 70 meters high. The lava field is bigger than Manhattan. I also found it interesting how utterly flat the landscape is that it’s rising out of.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The long view shows just a portion of the vast lava field laid down by the volcano. For scale, the mound that’s been built up is around 70 meters high. The lava field is bigger than Manhattan. I also found it interesting how utterly flat the landscape is that it’s rising out of.

Fortunately, this is easy to do, as long as you’re willing to pay for it. The lava field is roughly in the middle of the country, so there are small plane and helicopter tours available from both Reykjavik and Akureyri (in the north).

Costs vary quite a lot, with helicopter tours typically much more expensive than planes. Flights out of Reykjavik also tended to cost more, and since we were going to Akureyri anyway we booked ours from there. The company we went with was called Mýflug (www.myflug.is), and they were great. Before we flew, they checked and double-checked the weather to make sure we’d see something. It was touch and go for a while, but as you can see from the pictures, the day turned out gorgeous. We flew out to Holuhraun, then back and forth near the caldera several times before heading back to Akureyri, and only then did they run our credit cards. I respect that.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Iceland’s newest volcano sends clouds of smoke to blot out the sun, as seen from the tail window of a Cessna.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Iceland’s newest volcano sends clouds of smoke to blot out the sun, as seen from the tail window of a Cessna.

Other major companies are Saga Travel, Extreme Iceland, Iceland Travel, Nordic Visitors, and Iceland Unlimited, all of which cost more than ours. Though the cheapest, it was still over $300 per person. We justified the expense as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Of course, the other fire we wanted to see while wintering in Iceland was in the sky: the Northern Lights. Don’t miss your opportunity to go on a tour to hunt this phenomenon. You may think you’ll be able to simply look up and see them, but going with a guide gives you better odds. Most of these tours also come with a guarantee, whereby they’ll take you back out the next night if you don’t see anything.

Be forewarned: this will be the coldest part of your trip. Winter temperatures in Iceland are surprisingly mild, hovering around freezing most of the time. But at night, in some windswept place far from light, when you are just standing around looking up, it’s much colder. Wear thick socks.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun Iceland isn’t all fire; in winter it also has a lot of ice. This is Goðafoss, the waterfall of the Gods, into which all the old Norse Gods were ritually tossed upon Iceland’s conversion to Christianity.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Iceland isn’t all fire; in winter it also has a lot of ice. This is Goðafoss, the waterfall of the Gods, into which all the old Norse Gods were ritually tossed upon Iceland’s conversion to Christianity.

We did manage to see some Aurora on our first night out, though it wasn’t anything you’d put on a postcard. We had a better view, oddly enough, during our flight to Iceland. If you fly Iceland Air, be sure to reserve your seat selection as soon as you can to get a window seat. That too is another article.

Finally, you may wish to see some of the other wonders of Iceland: the Golden Circle, stunning waterfalls, geothermal sites, or even movie sets. Movie sets? A number of things have been filmed in Iceland, most recently and notably, the “beyond the Wall” segments in the popular HBO series Game of Thrones. We chose a tour purporting to take us to places featured on the show, and while the GOT-related content was disappointing, the tour itself was marvelous.

I recommend taking a tour whether in the north or the south, because having a guide along helps enhance the experience in a number of ways. One, they know what they’re looking at, and usually quite a lot of history and interesting tidbits about the location. Two, the tours are planned to take you places at times of day that make sense. We self-guided along the Golden Circle, and ran out of light (which is easy to do in the winter). This won’t happen on a tour. Three, the tour guides have support and backup. We did manage to get our tour van stuck at one point, but she was easily able to summon help (perhaps the Hidden People). Meanwhile, when we tried to drive to a farm we wanted to visit, we were turned back by an impassable road.

However you do it, end your tour in one of the many geothermal baths that make Iceland in the winter much, much cozier than we would have guessed!

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Iceland in winter, part 4: What goes up must come down

On day six we got back into the car for the “golden circle.” The first stop was Þingvellir, which is apparently the continental divide between North America and Europe. A big crack in the earth. Many trolls watching from the rocks. Very cold and slippery.

You can't tell me these aren't trolls.

You can’t tell me these aren’t trolls.

We stopped next at Gullfoss, where it was blizzarding. We ate and shopped in the store at the top–sharing bottomless soup and coffee–and then walked down partway. It was late enough that we were already losing the light and so we made it a quick trip. Big waterfall! Largely frozen!

Gullfoss. Most-photographed waterfall in the world?

Gullfoss. Most-photographed waterfall in the world?

The last stop was at Geysir, which ended up being hilarious. We walked around and saw the hot, bubbling water, and Mer made fun of Chris because when they’d been there before he’d been attacked by one of the geysers. This time we were all attacked by Strokkur. It blasted up into the air, and I judged that the water was going to come back down on top of us, so I ran out of the way. Well, not ran, because it was icy. I shuffled like a cautious velociraptor out of the way. The others didn’t. The hunkered down and got pretty soaked, and we laughed and laughed about it. None of them were sure they weren’t going to be horribly burned (the water erupts from the earth at a high temperature!), but still they just waited for it. Meanwhile, I was sure the water would cool fast in the frigid air; I was only afraid of being drenched–and I ran like a ninny.

We decided not to do Big Dinner that night; some of us went to a supermarket (sort of like an Icelandic Wal-Mart) and I bought a lot of cocolate to give out as gifts. Then we went downtown to the Hlöllabátar sandwich place that Bunny and Crow had loved so much on their last Iceland visit–we had been hearing about them all week–and took them back to the hotel room to eat. Good sandwiches, though maybe not as incredible as the hype.

Day seven was about wandering Reykjavík. We started by driving to Perlan, which really does have the best view in town. Would like to eat there sometime when it’s light late. Surely it will be next time we’re in Reykjavík.

We dropped the rental car off in a full-on blizzard, and got them to drop us in town, where it was only mildly snowy. We wandered the main street of Reykjavík, which I will always love. Tourist shops, coffee shops, book shops. Iceland loves books. I love that about it.

It was almost time to decide about Elfschool. Elfschool is the “famous” (in my circles it is, okay? don’t judge me) brainchild of Magnús Skarphéðinsson. I’ve known people who’ve gone to it, or have it on their bucket lists. It’s right at the intersection of being a fantasy writer and also being the editor of the Norwegian American Weekly and traveling with our little mascot, a “nisse” called Nils Anders Wik. I wanted very much to go. The others were on the fence about it, and I was on the fence about whether it would be fun to do it without them.

But first I made everyone tromp all the way back down to “Moby Dick on a Stick” (Sægreifinn / The Sea Baron), which as it happens is much bigger than I ever knew. We sat upstairs (there’s an upstairs!). Whale continues to be delicious (I’m sorry people, but it is), though I was less impressed with the lobster soup this time than last. Maybe it’s just the season.

Okay, but then it was really time to decide, and I decided I wanted to go to Elfschool. Everyone else bailed on me, so I went alone. I hailed a cab, and almost started crying because it felt so weirdly sad to break off from the herd.

Magnús is a character. I took a lot of notes, but it was really just tales and anecdotes that he’d collected. He is very sincere, and blames the decline in Hidden People relations on the Enlightenment. Our group had the second-ever Icelandic person to go to Elfschool, which was a really nice addition. They chatted amongst themselves, mostly in English. The pancakes were fantastic. Magnús had a tendency to pause in his ramblings for a long time and then sort of start over. We had to remind him of his place several times. His husband was also a character. They’d talk in Icelandic and Magnús would run off for long periods. I wish I knew what they were saying. I may have to learn Icelandic once I get a grip on Norwegian. But did I learn about Elves? Not really. I’m sorry, Magnús.

Magnús and Nils Anders.

Magnús and Nils Anders.

There were so many new friends at Elfschool that Nils Anders didn't even get to meet them all.

There were so many new friends at Elfschool that Nils Anders didn’t even get to meet them all.

Afterward I split a cab with the Irish couple and met the rest of my folks at Kex, which turned out to be a very interesting bar in a hostel. Very loud. But everyone was in a good mood and there was a Scottish band who played one terrible, cliché set of mopey songs–“love is the key that unlocks every door”–and then their second set, as we were leaving, was much better. It was the kind of place I would have loved to stay in my younger traveling days. Or live in. Whatever.

And then the trip was over. This morning we had our last smörgåsbord breakfast, packed our over-stuffed bags, and hit the hotel’s spa. It’s no Blue Lagoon or Mývatn, or even Akureyri pool, but it was a fine way to wrap up our stay in Iceland.

We drank a lot of booze on the way back to the airport, and then bought a lot more booze in the airport, and basically had a really nice time until we had to say goodbye to Chris and Mer and get on our flight. Ugh, flying. My TV doesn’t work so Jeremy and I split the sound to watch Man of Steel on his screen. My neck hurts from it. Also that movie makes no sense. Also also, Jeremy took the window seat. Oh yeah, and we’ve already eaten our meals and are still quite hungry. There are still four hours left of this flight. I have never looked forward to ordering a pizza and watching some TV more.

Oh, travel. It’s amazing to go and amazing to return.

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