Posted by: jeanne | November 20, 2016

six or seven weeks to go – venice

i’m not bothering to count how long it is until we leave.

i have a full-page double entry list of things to accomplish, some as vague as ‘organize attic’.  i’ll count those.

the suitcases are in the back room, slowly filling up with odds and ends.  we will be wearing our full normal winter clothes when we leave, so i’ll just wash and pack whatever’s in the drawers (i’m organizing all the off-season clothes into bins).

i don’t need to buy anything because we’ve been there before and still have the stuff.  my main work is to ready the house for our housesitters, and that’s another thorough clean.  i did a thorough clean 2 years ago, and again this spring, so now i get to clear out a bunch more stuff from every room, and toss things from the attic too (that collection of avon bottles from two generations ago – thanks angela).

things i’m doing include making sure i can connect to all the bills’ my account pages – gas, electric, water – so that i can go thru my bank to pay them – without getting rid of the paper bills, because i’d far rather have a paper bill than to deal with everything online.  but partially opting in that takes research, and it’s disheartening to contemplate doing it with nearly a dozen bills, so that’ll be one thing that takes forever.

in the main, tho, i’m keeping up with the tasks.  nothing i can scratch off the list (the vagueness hurts when i’m looking for incremental morale building), but a constant flurry of work.  yesterday it was organizing the sheet cabinet.  the day before it was organizing my fabric stash drawers.

i still have way too many things smack in the way of doing a whole lot of other things, and it’s starting to back up.  my worktable, for instance.  half of it has accumulated papers, computer parts and art supplies, and the other half is a working oil painting pallet and a portable light box.  and i can’t put that part away until i’ve finished painting.

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i have an oil painting on the easel, and an encaustic painting waiting to be finished, and a watercolor painting that needs framing.  but to frame the watercolor i have to cut a mat and assemble the frame.  and to do that i have to have a clean table.  and i can’t have that until i finish the oil painting.  and i can’t put all the stuff on the other half of the table away because of other reasons.  and so i’m stuck not doing anything but finishing an oil painting.  which takes time.  weeks.  and i only have 6 or 7 weeks.  so i’m itchy.

but it is proceeding, and i’m working on stuff every day.  i’ve even picked back up on my italian language course, partially because it penalizes you for not working on it every day, and partly because i’ve hit a hard part and a certain percentage of what constitutes me wants to quit.  but this is a recurring pattern, so i’m proceeding, if not doggedly then at least in fits and starts.  if i can teach doing it whether you want to or not to connor, then i can damn well practice it.  yeah.

we’re not asking friends to visit this year because it took a lot out of me especially last time, and because nobody’s available.  jim and i won’t be doing the same things there this time, and we’re not bringing the same kinds and amounts of art supplies.  jim has a project in mind involving a bunch of models at the ship museum, and i’m not sure what i want to do artistically except that i’m tired of persnicketty overdrawn watercolors and am testing several alternative media.  we won’t be in child heaven this time, but right off the main drag, so connor won’t be bringing a scooter and he won’t be running ahead of us, but will learn to dodge traffic like a grownup.  good thing he likes to hold hands.

and after that, i’m not even thinking about our week in iceland, tho it’s right up there in my heart.  it will be blissful and fantastic, not ordinary life at all.

and then we’ll come back home.  and it will be as if it never happened.

Posted by: jeanne | October 31, 2016

just over 2 months out

we’re going to venice again.  it’s only now becoming relevant to my everyday existence.  i’ve been setting things aside all along, of course.  the new pair of jeans.  the rain boots.  those lightweight raincoats.  but now i’ve got a list of things to do – more containers, plastic for apartment windows, 3 month stockpile of supplies.

and i’ve just chosen our housesitter – a nice couple from new hampshire; she’ll do phone work and he’ll take a couple of months off the road and chill; and she’s run her own airbnb.  ideally it’ll be like i’m still here running things, and i’ll only have to check in on things once in a while.  unlike last time.

last time we had a tag team of relatives take over the house while we were gone.  i would have written a comic novel about it except it would have been too traumatic to relive.  the in laws were as quarrelsome as badgers and as lazy as overstuffed bears – they fought with the other denizens, refused to take care of their obligations, and left weeks early, in a huff.  the grown kids in mom’s basement were doing drugs and forgot to do whatever it is they agreed to, and we lost a dog because of it.  and the troll under the bridge told us everything in great detail and it was never, ever his fault.  so since then i’ve been paying membership fees in trustedhousesitters.com and have gone thru the process twice.

the first time was pretty straightforward.  10 day trip.  we got some nutcases wanting to sit in our house, and then we got this nomadic internet-based couple from california who’d never been to this part of the country. and they were great.  but they were busy and couldn’t sit for us this time.

this time i had a series of false starts.  the first applicant was so amazing that i told her absolutely everything that could go wrong with the situation just to make sure she knew what she was getting into.  (what if they declare martial law after the inauguration and you start getting panicky calls from home – do you cut and run or hunker down and eat into our vast pantry.  what if the dogs die.  what if the troll in the basement wakes up dead.)  so of course she called me up and told me i’d successfully scared her off.  and that was really too bad.  i was at the very edge of confirming her as my housesitter.  there was also a retired vet’s assistant from england who sounded wonderful but quickly lost interest when i told her there would be others in the rest of the house.  oh well.  and then i spoke to this norwegian woman living in england, and was at the very point of confirming her when it turned out she wouldn’t be able to make it to my house until 6 hours after the latest time i could leave.  that was sad.

after that i was scared.  i wrote all the interested people and told them i’d had a sure thing back out, and were any of them still interested.  and from those replies started interviewing 4 of them (if you talk to too many people at once you don’t know who you’ve spoken to when you’re done).

but, interestingly, i’d had a sudden feeling while talking to the two that didn’t work.  i just knew that the one wasn’t going to want it, and the other wouldn’t be able to do it.  so while talking to the second round prospects, i paid attention to that.  i spent a bunch of time talking to one from arizona; we’d had a phone call and were planning to talk again friday.  but while we were talking about the condition some people let their pets get into, i had a sudden feeling that she was not going to like it here.

then i went back over the letters of interest i’d received, and there were several from people up in the frozen north looking for a warm place to overwinter.  and they sounded like they’d fit right in and really enjoy being here.  (compared to the in-laws who thought the place was possessed by demons and couldn’t make the heat go up high enough and had us install a higher level of cable service, every one of these applicants sounded just like us.)

but there was one letter where the woman said she was part of a couple, which would insulate them from various neighborhood and family pests.  and she said she owned an airbnb before they sold the house, and would be cool taking over and running it while we were gone.  which is great.  i was going to have to hire a manager and a cleaner anyway.  but all she has to do is everything i do, and at her own speed, and she can have the cleaning fee and a bit beside that.  it only takes 3 hours per guest.

the thing about this person was that when i saw the email i’d overlooked, and responded, and she called me up and we talked, i got this strong feeling that she was the one, and so i asked her then and there.

oh, and i’m also suddenly psychic about things like phonecalls.  it’s a feeling, and i trust it.  it’s not the same feeling as other feelings, there’s something special and compelling about it; it’s not something i can easily ignore.  so, cool.  while it lasts i’ll use it.

so now i’m compiling inventories of stuff i need to stock up on, and updating the apartment manual, and making a list of things to do between guests, and in general turning my attention to travel once again.

next year i will be out of the country for almost 6 months, travelling.  for the last 2 years i’ve stayed put and tended to daily life in one single place, enjoying the changing of the seasons, enjoying the unchanging 4-daily dog walks.  we haven’t yet gotten out our winter clothes, and we’ll be packing up whatever we’re wearing to go to europe at the very last minute (and packing all the other clothes away so the housesitters can use the space).  but we’ve got all the winter clothes we could desire already, and we’ve got down jackets and gloves and boots and sleeping bags already, and we’ve got suitcases and walking sticks and zoom lenses already, so it’s all just a matter of putting it all into bags that will bear lugging down city streets and into vaporettos.

i’ve been given two commissions (if you can call an xmas gift a commission), one a portrait of my grandkid for his great grandmother, and one a koi painting for a very old friend.  i’ve already finished the portrait (by far the hardest), and am working on the painting now.  i was going to do nanowrimo again this year, just to show off, but with paintings i won’t have the time so never mind exhausting myself for an internet badge.

then there’s getting the car ready to take us to dc where we’ll catch our plane.  and getting the yard ready for winter.  and rearranging the attic to fit all the stuff we’ve been storing in the back gallery.  and cutting down on the dust-gathering decorative crap that finds its way to our shelves despite multiple cleanups.

but i’ve done this type of travelling enough now that it’s all getting orderly and i’m able to finish things early and get them out of the way because i can, and there’s no honor in doing everything at the last minute.

Posted by: jeanne | August 14, 2016

laying a bunch of money down

there comes a time in every woman’s life when it’s necessary to plunk down a chunk o’cash months in advance of any actual action, just so you can say you have things arranged.

we’re staying here, on the middle floor – the one with the balconies, on a quiet campiello (except for trash pickup 6 days a week), around the corner from campo san polo, on a canal (reputed to be lively at 3 am, full of water taxis gearing up for work.)

Screenshot from 2016-08-14 14:10:00

of course, it’s not really arranged; anything could go wrong at this point and the money would all be gone.  not only the $1800 for airline tickets, but also the $1000 deposit i just put down with paypal.  lots could happen.  accidents, illness, cancellations and delays.

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but on the other hand, we have first dibs on a magnificent apartment in the middle of venice.  it’s as big as our own house.  we have the whole first floor (i believe), and as many rooms as we have here – hall, living room, dining room, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms.  but where we have a front porch, they have balconies.  and where we have lovely old grant park, they have the ecstatically imposing grand canal to gaze out upon.

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after accepting the agent’s just barely affordable offer (affordable is the important word here), there was some long wait, at the rate of one message exchanged per day, where we said we’d take it, and she said good and here’s how to proceed – wire me money on paypal, and we said where’s our invoice, and she said your receipt is your invoice, which would normally sound horribly suspicious, but there are no black marks on this agent that i can find.  plus if there’s a problem paypal will stand in the way.  i hope.  hahaha how insecure is that.  i do this kind of second guessing all the damned time.  the little voice says we’re already home and everything will be okay.

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there are still lots of things that have to be done, but the major expenses are mostly finished.  there’s trip insurance, which is mainly health insurance, and will run $700 or more.  i have to source that, still.

Screenshot from 2016-08-13 17:57:301

one of my favorite things.  in the process of picking a place to live, i tend to be very thorough, and find all the ways it’s possible to figure out the layout, short of asking for a floorplan (which i haven’t gotten around to yet).  by looking at all the pictures of the place, seeing where they windows meet the walls, what’s reflected in mirrors, what you can see out the window, i’ve been able to figure out the layout pretty well.  my only questions are where the second bathroom is (off the entrance or off the main bedroom?), and where the laundry room is, because one review mentioned it; also, where is storage in the rooms because we don’t see any dressers or closets.  we take up the whole floor.  and now with street view and 3d, i can turn the whole thing every which way and see it from four different shadow angles, and with a great deal of patience i can see almost all the windows.  i’ve been doing this for days now.

i’ve begun my duolingo italian lessons.  i never minded them once we got to italy the last time, so it’s been about 2 years since i touched it.  but i have retained a fabulous amount of vocabulary, which is great.  i’ll get much farther this time (because i’ve turned off the sound and now can study in the middle of the night), and perhaps i’ll not embarrass my hosts when i stay in their country for two months.

the first thing we need to do when we land at venice airport is to contact the agent’s agent.  we’ll need to do this as a skype call from the airport wifi, because i need to visit the vodafone store to see if i can top up my old sim card or will i have to buy another one.  evidently i can’t just use my cellphone to make a local call, and i don’t want to deal with why.  i can’t check out my sim card until the next morning.  likewise the venezia unica office won’t be open, so we won’t be able to renew our vaporetto pass until the next day either, when we will most likely journey to the mainland to goto the panorama megastore and get stuff we need.  also, we need to buy a chorus pass so we can get into all the churches to see the art (and the architecture), as well as a museum pass, so we can get into all the museums to see the art (and the buildings).  this means i’ll have to buy single tickets to go from the airport to san toma’.  but that’s okay.  it’ll be a wednesday night, and we’ll arrive there some time around 7 (the plane lands at 5ish), so we’ll just go find someplace to have dinner, and probably let our hosts direct us to some place they might eat themselves, (meaning not too expensive).

we’ve got most everything we need already.  i have to make sure we’ve got the proper size luggage – i seem to remember only having one bag that fit when i packed for iceland.  i want to check out all my winter clothes, but we always wear the same things, so basically when it comes time, we’ll dump a couple of pairs of jeans and t-shirts each, a sweater, and our down jackets and scarves.  the rest can be art supplies.  we’ll have buttloads of art supplies, even tho our focus isn’t going to be the same as last time – we won’t be looking to make a bunch of finished paintings, but can be dilatory and experimental about it all.  so i’m going to want to take my silk, the watercolors, maybe even some encaustic.  i’ll be bringing my pigments.  and jim will bring his pastels and a bunch of media so we can mix up any kind of paint we decide we need.  mwaaaaaahh

 

Posted by: jeanne | August 9, 2016

picking over available housing in venice

first of all, i’d like to explain that venice isn’t your ordinary housing market.  most of the people who grew up there can’t afford to live there.  this is a common problem; the people who i grew up with all had to move 50 miles out if they wanted to stay in the area.  but venice, a true gated community, has an extremely limited supply of housing.  people who want to live there now have to fight with airbnb renters in order to get an apartment.  it’s not a pretty sight.  and the rates!  it’s like living in new york, or madrid, or paris, or amsterdam.  i know because i checked them all.

what happened was this.  we had a sweet arrangement with someone in venice to stay in their rental apartment for $1000 a month.  yes, that’s less than rents in my neighborhood at the moment.  of course we were depending on this bargain, because as artists we make shit for income, and can’t run up the credit card like normal people with jobs, because 1)we don’t use credit and 2)we can’t pay it off.  so we’re as cheap as we can be.  but being artists, there are always ways around the published price for anything, and we always look for it.

i took the rates i was seeing on homeaway, airbnb, vrbo, vacation rentals, and flipkey as merely advisory – a suggestion rather than a rule.  this allowed me to look at apartments i couldn’t in a million years afford – places that would cost $10,000 for two months – piano nobiles in palazzi with vistas on canale grande.  a whole lot of eye candy.  but this is useful, because by seeing a good range, i can learn the range of character in what goes for livable there.

so for the past three weeks i’ve been searching for apartments in venice city center, for three people, for two months starting in mid january.  over a hundred sites, i’m sure.  and every time i saw one i liked, no matter the price, i emailed them and asked how many stairs, whether there was a bathtub, things like that.  basically starting up a conversation with potential managers and owners of 1+ bedroom apartments, with wifi.  there are thousands, of course.  some of them have a lot of character.  some are very bland.

as artists we have a few requirements.  the apartment must be 1)cheap, 2)interesting, 3)room to make art, 4)a bathtub for connor, 5)a decent kitchen, 6)a view.  so i had a whole list of apartments on the cheap side (hahahahhaa around $7000 (or less) for two months).  i separated them out between ground to second floor apartments, and those up on the rooftops, and then further separated them into apartments with bathtubs, and those with showers.  i looked at anything that cost  my fancy within that range, and opened a new workspace and put all of those pages into it in two windows.  it was rather a mess to load, but it’s the future and i expect to be able to run a couple of hundred tabs without conflict.  hear that, firefox?

one of the reasons for keeping all these tabs open was so that i could review them constantly.  i needed to become familiar with each listing so that i wouldn’t be confused by all the thousands of wide-angled shots of living rooms that aren’t nearly as big as they look.  i had to scrutinize all the photos to be able to tell if that couch was actually in the kitchen, if there was a window in every room, if the kitchen was adequate, if there was a table we could move to the window to make our art on.  i needed to get a sense of the layout, to see if we could actually spend two months living there with connor and not go crazy.

of course, our budget wouldn’t get us any but the smallest of studios, and with connor and the need for a workspace, that was impossible.  several of our inquiries called up concerns by the owner/manager that the space was too small for us to be comfortable.  45sm is quite tiny, altho with me and sf i wouldn’t know from sm, and don’t tell me the secret, because i get confused easily.  is 45sm the same as 3x45sf??? or 9 times?  never mind. at $10k/mo i didn’t have to worry about square footage – i was on the piano nobile or mezzanino of a palazzo, wtf.

but first i had to buy airline tickets.  nothing happens without firm dates.

so i haunted wow airlines with my private browsing windows (because they all track your interest in a particular flight and then raise the prices just for you), and checked every day, sometimes several times.  i kept running the dates.  because with wow airlines, you buy legs.  there’s a via, from usa to europe, and back.  and then there’s legs so that you can do a stopover.  and everything changes from leg to leg – baggage cost, seat cost.

i searched for the best prices.  $149 from bwi-cdg was a constant; i never found a lower price.  and i found $80 legs from cdg-kef and kef-bwi, but no lower.  and i noticed as i perused that the available dates were beginning to disappear.  i was still waiting for one of their renowned $99 sales, but by leg i was already paying less than that, and also their sales weren’t yet for the winter months.  so i decided to go ahead.

with baggage and choosing our seats (in the back, with me at the window and jim and connor disported somehow next to me (i know, it’s incredibly selfish.  but i’ve got the camera, and i don’t sleep, and i’m the only one in the plane who sits there and gets a crick in their neck looking out the window for the entire flight)), three tickets on wow airlines cost us a grand total of $1421.82, and the tickets from cdg-vce (which i thought would have been cheaper with easyjet or ryanair) i got from airfrance for $394.48.  that’s…. $1816.30.  for three round trip tickets from the washington dc area to venice, italy.

that’s $605.  round trip.  to venice.  how can anyone not go?

so, our dates settled, i turned my attention back to the apartments.  it turns out that my dates were the same even after all that juggling on the reservations page.  so i sent requests for a discount to all the top tier apartments.  and it was a begging letter at that, because these were places that wanted $4000 to $7000 for two months.  and my budget was $2000.  i laid out what happened, said that this was the budget we were constrained to, which is true, and asked if it would be at all possible to make such a deep discount.  i apologized for the insult, but said we wouldn’t ask for any extras and would keep the place spotless, even with a five year old.

i got back mostly the predictable replies, which was are you fricking crazy?  carnival is coming up, and everybody makes a killing then, and you want how much?  one lady screamed at me for wasting her time; i apologized profusely and slunk away.  but most of them just said not possible, and several explained why (taxes, heating (i offered to pay for heat and never mind weekly linen changes) and damn are you joking?).  i felt really bad asking, begging.  but it is our actual situation, and people do make deals like that, and not having to check guests in and out and clean and wash the linens is a really nice thing to do for two months and still collect a paycheck.

so a large handful responded back within our range, which has miraculously expanded to $3200 for two months, to still give us a reasonable choice, whether we cheap out or rely on miracles once again (heheheehe).  this is for places with bathtubs.

of the eight properties that come within our budget, the most expensive is $3200, and that’s half the properties.  the other end is $2300, and that’s basically the other half.  baths and showers are evenly distributed, as are lower floors and upper floors.  it ends up being which one we like the best.  and the difference is $900.

because i’ve been casing the field for three weeks, i now refer to the properties by the name of the manager or owner i’ve been corresponding with.  the top four properties (with bathtubs) belong to pietro, pier, carola, and rita.  i like rita’s property the best, but i like carole as a person as well, and undoubtedly the boys are nice, too.  and i work things as much by human feeling as i do by things like money and setting.  and you must realize, to get a deal like this in a city like venice, encompassing carnivale (super high season) for anything near $1000 a month takes a miracle.  but i’m used to miracles at this point.  not to get cocky, but i live on miracles.  and the trick with miracles is that you have to expect them, to encourage them, to walk off the cliff and truly believe you’ll keep going unless you look down.  because fear kills the miracle.

so here is a little about each one.  we haven’t settled on one yet, and this is us talking aloud to each other trying to make up our minds.

this is the view from pier’s place.  he says we can stay for $(price deleted to protect owners).  it’s up at the top of a building within sight of my favorite house in venice, ca’loredan-grifalconi, on calle testa, opposite the hospital.  our ex-print studio was right there.  it’s kind of on the shabby side, but it looks out over a nice garden.  it’s 50sm, has a good kitchen, the couch is for connor, and upstairs it’s a double bed for us.  but there’s no bath.  and it’s on the 4th floor.

carola used to live in this flat in campo santa margherita.  it’s 100sm.  it’s got two bathrooms (tub!) and two bedrooms.  it’s on the first floor.  it gets noisy on the weekends because of all the students.  i really like it.  she will come down to $(price deleted to protect owners) for us, bless her.

Cannaregio apartment rental - Plan

then there’s pietro’s place among the rooftops in cannaregio.  two bedrooms.  bathtub.  it’s up near fondamente nova, 80sm, with a altana (a balcony!)  but reading the reviews, there’s no oven? no fridge?  at $(price deleted to protect owners)?  ak.  suddenly i don’t care how many steps there are to the apartment.

so, moving on, we come to the last of the top four (three):

San Polo apartment rental

now, doesn’t that just look like home to you?  this is rita’s place.  it’s in a palazzo in a quiet corner of san polo.  it’s 150sm.  it’s got two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  it’s got balconies, windows on both sides, and looks out onto a canal that debouches into the grand canal (down the way a bit.  within sight).

San Polo apartment rental - terrace

so, okay it’s the most expensive of my choices, at a whopping $(price deleted to protect owners) for two months, but oooh.  i don’t care how many steps.  there aren’t that many because the windows are large, and you don’t get that at the tops of buildings.  the reviews say it’s a lot nicer than it looks, and it looks fricking great.

we have other choices, and they vary, but they’re all places we could stand to live for two months.  we’ll bring connor in on the decision making as soon as we’ve narrowed it down to two or three, but i’m going to get jim to read this as soon as i post it, and we’ll talk about it until tomorrow.  i’ll send notes off to the final candidates and other notes to the others, and then i’ll send a deposit.

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wee hah.

ps, after jim read this post, we eliminated the place with no fridge.  and went directly for the girls’ properties, which look eminently more comfortable, larger, and with fewer stairs.  there’s a big difference in price between the two, but i know which one i want.

Posted by: jeanne | July 24, 2016

the going to venice process – again

we’re going back to venice again this coming winter, and i’m right at the edge of making several major purchases – the airplane tickets and the downposit on the apartment we’ll be living in.  other expenses, but they come later, and in dribs and drabs.  unfortunately we have our house taxes and annual water bill due at the same time, but gulp and sleepless nights should make that pass.

at this moment, without the $99 sale i’m waiting for, i can get three round trip tickets from bwi to cdg for a total of $1457.  it’s wow airlines, of course, my new go-to pair of wings.  i’m going to drive to dc, park the car in someone’s driveway and get a ride to the airport.  and from paris, there’s an easyjet that might as well be free, so i hardly count it.  another hundred bucks maybe.

my idea is to be familiar enough with what’s available that i can jump when ticket prices go on sale, and wrap up everything in a single spasm.  so i’m in contact with most of the short list owners, asking things like exactly how many steps are we talking about, and i didn’t see a bathtub you do have one don’t you, and it’s lovely and grand but is it hard to heat in winter, and does your ground floor apartment floor during acqua alta.  some of them have already offered me discount, sometimes of 50% (airbnb),   but i’m fixing to contact them all and tell them i will get back to them once my schedule settles.  and then i’ll ask them for a discount, and whomever come within my range wins.

i’ve noticed that the price advertised is not usually the price i get when i put in definite dates.  they all say 99/night (at the low low range i picked), yet the final prices range from 4597 to 12799.  i know why this is, one of them is a display price and one is a situational price, and sometimes there’s a special (or even the other way, a grudge) price.  so it really pays to ask for a discount, because it might be that the guarantee of two months’ rent is better than a couple of weekends maybe rented, and maybe not in that same two months.

i’ve been doing my research.  this is the short list of places with lots of steps.  when given the choice, connor decided he definitely wanted to look out over the rooftops, even if that meant he had to climb a lot of stairs many times a day, and even if it meant he wouldn’t have a garden to play in.  jim and i looked at each other.  surely it should have been the other way?  so i’m listing the apartments on the secondo or higher floor, all the way to the attic.  and i’m only listing apartments with baths, per connor’s preference also.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/453896

this one is at some unknown location in santa croce, and is otherwise okay, but has this killer balcony for connor to throw stuff off of, and faces this church.  some little research should enable me to pinpoint it; which i did, and shot the owner a question about what floor the apartment is on, and how the terrace is accessed.

https://www.vacationrentals.com/listing/p392143vb

here’s one that’s all light, with a campiello.  first floor (piano nobile) with balconies in every room, two bedrooms, a large living room, it’s on a canal and has a view of the grand canal as well.  i love it.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p6498120

as for the next place, it does have two bedrooms and a bathtub, tho otherwise it’s pretty nondescript and kind of claustrophobic, with a view that went unrecorded, and on a salizada rather than a canal, on the way to a vaporetto stop.

https://www.vacationrentals.com/listing/p6436654

now this is better.  it’s up at the top of the house, in an area i know for a fact floods at the drop of a hat, so walking in would be a problem at times.  but isn’t it wonderful? and doesn’t it have nice views of cool ancient windows and rooflines?  and it has 2 bathrooms.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1038181

yes, this one is way the hell up, and there are three different apartments, so i’ve got a requet for more information in with the owner.  at this point i don’t much care where the place is, as long as it has a view and a bathtub, and i can reasonably hope they’ll lower their prices.

https://www.vacationrentals.com/listing/p6019214

this one’s right up at the top of an old place, with lots of space, and a bath. plus it’s got a terrace.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p6661499

this has very high ceilings, and enough antiques to make you think it’s a palazzo, but it’s modern, and it’s not the highest floor, but it almost is.  it’s on a canal, and it’s full of light.  there’s something wrong with the booking engine, tho, because it quotes $12,000+ for our stay.  i haven’t asked for clarification yet.

the rest of ones on the shortlist have showers, and are generally less appealing, so i’m not going to show them, tho i wouldn’t kick them to the curb without serious thought if they were to come to my price range.

now to show you the ones that are on the ground floor, or the first floor.  it’s not much of a distinction, because at least one of the ones listed above is actually on the middle floor of three, but it has the feel of an attic, so never mind.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1052952

it’s on campo santa margherita, so it’s going to be noisy, but it’s full of light, has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and loads of room.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1696846

ground floor in a recently restored 17th century building.  nice digs.  maybe a little fancy.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1088494

pretty damned nondescript ground/first floor place up in cannaregio. two bedrooms and a bath.  don’t know what the view looks like.

https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p6161567

another ground/first floor, with the bedrooms upstairs.  there are two apartments here, both supposedly identical.  sometimes it’s hard to tell what people are really saying when it’s all google translate.  only one of them has the patio.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3288528

this one’s lovely, and it’s got a great garden.  it’s on giudecca, however, and jim doesn’t want to be beholden to the vaporetto to get somewhere.  10 minute walk, wait for the boat, get dropped off at busy san marco.

https://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/accommodation/p8054219

this one’s great.  it’s 4 apartments in an old palazzo that’s been in the family for many generations, and mom still lives on the piano nobile.  this one is a one bedroom with an alcove for connor, and it’s mezzanine level with a view over the back gardens.  i like it a lot.

https://www.vacationrentals.com/listing/p1772029

this is two separate apartments, and you can’t really tell which is which from the photos.  so i’ve inquired, but haven’t yet figured it out.  google street view only goes so far.

https://www.vacationrentals.com/listing/p1438005

this is one i would dearly love to rent.  it’s the ground floor, and it’s been renovated, so perhaps it’s up higher and won’t be so prone to flooding.  because it’s right on two canals, and it’s full of light, and it’s got a garden.  it’s close to the train station but tucked back.

https://www.vacationrentals.com/listing/p1770655

the testa apartment is perhaps my favorite, and i’m going to use it as an example of pricing, because i don’t understand it myself.

1/7 – 2/16 is the low season, when they want $90/night.  3/1 – 3/31 is the middle season, at $120/night.  very high season is 12/27 – 1/6, and 2/17 – 2/28, and they charge $160.  we’re coming around the 11th of january, which is low season, and we’re there just over a month during low season, but then it goes to very high season for a week and a half, and down to middle season for our last 10 days.

the normal price that comes up when i put in my dates is $7172.  let’s see, 59 nights, that’s $122 a night.  is that the calculated price using three season pricing?  let me check.  35 nights (i’m not actually counting) at $90 is $3150, then 10 days at $160 is $1600, and 10 days at $120 is $1200.  that’s $5950.  hmmm.  4 days’ difference shouldn’t be a thousand dollars.  okay, let me try this.  weekly prices, 5 weeks at $630 is $3150.  oh, wow, the weekly prices are multiples, not discounts of the nightly prices.  it doesn’t tell me anything about the discrepancy between my figures and their quote, or how they actually calculate prices, but it does tell me that there’s loads of wiggle room.

in trying to figure out the pricing, i – and the owner – have to guess.  we can accept that the whole of carnival season – one and a half weeks !?!?!?! – will be booked.  and as for the rest of the time – six and a half weeks – there may not be anybody in their apartments at all.  so everybody has to ask themselves – is a deep discount for constant occupancy better than a mostly empty apartment with a post-carnival mess to clean?

when i have asked for a discount from others, at the beginning of the process, i’ve gotten offers that come right in or very close to my range – which is a thousand a month, which is ridiculous in venice, but we’re working on miracles.  i’m waiting to ask with most of them, because i don’t want to piss anybody off by dragging it out.  but i am wording that nice little note saying i’ll be back.

jim saw these places one bleary day, and like me he wasn’t comfortable with all-white interiors (cries out for marks), or overdecorated interiors, or kitchenettes, or showers, or sagging beds.  he looked at the prices too much, tho i kept telling him these were just suggested retail prices, and bore little resemblance to real prices.  just a guideline.

but i’m waiting for wow airlines.  right now it’s $500 a ticket, round trip, from washington to paris.  but i’m ambitious.  and i’m going to bet that there will be places open to rent even if we wait a month before booking.  however, i’ll be checking every day or two to see what’s still loading up as available.  all it takes is one booking for a weekend and a place will become unavailable, unless the owner is unscrupulous and cancels them to accommodate us.  and i won’t know about it, either, so it’ll be bad karma all around.

what i haven’t paid any mind to is our stopover in iceland.  yes, i’m taking them back on the way home, cutting our trip down from 3 months to 2 and mostly a half month by adding on a ten-day stopover in mid-march, when there are still northern lights and still plenty of snow.  so much so that i’m not sure about the idea of renting a camper.  but i will think about it in time, and get advice from friends, and plan it out just like i did last time.

and the whole time, our house and dogs will be cared for by housesitters and friends.

i’d love to know what you think of the apartments we might could be living in for a couple of months this winter.  what’s essential for you in a place to live?  for us it’s a working kitchen, the internet, good beds, a bathtub, a view, and a nice vibe.

Posted by: jeanne | June 18, 2016

recovering from iceland – part 5

we’ve actually been home for more than a week, and it’s all of 100F every day. boy does it rankle to be processing photos of us in our winter gear, staring at icebergs.

but to regain the narrative, we arrived back at mikie’s house on thursday late in the evening, with two trains and a minivan as conveyances.  everybody went straight to bed, i think; at least jim and i did.  if any of the other kids were up, then my kids stayed up, too.  i’ll just trust to that.

the next morning was friday.   we were originally ‘supposed’ to go downtown to see a museum, or to ditch the kids with shan and go downtown to the art museum ourselves… but none of that happened.  everybody stayed at mikie and shan’s house way the hell out past dulles airport, and did whatever it is they felt like.  mikie retreated to his basement office to get some work done, shan was ubiquitous with the kids, cleaning when their backs were turned, handing out food when they discovered they were hungry, intervening when connor and mikie started fighting over a toy.  i’m nowhere near the mom she is, and i stand in constant awe of how she handles them.  at one point i said something, and she turned and said, oh you don’t know how bad i can get.  but you need your kali side, i explained.  it’s good to be bad when people are being assholes.

i slept in.  jim got up and had coffee with the grownups.  the kids played.

somewhere around noon i got the idea that i wanted to go see mom, who is at the moment staying in (one of) buddy’s house(s), in alexandria, a far piece from outer northern virginia.  so i packed up the kids and the husband, and we drove the way mikie told us to mom’s (the straight and narrow – dulles parkway to the beltway to route 1), and so i got to relive years of teenage driving in and around washington dc.  relive not for scenery, because everything’s just the same as it was half a century ago, but reliving for the sheer bewilderedness of being on roads that aren’t familiar, under traffic conditions that were at times frightening, trying to find landmarks that i should have recognized but always missed.

but we got there, and mom had the radio up so loud she didn’t hear us pounding on the door until i’d given up and started around to the back of the house, where i would have given her a heart attack appearing at the kitchen window where she was standing half dressed, doing her handwashing in the sink.

it’s nice to be with mom again.  it’s been several years since i’ve seen her, tho we talk on the phone frequently.  the siblings have been saying how thin she’s getting, but when i called her feeble she squeezed my hand with the old overwhelming force of a determined matriarch.  there’s question in her mind, and probably derision among my siblings, but i think i’ve been the actual matriarch for some time.  i’m not flashing that around.  nobody trusts authority in our family – the voice of authority is traditionally dysfunctional in our family.

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anyway, we sat and talked with mom (the boys found the toys in the sunroom) and then took her out to a handy burger joint (i had the veggie wrap) and fed her, and then took her across to satan’s own walmart and got her a trackphone to replace her iphone that she had lost.  but actually left it at her own house, which she keeps going back into even tho it’s unsafe and that’s why she’s staying at buddy’s.

and then we left her at home and drove back to mikie’s using a map, which told us that fairfax county parkway would do all the same things as mikie’s way, except for the traffic, and the tolls, and the construction.  he didn’t tell me about it at first because it sounds complicated compared to the way we’ve known from our first drives.  but it was a green, limited access, military grade, smart stoplighted, well cambered parkway.  we even passed a bronze historical marker that said something about a missile site that used to be there, presumably thru the cold war.  i never knew, but when i pointed it out to mom she said dad used to come thru there and nonchalantly point out the secret missile silo everybody knew about.

sitting at mikie’s that evening, i forget whether we had a thunderstorm or not.  i guess it was friday evening.  they were all at a neighbor’s birthday party (interesting to have it after everybody gets off work and picks up the kids), and were still at it when we pulled up around 8 with our dinner in bags (the kids and jim wanted subway sandwiches, but i spotted a sushi place across the shopping center and left them there).   we sat out on the porch with the birds going to sleep and the planes taking off just a mile away.  we’d see this huge painted bird just over there, still huge against the trees, banking away from us as it rose, still tucking its wheels up.  larger than any of the local birds, even buzzards.  dad would be proud of mikie, living so close to an airport.  he loved airports.  he used to take us all down to the waterfront park right next to national airport and let us run under the shadows of landing planes while he sat in the car listening to the pilot say haveagoodday to the tower over his flight scanner.

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so okay the kids played; i can be sure of that.  the next day was saturday, and the only thing on the agenda was the kids playing.  so after the usual, we sat around while the kids played.  it might have seemed momentous to the children.

then the adults decided to take the kids to a play place inside somewhere, since it was supposed to rain but didn’t.  so i nipped off in the car to get mom.  with the usual surprising result, since she had the radio on loud enough to cover a hundred trackphones ringing.  bambambambambam. open up, it’s your daughter.

and when we got all organized and in the car, and i managed to pry some of the clutter she’d picked up from her hands and put it in some sort of order in the car (i think we turned it back in with a rusty can of spinach still floating around under the passenger seat) then i called mikie and told him i was on my way.  an hour later i called him and asked him where he was, and so we triangulated to our destination.  mom was all agog at the fairfax county parkway, because it leads from mikie’s house to buddy’s house, and she’d never had to go that way before.

we stopped right before we got there and got something to eat – i recommend wegman’s supermarket for its huge precooked food section.  i had to seriously stop mom from dithering, and had to keep my blinkers on as well.

then, thank god, when we got to the play place we couldn’t eat actual food outside (only the crap they sell), and so we had to retreat to the car to eat our lunch, and it was a lot quieter and cooler there.  then back into the breach, to unleash the kids and balls.  oh the noise.  there’s a little sitting area, more like a cage than the rest of the place, and the adults huddle in there like frightened chimps while the apes are tearing up all the exercise equipment in the big room.  there are fifty children under 10 in the big room, three of them screaming like they’re hurt, one of them sounding like it could be yours.  but the place is also crawling with sock-footed adults patrolling for suicide or murder attempts, and so the spectators sit there and try to talk, or stare at their screens, or morosely look out the window while drinking the swill.  the kids loved it.

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mom loved it.  she had me and mikie to yell across to, jim to snuggle up next to, the grandkids wandering in and out to be kissed and tousled, and coffee.

the next stop, once we’d piled everybody into separate mostly huge suvs, once we’d found everybody and they’d found their shoes and socks, and went to the bathroom, and found their things that’d fallen out of their pockets, and broke up the squabbles, and got them sorted into sibling groups and assigned back to proper parents and their vehicles…was kfc.  yum yum, i can’t eat anything they sell at kfc.  but mom is absolutely convinced that there’s no msg in kentucky fried, and so it’s great for her to eat.  anyway, it’s where the kids wanted to eat, so we went there, and i got the boys a mexican pizza because they thought it was going to be a pizza and not a taco pizza-shaped thing with beans.  whatever.  i was pretty tired at this point.  in the two days of being in dc, i put in 600 miles of driving.

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they played and played some more.  moms got photos.  we stuffed them back in the car, and did we go somewhere else to play?  wow, i don’t remember.  at any rate, mom and i kissed everybody and stuffed ourselves back into the car for the long airy drive back to alexandria.

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chantilly tavern, from 1825

oh yeah, i had to get her back early, because i was due to be on the road at midnight, and tho i got her back early enough, and got back in good time, i still had to spend an hour packing the car and making sure everything was in order before going to bed around 7.  and tho everybody was really cooperative and put themselves to bed an hour or two later, i still only rested, only meditated, only tossed and turned until oh 11:45.

and then mikie was still up, so we made a carafe of coffee, and i put all the freezer and fridge things together, and got the boys up, and put them in the car, and said goodbye and drove off.

the sky had been richly cloudy all afternoon, and by the time we left there was lightning in the air, so we actually saw the mountains as we passed thru the gap at front royal.  not blue, black, with foggy whisps.  it rained, off and on, all the way home.  it was foggy, off and on, all thru the southwestern virginia mountains.  once it got daylight, it continued to rain.  we didn’t do any running around while grandma slept stops at rest areas.  we only stopped once, once the kids woke up, at a gas station, where the cook had left some steak, egg and cheese sandwiches for us to buy hours later.  it was during the worst part of the rain, when i couldn’t see anything, and we pulled off and got food, and then the rain quit.

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until we got to our friend dallas’ house, when it just dripped and splashed.  but the kids were upstairs with an actual tv, and i was back on emma’s bed relaxing for an entire cycle – maybe 20 minutes.  and then a bunch of water and chips and things, and we were back on the road after an hour.  thanks a bunch, it was a lifesaver.

and as we came down out of the foothills of the appalachians, the sun came out, and we were home by 3,

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and i was sitting on the porch with a guinness by 4, chatting with our lovely housesitters, lark and matthew from another country.  they’d had fun, and after we got home they rented a car and went down to the coast to see what the waves were like, right at the passing of hurricane colin, so we told them to watch for riptides, which i guess they did, because they came back and left to go home, and have been home for a week now.

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our houseguest put a wet towel in the freezer to beat the heat; thus the fanciful hat

so it’s about time to end this.  we went from 45 degrees in iceland to 100 in atlanta in just a few days, and are now in a lovely cool spell, so the fans are off.  we still refuse to use the air conditioning, but that’s just us.

Posted by: jeanne | June 13, 2016

staggering thru iceland – part 4

everything is much farther away in iceland.  everything is far more vast and spread out.  everything takes way longer to get to.  especially when an increasingly purple looking sky is racing the camper van for shelter.

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it’s a far piece from the glacial lagoons to vik.  we tried to hurry it up, but every time we entered a lava field we were reminded that we wanted to take pictures, and either rolled down the window and went for it, or pulled over and took proper photos.  and every time we rounded a curve in the island and came across another huge mass of cliffs of volcanic mountain, we did the same.  and the sands.  and the pillow lava.  and the pointy lava.  and look, horses.

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like this field in the middle of nowhere filled with built cairns, where everybody felt compelled to add a stone, and the boys set about tearing them down to build their own until i stopped them.  jim wandered around taking pictures.

mostly the boys sat in the back and played, and never noticed the scenery.  i don’t know why it still bothers me.  but every scenic place we visited, all they wanted was to play among themselves.  i wonder if this will be the same every time we take them somewhere.  it’s not like we mightn’t have bothered; i’m sure it will sink in at some point, but you’d think they’d even notice.

never mind.  jim and i noticed.  and pulled over.  and got out.  and wandered around looking for good photos.

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and then the landscape changed once again, featuring caves and overhangs i just knew needed exploring, and then we were in vik.

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i pulled in to the gas station, of course.  when we passed thru vik before, on the way out, i dragged jim into the wool store and we bought him a hat, because he’d left his wool beret at home.  we also let the boys get fridge magnets (a reindeer and a wolf), and we got a troll couple magnet to express our love.  but this time, we parked and peed and then walked down to the sweeping black sand beach and those great sea stacks that are so obviously a troll pulling a masted sailing ship.

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that black volcanic sand is deep, and slick, and hard to walk on.  we kept having to go toward the shoreline to get any kind of grip on the sand, and that’s dangerous because of rogue waves.  nefarious reynisfjara beach is just past the troll ship, on the other side of the massive volcanic mountain on top of which the air force used to have a sonar/radar submarine listening post.  the volcanic mountain was formed in a hurry, and parts of it show the columnar lava, only it’s curved, like it burbled in huge candy lumps across the landscape and then froze.

there were thousands of birds wheeling around the cliffs, and they barely show up on camera.  there were also some hang gliders launching from the top of the mountain and gliding down over the town and into the field across from the gas station – there were guys with gopros standing at the edge of the road waiting for the landings.

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we walked right to the end of the beach, where large rocks catch the incoming waves and the cliffs stop any progress out to the ship or around the edge of the mountain.  you have to go ten miles around the damned mountain to get to the other side of the ship.  and that’s the beach that kills people, so just no.

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on our way back to the camper it became obvious that it was going to be very difficult on everybody, so i left everybody in the lower parking lot, to play in the black sand and sit at picnic tables (if you’re grandpa), and hiked back to the gas station, thru town.  i like this town.  i spent a day here when i left the artist residency two years ago.  it’s too bad we couldn’t stay, because i’d told avery i found a bunch of icelandite up on a farm road, and he really wanted some.  we picked up lots of pebbles that were clearly icelandite (a couple of degrees too cool to be clear obsidian, but it’s black and spalls like glass).

but oh well.  the storm was closing in.  we climbed into the outflow gorge cut by myrdalsjokull when it scraped out vik’s topography, and then cut across more volcanic mountains until we wound back down to coastal sandy plain again, and from that point it was all flat and no glacier until we got to thorlakshofn.

and i got tired, somewhere east of hella.  and pulled over at a gas station for a short rest.  but i could hear the wind picking up, and feel the rain spattering harder against the side of the camper.  so after only ten minutes, i turned on the truck and got back on the road.  and it was windy.  and the rain was gusting across the road.  the storm was catching us from the southeast, and it just got more and more.  but by this time we were off route 1 and getting nearer our destination.  we went out on a stretch of roadway built on what looked like a sandbar, or barrier island, and enclosed a huge estuary lake that people used for fishing and swimming – we passed a lot of cuts in the dune that led down to the beach.  visibility was worse, tho, and the wind was rougher, and we pulled into thorlakshofn and found our way by gps mapwork.  the campground was deserted except for one vehicle.  it was behind a 6′ earth berm that surrounded the camp field, and this was right next to a huge sports center.  so i left the kids in the car and went to check, and then went back and grabbed the kids and the suits, and damn well drove the camper back around to the front of the sports center, and we all got out and went swimming.  except grandpa, who read his book.

this swimming pool was newly built, and designed with kids in mind.  there was a large indoor baby pool, with slides, and big buckets of water that filled and dumped over, and big balls, and warm water the babies loved.  connor tried to drown me as i wallowed in the baby pool.  i made him stop and lectured him.  like crying for help when you don’t need it.  don’t drown grandma.

after the boys got used to the warmth, we headed outside, into the wind and driving rain, which was cold.  but we plopped right down into the main part of the pool, and the boys started their repeat trips along the poolside, down to the ladder and all the way up to the top of two slides – a curly blue one, and a straight red one – that ended not in the regular pool, but in a tank above ground, where they climbed out and ran for the ladder again.  i watched, because connor doesn’t actually swim yet.  and avery is not the strongest of swimmers, but he can touch bottom.  everything was good until connor decided to come down the straight slide face first.  which pictures tell you not to do pretty clearly, and we’d walked him thru the pictures already.  so the nice lady came out and asked how old he was, and then said the slides are for kids older than 5, and he made a pouty face but got over it.  and soon he was talking to this 9 year old who had near-perfect english, and they got into a diving contest together.

they spent an hour in the pool, and then i got into the hotpots for a few moments, and beat them out to where grandpa was reading his book.

and so we went back to the campground, and ate something unmemorable, and went to bed in the driving rain and the shaking camper.

and when we woke up at whatever time i had my phone alarm set for, it was densely foggy outside.   so never mind whatever tourist plans i had woken us up for that morning, the only thing for it was to get back to hafnarfjordur and drop off the camper as quickly as possible.

which means we didn’t see the heath as we passed over it, or anything about the not-route-1 road we took to get there.  we did, however, pass a couple of patches of snow, which means we were right up there in the mountains, and the road sloped alarmingly off to the side.  so when i could, i pulled over, dragged fighting boys out of the van, and led them thru foot-thick moss to the snow mass, broke off a couple of chunks with my boot heel, and dragged them back to the camper, where i let them throw the chunks at each other.  quite the anticlimax, but they’d been bothering me about playing in the snow from the moment i first mentioned iceland.

we arrived at kuku campers (thanks folks) just only a few minutes late, after cruising up and down alfheidi, the street where our airbnb home for the night was.  we’d arranged to drop off our stuff early, and the kind folks let us go ahead and check in at 9 am.  which was great.  we unloaded our junk into a spotlessly clean apartment with a swingset right out the back window, and prepared for our day, which was basically meeting my friends for the few moments we had available.

so we took our bathing suits and walked over to hellisgerdi, and my friend ragnhildur who sees huldufolk, and has been teaching me a lot of things about their world and their interactions with us.  we sat with her and her husband over the traditional table spread with food and drink, and we caught up.  i knew jim would like them; they’re unusual people, and very creative.

the kids played with the toys in the living room.  all icelanders have young kids somewhere in their lives, so there are toys in every house, thanks be to thor.

then when we’d talked enough to make up for two years of not seeing each other, we gave a final pat to the dogs and trooped off into hellisgerdi park, where we let the kids run around on the lava.

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and then we walked all the way across town, past the harbor and down the road, until we got to the pool, recently designed with kids in mind.

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and again, grandpa stayed in the observation area and read his book, and the kids and i went in for a swim.  i’m afraid i’m mixing my pools up a bit.

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we only went to three of them, but i’m not sure which is thorlakshofn and which is hafnarfjordur now.  leave it to say that they boys ran when they weren’t supposed to, jumped off the slides the way they’re not supposed to, and didn’t drown or get injured or yelled at more than once.  they found friends to play with, didn’t try to kill each other, didn’t complain, and didn’t cling.  good boys.

we found a walking bridge that you can use to go over a sort of closed off entrance, and avery practiced holding his nose and swimming under the bridge, back and forth.  this showed actual swimming techniques, which i only noted at the time, but will be working with in our local pool this summer.  and after an hour, and me in the hotpot only long enough to take a deep breath, we joined grandba at a table.  actually, i joined him; we could hear the boys in the dressing room playing with all the other kids for ages, until i sent grandpa in there to fetch them out.

and then an interminable walk back to the apartment.  the boys complained, but we walked up and over the suburban streets rather than going down the main drag the way we did on the way there.  lovely old houses.  they use corrugated iron as siding on the old houses; i think it’s a nordic tradition, rather than being introduced by u.s. airmen back in the war.  i see where it was imported as ballast in ships coming from england, and used in place of the wood which wasn’t there except as timbers washed ashore.

what did we do then?  we probably napped.  the owners of the apartment showed the boys how to use the tv, and all that goes with it, so they were set, except for fighting over what to watch.  and aside from repacking, there was nothing for us to do except read our book… so i think i napped, waiting for kristruna and siggi to come by.  we were going to meet with my friend mary, an artist at listhus when i was there, who was coming back to be an artist at nes at skagastrond, but the boys were being buttheads and i figured taking them swimming was something that would serve a bunch of purposes at once.  they would never have behaved in a cafe having a nice talk with mary.  so oh well.  2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

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runa and siggi came soon after my head hit the pillow; connor let them in.  they’re as laid-back a couple as you’ll ever meet, and tho i don’t know them any better than any of my icelandic friends, i feel like i’ve known them forever, like all my icelandic friends.  they’re strong, independent, have their own opinions, and would take the shirts off their backs to help you.  which is what they did last time.  i’d met them on the bus going to akureyri.  they were driving the bus.  and i loved them both at first sight.  so when i came back into reykjavik at the end of my residency with an injured shoulder, they took me around in the middle of the night, rousted a doctor out of bed to treat me, and then took me home and let me see their menagerie, or maybe coterie.  just like i was related to them.  so of course i am now.

they came and took us out to dinner, a kebab place downtown in reykjavik that caters to locals, meaning it was still reasonably priced.  and it served kids food as well as grilled lamb cutlets, which jim and i got, only ate half of, and put between bread for the plane ride home the next day.

and then siggi drove us all around downtown while the boys, especially avery, stewed.  he didn’t want to see the old government buildings.  he didn’t want to see the monstrous new housing blocks and offices.  he resented being driven out to the lighthouse and being able to run around for a minute.  he didn’t want to go see the view from perlan (and neither did we at that point).  so siggi drove us home, past unrecognizable haunts from his childhood, pointing out what used to be where houses and apartment blocks now took up the landscape.

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avery went immediately down to the swings, and so we watched him work off his anger while we stood around the apartment and chatted.  turns out runa lived in the next building up the street, and siggi had lived in a side street of alfheidi, which was built in the 60s.  it’s such a small world.  by the time avery was right again and siggi and runa went home, they’d promised to be back in the morning to take us to the airport.  yay!

so we went to sleep, and i set the alarm for 6, finished packing, couldn’t find the scale the lady of the house suggested might be in one of the kids’ closets, made my best guess and closed up all the bags.  then it only remained to get plane food organized.  i’d told the kids i was going to get up at 6 and take them swimming one last time, at the old pool in hafnarfjordur, just on the other side of hellisgerdi.  it opened at 6:30.  but they were sleeping, and jim was sleeping, so i just did the necessary and left them alone.  when i walked up to the store and got sandwich bread, things to drink, some more candy, my phone went off because siggi and runa had come back an hour and a half early so they could take us sightseeing on the reykjanes peninsula.  but they still had to wait for me to use up all the food making sandwiches, and give them the rest of the perishables to take home with them, and leave the apartment clean and orderly.

and we went for a last tour of the area, led by our supreme tourguide, siggi, who is a professional tourbus operator and has been all over the country, and knows things about everything.  once you can get him to open his mouth.  he mainly watches, like jim.  and runa and i have lots to talk about – knitting, messed-up family dynamics, so mainly he listens.  or not.  like jim.

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first we found ourselves passing a sign for krysuvik, and i squealed, because this was one of the major reasons for staying the night in thorlakshofn, and we’d missed it because of the fog and my general weariness.  but there we were, and the road turned right into graded gravel the same color as the mountains around us.  the mountains looked like an open mining area – it was all fine black gravel, like mountains of tar macadam, and the road was only a scraped flat place for siggi’s suv to drive over.  i had doubts i’d have chanced it with the camper.  even tho it was only a short stretch of road, over unstable surface that wouldn’t take a road for more than a few months before buckling  or covering it (i guess), and resumed as paved surface when we got out of the i guess newish lava field.  it was all black, and that means no plants, so it must be new.

he drove us to seltun, which is mud pots and boiling springs snug into the crack between hills (mountains) and running as a stream into a huge green lake below.  there’s a boardwalk, so you know it’s dangerous.  the boys did their thing, but in this case they took runa as their toy of contention, and took dozens of photos with her tablet.  perhaps she can delete them now.

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and then we cruised the tourists sights of the peninsula one by one.  this time i was a passenger, and just sat and looked at the landscape as it changed, not knowing where we were.  we’d drive for a long time, and then a sight would appear, and we’d pull over and stop.  and then we’d have to drive again for another long time until we stopped at another picturesque spot.  and finally we started seeing the airport tower in the distance, and maybe large planes parked on the apron.  and we were there.

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we said goodbye; they promised to pick us up at the airport next time; we checked our luggage – i’d packed so carefully, but the big suitcase was 1.6 kg over, and all the backpacks were over 5kg.  however, unlike the agents in atlanta, these in iceland just shrugged, never looked at the weights, and cleared everybody.  huh.

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so outside we went again.  the boys ran around a pond with a metal egg-and-plane sculpture in the middle, i got coffee for us both, and we finished off the kleinur.  greasy but good.  and then i remembered that grandpa needed a wheelchair, so i went in and told the cute but confused looking wow agents that grandpa wheelchair sorry inconvenience, and a lovely young security guy came to wheel us thru security and into the food court.  he might show up at our door someday; he said he’d rather visit atlanta than new york.  you never know.

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we decided to go for a walk, loaded grandpa’s chair up with our bags, and left him within range of all the cute girls eating at one of the cafes.  i spotted an abandoned salad with all the non-vegetables eaten, and plopped it in front of grandpa to eat later – fresh raw veggies are a must in iceland, it doesn’t matter if they come out of a dumpster, they’re still gold in your body.  a run thru the souvenir store just got us looked at, as avery and connor went straight to the fur stuff and started trying things on.

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but we’d already gotten souvenirs, and i detest souvenir stores in general, and the boys were attracting attention, so we rejoined grandpa, who was indeed chatting up pretty girls from his wheelchair.

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we ate our greens, and avery wheeled grandpa all the way to the gate, where they were already getting ready to board.  so we were whisked to the front of the line for our boarding passes and passports, and then set next to the elevator, loaded onto the plane three minutes ahead of anybody else, and were securely stowed in the back of the plane, on the right, and caused nobody any harm at all.  the boys were one to a row, with avery next to grandpa and me in charge of connor.  as usual, the boys only looked out the window when we summoned them, and played with their toys.  grandpa and i got to look out the window as we passed greenland – the western edge of the island was clear of snow and ice for a very long way inland.  i didn’t see any settlements, but i’ll bet that area is green in a few weeks.  how green does greenland get these days, anyway?

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and we’ll leave it here until i can finish the narrative, sitting on the train platform outside of bwi airport, tired and hungry.  we still have three days in northern virginia with my family of origin, and a very long 16 hour drive back home in the rain.  but i’ll get to that later.

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Posted by: jeanne | June 11, 2016

tripping in iceland – part 3

where are we?  oh yes, sleeping away jetlag in a double decker camper at the edge of a dew-soaked field with a tremendous view of langjokull glacier way the hell off in the highlands.

so we got up, made coffee, fed everybody whatever they would eat, tramped off to the bathrooms to pee and wash up the dishes at an outdoor sink, talked to the nice young italian couple who were in the office, spending a few months working in iceland.  sounds like a thing.

then we packed up as much as necessary, hung the bench seats back on the wall and inserted the table, and drove down to the newly widened gravel road leading to the new gravel parking lot in front of the oldest working pool in iceland.

grandpa had to shepherd connor and avery thru the unique icelandic bathing ritual, which avery took so much better than he’d been threatening, being 8 years old and typically prudish.  connor, doubling down on avery’s attitude, did the 4 year old thing and insisted nobody could see him naked.  i avoided all that by shoving them toward grandpa and going thru my own version of the ritual.

i used to be self conscious naked, being all troll-like and deformed in my cronage.  but everybody in the dressing room is naked, and they all stand around and talk and joke and don’t give a damn, and aren’t looking at me, the foreigner in the corner keeping her self to herself.  the hard part is putting on my vintage 60si tailored cloth bathing suit with the zipper up the back (matching shoestring thru the hole in the zipper tab).  and then it was out of the dressing and shower rooms and into a short corridor, thru a door to the outside, which was around 45 degrees.  but i was already wet, so the cold air was strangely not cold but rather super-wet, and in ten steps i was crouching down some stairs into hot water, and walking out onto a 4′ bottom of gravel.  like being in a spa, with accupressure stones.  no jacuzzi, tho.  just a still pool, 20×60 feet, maybe 30×40, built into a slight hillside with big slabs of rocks (i think).  the sides were covered in lovely slimy plantlife, but not too much, and not unpleasant.  they might have been cement stones, or they could have been local rock, but i didn’t bother examining it.  i was waiting for the boys. first i stalked around the pool looking for the shallow end, but it was the hillside, and that’s where the hot water was coming from, so it was strangely hot at the surface of the water, and the regular very warm temperature below.  it stung my neck.  the steam increased.

people seemed to be solving the depth problem with pool noodles.  there were a bunch of bright colors draped over the bannister near the pool house – the only bright colors in the landscape, all else was black and shades of green, with white highlights.  there were about a dozen people in the pool, mostly adults.  one had a mini bottle of wine that she sat and drank while bobbing up to her neck in the warm, steamy water.  the wine bottle bobbed, too.

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finally the kids came out, thru the cafe rather than the dressing room doors, bless grandpa.  they took no time getting in the water, and avery was very helpful wrapping pool noodles around connor.  they were very good about dunking their heads under water and playing around in the pool.  avery could stand up and held his nose whenever he went under.  connor couldn’t stand but didn’t care, and never sputtered going down and coming back up.  they’re ready to swim, i’d say.  i even did a turn around the pool without worrying that they’d drown while my back was turned.  after an hour, there being just the pool with no slides and no jacuzzis or saunas, we got out, got dressed, and pried grandpa away from his book.  then we got in the truck, festooned the wet bathing suits all over the bench seats and loft bed, strapped everybody in with their favorite beverage (coffee, chocolate milk), and took off the for south coast.

an hour later, after cruising down this lovely farm-filled valley to within sight of the ocean, we joined the famous number one ring road in iceland, turned left, and barreled down the highway in the general direction of skaftafell, which was our goal for the night.  if we’d had an extra night, which i had thought until i checked the calendar a third time, we would have stayed in vik and taken an obsidian walk with avery, who turned out to have been building a collection of volcanic rocks practically since we landed at the airport.

an hour later, thru sunshine and gradual cloudiness to the east, passing lava, lava mountains, steep gravel scree mountainsides, endless ocean way out to the right, we pulled off at seljalands waterfall, the one you can go around the back of.

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the boys were scrabbling, so it was time.  we all stopped to pee in the bathrooms which were quaintly marked boy and girl, but had a unisex line that used the next available outhouse without a qualm.

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i had everybody put on their raincoats.  the boys had little totes things that went on and buttoned up.  grandpa and i had saranwrap ponchos that kept getting into our faces and tangling our vision.  we went into the rain zone.  the trail became mud as we approached a metal staircase with a slick wooden handrail. we ascended, the boys first, clambering up, me behind grandpa in case he slipped.  i’d forgotten the walking sticks in the car, grrr.

we got to the top of the stairs, and the fun started.  the path was mud, and turned to a jumble of rocks from some partial cave collapse in the not-too ancient path.   the path ran around a carved out section behind the waterfall, the carved out area forming an amphitheater, a church apse, a round opensided cave with a thunder of water hurling down a hundred some feet to the pool below.  the water was constantly crumbling the rock it hurtled over, and that rock fell, often on the path, sometimes on unwary tourists.  one can speculate, anyway.

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so jim scrambled over the slimy, slippery black rocks until the path turned back to mud, and slanted toward the edge of the undercut and into the waterfall’s basin.  can you picture my state of anxiety at this point?  but i did stop to take a bunch of pictures of the back of the waterfall, and the kids.  i don’t think jim got any photos there.

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we looked at the continuation of the path around the other side of the back of the waterfall, and could see that there were more rocks, going up higher to the start of a yet higher mess of steps than we’d already climbed.  so we decided to go back the other way, and i gestured to the boys, who were being remarkably sensible and standing at the rear of the cave where the walls were full of little plants – moss, lichen, ferns.

there was a man standing nearby, dressed in a gray raincoat, with short salt and pepper hair.  i was helping jim cross the mud in front of him.  when i looked back at the path, that same person was now a short woman with chin-length gray hair, a very thin face, and pointy eyes, but not oriental.  she smiled at us as we passed.  i am pretty sure she was a huldufolk woman, and i’m happy to have met her.

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we got down off the back of the waterfall fine, and jim wandered off to take pictures like nothing had happened, while i collected the boys’ drenched raincoats and down jackets and let them roll down the grassy gravel scree mountainside next to the waterfall.

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more wet things to festoon around the camper, for instance stuck like a hat over the headrests of the driver and passenger seats.

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then we drove another hour or two, past the beautiful valley that houses vik, to kirkubaerklaustur, which has gas and hot dogs.  it undoubtedly has more, but i’ve only sampled the former.  oh yeah we got a pound of candy there.  and the boys played in the field while i rested my eyes.  and then we pushed on.

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onto the sand.  onto sight of the glaciers.  onto a thousand miles of visibility as clouds built in the east and the south.  the thing about iceland, there’s no scale.  you see everything in detail from far away, and as you get closer you simply see it in more detail, a different angle.  until it’s right there in front of you and the car is turning away from it.

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black sand stretching out forever.  patches of lupins just beginning to bloom purple, stretching out forever.  lava mountains with eroded scree sides now sporting green grass and sheep by the dozens.  endless road with no traffic, unless some poor bastard wants to pass, or comes hurtling by in the other direction.

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lava flows from ancient times, covered with moss padding the lava lumps and hills and eerie forms on the horizon, with enormous single mountainlets sitting on a flat plane like they were dropped there from a height.  miles of lava flows.  nobody lives there.

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and then the sand.  outflow streams from the glaciers miles and miles away, streams made of gravel, constantly changing their course, shifting streams so that the bridges have to be made extra wide to account for random switching of rushing water.  the sand goes on forever, with enormous mountains and glaciers in the background, turning slowly as you circle the south half of the island.

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the glaciers go on forever.  these massive black towers rise up in front of them, forcing them to flow around while ripping chunks and scraping gravel off the towers until they’re just stacks sitting in the middle of nowhere.  the glacier is white at the top, but it’s hard to say how far up it goes, because there were clouds hanging out at that height, and we couldn’t tell where ice stopped and water vapor began.  maybe it’s making its own fog as it melts.  the clouds were getting thicker, and the sun was only peeping thru at the top of the glacier, so it really glowed, much more than photos can show.  i always want to go there, wherever it’s most beautiful, even tho i know it wouldn’t be what i could experience standing there appreciating it from afar.

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the clouds go on forever.  we couldn’t see any farther north than the tops of the glaciers, but that’s so far north it might as well be going south again.  we could see all the way to the east, and the south right out into the depths of the north atlantic out where the sky turned purple and disappeared into the ocean.  and we could see back to the west the way we’d come, which had the only blue sky, over the land as well as out to sea.  but we were heading east.

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the road went on forever.  the boys played with the legos and fought over who got the transformers, i looked more closely at features i’d only seen from the windows of a big tour bus last time, and pulled over a lot to get out and take pictures as we entered, crossed, and then passed one valley after another, one formation of trolls after another, one waterfall, one cute farm, one river running to the sea after another.  and sand.  a whole country taken up with sand.  then a whole country taken up by a lava flow.  then a whole country of steeply eroded volcanic mountainside abutting an absolutely flat coastal plane that stretched off to the south out of sight.

 

and aside from being twice as far as you think it’s going to be, it also takes twice as long to get there.  the last few miles had the intermittent wipers on, and then i overshot the turnoff to the visitors’ center, and then i overshot the turnoff to the campground, and then we barely got to the bathroom and back before it started raining steadily, and we were so exhausted that we went straight to bed.  i forgot if we ate at all.

it rained softly much of the night.  it sounds really wonderful in a camper.  jim and i slept with our clothes on under two opened-out sleeping bags, covered by our wool blanket.  we’d brought pillows for everybody, and jim fleshed his out with his folded up lopapeysa (given to me by the proprietor of the hostel in djupivogur, thanks again), and i scrunched mine up (i took the smallest down pillow, and cut the second-smallest into two pillows for the boys.  they fit into stuff bags nicely).

i had a dream in the middle of the night.  i was hanging out with this impish looking guy, kind of short and tanned, with bright blond hair.  he was unconventional, we were having fun.  we were going back to my house, and i needed to take a shortcut thru a friend’s house.  it was night, so we tiptoed thru the house and out the side door into the back yard.  there we were met by a small dark woman who asked serious questions about what i was doing.  i explained myself to her adequately, but the impish guy lost interest, and went to leave with two bicycle wheels under his arms, so i said goodbye and turned my attention back to the woman.

that’s when the buzzer sounded at the front of the camper.  it was the lights.  it was the buzzer that comes on when your engine isn’t on but your lights are, so you don’t drain your battery.  i’d discovered it when i’d turned the camper off that evening.  i jumped over the kitchen table thing behind the front seat and reached to twist off the light switch.  but i know i did that when i turned the camper off, so clearly this was communication from one of the people in my dream.  the buzzer didn’t wake anybody else up.  i went back to sleep.

then at 4:30 in the morning, jim woke up to go pee.  so i got everybody up, seeing as it was broad daylight, and got them into their boots and their jackets, and hustled everybody out for the mile walk to the glacier.  and they all went, tho jim still hasn’t let me forget that he went out without any coffee.

so we walked down a newly widened gravel trail past the visitors’ center and cafe (and bathrooms), and we walked along the mountainside that is now covered with fully grown trees planted who knows how many decades ago.  we walked along an old glacial bed that was now gravel and boulders and rocks and lava rocks and chunky rocks, and birch trees by the millions, and all sorts of other plants, and moss, and lichen.  it went on forever, growing madly in the 24 hour sun, colonizing the rocks and turning them into dirt matted with ancient roots that still put out branches and still reach madly for the sun and the rain.

and we walked.  we topped one gravel ridge after another, and the landscape changed.  no more trees covering the mountainside; the cliffs were craggy and crumbly; we could see troll faces in the rocks.  the ground was barren gravel, sandy and fresher, blacker.  there was a wind.  it had been around 50 back at the campsight, clear enough after a night of rain, the ground very wet but the birds active and happily doing stuff in the bushes and grass.  but it was closer to 45 out on the recent glacial morraine, and the wind picked up as we walked closer, as the glacier’s snout got larger and took up more of our vision.

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the snout went half a mile along its outflow lagoon, curving away from us.  we couldn’t tell how tall the edge of the glacial tongue was, there was no scale to measure it with.  it could have easily been a hundred feet in the air, almost straight up from the lake’s surface, weathered a bit, the edges a little worn.  and striped with black where gravel had rubbed off the edges of the mountains as the glacier flowed toward sea level.  the black heated up and melted the ice quicker, or it settled in the quicker-melting ice, and it formed seams thru the ice, great jagged lines that showed how the ice was breaking up.

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in front of the glacier was its lagoon, with tiny icebergs the size of a camper or a house, or a dead tourist, floating in the glassy water.  the water is whipped by the wind, tho, and splashes with a thousand tiny waves on the steep gravel and sand shore we stood on.  we got some good photos.  the boys had fits.  avery was resentful that morning, and so pitched a fit the farther we frog marched him toward the glacier.  and as soon as it got good and cold he retreated over the ridge and kept going.  and where was he going to go?  we let him.  connor was fine, so we let him play with rocks.  we got great photos.

this massive tongue of ice.  the massive breach in the mountains that it had carved.  the huge expanse of blindingly white ice behind all those massive mountains, falling slowly to earth, soiled and crumbling into chunks of dirty ice, the massive valley we were in that a much bigger version of the glacier had carved hundreds and thousands of years ago.  the fresh ice wind sledding at high speed down from the ice cap to bathe us with newly melted glacial air five thousand years old.  o mystical wonder.  o overwhelming scale.  o sulking boys.  o blistering cold and us without our ski gloves.

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so we went on.  it was before 7 in the morning; we’d been the only ones at the glacier, and the campground was just waking up when we made something to eat and left.  we were heading for our furthest point, the jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, which is very large, crammed full of interesting icebergs and chunks and flecks and sculptures of ice, has several really good vantage points, and offers zodiac boat tours to get up close to some of the bergs.

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but i could see that it was raining over that way, way around the mountains we were near, past another glacier with a half dozen glacial tongues in the distance, and into the outflow of yet another glacier that fed the famous glacier.

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so we opted for the super-secret glacial lagoon, and pulled off several glacial tonges before jokulsarlon, which continued to be rainy.  it’s called fjallarlon, and it’s down a newly widened gravel road, with a couple of concrete trucks pouring cement into rebar and wooden forms, for a visitors’ center and cafe, we can presume.  we were the second non-construction vehicle in the gravel parking lot, and so we got out and marched up a newly-flattened gravel path, past a temporary waiting tent for boat tours that looked like it must be well-anchored to withstand those icelandic winds.

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we came to a trail off the road that had a rope guide and went down toward the lagoon.  the hill crested, and markers showed the trail that went around this glacier and the next and ended up in jokulsarlon, for those hardy hikers, which we weren’t.  we had our walking sticks, and the boys had their gloves.  but there was no wind here because it wasn’t as big a glacier and the topology wasn’t as funneled.  we went halfway down the hill and stopped for a round of pictures.

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the mountain’s black features were mirrored in the lagoon, interrupted by floating ice sculptures.  the clouds curled down from the mountains and off the glacier.  there was an interesting icefall halfway up, and more glacial tongues down the way a bit, and more and more.  so i followed the boys down to the lake, and fished a chunk of ice in to the black rock and sand beach for them to play with, and moved off to take pictures of the unreal scenes and inspiring compositions.  and the scale.

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we played there for about an hour, jim taking pictures and sitting and looking, and me doing the same.  the boys never once looked up from their playing.  connor lost a glove, and avery spotted it in all those rocks way down the beach.

 

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and then, it was rain behind us, and we covering ground we’d covered before, looking for those features that went by too fast for us to photograph the first time, heading for vik.

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Posted by: jeanne | June 10, 2016

our trip to iceland – part 2

i stated in prior pre-trip posts that it was going to come down to how far i could drive before jetlag caught up with me and forced me to the side of the road.  my goal was the campground at fludir, around the corner from the super-secret swimming pool.  but i figured anywhere at the far end of the golden circle was cool.

we set out around 9 on sunday morning, with few fellow travellers going over the high moorland to hveragerdi and the geothermic area we wanted to explore during our first day.

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it was all go until we came into hveragerdi and spotted an open grocery store.  they were still closed when we left hafnarfjordur, and weren’t expected to open until noon.

so we piled out, grabbed a cart, and cruised down every isle, including the one with the knitting supplies, because yes in iceland they sell wool in the supermarkets and gas stations, because you never know when you may be caught out in the open without a skein of wool to wrap up in.

we got three kinds of lunch meat, bread, butter, skyr, milk, juice, a can of lamb soup i never did open, some few other things – a rotisserie chicken, mixed individual cereal boxes, coffee pads, honey, and a stop in the candy aisle for the kids to have something to fight over later.  we packed the cooler full and headed off for the hinterland.

an hour later, we were looking for the super-secret volcano lake, thinking it might be a little hard to find.  but there it was, at the end of a short, newly widened gravel road, with a parking lot and a ticket booth.  there was a tour bus there, and a lady at the ticket booth, and it cost us about 3 dollars.  they’d done some path building around the rim, and put up ropes to keep tourists off the unstable slopes, and they were in the middle of building a boardwalk on the closest overlook to the parking lot.

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so we walked around, and i introduced the kids to the very real dangers of iceland, the beautiful place that can kill you.  the boys made much of this.  but again, there we were at the mouth of a volcano, and if that gravel slope let go, it was a couple of hundred feet straight down into the green lake in the middle.  the lava around the rim was mostly reddish, and the consistency of splattered clay.  we brought back one piece that looked like it had been flung by an angry potter.  it’s really light, like fired clay;  it tinks when you clink it, like ceramic.  the rim we were on wasn’t the only one around; the satellite picture of kerid shows at least three in a row, but they’re below ground level, so all you see from the road is a little hill.  and all the cars parked there.  that’s the real clue to all these sights.

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when we finished our tour of the rim, the tour bus was gone, and so was the ticket lady.  probably nipped home for a cup of tea until the next scheduled tour, and to hell with the few bucks from individual tourists in their own cars and vans.

so we took off for the next place, about an hour down the road.  up the road, actually.  we were following this broad valley with winding rivers and plenty of farmland and vacation cottages plunked down in the fields.  the valley wound up and up toward the highlands.  it’s the route we took when we crossed the highlands in a big old tour bus (with siggi and runa), but this time i was driving, and our bus had only 4 passengers.  plus, i kept getting tired.  driving down a road where the scenery is dazzling but doesn’t change very quickly, sitting up and gazing out over a vast distance compared to the view from the trucklet, bouncing in hydraulic truck seats, and jetlagged.  more than once my eyes threatened to close.  but this country can kill you, and i was vigilant.  plus, an hour later we came to geysir.

at first all the boys could see was the visitors’ center and gift shop and cafe.  but we steered them past that and across the road, and there they saw a steaming stream for the first time.  we wouldn’t let them dip their hands in it until it stopped steaming, and then it was cold.  too bad, eh?  there were lots of tourists there, more than at kerid simply because more people know about it.  everybody knows about geysir, even the boys.  but they weren’t very impressed with the bubbling pots of mud and boiling pools of water, and they didn’t care at all about the minerals encrusting the edges of these pots and pools, coloring the rocks all around the place in shades of yellow and red and white.  but boy did they react when strokkur went off not 30 feet in front of them, narrowly missing them with its falling spray.  they’ll remember that for awhile.  and the smell.

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after getting back into the camper, it was another hour up the same road until we got to gulfoss.  we could see its gorge from some way off, as the valley narrowed and prepared to do some serious winding upward.  i wasn’t alert enough to take the first turnoff to the lower parking lot, but ended up in the upper parking lot, with a hundred other cars and tour busses, all trouping past a masterly gift shop and cafe and clomping down an endless boardwalk leading to massive and very tall stairs that lead down to the lower parking lot which was a lot more empty.

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so after shepherding all the boys down the long long stairs and resting for awhile at the bottom, enjoying the view of amazing gullfoss from a far distance, i hiked back up the stairs and went to fetch the van and bring it back to the lower parking lot.  jim and the boys stayed at the bottom, and never ventured down the path that takes you to the water’s edge.  it was slick with mist, and the way the wind was going we were guaranteed to get wet.  i hadn’t yet worked up the need to break out the rain gear, or the sticks, so i was unprepared.  and we were tired.  and the waterfall is impressive without getting right up next to it.

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we couldn’t see down into the gorge from there, however; that’s the only sorry part.  the gorge is so powerful, and it’s topped with columnar lava that makes you think of some vast powerhouse turning all that water into electricity.  but it’s just lava; or is it some elvin structure, or maybe a row of trolls turned to stone as they built the flume for a troll’s water park right there.

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it was great.  and the road was closed at that point, because even tho it’s summer in iceland, the routes into the highlands are still impassable.  so we turned around, as planned, and directed our wheels toward fludir, where there’s a nice campground, a choice of two pools, and the only ethiopian restaurant in the country.

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it was late in the day, the campground was crowded with trailers and campers that looked like their owners were at work for the weekend, so we pulled into the upper field and faced the mountains.  the car still vibrated even after it was turned off.  i still vibrated, anyway.  grandpa was exhausted, so we left him to snooze, and we went looking for the super-secret pool, and thought we might have a bit of trouble finding it.

but at the bottom of the hill, where the stream crossed under a bridge, there was a newly-widened gravel road going off along the river.  which is where the pool was supposed to be.  so we slogged thru the new gravel, which was deep in spots, and acted like slow-motion quicksand on our feet (we took the old road up the hill on the way back).  at first i didn’t understand the newly widened gravel part, and thought maybe it was for heavy trucks for one of the greenhouses, or maybe there was a new housing estate going in and the new house owners would need serious gravel roads during the winter – what do i know.  so i kept going off the gravel road for older, more worn surfaces.  and ending up at someone’s front gate and having to turn back.  duh the road was for the super-secret pool, because there’s a changing area and cafe, and they sell beer and wine for drinking in the pool, and there’s coffee, and you can sit.

we’d brought our swimming suits from the camper, but the guy said there was only half an hour left, and we could come back in the morning, early because the owner liked to open up.  and he let us go around the hot springs area.  the pool is the oldest operating pool in the country (tho one in the north claims to be the first one in operation, now closed), and it is built right next to a hot spring with an abundance of mini bubbling pots of mud and boiling pools of water, and even a litli geysir, with a boardwalk and informational signs.  it smelled of sulfur so the boys held their noses; in one place it was too thick to breathe and it was hard not to choke up.  it was way cool.  i got some nice shots.  the boys did that pose thing for most of the trip.  i was already tired of it.

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and then we walked back to the camper, expecting jim to still be asleep, but he was sitting up in the front of the truck, watching the sun skip across the horizon, from peak to peak along what i suppose was longjokull glacier to the north.  i guess we demolished that chicken, but i don’t remember any of our meals.  and then we crashed.  and when we woke up, we turned over and went back to sleep.  and did it again.  and slept some more.  and only when the kids woke up and we all needed to go to the bathroom (the kids straight out the camper door into the grass), did we get up and make coffee and open the bag of kleinur, and add milk to the cereal for the boys.

and i guess that’s a good place to leave it.  we’ve done the golden circle, and are now ready for a trek across the south of iceland, to see more waterfalls, more volcanos, glaciers, outwash lagoons, and sand endless sand.  and lava endless lava.  and clouds.  and trolls.  and a hidden woman.  and two elves.

 

Posted by: jeanne | June 9, 2016

our 4-day trip to iceland, part 1

i’ve been planning for months – take jim and both the grandboys and fly off to iceland, rent a camper, tour the south, and come back again.  and no matter what i did to put off the day, it finally came, and we started off.

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i picked up a rental car not at the airport, and drove down to pick up avery at the bus stop on his second to last day of school (i misread the school calendar when booking the flight), and we drove back to the house, an hour and a half each way.  a walk around the park compared to what came next.

i let jim handle getting the kids fed and putting them to bed – i packed up the car and went to bed.  (it was packed in several stages – 4 backpacks and one piece of checked luggage to go to iceland, clothes and toys and bedding to remain in the car, change of clothes for the stay in dc).  i didn’t actually sleep, but i rested until midnight, then roused the boys long enough to go pee and get into their seatbelts, and then, everybody padded with pillows and blankets, started off.

only to realize i didn’t have my distance glasses, and without them it’s a lot of anxious driving in the dark.  so we circled back.  we had the great good fortune to have a pair of really cool housesitters who were at that moment taking the dogs for their final walk of the night (they happened to be up when my alarm went off, and heard the commotion), so we got to mystify them by driving by twice.

i refuse to take the interstate northward the regular way.  most people take i-85 or even i-95.  but they are always under construction, and go thru the ridiculously populous eastern seaboard, city by city until it’s all megalopolis.  so i go thru the mountains.  i-81, a truckers’ route, with only one large city on my route.  mountains, valleys, stunning scenery, polite and learned traffic.  it’s an hour longer by mileage, but who cares when we’re talking a 10-12 hour drive to begin with?

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sunrise in southern virginia coincided with overwhelming tiredness on my part, so i pulled over twice, once behind some trucks on an offramp, once at a rest stop where the kids practiced for icelandic pools using the outdoor water fountains; jim was in charge.  when we got back in the car i put the pillows and blankets away and got out the cookie sheets and the bag of car toys, including transformers and lego avengers.  thousands of tiny pieces in one ziplock bag; tell me.

by noon we were in charlottesville, where i always take the opportunity to visit with my old friend jimmy, from back in college days a hundred years ago.  he’s still full of piss and vinegar, but it’s begun to mellow into a soft wine at this point.  the boys played with their lego things, ignored us while we caught up and jim and jim discussed art.  i went out and lay in the grass, looked up at the trees, listened to the critters in the woods.  then, restored, we made it to my brother mikie’s in the wilds of what used to be farmland, northern virginia.  they have to live west of the airport, and spend way more than anybody ought to pay for cardboard ticky-tacky mcmansions, in order to call dc their home.  but they do, and they love it, and it was virginia green and lush lush lush.  but by then all i wanted to do was sleep.

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so the boys played with the cousins, and my brother buddy’s kids, also cousins, and the grownups talked about what to do about mom.  we’re working together to get her situated before she falls and breaks something.  she’s 83.

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next morning we let the kids play instead of a long and involved meeting of the family in some restaurant in dc, which plan went by the board as soon as i got there.  and when it was time to go to the airport, mikie drove us in his van and dropped us off right there at the main terminal.  thanks mikie.

from there it was smooth sailing.  grandpa can’t walk that far in airports, so we got him a wheelchair, and were catapulted to the front of every line, for which we’re very thankful.  we sat in the back of the plane, on the left side so we’d be facing northish the whole time, and settled in with the bag of airplane toys.  including transformers and lego avengers (a different batch).

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wow airlines – my brother the airline pilot scoffed (“you don’t want wow, you want dull.  dull airlines”), but i love them.  not only did four tickets cost only slightly more than one ticket on delta or icelandair, (yes i know you have to pay for your checked luggage, and yes you have to bring your own food, and yes there’s no inflight entertainment provided), but the captain stopped and talked to connor, and the gate agent when we left was the same gate agent and remembered us when we came back (so did the wheelchair guy – next time we tip), they ran a great flight and there was no unpleasantness at all, aside from the seats – the days of luxury travel for the masses has dried up temporarily…

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the sun went down in the northwest, since we were only in baltimore, and when it rose an hour or two later we were over greenland.  it was still in the northwest, not the east or the northeast, but only a little ways on from where it went down.  the kids were asleep so i couldn’t point it out, but i sat and puzzled it thru for some time.  too cool.  i could see greenland turn blue in the dawning light, could barely make out the brushed effect of a glacier making its way down to the ocean.  the black exposed mountains were visible even in the gloom, but the ice was hard to tell from clouds until the sun was further up.  the ice didn’t look fluffy.  and then we were back over clouds and the ocean, and by the time it was fully light and everybody was up, we were coming down into keflavik.  wheelchair time again, and we were thru and out the front doors and on the flybus before anybody else.

the kids went to sleep on the ride into reykjavik, as do many, but jim and i watched the lava fields roll by with amazement, seeing a lump of lava as big as a house, with a tiny sharp point on top, like a chocolate kiss, like a nipple, like a little hat.  and there was house-sized lump after lump as far as the eye could see.  no doubt some of the humanlike rock forms were built by tourists or locals, but mainly they were thrown into that position as molten lava and have deteriorated in the thousands of years since.  iceland is full of human shapes, wherever you look, at whatever scale.

we got dropped off in hafnarfjordur, at the front of a hotel, so we asked them to call a taxi, and got a lift the only a couple of blocks to the camper place, which wasn’t open yet for another hour or so.  so, it being iceland, none of the campers were locked, so i put jim in the passenger seat and the boys and i played.  the boys found a ball.  the elves made me a present of an apple someone had tossed into the bin before closing the night before.  it was dry, with cool clouds you don’t get in temperate climates, and about 50 degrees.  we’d unpacked the down jackets and gloves the moment we landed (everybody had them in their own backpacks, and avery and connor carried all their own clothes themselves).

kuku campers – quick, efficient, mechanically sound, like a well-oiled family.  the french girl who’d just started working there yesterday arrived first, an hour before the place opened.  then someone arrived, grabbed a clipboard, and he and la francaise went off to the airport to pick up arriving passengers (wish i’d known).  so we waited some more, and then the owner came, still early, and opened up.  they’re a great team of people, and their vans are all good to go.

note – in iceland, good to go does not mean new.  nor does it mean pretty.  it might mean beat up and still working, because in an environment like iceland, “still working” is five stars.  pretty doesn’t mean anything.  the landscape is pretty.  still working means you can get the enormous distances from one roadside attraction to the other, in a working vehicle that can be trusted to continue working until you turn it back in at the end of your trip.

it is the same with everything.  the coffee machine in the super secret swimming pool dispenses only coffee and espresso, and never mind the other buttons, because some silly tourist broke them, but it still makes coffee and that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?  iceland is not prepared for the hundreds of millions of visitors it’s beginning to get every year, and it’s greatly affecting a bunch of small places these tourists funnel thru.

the camper folks were kind enough to let me have a wool blanket shipped to them, because i arrived on a sunday morning, wasn’t going in the direction of any wool stores, needed a blanket in the camper (boy did we, as it turned out), and didn’t want to buy one online and ship it to my house in atlanta and pack it into my suitcase and bring it back to iceland.  so the company, who never receives requests to ship their tourist stuff domestically, ruefully agreed and sent a blanket to the camper folks (thanks so much alexia).  i included a knitted shawl too, just for me…  so i stopped at the duty free when we’d cleared customs (yes, iceland has duty free for people coming into the country, as well as leaving) and got a ridiculously cheap bottle of wine as thanks for the big favor.

our camper was the largest of the paved-road vehicles – sleeps 5.  it was a ford transit-type hitop van, with seats for 3 in the truck cab, and in the space behind the seats they built cubbies for a cooler, a sink, water, counter space, and all the trimmings stowed underneath, including a propane burner and fire extinguisher.  we got a power inverter for our chargers, brought two dozen cds (jim’s choice), and loaded everything we’d brought.  the boys inhabited the back exclusively (i swear they didn’t look up once, even tho there were windows on both sides).  there were two bench seats lining both sides of the back end of the camper.  the side door opened on to the kitchen area, and the bench seats were built around the wheel wells and back to the rear doors.  between the benches was a table on a pedestal, which lifted up and stowed inelegantly in the kitchen area when it was time for bed.  the boys got to sleep in a loft which stayed loftlike the whole time.  the seat belts were two, on the bench seat behind the driver’s seat, so the boys belted in when we moved.  we used the table to eat breakfast and dinner, and the boys used it for their avengers and little else the rest of the time.

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