Last Day in Iceland: Reykjavik

We had already planned to spend the day seeing the city of Reykjavik, and it turned out we had picked the day of a huge annual Culture Festival, a little like our First Night. The parks were full of musicians and people celebrating one way or another, and it also turned out to be a day when nobody minded if you parked on the grass at the edge of the overfull parking area. (Coming from Boston, where that would be an invitation to the tow trucks, it felt like a big boon.)

Here’s a picture of the National Library, which unfortunately was closed.

Across the street was the National Museum of Iceland, which I got no pictures of, but which had a lot of interesting exhibits about the history of Iceland (something I was completely ignorant about). After working our way through that, we set off on foot to see the “grim church”—which was not at all grim, but a magnificent modern cathedral named Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church with a towering steeple you can go up in for a view of the city. There was a music festival on in the church, as well—unrelated, I think, to the city festival—so we listened for a bit and then went topside for the view.

The fellow on the pedestal in front of the cathedral is Lief Erickson, the statue a gift from the United States, back in the 1930s. I’m not sure what the occasion for the gift was.

Next morning was departure day, with an early drive to Keflavik and the international airport. Their method for handling departures was interesting, to say the least. After working our way through a long duty-free store—I’ve never seen so much chocolate and licorice and booze in my life—we spotted the sign to our gate: 20 minutes walking time away, according to the helpful sign. (They might have mentioned that sooner, I thought.) We sped up. At the end of that race, we found ourselves at the end of a pretty narrow concourse, where people were trying to get on four different flights with the exact same departure time and were gathered in a big scrum. (“Are you in the line for Boston?” “No, this is the line for Dulles.” “Toronto is over there.”) Boarding was via stairs—one last lungful of crisp Iceland air before stepping into a flying canister full of the last flight’s exhalations.

Somehow we made it, though. Four hours later, I was peering down at the Maine coast with its splattering of islands—I had no idea there were so many!—and less than six hours later, we were back in Boston. Home again.

Off the Rails in Reykjavik

Very little went according to plan in Iceland, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time. Our rental car, once we got it, turned out to be a stick shift—which wasn’t a problem (I learned to drive on a stick), but a surprise, as many people I know do not know how to drive stick. Another surprise was learning that the one place to buy fuel for less than the standard amount is at Costco, only recently arrived in Iceland! I made a mental note to check for my Costco card, and we set out.

Our initial impression of the country was of extremely spare and utilitarian architecture—square and drab and a bit ugly. The road from the airport to Reykjavik passed through some pretty harsh lava-based land, which put us in mind of Mordor and the Emyn Muil that Frodo and Sam made their way across. It was not without beauty, though; the mountains against the horizon drew us onward.

We reached our Airbnb outside the city a little subdued by the exterior architecture—and were stunned to find ourselves in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment, very Scandinavian Design, clean and elegant and definitely upscale. Our host confided that we were their first rental customers—it was their actual home, which they leave for a summer home elsewhere. I guess they haven’t learned how much they could ask for it!

Our first day we set out at the crack of lunchtime to drive the Golden Circle tour of the most popular geologic spots on the island—where tectonic activity drives everything from geysers to geothermal power stations. The Garmin GPS that came with the car had other ideas. It took us way off the intended route, and we saw some sights most tourists miss, such as this lovely lake.

It also set us back a couple of hours, so we traded getting to see the Thingvellir Park for an unexpected adventure. Eventually—switching to Googlemaps on my phone—we found our way back to the route and the volcanic crater lake of Kerið. This was pretty cool.

As was the geyser at the Geysir site. They have a geyser that pops off every 6-8 minutes, and while it’s not huge, it’s fun. There’s also an odd pair of spring-fed pools, side by side, one cloudy blue and the other crystal clear. Why? No explanation was given. In fact, the conveying of information is one place where the Icelanders could pick up a few tips from the U.S. Park Service. Not only is little information available; it can be hard to tell where the actual attraction is!

Our last stop of the day was the Gulfoss Waterfall, which easily rivals Niagara for its breathtaking power and beauty—all hidden in a stretch of flat terrain that looks like the last place on Earth you would look for a waterfall!

You set out down a basically unmarked boardwalk, which dips down… to reveal a gorge and thundering beast that looks for all the world like the Falls of Rauros on the River Anduin.

By the time we got back, it was 11 pm, and we had just one more day to spend in Iceland. What to do?

(continued)

Final Days in Helsinki after Worldcon

This will be told mainly in pictures. We took a ferry across the Baltic to Tallinn, in Estonia, on Monday and walked around the old medieval town there. That was fun, though I got awfully tired of walking on cobblestone.

Tuesday we mostly crashed, but then rode around the city on the tram and checked out the market square and a nearby brew pub—very nice. There are a lot of small breweries in Helsinki, as it turns out. The American-style IPA has made definite inroads. Chatted a bit with the brewmaster of this pub, who turns out to be a lover of hard SF and space opera.

Wednesday we visited Church of the Rock—a church partially carved into solid bedrock. They seemed to have an ongoing service (they were speaking German when we were there), while catering to a steady flow of tourists. Then on to the Ateneum, a big art museum in the city center. Allysen went on to a modern art museum, while Jayce and I took a city ferry to the island fortress Suomenlinna, and spent several hours walking around. Among other things, Suomenlinna has a church that doubles as a lighthouse, a restored Finnish submarine from WW2, various fortifications and cannons, and a tomb that looks as though it marks the grave of a man from Numenor. All the roads and paths were cobblestone. I have developed an extreme dislike of walking on cobblestone! But I loved the views.


Today we leave for Reykjavik and two days in Iceland.

Middle Eastern Adventures (Vicarious)

Daughter Lexi has returned after nearly a month racking up countries on her passport. She flew in from Qatar, which she got to from Egypt, via Greece, and before that Israel, via Turkey, via Algeria, via Italy! Did I miss any? The amazing thing is that she met up and stayed with friends, or friends of friends, in almost all those locations. How is that possible? She saw the Vatican, visited mosques, celebrated Easter in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and visited a family outside of Bethlehem. We were following her progress on Google Maps/Earth at one point, and I was amused to see “Manger Street” running through Bethlehem. I wonder how many “Genuine, Original, Tested and Approved by Baby Jesus Mangers” there are.

This kid builds more bridges than the WPA. I am in awe. I am also deeply relieved to see her back home.

Here are a few pix she shared with us:

Antalya, TurkeyAntalya, Turkey

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Lexi in Jerusalem

Parthenon, Greece (but you knew that)

Pyramids, Egypt (you knew that, too, right?)

The Ponce Chronicles: The Work Force Awakens, Pt. 4: Plug & Pray

Chasing leaks. That’s how this trip started, what with tearing up a tile floor to find out where upwelling water was coming from. (We never did, not really. We couldn’t replicate the problem after the tile was up. We have guesses, but only guesses.) Other leaks were smaller, but equally enigmatic. We had some workarounds in progress.

Then, on our last-but-one night at Casarboles (tree house), I was showering upstairs, and Allysen ran in with cries of, “Stop! Water’s raining down into the closet!” Nooo!  (Yesss!)

Too late to get the plumbers before we had to leave, and anyway, all the pipes were in cement. It was up to me to see if I could find the leak. And amazingly, on the last day, I did. Silicone seal between shower tub and drain pipe was all deteriorated. Ask Freddi, and he says, in Spanish, “Oh yes, that happens. Phil always just put new silicone in.”  And so that’s what I did, carefully troweling it in, just like Doctor McCoy in the Star Trek episode about the Horta. And it cured the leak.  We think. There wasn’t time for really thorough testing. Plug and pray, that’s our motto.

In the last couple of days, we did that, and finished painting every inch of what seemed like a 7-acre deck, complete with railings, and caulked a bunch of molding in a different shower, and inventoried tools, and made little cautionary signs (bilingual) to post above the toilets, and of course made trips to Home Depot. And, oh, a hundred or so other things.

We took a little time in the evening of the last day—before the big, final push right through to 4 a.m. and departure for the predawn flight—to relax and enjoy a meal by the pool. It really was quite lovely. Here’s a selfie of the two of us, relaxing by the pool.

And here’s how Casarboles looks after dark. The place is pretty much ready for guests! We’ll be putting it on Air BnB and like that, very soon.

Oh—we’re home in Boston now, recovering. It’s snowing.

The Ponce Chronicles: The Work Force Awakens, Pt. 3

It’s 3 a.m. here in Ponce, and I just heard my daughter Jayce take off for home. That is, I heard the rumble of a JetBlue Airbus take to the skies from Mercedita Airport, which I used to be able to see from the hilltop here, before some trees downslope got too big and blocked the view. (You can still see it beautifully from our next-door neighbor’s lovely rooftop terrace.)

The reason I know it was Jayce taking off is not only that I just took her to the airport a little while ago, but because the only airline serving Ponce is JetBlue, and they have exactly two flights in and two flights out every day—and they are all in the middle of the night. The one to Orlando, connecting to Boston, leaves at 3 a.m.; and the one to JFK, connecting to Boston, leaves at 5:50. Okay, I suppose that’s not really the middle of the night (though it is to me), but it’s definitely the middle of the night when you have to arrive at the airport.

There isn’t a lot of other traffic from there, as far as I can tell. I once flew a Cessna 150 from that same runway, back when I was still active as a private pilot. It was great. I rented a plane and an instructor on one of my visits, and we flew around over the city and over the hill where the house is, before heading back. That was one well-worn Cessna, let me tell you. I described it as “quaint” to the family when I got back, but refrained from mentioning the peeling paint and the aluminum patches on the fuselage. I guess I can say it now. I wonder if that little one-man flight school is still in business. I hope so.

Only a couple of days left, and then we’ll be getting on one of those middle of the night flights home. Wait—does that make it a fly-by-night airline? Hmm.

 

Ponce Chronicles: The Work Force Awakens

Okay, I said I wouldn’t write much about it, but here’s a quick update. We’ve been in Puerto Rico for a week, give or take, and have even been joined by our friend Crystal, visiting from California. In general, the place looks great—especially compared to what greeted us last year. However, in keeping with the perversity of the universe, and to maintain a sense of continuity with the chaos of those earlier visits, Allysen arrived to find the refrigerator nonfunctional and the hot water on the fritz. Yippee! Amazingly, she was able to get people out to work on them, like the same day. Try that in Boston. A few days later, I arrived, and the same malfunction and miracle occurred with the washer, and a tech from Sears Service. There’s even a stray dog, named No Name, or He Who Has Not Been Named, or now possibly Toby. Cute little fellow. Thankfully, our neighbor Frances has decided to adopt him, not us.

We soldier on. The electricians are here to continue the improvements on lighting and wiring that they had already whipped mostly into shape. Esteban the Amazing—who over the last year finished installing all the new windows that the unreliable and thieving other guys had left undone—is now almost done converting the awkward swinging driveway gate into a sliding one, which will be motorized. When he’s finished with that, we have lots of other things for him to do.

Leaking pipes: we took care of that last year, right? Well, we did. And now we’re doing it again, with different pipes. Water coming up under the floor tiles when showering? Uh-oh. Are we making this up? No.

Crystal and I have tackled some painting: the stairs down from the parking pad, and the main deck. We learned that applying paint in direct sunlight—never the best idea—is an even iffier idea in the tropical sun. It’s gradually working out, though. Today (Sunday), Allysen crashed and napped while Jayce painted furniture pieces from Ikea, and Crystal and I painted—and then headed to the Thermal Springs in Coamo to soak out the muscle knots. Healing heat and minerals from the Earth!

Amazingly most of all, I have gotten some real writing done almost every day of the trip! Progress continues apace on The Reefs of Time. Yahoo!

The Arlington Chronicles – Part 1 – A Certain Madness

Some of you may remember my Ponce Chronicles and Revenge of the Ponce Chronicles, telling the adventures of house repairs in Puerto Rico last winter. Well, we’re at it again, this time on our own house, here in Massachusetts. We’re renovating our downstairs apartment, in preparation for Allysen’s mom to move in. Fay is in her mid-80’s, and there are a lot of changes to be made for “aging in place.”

old-showerYou may have thought from my recent posts that for the last few weeks, all I’ve been doing is plug my books. Indeed, no. In fact, we have been plugging the holes in our sanity, while researching accessibility, working with contractors, buying (or not buying) appliances that will work for someone Fay’s age, and so much more.

Do you like bathroom renovations? Who doesn’t, right? Right. We set out intending only to rip out the old bathtub/shower and replace it with a no-threshold shower, in hopes of preventing trips, slips, and falls. By the time it’s done (tomorrow, I hope!), we will have put in all new tile, toilet, fan, lights, walls—basically everything except the sink and the door. Fortunately, we found an amazing contractor who knew how to do everything we (Allysen) talked about. I cannot overstate the wonder of working with guys who are smart, knowledgeable, able to communicate clearly and share your vision, and do good work for a price that’s probably too low. We love these guys.

will-and-bill-ponder-what-theyve-wroughtIt hasn’t all been the bathroom, of course. I’m passing over the hardwood floors, the kitchen, the electrical work, the driveway, the porch lift… but I’ll get to those in another post.

And our role in this, besides signing checks? Painting, lots of painting; and rehabilitating the old kitchen sink cabinet that we decided, probably stupidly, to reuse. And making decisions? Oh yes…

Between us, I’m sure we spent hundreds of hours researching, measuring, and looking at refrigerators (we decided in the end to keep the old one), compact washers and dryers (used and refurbished), electric ranges, dishwashers… aaiiieee. It’s a Rubik’s cube.

Take selecting tile, for one. Oh, my head! Getting three people—Allysen, her mom, and me—all with divergent artistic sensibilities, to agree on style and pattern? And having chosen, discovering—after it was put down—that the tile company had sent the wrong tile for the floor? (Upshot: the tile stays, but the tile company refunded the money.) And selecting grout color?! Who knew it was important to pick out grout color?! And let’s not even get started on picking out the right toilet—only to discover, after attempted installation, that the one we picked out won’t fit.

shower-tile-getting-thereAll this with the date of Fay’s move breathing down our necks.

So, naw, I’ve done my fair share of hawking, but I haven’t only been hawking books these last few weeks.

More to follow.

Here’s a Job Captain Jack Would Like!

Sheepdog-sheep-switchbacks-Romania-YMThis is definitely a job Captain Jack would like.

My brother Chuck and his wife Youngmee were recently in Romania, and sent back some photos of the road they were on. Here’s a dog watching his flock. Totally what Captain Jack was born to do. But what does the dog do if the sheep start to slide?

And as for the rest of the picture, didn’t I see James Bond being pursued by international terrorists on that road? Chuck said they rented a red car, so that the wreckage would be easier to spot. Pictures by Youngmee.

Chuck-sheep-switchbacks-Romania-YM

 

Revenge of the Ponce Chronicles

A couple of months ago, I wrote of our two-week trip to Puerto Rico, where we labored like lunatic worker bees to complete extensive repairs and renovations to the home in Ponce that was built by Allysen’s parents back around the era that I was completing my undergraduate education. That was a productive but exhausting trip, and we got a huge amount done, but were left with a lot still to do before we could rent the place. Well, we’ve just finished trip two, which was exhausting on a scale that made our January efforts look like a milk run.

This time Allysen went for a full month, taking a leave of absence from her job. Her brother Andrew came for a while, our daughter Jayce came for a while, and I came for the final two weeks. I will say, as far as the physical surroundings go, it was a lot more pleasant (even in mosquito season) than it had been before. The pool was sparkling, Allysen and Andrew had already scored some nice secondhand furniture, and the work crews were starting to feel like old family friends. But the pace, especially in the last week, was punishing. On trip one, my main job was chronicling the work and making endless runs to Home Depot. This time, I was a lot more hands-on with smaller repairs, plus I kept on making endless runs to Home Depot.

On the flight home, we scribbled down a list of all of our deeds so that we wouldn’t forget. Here’s a small sampler of what we and our contractors accomplished:

  • Built a new concrete retaining wall to hold up the parking area
  • Widened the brick-lined parking pad, for easier parking
  • Repaired the main entry gate
  • Installed new keyless entry locks and deadbolts
  • Bought and transported nice, second-hand furniture for living and dining rooms
  • Had new table tops made by our wood guy for dining and coffee tables
  • Bought a modest smart-TV and tested streaming Netflix on it with our cellphone mobile wifi (it worked!)
  • Met with the family lawyer and learned how wills work in P.R. (differently from in the states)
  • Upgraded the alarm system (with many visits from the alarm company) and trouble-shot false alarms
  • Cleaned out gross cupboards in paneled bedroom
  • Built new cabinets and cabinet walls in area behind kitchen and closed up the ceiling in that area, to keep out leaves, bugs, rain, and wandering animals
  • Bought a modest selection of hand and power tools and used every one of them
  • Sanded and painted stairway rails leading down from parking pad to deck, to pool
  • Spent many hours repairing the dishwasher, only to determine that it really was dead, Jim; also, learned that dishwashers aren’t that common in PR, and you can’t go to Home Depot or Sears and just buy one to take home with you—so, no dishwasher
  • Began the job of replacing all the windows
  • Made a serious dent in the island’s supply of rum, lime, and assorted other drinkables
  • Semi-befriended two lovely, pregnant stray kitties
  • Checked out a few recommended restaurants
  • Got up every frickin’ morning at 6 or 7 to open the gate for workers
  • Swam in the pool (twice, anyway)!

That’s maybe a quarter of the list. Really. For the most part, we were so busy that we forgot to take pictures! Which is a bummer. But here, in a lighter moment, I did catch Allysen and Andrew:

Andrew-Allysen-at-work-near-pool

Andrew-Allysen-lose-focus

And here are Estevan and Carlos getting started on the new wall:

Estevan-Carlos-contemplate-need-for-new-wall

New-retaining-wall-begins

The revenge? I arrived home exhausted—and instead of having a nice rest, promptly got sick. I’ve been sick for most of the last week, and am only slowly returning to normal. That just doesn’t seem fair. But I am now recovered enough that I can say this with greater confidence: Please pass me some frozen margarita.

 

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