Our return home was marred by one tiny detail: Moonlight, our beloved 18+ year old cat, had developed an infection in our absence and started using the dining room carpet instead of her litter box. Ugh. Our stalwart housesitter, being new to animal care, knew something was wrong but didn’t know what (not that she could have done much about it, anyway). So we walked in, put our bags down, sniffed the air, and within half an hour were preparing to tear up carpet. We had to throw out about half the carpet in the room. Fortunately, it was a patchwork carpet—pieces of different colors laid down artistically by yours truly. That at least made it easier to take up.
Now—great quantities of Nature’s Miracle, vinegar, and peroxide later—we are engaged in medical treatment and retraining, per excellent advice found on the net.
Just in time to go away again. Jayce and I are off to Miami to help my brother Chuck celebrate his 70th birthday. How can that be possible? We aren’t that long out of school, really! Allysen’s mom is having some medical issues, unfortunately, so Allysen is staying behind this time. And Lexi? She’s in Norway!
*From a GrumpyCats.com t-shirt owned by my daughter.
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.
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?
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.
We arrived in Helsinki, Finland, early this morning for Worldcon 75, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention. At the moment, sleep deprivation and jetlag are making things somewhat of a blur. (Finland time is seven hours earlier than Boston time.) I think half the people on our flight from Iceland to Helsinki were on their way to the con.
Tomorrow, I start things in earnest, with a signing session at noon, and a panel on how to motivate yourself when writing is tough at 15:00. (Everything is on the 24-hour clock here.)
Friday I’ll be moderating a panel on space opera, and another on writing collaboratively. Saturday, I’m the one non-physicist on a panel on the future of physics (I guess I’m the wild card in the deck), and participating—in my last panel—on one on world-building, a panel that might or might not include George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, depending on what listing I believe.
Once the worldcon is over, we’ll be taking a few days to see Helsinki and Finland, and then a couple in Iceland on our way home.
I’ll try to post some updates, but don’t hold me to that. Things can get pretty crazy at a worldcon. I’m looking forward to seeing many friends!
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.
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.
This year we packed up the whole extended family (local branch) and headed to Provincetown at the very tip of Cape Cod, for the Thanksgiving Weekend, splurging on a nice guest inn. In some ways, this was a lunatic mission, since we decided to fix our entire turkey dinner the day before, and pack it all up in coolers and take it with us for Thanksgiving dinner. But it turned out well, and we spent much of the weekend hanging out in front of a fire, and in the hot tub, and walking along the streets and waterfront of Provincetown, and doing our best not to have any consumables left to carry home at the end of the weekend. A fine time.
In the course of our walking, we came across Carver Street, and so of course had to get some pictures. Here are a couple of them.
There’s a big tower called the Pilgrim Monument, which—after climbing a lot of stairs—gives a fabulous view of the surrounding town and the end of the Cape.
Or it would have been a fabulous view, if it hadn’t been raining. Ah well. By the way, the reason there’s a Pilgrim’s Monument in Provincetown is that that’s where the Mayflower Pilgrims landed first. After finding it too inhospitable, they moved on to Plymouth, where they stepped off the boat onto a rock conveniently named Plymouth Rock. Or so the story goes.
We’re enjoying the start of Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention (aka worldcon) in lovely Spokane, Washington. The Spokane (rhymes with can) Convention Center is located right next to the aptly named Spokane River, with a beautiful riverside park. We’ve already seen a number of friends, and I listened to a great talk by a Vatican astronomer on astronomical models that were almost right, but not quite—usually because the astronomers of the time didn’t make the leap from the data they had to imagining the right questions to ask.
The air, however, is a bit thick here. Washington state and neighboring Canada have a lot of wildfires going, and it makes for uncomfortable breathing at times—and eerily red sunsets. My phone camera failed to catch the effect, so I don’t have a good picture. But here’s a map of the fires currently going, and you can see that the U.S. Northwest and Canada are getting the brunt of it. But the smoke is actually carrying all the way across the U.S. on the jetstream.
On our drive from Seattle to Spokane, we stopped off to see the Grand Coulee Dam, and I talked to a U.S. Forest Service guy who had also stopped to see the dam. He was on his way to a fire. I asked what his role was. He said he manages a group of helicopters that takes firefighters in to rappel down close to fires in hopes of cutting them off before they can spread. Gottta hand it to those guys!
Meanwhile, if you’re attending the con, I hope you’ll stop by one of my events and say hello. Today (Thursday) I’m on a panel about Book View Cafe, an author collaborative. Saturday I’m autographing, and also participating on a panel on Space Opera.
We returned from England a couple of days ago, after going to Loncon 3 at the Excel Center and then spending another five days seeing London, Greenwich, and Nottingham (where lives an old friend of Allysen’s). It was quite an adventure, starting with staying on a sailboat (more on that in another post), and ending with a very nice train ride into Robin Hood country, where we ate at what is reportedly the oldest pub in England. The worldcon was a bit of a wash for me in professional terms, but Allysen and Julia had a fantastic time and I did enjoy myself despite a couple of wardrobe malfunctions that I’ll also save for another post.
Overall, it was a memorable trip, with one major downside. I picked up a nagging cough at the con, and by the time I got home I was pretty nonfunctional with a great, hacking cough and pneumonia. A bit of a setback there. Also, it was kind of a lousy way to celebrate my 65th birthday, which was the 25th. On the other hand, the wonder of still-functional antibiotics was a great way to celebrate my birthday. I’m doing much better now, though I’m still a little sub-par in terms of mental focus and concentration. Not up to writing much yet, but I’m turning into a mean movie-watcher.
There may be a lesson in there, though I can’t be certain. Prior to the trip, I had a bunch of really nasty poison ivy (or something) rashes, which were taking forever to clear up. The dermatologist put me on a short dose of prednisone, which did a remarkable job of clearing up the rashes. But it also may have suppressed my immune system just enough to lay me open to the pneumonia. My take-away from this is, try to avoid travel while taking prednisone.
Also, when in London, have the fish and chips!
London parks are beautiful.
Did you know they have 500 miles of canals in London? I didn’t, either.