Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Island in the sun

Today we decide to take advantage of the Swedish ferry system which considers them just another bus or tram. There are many tiny islands in the Göteborg archipelago. Most reviews have people spending an hour or so on each - sitting at the beach, having lunch in a cafe, walking the island paths, with comfortable cheap boat rides in between. We arrive and puzzle over the map of the islands. Which one shall we try first? I blithely paraphrase Lewis Carroll:

"Which road do I take?" Alice asked the cat.

"Where do you want to go?" was his response.

"I don't know," Alice answered.

"Then," said the cat, "It doesn't matter."

We decide to simply get on the next ferry that docks, then ride it to the end of the line and island hop back. We have a lovely boat ride with the sun shining and the wind in our hair. The boat docks last at Stora Förö. Hmm - not much here - a few houses, tiny beach, one room store - let's go on to the next islet. Except - we've landed on an island so infrequently visited that there's only a ferry every four hours. So much for lunch and island hopping.

But it isn't bad. We sit at the postage stamp beach and watch kids fish for crabs using pieces of mollusks they pull from under the dock, then pound with a rock to get the meat to bait their pole with. The crabs crawls on to the line - no hooks that we see, and the kids shake them off into a bucket. We get the nice people at the tiny store to put the coke we buy in their ice cream freezer and come back for it in an hour when it's cold.* We traipse around the island paths, eat the bread and cheese Natalia insisted we bring when she heard we were going to the islands (good call, Natalia!) and sit on the rocky shore watching sailboats and sea birds.

When I sit there for a long time - no phone, no noise from humans - only the cry of birds and sound of the wind and the warmth of Craig's arm around my shoulders, a feeling of peace descends, quieting my restless spirit. I wish that I could go back a hundred years, a thousand, a million, on this very summer day and see what this huge rock has seen.

At last the ferry arrives and we zip back to reality. We have seen only one island, and a tiny one at that, but we are not displeased with our time spent here.

After our little voyage and yesterday's excursions, we decide to stay close to our B and B for the evening. I chat with Natalia about the trials of having teenagers (the same the world around) and Craig and I get a pizza - swedish style. Pepperoni here is a Jalapeno type pepper and they top the pizza with some sort of meat that tastes a little like barbequed chicken. It's good. We buy fresh strawberries from a street vendor - tiny and very sweet and eat them with ice cream at the bar with Natalia and Olga. Unlike yesterday's hustle and bustle, today has been a calm reflective day to enjoy nature and each other.



*I love a lot of things about Sweden: the well organized and inexpensive public transport system, the friendly people (who all speak English - a real plus), the cleanliness and beauty of the neighborhoods can't get a cold drink here to save your life. We found the same thing in Iceland and a few years ago when we visited the Yukon. It must be a mindset. Evidently, if you live in a place where you spend most of your year walking on and shoveling off ice - the last place you want to see the stuff is in your drink. At restaurants and B and B's, they bring a carafe of tap water to your table. Ask for ice and, IF they have it at all - they bring you a measly 2 cubes that melt as soon as you put your water in. Coke is cooled - maybe - a bit below room temperature, but not to the ice cold standards we've come to enjoy in the States. I'm walking around Sweden on the brink of dehydration and collapse, mainly because I can't stand to drink tepid water. Yeah, yeah, talk about a first world problem, right?


All Our Yesterdays (Med Spårvagn)

Guest blogger - Craig Smith

Our first full day in Göteborg was spent visiting the various places that I could both remember AND locate from my time here during Fall - Winter, 1981 - 1982. The apartments we lived in were the easiest, since there were only two, and they were directly across the street from each other:

I do not recall the brick facades, and I do not believe that the landscaping was this nice back then. There was definitely NOT this level of security in those days:

Neither the exterior or interior of the spårvagn (Tram) has changed very much, except for some new seats, and improved protection for the driver:





This little building is where we used to purchase our tram and bus tickets, as well as the occasional snack. Even though it looks shut down, the posters and hand written signs seem recent, so it is probably more of a local semester (vacation) closing:



This stretch of road (and the building in the background) actually has some significance; I am not sitting on this little curb just to rest:

It was right here that I had a very memorable and meaningful experience as a missionary. My companion (Elder Mark Montgomery - more on him later in the blogcast) and I were walking along here, minding our own business, when this completely wasted old man literally passes out, and falls over in the street about 10 yards from us. Everyone kept on going as though nothing had happened. We almost did, too, and I don’t know whose idea it was, but we went into the street to help him. He was blabbering, vomiting, bleeding from his head, and darn near clueless. We sat him on the curb, and he came around long enough to tell us where he lived. We literally carry-walked him home, got him inside his apartment, and put him into a chair. Then we left.

We came back about two days later, and he had cleaned up, shaved, combed his hair, and we had a great afternoon together talking about life, religion, and the hereafter. He had been a sailor for decades, and now lived on welfare/pension, and was ashamed of how we had found him days earlier. Although he declined our invitations to learn about the Plan of Salvation and the Restoration, he was exceedingly grateful for our kindness toward him, and we never saw him drunken again. We saw him once in a while on the tram, or in the street, and he was always polite and kind to us. It was a good experience and helped me to understand more of what my mission was about.

From there, Cindy and I climbed the hill at Ramberget, a local park that boasts an overlook of all of Göteborg. It was my intention to re-create some photos that Elder Montgomery and I obtained from that viewpoint. Of course, we arrived practically at high noon, when the light is absolutely the WORST, but we did our best:



We are pretty sure that we located the exact locations of the original photos, but due to 30 years of growth, the bushes all obscure the background in those spots. As you can see, although I look a little worse for the wear over time, I have a much more attractive than I used to. But I must mention a few things about Elder Montgomery. Even though I was not always the most polite or friendly companion, he was by far the most patient companion that I ever had, and is the one that I most wish I could meet again and say so. (As well as apologize.) Perhaps someday.

It was lunchtime, and Cindy noticed a McDonalds near the bus stop (code for bathroom):

I was pretty surprised at how early it still was, so I suggested that we complete the historical aspect of our trip and go all the way out near Vastra Frolunda (completely across the city) to where the ward building is. Cindy was up for it, so we went toward the Nordstan shopping mall, and I managed one more re-creation before we caught the bus to the church:

During the 7 months that I served in this area, I never once rode the bus to the church building; we always took the tram. However, no matter how I tried to force the app on my iPhone to skip the bus routes, I could never get it to produce the tram route to the church, so we took the bus, and ended up with an incredibly long (and HOT) hike, uphill, before we finally reached it. As with many other locations today, the growth of the flora over three decades changed a lot of the details:

Cindy was fine with rolling the dice on my muscle memory for finding the tram station to go back to the B&B (or, she just did not want to go back down that hill), so we took off in the general direction that I remembered. I am happy to report that even though we trekked through plenty of new construction (and fresh re-landscaping), we came right to the old sparvagn stop that my companions and I frequented all those years ago. It was a great day to re-trace old footsteps, and although I have not yet met anyone in person from then, I am hoping to change that when we travel to Lund in a few days.

We found a great place to eat downtown before returning (completely exhausted) to the B&B:



Monday, July 28, 2014

Traveling is the hard part of travel

Today we are leaving Uppsala and heading for the first place Craig actually served on his mission- Göteborg (pronounced Yu-te-borry.) Because of the credit card hassles, Craig couldn't buy tickets until this morning, so we are stuck in second class in a car with several crying babies, sitting apart. Craig vows to buy First Class tickets to our other destinations immediately upon arrival. (Actually, the crying babies don't really bother either of us, and really, first class is not much better, but we can get seats together.) After dealing with James, our knee jerk reaction to screaming, tantrum-throwing children is immediate compassion for the parents, coupled with a deep- seated gratitude that it's no longer our kid.

We took an old rattle-trap train - the kind Craig remembers from his mission - from Uppsala to Stockholm - then hung around the Stockholm Central Station for a few hours waiting for our Snabbtåg (express train) from Stockholm to Göteborg. I was grateful that we were only there a short time. It's too expensive to be me at the Stockholm Station.

The first time I left Craig and trekked down the stairs following the "toilet" signs, I had to trek back to ask for money. It costs ten kronor (about $1.30) to use the toilet anywhere in the station (even McDonalds- I checked.) For Kumquat Bladder Woman, that means I'd be spending as much on toilet fees as food rather quickly. The toilets are all unisex, but that doesn't matter, since they're the typical Scandinavian Single Claustrophobic Cubby design. They are very clean, with revolving turnstiles to let you in and out as you pay your money. I pitied the woman with 3 children in tow. The keen-eyed attendant made sure she gave him 40 kronor and didn't try sneaking one of the little ones under the turnstile. I can't imagine how fun it is to pay every time your preschooler thinks they might need to go. (If anyone actually reads these things, you may recall that much of my Japanese blog centered around their rather cool toilets - indeed, I was so enamoured of them that I ended up buying my own.) As I look at my last few posts, I see that this is something of a travel theme for me. Perhaps it's because I spend so much time there. James always said that all the interesting things in Japan happened to him while he was outside the toilet waiting for me.... So far, whenever I find my way back to Craig after one of my trips, he is just trying to read another sign, poster, or something. He did not bring a paper dictionary with him, and he is determined to figure all the printed material out before we go home. At least he is not staring at the svelte blondes. And svelte blonds there are everywhere in Sweden just as advertised. Short shorts are everywhere and lovely girls with tan legs (how do they get so tan living here?) up to their throats travel in herds, making me feel like a hobbit in Rohan.

Once we arrive in Göteborg, we need to catch a bus to our B and B. Confusion ensues as there are 2 busses with the same number, heading for different end destinations. Craig studies all the maps he printed out before we left, and even asked a few persons at the bus stop, but no joy. Fortunately, a helpful local intervenes, and we ride a pretty comfortable bus through the streets of Göteborg. Craig is staring out the window for a long time before he sits with me. "I do not recognize a single thing," he says, "except that little cliff over there." I look toward where he is pointing and get a quick glimpse of some rocks before we are once again surrounded by buildings. Okaay.

Our bus stop is a looooong walk from the B and B - or maybe it just feels that way because it is uphill and we are dragging all our luggage. Even though I'm proud of myself for packing only one suitcase for the whole trip, I wish is were even lighter now. Fortunately, Craig has the lion's share of the luggage. He has his stuff as well as camera gear and electronics. I'm still a lot slower though and he keeps having to wait for me. We finally arrive and meet our host Natalia - a Russian native, she speaks English like Craig speaks Swedish. They get along well and spend the evening talking back and forth in both languages and adding to each other's vocabulary. We have a small room and a shared bathroom with 2 people from Germany and 2 from France. It should be interesting tomorrow around the breakfast table.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

We storm Uppsala

Today we woke up and Skyped with Rob back home. "What time is it there?" he asked. "4:30" we responded. "In the Morning?" He asked with insulting disbelief. "You guys can't even stay up past 9:30 at home!" Guess we're still not really on Sweden time yet. We got dressed and headed to the bus station to buy a bus pass to get to the church. Craig is annoyed that we have to buy everything the same day, as none of the machines will accept a credit card without a pin number. We were not sure we were waiting at the right bus stop to get to church when we spotted two familiar figures in white shirts. The local missionaries and an older couple led us to the right spot, and we had plenty of time to mingle with locals before the services began. We stayed for all 3 hours, and Craig was having a great time plying the svenska, but I feared I'd just be staring at the front with a smile pasted on my face the entire time. Wrong!! A nice little Finnish lady sat next to me and translated - now and then inserting her own commentary: "She says you have to follow a recipe to get a cake, but I don't agree, I never use recipes. " It was interesting how much I got out of the lesson when I had to concentrate instead of allowing myself to zone out like I sometimes do. When I complimented her on her English she brushed it off: "No, I don't speak American English well. I am better at British English and Australian English. American English is my poorest language. I prefer Italian and German and even French to American English. (Since she speaks Finnish and Swedish as well, you can add up the languages this little woman knows on two hands.)

On the bus back toward the hotel, I took a picture of two of the Elders and posted it on the Missionary Mommas FB site just asking if anyone knew them. Sure enough, within 2 hours the Elders were identified, reminisced upon, and their grateful mothers emailed with the image. Ah - the powers of moms around the world. On the walk back to the hotel from the bus stop, thunder rolled, lightning cracked, and the skies opened up with an absolute DELUGE. My shoes are still drying out from my attempt to wash off all the Icelandic mud, so I was wearing sandals. I could not stand the idea of soggy feet once again, so I dragged Craig (the crazy man loves a thunderstorm; he just stood there with this lopsided grin, staring at the sky, getting soaked) to the nearest shelter, which was a little restaurant, and decided to get lunch while waiting out the storm. Craig had the fish and chips and I ordered the shrimp and chips. Except the shrimp was served cold with all the legs and even the creepy little eyes staring at me. No way was I eating that! I felt bad, but I had to send it back for a salad. I've noticed that there's no tipping here in Sweden, but there also is not much service. I could have asked a waitress details about the dishes but there is little table service here. You order from a harried person at the bar and then they deliver your food to the table. So much for trying to puzzle out Swedish menus!

The storm was over in an hour, and the sun returned, just not as hot as yesterday. We took a bus across town to the Swedish veterinary school. It was a Sunday AND summer break, so nobody was there, but at least we could visit and take some selfies with the various signs. I am not providing any translations, so you are on your own guessing all these, but they all have some kind of meaning in our collected carreers. Lycka til. (That's good luck in Swedish.)

Tomorrow we are off to Göteborg, providing Craig can get us tickets in the morning.







Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sweden at last

We're up at five am and off to the airport. There is minimal company on the road, and we notice again the warehouse-like design of ALL the buildings we see. We return the rental car and observe some differences right away. In the States, there would be a shuttle bus to haul our oversize booties and our luggage to the terminal. Here in Iceland, the hardy Viking descendants have no trouble hoofing it a quarter mile or so while dragging baggage in the rain. That's probably why they all look fit, and blond. It's not just the horses that haven't changed much in 1000 years.

After breakfast in the airport lounge and another pampered ride in the front of the 757, we arrive in Stockholm. We aren't staying though; our plan is for this city to be the last one we visit. Unsurprisingly, for the woman with a bladder the size of a kumquat, the first thing I have to do after the flight is find the bathroom - usually labelled WC around here. The Scandinavians must be a bit more worried about their privacy than the Americans. I've noticed that restrooms do not have stalls as we do, but individual little rooms just big enough for one person, usually very neat and clean. This one (near the baggage claim) is an exception. The little WC room that is my lot as we wait in line is wet and smells like urine. The toilet also refuses to flush. This would be all right (it's only a moment in time, after all) but then the door refuses to open. I push and pull, and twist the lock any number of ways. The room is getting hotter and smellier. I've been trapped in an elevator before, but then I had my cell phone to call for help. There were also other people present, more room, and it didn't stink. Although I've never considered myself claustrophobic before, I feel the stirrings of incipient panic. The room is nearly sound-proof, I can hear nothing on the other side, but finally, my kicks and shoves against the door attract attention and I hear a voice call some sort of question. "Help!" I bleat, my frenzy beginning to outweigh my embarrassment. After about five more long minutes, rescue arrives. A uniformed woman unlocks the door. "Do not use this one again!" she says sternly to the line of women standing with their legs crossed. I barely hear her; when that door opens I bolt out of that deathtrap and halfway down the hall like Secretariat out of the starting gate. It finally occurs to me that I haven't washed my hands and I have to make my way back, shamefaced, hoping I'd been such a blur no one had had time to get a close look at the stupid American locked in the restroom. Craig was patiently waiting with our luggage when I returned, having noticed nothing.

After numerous false starts and defective directional information, we finally drag our luggage underground to the train for Uppsala. I am so glad we packed light! Everyone speaks lovely English, but Craig is enjoying stumbling along in his broken Swedish so I mostly let him. (Well, until about the fourth time we go to the wrong train platform, then I double check the directions in English.) Craig can't rely on his memory for this part of the trip; he's never been here. Both Stockholm and Uppsala were outside his mission.

The ride to Uppsala is short, smooth, and nearly soundless, and It's 30 degrees C which is a toast 86 degrees F! Craig is melting, but I think it's great to finally be out of the rain. Uppsala is a university town (it has the country's only veterinary college), and everyone, young and old is on a bicycle. Like Japan, there are bikes everywhere - utilitarian models with baskets and big tires - none of the stupid little trick bikes you see the kids ride or the fancy racing bikes ridden by adults in spandex. Here, the bicycle is clearly a form of transportation rather than vanity. We check into the hotel, then walk around to see the sights. Craig is miffed when I say parts of the architecture remind me of Maine and is at pains to point out all the specific Scandinavian details until I take it back. (I see this becoming a long term point of conversation.) There's a large river where mallard ducks frolic, the males and females nearly indistinguishable now that males are molting out of their mating plumage for another season.

Craig is frustrated that, after all his careful planning, the ticket machines for the buses and trains will not recognize his "international" Visa card. A college student informs us that he has the same problem and that Craig will have to buy his ticket at the desk Monday, using his passport to authenticate the card. Craig is frustrated that we will be unable to make reservations and will have to take pot luck for seating but all the other things he tries also fail. I guess our vacation may be more spur of the moment than we had hoped!


Friday, July 25, 2014

To Hella and back


It is hard to sleep all night when your body- and the sky outside- are telling you it's day. I wake up every hour at least during the night and try to gauge the time by the sounds. I hear the first bird song and a hen cackling to tell everyone she's laid an egg, then finally the clink of silverware from Frances in the kitchen and I know it must be time to get up. Hopefully, I'll be better acclimated to Iceland time now. We have a leisurely lazy morning, still recovering from the day before. Frances fixes a breakfast of cold cereal, cold cuts, cucumbers, her homemade bread, and Skyr - an Iceland product similar to yogurt. Thankfully, there is nary a sheep's head to be seen. We finally get on our way about 10:30-ish, driving in our jerky little stick shift car and trying not to die in the roundabouts. Craig is looking for geysers and geothermal activity; I am looking for animals.

The wind is not bad today, but the on-off rain continues. A big part of the scenery involves hectares of volcanic rubble covered in moss. It is truly unique, so Craig decides to try for a scenic shot when some sunlight finally breaks through onto a portion of the landscape. He pulls off the highway, and goes tromping into the mossy desolation. This is the universal signal for the wind to return. He manages a few shots before scampering back, and reports that the moss is nearly a foot (sorry, 30 centimeters) thick.


The Icelandic horses are everywhere - pasture after pasture. They are smallish creatures - nearly ponies, shaggy, and of all colors. The gaited horses have begun to be in high demand and are a cash crop for Iceland. Once it leaves the Island, a horse can never return. The government means to keep its thousand year old breed pure. When we walk up to a fence, the horses are sociable and come to investigate. We find the Icelandic sheep, however, to be considerably less friendly. When we spot them and try to get a picture, we have to work fast or all we see is a bunch of sheep butts heading in the opposite direction.

We stop in Hveragerdi and Craig takes me tromping out to see fumaroles (the ground vents from which steam is escaping) bubbling mud pots, waterfalls, and streams. It is weird to look at these grass covered hills and mossy rocks and see steam escaping all over in every direction. Sadly, I fail to consider the effect the red iron-rich mud will have on my new shoes. I fear they are now permanently stained - and the only other shoes I brought are sandals!

We stop to eat at a "soup buffet" that seems quite popular with the locals. Along with various kinds of soups, the restaurant sports bread cooked in underground ovens for 24 hours using the heat of the earth alone. Tastes like typical rye bread to me. We have plenty of time before out planned attendance at the Fakasel Icelandic Horse Park for a show, so we just keep driving (less jerkily as the kilometers pass) further on Highway 1, toward Hella (which we sadly learn is pronounced Helka??). We take a few side roads to see various agricultural spreads, try to photograph more sheep (resulting in many images of sheep rear ends), and continue to marvel at our talent for choosing rainy places to visit together.

Fakasel Icelandic Horse Park is an impressive venue - a huge beautiful building and restaurant. The arena looks built for at least 300 viewers but there are barely twenty of us there on a Friday night during summer. I fear for their longevity. I can see why. Compared to Cavalia and other equine shows I have seen, there are few horses and not much variety or originality in performances. For a horse-lover visiting here for the only time however, it's a must do. After the show, not feeling up to the three course meal that would keep us out late before our early flight out in the morning, we stopped by for the Icelander's favorite food. No, it's not the rotten shark - that's their National Food. The top-selling meal in Iceland is - tah dah! - the fried hotdog. Yup, tasted as boring as it sounds. After another soak in the steamy sulfuric waters from the depths, (I talked Craig into taking a dunk too- he found it too warm for his tastes) we are off to bed. Tomorrow, Sweden!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

3,652 miles, not enough sleep, and too many penises

Day 1

At last! I can't believe we're finally flying to Sweden for our 30th anniversary trip! Our plane didn't leave until 4:30 pm, so we had all morning to get breakfast and finish packing. It was really too long. I was ready to go by 10, but I just didn't feel like cleaning barns or house any more! Rob was briefed on care of all the animals. I could tell he couldn't wait for us to leave so he could have the house to himself! At 12:30, we headed for the airport, Rob driving in the pouring rain - worry, worry, worry, hope he can drive home safely in this...

We checked in at IcelandAir - the last airline terminal at the airport. From then on, things were looking up. We were flying business class - "Saga Class" a lucky break since we bought the tickets nearly a year ago when the exchange rate was nearly twice what it is today and business class only about 30% more than econocrunch. Since sitting in the front of the plane is usually more like 200-600% more, we've never done it. We think we could get used to this really fast though... They send us to the First Class lounge. Somewhere behind Gate 6 is a mystical magical place I never dreamed of: quiet, comfortable, uncluttered with the sweating, querulous crush of humanity. A world of padded chairs, open bars, drinks, snacks, and hot soup, where attendants wipe away the feel of the airport with their warm towels and deferential manner. I may never bother to get on the plane! I think, as I sip my tomato basil soup and dip a cracker in my hummus. Never has a wait to board a plane been so enjoyable.

We delay actually getting aboard for as long as possible in our blissful bower, slipping into our wide bourgeois leather seats just as the aircraft is closing its doors. The flight to Iceland is seven hours long - but seems far shorter than many a 3-5 hour flight I've taken scrunched nearly into my seatmate's lap. Dinner is a 3 course affair that whiles away the time, as does a rewatch of Part II of 'The Hobbit" and a movie that I think is one of the best unknown films of all time: "Secondhand Lions." Even though we flew through our night, from the airplane's point of view, the sun never set. We landed in Iceland at 7:30 AM (local time), fetched our bags, practically waltzed through customs, and found ourselves minutes later in the arrival area with a handful of persons standing around with signs for people - but none say Smith, or Craig, or Cindy or anything else hopeful. Even after looking in various places and waiting a half an hour, searching the tiny airport, we see no one. Our American iPhones are on Airplane mode, brought along purely for their camera capabilities. We don't think they would work if turned on here, and don't dare to risk the roaming charges to find out. We try the payphone in the basement- it only does international calls- not local ones. We buy a $30 SIM card only after the shopkeeper assures us it will work in any phone, it doesn't. Our emails to the B and B are still unanswered. Since we scratched the pin code off the back of the SIM card, we can't return it but, the shop boy does allow us to use his phone to call the B and B. Oh, very sorry they said. They sent us an email last week saying the car we were to borrow had broken down. Didn't we receive it? No? Oh sorry, must have sent it to the wrong address. There are 5 car rental places at the airport; 4 are sold out, the last, Hertz, has 2 small cars available - a blue one and a red one. ( I am irresistibly reminded of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.") Sensing fear and desperation, they charge us 39,600 kronor (about $350) for the only game in town. If the B and B had actually emailed us, I could have gotten it for less than half that on Expedia, so I am annoyed, but try gamely to retain my vacation mood. This free stopover to Iceland is getting pricier by the moment.

The blue car is a stick shift. It's been 20 years since we've owned one and Craig forgets to push in the clutch every time he starts it. It becomes an ongoing joke. Reading the Iceland map is confusing too and we get lost a lot. Craig is so desperate he even asks me to help. Not only am I useless with a map, but I'm completely falling asleep. It's past 2:00 am at home and I normally turn into a pumpkin after ten. Here in Iceland though, it's only 9:00 am. The books say the best way to get over jet lag is to stay up until it's time for bed in your new location. I am NEVER going to make it! After many a false turn and two near deaths on the Icelandic two-lane roundabouts (They should warn unsuspecting Yanks how to drive these crazy things!) we make it to the B and B. They are not home. I want to cry, but instead I curl up in the back seat and close my eyes. The sheer bliss of being horizontal is indescribable. At last, the owners arrive and I stumble, zombielike, to collapse on the bed, where I am unconscious in seconds.

An hour and a half later I am still yawning, but able to convince my neurons to produce just enough electrical impulses for speech and minimal ambulation. Our hosts, Ian and Frances, are a retired Scottish couple. The house is very pretty with lovely wood floors and lots of glass - not that I'm betting it helps a lot when it's dark for 6 months. I already get suicidal every February in the Northwest. If I lived here, I'd take the wrong way on one of those roundabouts on purpose! Now it is summer in Iceland though, so it's daylight all the time. "Daylight" does not equate to sunshine, however. It's grey and raining buckets - looks just like home. Why did we come here again? I'm going right back to sleep if I don't keep moving, so we go off to explore the town of Reykjavik. They stuffed us with food on the plane - breakfast just before we landed, so neither of us is hungry. We walk in and out of shops, souvenir hunting and trying to keep moving. We find that, hidden quietly between the T shirt and sweater shops of Reykjavik, there is a museum. And not just any museum. No, this is the world's only Phallic Museum. A museum devoted entirely to penises from every mammal the world around. Given what I do for a living- heck, even the shoes I'm currently wearing have a sperm logo- of course we have to go in. It costs about $20 for both of us. Pricey but, what the hey? The museum is mostly filled with penile specimens from various animal species: elephant, sperm whale, kangaroo, hamster, you name it. One jar is labelled "elf." It is empty. Clearly, the collection was arranged with no little humor and hubris. There is a rather striking collection of some 28 or so silver penises ( I forgot to count) cast from the members of the 2008 Iceland silver medalists (in Team Handball) from the Beijing games. The picture of the team is mounted above the collection. Fortunately, no names are attached to the sculptures, which honor the silver medal with their color. (As one is considerably smaller than the others , this was perhaps a relief to the diminutive.....member.) There are lots of interesting T-shirts, but none I can really see myself wearing ( "The Iceland Phallic museum- It's all about Dicks" and similar versions) so I settle on a discrete black mug with the museum's logo to immortalize our visit.

Craig says he's tired too, but he looks a lot more chipper than I feel. I'm pretty sure the pickled sheep's head the traditional Icelandic cafe is offering on toast has more grey cells than I could muster at the moment. Our hostess strongly recommended we try the local cuisine, but strangely, neither the sheep's head nor the "rotten shark" (I kid you not) is tempting. We finally settle for a bowl of tomato basil soup at an Italian place about 4:00 PM local time, before heading back to finally rest. Our host fills their hot tub with lovely hot water from the earth's core. (Iceland buildings are heated with geothermal energy- virtually free to the populace, and what a blessing that must be in their frigid land.) I soak in the sulfur perfumed water until my whole body is limp as an exhibit in the Phallic museum before finally collapsing into bed after our 27 hour day.