9/14/2017 - In the afternoon, I deposited my bride and her cousin Kathie at the Icelandic Airways gate of the lovely Dulles Airport main terminal designed by Eero Saarinen in 1962. For the Dulles project, Saarinen studied airports across the country and came up with a terminal design that expresses ideas of flight and movement in its simple, wing-like form. His monumental, yet minimalist, terminal – constructed of glass, steel, and concrete, with a catenary curve roof supported by cables – still provides an open, airy, and modern environment for today’s travelers.
Many weary hours later she landed at the Keflavík International Airport in Reykjavík, Iceland where a new lighting system brings the outside inside, using dynamic color-changing light to recreate the aurora borealis. Waves of colored light sweep softly through the terminal from one end to the other, mimicking the rhythm and movement of the real aurora.
At Reykjavík the travelers transfer to a flight bound for the Geneva International Airport in Switzerland. After a short struggle they were able to find their rental car and locate the button to open its trunk. They then made their way around the southern shore of the lake past the CERN facility in northern France to the little alpine village of Huemoz in Switzerland where they promptly settled into a little chalet named La Nichee.
I have marked La Nichee on the satellite view of Huemoz with a circle drawn around their little home away from home. The road from La Nichee to the paved road is a grass centered set of two ruts which serves as their driveway. The walk to the closest town of Chesieres and on to Villars-sur-Ollon begins on the road leaving the picture from the top center and goes up very steeply. The road appearing at the lower right corner of the picture which switches back from the middle rright is the way up from the nearest downhill village of Ollon.
The views from La Nichee are spectacular as the chalet sits at the back of a huge fossilized jaw of mountains with the stump of a huge molar at the right called Grand Muveran, then the more eroded crag of Petite Muveran, the incisorous Dent de Morcles, then a visual descent to the glottal cavity of the Rhone River Valley with the ragged lips of the Mont Blanc Glacier in the far distance followed by a rapid diagonal up to the right incisor and its receding molars called Dents du Midi.
9/18/2017 - The beginnings of a rainy day makes a vist to the Swiss capital of Bern a sensible choice. The medieval air of this city with its many fountains, sandstone facades, narrow streets and historic towers is unique. The elevated Rose Garden above the Bear Park and the platform of the 101-metre-high cathedral tower offer the best views of the old town round which the River Aare flows. The former entrenchments and bastions drop down steeply to the river. The boutiques, bars and cabaret stages of the old town, some of which are located in vaulted cellars, and the small street cafes attract locals as well as a lot of tourists from Easton, some of whom seize the opportunity to purchase exotic chocolates.
9/19/2017 - A good day to revisit Les Bains de Lavey. Half an hour’s walk from St Maurice train station, Les Bains de Lavey enjoys a tranquil and extremely pretty location surrounded by mountains. Drawing on the hottest thermal water in Switzerland, its large outdoor pool is equipped with various jacuzzis, massage water spouts, a mushroom fountain and a rather addictive whirlpool that’s fun to drift around in the strong current. Linda and Kathie intersperse dips in the pool with stints in the hamman and saunas, followed by a cold shower or a dunking in the freezing plunge pool.
9/20/2017 - Looks like a great day to revisit the alpine village of Solalex. Located in a small valley at the foot of the impressive Diablerets rocks and the imposing Miroir d'Argentine, the area is a fossilized coral reef dating back to the Tethys Sea (200 million years ago).
9/21/2017 - After a lovely morning at La Nichee, the intrepid travelers start toward Max's house with a drive through Villars and then down through the valley toward Bern where they parked the car to wander through the little town of Gstaad on the border of Canton Vaud and the Bernese Oberland. Gstaad, named "The Place" by Time magazine in the 1960s, is widely known for its famous part-time residents and vacationers. Famous regular visitors to Gstaad have included Madonna, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan and his wife Kareena Kapoor Khan, haute couture designer Valentino Garavani, writer William F. Buckley Jr., and various members of the House of Cavendish.
Having worn out their welcome in Switzerland, Linda and Kathie then drove back to Geneva to return their rental car and then flew to Reykjavík, Iceland. At the airport they rented another car to drive south to the fishing village of Grindavík in the Southern Penninsula.
The initial settlement of Iceland largely took place during the Viking Age between 870 and 930. Around 934 two Viking settlers, Molda-Gnúpur Hrólfsson and Þórir Haustmyrkur Vígbjóðsson, arrived in the nearby Reykjanes area. Þórir settled in Selvogur, and Krísuvík and Molda-Gnúpur in Grindavík. The sons of Moldar-Gnúpur established three settlements; Þórkötlustaðahverfi, Járngerðarstaðarhverfi and Staðarhverfi. The modern town of Grindavik is situated mainly in what was Járngerðarstaðarhverfi.
The origins of the municipality can be traced to Einar Einarsson's decision to move there to build and run a shop in 1897. During that time the population was only around 360. Fishing had for centuries been a crucial element in the survival of Grindavik's population, but fishing trips were often dangerous. Men were frequently lost at sea and the catch not always stable. However, when a safer access point to land was created at Hópið in 1939, fishing conditions changed dramatically. From 1950 serious development in the fishing industry had begun to take place. Grindavik was declared a municipality in 1974.
After checking into the Mar Guesthouse, the undaunted travelers ventured out to the Veitingahusio Bruin to eat plaice and chips in an effort to restore their strength.
Next morning began with a waterfront breakfast at the Bryggjan Cafe. Here they could choose from among endless bowls of lobster or lamb soup with fresh and tasty peasant bread. Butter that tasted like it had just been churned. Linda chatted with the owner about a recent celebration of the birthday of John Lennon at the cafe.
After the breaking of the fast at Bryggjan, the intrepids drive early to the nearby Blue Lagoon where they donned silica masks to hide their identities from other attendees. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F).
The lagoon is man-made and fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users.
Fully refreshed from having taken the waters at the Blue Lagoon, the travelers drove west of Reykjavík for about twenty minutes to the town of Mosfellsbær for a visit to the Álafoss wool store.The original factory building from the 19th century still houses the Álafoss wool store located just below the river Varmá which was used to clean the wool. Because the river was warm it was also used for swimming lessons. For decades the surrounding area has served as a haven for artists and all creative types, so it was no surprise that the internationally known Icelandic band Sigur Rós located their studio there a few years ago.
The next stop is the Thingvellir National Park. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Thingvellir National Park is the location of Iceland’s first Parliament, started back in 930 AD. At the Lögberg people could step forward and give speeches about important matters. An assembly of 48 chieftains gathered here to discuss laws & engage in court proceedings on behalf of the country’s citizens.
After such a day of events, even the strongest of travelers must seek restoration so the dynamic duo head for Efstidalur. Efstidalur farm is located 12km northeast of Laugarvatn on a working dairy farm with brilliant views of the hulking Hekla Volcano. Efstidalur presented them with tasty hamburgers for their insides made of beef from the cows outside. The fun ice-cream bar scoops farm ice cream, and has windows looking into the dairy barn.
After breakfast the forces of nature visit another at Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall). As part of the Golden Circle tour, Gullfoss is located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon with walls reaching up to 70 meters in height. On a sunny day a shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls.
The next stop on the Golden Circle grand tour was Geysir which is known for (guess what); the Stokkur Geyser. Strokkur was first mentioned in 1789, after an earthquake helped to unblock the conduit of the geyser. Its activity fluctuated throughout the 19th century; in 1815 its height was estimated to have been as much as 60 metres. It continued to erupt until the turn of the 20th century, until another earthquake blocked the conduit again. In 1963, upon the advice of the Geysir Committee, locals cleaned out the blocked conduit through the bottom of the basin, and the geyser has been regularly erupting ever since.
From Geysir they returned to Laugarvatn which is a shallow lake, about 2 square kilometers in size, and located in the inlands of Árnessýsla, midway between Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir, 100 km from Reykjavík. Under its floor there are hot springs heating the lake so it is warm and suitable for bathing all year round. On its bank rests a village of over 300 inhabitants, also named Laugarvatn.
The environment of Laugavatn is very pleasant, as a forest has been planted there and brooks and streams further contribute to the scenery. A beautiful and shallow lake, Lake Laugarvatn is rich in aquatic life and has good char and lake trout. As evening approached the intrepids took an opportunity to examine the bill of fare at the Lindin Bistro Cafe.
Beginning with lobster soup with arctic char and shrimp served with homebaked bread, they next opted for lightly smoked horse carpaccio with roasted walnuts, goat cheese grains and sesame dressing before digging into a wild game platter of cured lamb, reindeer paté and cured whale. One should never go to bed on an empty stomach.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Iceland as a small country took on an enormous task of building a suspension bridge over the river Ölfusá. The bridge and the area around the bridge mark the beginning of the town of Selfoss; today the biggest inland community in Iceland, located on the Ring Road about 50 kilometers east of Reykjavík.
Seeking the solace of a pharmacy the travelers drove past the Bobby Fischer Center opened in 2013, five years after Bobby Fischers death in Reykjavik, and subsequent burial in Selfoss.
Next day the wanderings led them to Eyrarbakki on the south coast of Iceland. For centuries, the harbor at Eyrarbakki was the main port in the south of the country, and Eyrarbakki was the trading center for the whole of the southern region extending from Selvogur in the west to Lómagnúpur in the east. By about 1925, however, Eyrarbakki lost its importance as a trading centre. The latter part of the 19th century saw a great increase in the number of oared fishing boats. In fact, although trade and fishing were the main occupations in Eyrarbakki, the natural harbour conditions were not good, and after the bridging of the nearby River Ölfusá, the harbour fell into disuse.
In 985 C.E., Bjarni Herjólfsson, a young merchant, sailed from Eyrarbakki headed for Greenland, but instead reached as far as North America. Upon his arrival in Greenland, Bjarni told Leif Eriksson of his discovery and sold him his boat, which Eriksson used for his own journey to North America.
The following day, the now weary road warriors returned to Reykjavík and checked into the the City Park Hotel before hoping on and off a tour bus for an overview of Reykjavík's high spots.
The first stop is the Harpa Concert Hall. Harpa was designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects in co-operation with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The structure consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colors.
Situated in a solitary spot on the border between land and sea, the Harpa Concert Hall and conference center stands out like a large, luminescent sculpture that reflects the sky and harbor of the surrounding city life. The center offers an arrival- and foyer area located at the building’s front, four halls running through the middle and a backstage area with administration, changing room, offices and rehearsal hall at the rear of the structure. the three main halls are placed in sequence of each other with public access on the south side and backstage access from the north. the fourth floor is a multifunctional hall with room for more intimate shows and banquets.
The next stop is the famous Hallgrimskirkja. At 244 ft high, it is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in Iceland. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), author of the Passion Hymns.
The next stop is the Perlan. It was originally designed by Ingimundur Sveinsson and is situated on the hill Öskjuhlíð, where there had been hot water storage tanks for decades. In 1991 the tanks were updated and a hemispherical structure placed on top. This project was largely at the behest of Davíð Oddsson, during his time as mayor of Reykjavík.
The next stop is famous around the world. The Icelandic Phallological Museum is probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country. Phallology is an ancient science which, until recent years, has received very little attention in Iceland, except as a borderline field of study in other academic disciplines such as history, art, psychology, literature and other artistic fields like music and ballet. Now, thanks to The Icelandic Phallological Museum, it is finally possible for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion.
Next stop is the ‘Solfar’ or ‘Sun Voyager.’ The gleaming steel sculpture is a striking landmark on Reykjavik’s splendid waterfront and resembles a Viking long-ship. It was created by Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason.
Next comes the The Einar Jónsson Museum. Jónsson chose to locate the museum on the top of Skolavorduhaed, "a desolate hill on the outskirts of town," as he puts it in his autobiography. The museum was the first building to be constructed on the top of the hill and Jónsson realized what possibilities this location, the highest in town, offered. Like some of his contemporaries, he dreamt of Skolavorduhaed becoming the political and cultural Acropolis of an independent Iceland. The museum was built according to a plan by the artist and it may thus be said that the museum building constitutes his biggest sculpture. The building served as his studio, as a gallery for his works and even as his home.
The final stop on the tour is the National Gallery of Iceland and the main emphasis of the collection is on 19th and 20th century Icelandic art, but international art is featured as well. The museum owns the most valuable collection of works by Icelandic artists in the country. The collection also includes an impressive array of works by internationally renowned artists such as, Pablo Picasso, Edward Munch, Karel Appel, Hans Hartung, Victor Vasarely, Richard Serra and Richard Tuttle.
Next morning's departure from Keflavík International Airport occurs without incident.