Sunday, July 29, 2012

Icelandic Whirlwind

We have become so used to taking our time traveling that it seemed like quite a jam packed week in Iceland! We started the week by checking out the local free English paper (as we often do while traveling) to get the inside scoop. The paper is the Reykjavik Grapevine and covers news, social commentary, events, politics, music etc. (It is quite similar to Calgary's free paper: FFWD Weekly.) I enjoyed learning about the fun stuff happening in Reykjavik! We found out about this cool little park which was an unused building lot, taken over by community and transformed. The park is dubbed The Heart Garden. We hung out there and listened to a great DJ, watched the skateboarders, graffiti artists, kids playing and folks generally having a good time. The vibe was terrific and the park has made a lively public space. The park is aloud to exist with both the blessing of the city and the owner of the currently unused lot. (Sadly the much lower key Potatoes for the People project on a vacant lot in Calgary was quickly shut down).

We rented a car and spent the first three nights in Reykjavik, which is a super fun, vibrant city. We did well finding vegan food and we especially enjoyed our lunch and vegan carrot cake from a place called C is For Cookie. There are a few vegetarian restaurants and many regular places have vegan options. Sadly I also saw whales on the menu in a few places, but on the flip side I also saw whaling protest ads in the local paper. We spent our time in Reykjavik walking the streets, checking out the buildings, window shopping, hanging out in Heart Garden, and day trips. I also picked up some beads made from the local lava rock to make a necklace.

One day trip was to check out the impressive Strokkur Geysir, which erupted every few minutes. Along the way we stopped for a walk through a Lava field, to view one of the many pretty water falls. We took another day trip to go snorkeling in the very cold waters of Silfra lake, between two continental plates. Because of the extreme temperatures it requires the donning of rather cumbersome dry suits, complete with warm liner, mitts and hood, and then your own long undwear. (This was the second time we had to buy long under wear on our global adventure, the other being for our Himalayan hike in Nepal). The waters are pristine with visibility of 100 meters or more. There wasn't any visible animal life but there was unique geological formations and long, colorful, spaghetti like algae. I found the experience a little nerve-wracking as the suit limits your ability to move about freely. You need to practice a bit to roll around accurately. I am glad we did it but it's likely a one time deal; I prefer the ease of warm water snorkeling. Check out a tour company video of the adventure below:

We spent the next two nights in a rural hostel about 300 kms from Reykjavik. We spent time watching iceberg bits floating out to sea, viewing puffins, and other birds, checking out more water falls, going on some nice walks and a tour of the The Geothermal Energy Exhibition at HellisheiĆ°i Power Plant. On the way to the puffins we encountered a little lamb who had got himself on the outside of a Texas Gate, (after wriggling through a space in the fence) while mommy was on the inside. Now I have learned that there seems to be just as many sheep in Iceland outside of fences as within them, but this little guy wanted to be back with mom. So I grabbed the little fella and carefully negotiated the Texas gate to reunite him with mom. Who knows how long he will stay put. I spent the rest of the day covered in sheep fuzz.

We were supposed to spend our sixth night in a small town on the way back to Reykjavik but the address was rather confusing so we ended up way past the town. At that point we thought we might as well continue to Reykjavik and stay an extra night there (we already had our seventh and final might booked there). We were not prepared for how booked up everything would be! After going to several hotels and guest houses, and contemplating spending the night in the car, the wonderful folks at the tourist office helped us out by phoning around and found us a spot. It was a lovely hotel, but a bit more money than we had intended. We call this the "idiot tax" which is when our screw up costs us some extra money. However, we were very grateful to not spend a chilly night in the hatch back!

The extra day in Reykjavik ensured we has lots of time to check out the Blue Lagoon hot springs. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.[1] The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water/ (source wikipedia). The water is a unique color, surrounded by lava rock, and unlike any hot spring I've seen at home. It was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Tomorrow off to Toronto!

As always you can check out my photos here;

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 20, 2012

Farewell to Denmark

We are on our last few days the Denmark portion of our trip. It's been wonderful to explore the city on our second hand bicycles. We have been able to travel to all of Copenhagen's nooks and crannies. We pedal to our favorite bakery, lunch spot, grocery store, to take in a movie, watch the river go by, and just glide through the picturesque streets. I feel a sense of childhood freedom riding a bicycle.

We also ventured out to Malmo, Sweden by train. Traveling by train and metro has been so convenient and enjoyable in Europe. We spent the day wandering the streets, having lunch at a Chinese vegan buffet at Vegegarden, and checking out the Malmo Moderna Museum and a Swedish design centre.

We took the train out to Louisiana, Denmark to see the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Once we arrived it was supposed to be a short walk to the museum. After walking for a rather long time we concluded we must have missed the museum. I moaned about the lack of signage and declared I would be making a complaint if we ever located the museum. We had no choice but to retrace our steps to see where we went wrong. After backtracking for 20 minutes or so there was the museum turn off, plainly marked with a large sign. How did we miss it? Well I was so busy, transfixed by the slugs and snails on the sidewalk that we walked right by the entrance. Ah well the extra 45 minute walk was good for us.

Once we finally made it, the building and exhibits were worth it. Unfortunately there were no vegan options in the cafe for lunch, but I came prepared with purse snacks. We ate our snacks outside, and admired the Alexander Calder sculpture and mobile, against the backdrop of the sea. The grounds of the museum are lush and are as much of a display area as the interior. The building has lots of bends and corners, with windows framing beautifully the natural and manmade.

The exhibits were an eclectic mix including Nordic design, local and international pieces, multimedia, and more traditional mediums. It was very interesting to see the architectural models of houses and buildings. I adore the simple, natural lines of Danish design. I was also blown away by the urban planning video exhibit, shown in a circular room, in which you stand in the centre. The set up made you feel like you were in the spaces being described. It so clearly and profoundly explained ideal urban design and why it is so important. It emphasized things like spaces that encourage spontaneous lingering, foster a feeling of an urban living room. Spaces with lots of detail, small signs, appropriately sized public areas, provoking all the senses, where the indoor comes out, people centric not car centric. The video exhbit was by Gehl Architects and you can see excepts here: I look forward to reading the Jan Gehl book, Life Between Buildings.

The museum took me on a journey through beauty, hope, and brutality. One 3D installation, Five Car Stud, was extremely disturbing. "It represents a group of white men castrating a black man as his white girlfriend watches. The figures are life-size mannequins wearing masks, illuminated by the headlights of four cars and a pickup truck." In the exhibit you walk through the dimly lit diorama, in the midst of the horrific torture. I left with tears streaming down my face and a heavy heart. I wonder how we can be so cruel. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Theresa

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark

I really did not know what to expect of Denmark, but I have been pleasantly surprised. I did not realize it is such a small country either, with just 5.5 million total population, of which 1.1 million live in Copenhagen. I read the Copenhagen Post, the weekly English newspaper to follow local politics, events and news. So far every Danish person we have connected with also speaks English. This has been very helpful as I find the Danish language very hard to understand and read. I spend a lot of time reading ingredient labels and decoding them on my iPhone translator app. Before this year trip I never fully appreciated how isolating it can be to not speak the local language.

Copenhagen reminds me a bit of a European Portland. We are staying in a cute fourth floor flat in the eclectic neighborhood of Norrebro. We found our flat on the awesome vacation rental site Airbnb. People of all ages, genders, sizes, shapes ride bicycles here and there is excellent cycling infrastructure including bike lanes, bike parking and places to buy used bikes or rent bikes. We opted to pick up some cheap used bikes that we hopefully can either sell back or donate when we are ready to leave. We have been biking about 1-2 hours a day.

The vegan food has been quite food here too. We have had awesome vegan sushi and lots of flavorful meals at the three different raw restaurants. With our kitchen we are able to cook at home and have found tofu and other vegan staples at the health food stores. I've been regularly adding reviews and photos to the listings on the Copenhagen section of Happy Cow, an international guide for vegetarian restaurants and businesses. However, restaurants and grocery stores are the most expensive I have experienced in Europe so far.

One day when we were biking around we randomly ran into a Tesla Store! It was great fun checking out the cars and chatting with staff about our own tesla roadster. We were invited to attend their WWF - World Wildlife Fund celebration later that evening. The event was great fun and it was neat to see more cars and celebrate Tesla's donations to WWF.

I absolutely adore Danish design and I have not been disappointed by the offerings in Copenhagen. We have browsed through several antique stores, thrift shops and flea markets coveting the many amazing vintage designs. We visited the Dansk Design Center, which had a special exhibit on innovative product and building materials, such as packing material made from mushrooms, fiber optic fabric, pathways made of recycled shoe soles and so on. Portions of the exhibit were hands on so we were able to really explore some of the diverse materials. The permanent exhibit housed examples of everyday Danish designs through out the years such as; dinner ware, furniture, electronics, fabrics and so on. We also checked out a terrific Finn Juhl exhibit at the Danish Design Museum. Finn Juhl (30 January 1912 – 17 May 1989) was a Danish architect, interior and industrial designer, most known for his furniture design. He was one of the leading figures in the creation of "Danish design" in the 1940s and he was the designer who introduced Danish Modern to America (source: Wikipedia). The museum also held a robust collection of other designers.

In addition the Danish Design Museum had a display on the INDEX: Design to Improve Life, which states "We Inspire by showing people how their personal lives and the lives of people around them can be improved by Design to Improve Life. We do this through INDEX: Award and INDEX: Award Exhibition, showcasing the positive outcome and effect of the world’s best examples of Design to Improve Life addressing issus such as HIV/AIDS, scarcity of potable water, terrorism, sustainable transportation, elderly care, etc." It was neat to see winning designs such as, LifeStraw, a very unique water filtration device, or YellowOne Needle Cap, which turns an empty soft drink can into a safe depository for dirty needles.

To check out my photos see: and to see J's go to:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad