A Bookish Saga

On my first trip to Iceland, I naively bragged that I had read all the sagas. My listener was too polite to do more than quirk an eyebrow. Of course, I had not read all the sagas. I had read that giant paperback Penguin Classics Deluxe collection, The Sagas of Icelanders, plus The Saga of Burnt Njál. At the time, I didn’t know that more was possible.

For English speakers outside of academia, the ten sagas and assorted short stories of the Penguin compilation remains definitive. But there is another. Continue reading

Butchart Gardens

 

I’ve visited gardens all over the world, but it took me nearly 20 years living in the Pacific Northwest to get around to visiting Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. I finally made it up there a couple years ago, and felt pretty stupid for taking so long.

As the plural in the name implies, it’s not just one big garden, but a collection of themed gardens, and each is amazing. Their rose garden is much more impressive than the test gardens in Portland; their Japanese garden, while too lushly planted to be entirely traditional, is one of the finest I’ve seen in or out of Japan. The primary garden is the reclaimed pit of an old quarry. I spent most of a day there, and could have gone back the next day and spent just as much time again.

What I love best about the gardens, though, is that they rely almost entirely on the most prosaic plant palette. Perhaps the plant selection was fresh and exciting when Jennie Butchart laid out the designs, but almost everything you see is what I call “landlord plants,” those boring plants you can find at any hardware store that landlords use to fill the open spaces around their buildings.

Every single garden at Butchart is exquisite, and it’s entirely due to thoughtful design and impeccable maintenance – things that a home gardener can aspire to regardless of their budget.

 

Records and Guesthouse

I can’t make it to Eistnaflug this year, but as the festival approaches, my thoughts wander to East Iceland. The tiny town of Eistnaflug has one record store – it’s a pretty good one, especially considering the size and isolation of the town. Upstairs is an apartment where press stays during the festival. I got to pass for press the first time I attended the festival, and met quite a few writers whose work I follow and respect, as well as some folks from record labels that have absorbed significant funds from my bank account over the years. I am quite fond of this little metal building in a remote Nordic fjord.

Rethinking the Blue Lagoon

The first time I went to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon was during Airwaves 2012. I entered on a press pass and listened to DJs while I soaked in the milky blue water, surrounded by lava rock. It was so cold and windy that day they couldn’t keep the water warm enough, but I stuck it out long enough to get a drink from the swim-up bar and experience each of the pool’s special features – waterfall, sauna, silica face mask. I concluded the Blue Lagoon was cool, but overpriced and over-hyped. Despite the pretty setting, the difference from normal Icelandic swimming pools didn’t justify the price.

Still, when I brought my whole family to Iceland this April, it felt obligatory. And now I’ve had to rethink my opinion. Continue reading

Festival Town

Hard to believe this little town is home to Iceland’s biggest heavy metal festival, isn’t it?

I’ve been there twice now, both times for the festival, and I marvel at how well the locals handle the influx of corpse-painted drunkards. (The festival mantra “No idiots allowed” is partly responsible, I’m sure.) One of these days, I’m going to visit on a normal day and get to know these easy-going hosts.

Creeping Thyme

I was disappointed when I found out that we don’t have to go to Iceland to see puffins because we have puffins at home, too. But I was tickled to see creeping thyme, the plant I fill cracks in my patio with, growing wild on the shores of a glacier lagoon in Iceland. The exact same plant, so far from home. How far this humble herb has crept.

Unfamous Falls

 

I’m in Iceland right now, but this photo was taken on an earlier trip. Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, and deservedly so. Those majestic 63-meter falls are quite photogenic, with a trail that runs right behind the cascade. No wonder it swarms so thickly with tourists you can barely see the water.

But right around the corner is a second fall, Gljúfrabúi. Harder to say, easier to see. Hardly anyone knows it’s there. It has cut a channel back into the rock. Visitors follow the stream back to the hill, then walk through a rock channel into a cave. The waterfall has carved out a doughnut-hole in the roof. You can climb up on a big rock in the middle, look up at the open sky, and feel the fine shower of waterfall spray on your face.