Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Iceland! Part I: Things I Saw, Places I went, Stuff I Did

Places I went: Even as I type this, it sounds as though I didn't see much, but honestly I was constantly moving and going somewhere. I stopped briefly at each spot to really appreciate everything before moving on. The truth is there is SO many things to see and do in Iceland and one week is nowhere near enough time to see everything. In the winter, hours are reduced in a lot of places too, and when visiting outdoor features, you are limited by the short days. While in Reykjavik, I visited a couple of museums, the National Museum of Iceland and the Aurora Borealis Museum. I wish I had made it to the Saga Museum and the Settlement Exhibition but I ran out of time. All of these places are spread out through the city and so it took some time to walk to them, and of course, I wanted to stop and take pictures of pretty much everything so yeah, the evenings crept up on me pretty quickly. I also wanted to kind of experience a bit of the local culture, so I hung out in a lot of pools and went to a few coffee shops and bars. I did a walking tour of the city, went to the famous hot dog stand, and on Monday night, walking to Grotta Lighthouse, I stopped and sat on a rocky cliff to watch the northern lights. It is said that you shouldn't expect to see them when you visit, so I felt so lucky to see them my second night there.

On Tuesday, the plan was to do the Golden Circle, which I did most of by the end of the day. I never made it to Thingvellir National Park which makes me incredibly sad but it just never worked out. On Tuesday morning it was sleeting, and as I got closer to the park, the roads got progressively worse and worse, and my little 2WD hatchback was not having it. About 3/4 of the way there, I ended up behind a row of cars that were stopped and ahead there was a tour bus that had rolled off the road and was laying on its side down a little ravine. Honestly, it doesn't sound like much here, but it was terrifying to see it and to watch the terrified, disoriented tourists stumble out of the bus. To make a long story short, a police officer came around a few minutes later to tell us they were closing the road and was nice enough to turn my car around for me on the extremely narrow, icy road and once I was closer to Reykjavik again and the roads were better, my nerves finally eased up. I drove to Hverger∂i, calmed down a bit, and decided to just do the rest of the tour backwards. I ended up visiting Keri∂ crater first (which was so beautiful), then a tomato greenhouse in Reykholt for lunch, then Geysir (where I saw Stokkur erupt a few times), then Gullfoss, the giant waterfall.

Wednesday was the day that I finally learned that plans in Iceland are completely useless. I set off from Stokkseyri, where I spent the night, and drove to Oddi (an old church/monastery/graveyard), and Keldur (which are viking ruins that I discovered were closed for the winter). At Keldur, I realized I left my phone charger back at the guesthouse and I made it almost back there when I ran over a screw that punctured my tire. I managed to get to a gas station, call the rental car company, and attempted to change my very first flat tire when a very nice person (the Icelandic Keith Richards) came out to change it for me. I then had to drive to Selfoss to get it fixed which was probably the least fun experience I had in Iceland. Service industries are very different over there (understandably so) and they weren't the most pleasant people to deal with, but the man fixed the tire for me and honestly that's all I care about. By this point, it was mid afternoon and I had to drive to Vik before dark so I only made a couple of stops on the way and those were at Skogafoss and another waterfall (which is the waterfall that you're able to walk behind!) and in front of Eyjafjallajokull volcano (the one that erupted in 2010). I never did get my phone charger back but I'm okay with it. Later that night, at my guesthouse, I happened to glance out of my window before bed and the northern lights were right there! I couldn't believe I had seen them twice now. They only lasted a few minutes before the clouds took over, but they were beautiful.

I think Thursday was my favorite day. I experienced the crazy weather in the morning as I drove to Dyrholaey lighthouse and to Reynisfjara (beach). I set off from there with the goal to make it all the way to Jokulsarlon, a few hours drive. As I drove, the landscape became exponentially more incredible (which I found hard to believe because I was already completely in awe of everything I had seen thus far). I saw vast lava fields covered in green moss, Laufskalavar∂a, which is a rock memorial for a farm that was destroyed in a past eruption. I put a rock for good luck because I definitely didn't want anything else to go wrong. I drove past Dverghamrar, which was a giant rock cliff where elves are said to live (there were a lot of these). I decided to put the Game of Thrones soundtrack on and those few hours driving through Southeast Iceland definitely rank highly among the best experiences I've ever had. The music personified the landscape so perfectly. At one point, the grass and farms disappeared and I was driving through what looked like a desert on another planet. There were these beautiful snow capped mountains in the background and I actually think I shed a tear at this point because I was so overwhelmed by how incredibly beautiful it was. I then began to see the glacier tongues descending down the mountains and stopped for a ton of pictures. It was so calm out here in the middle of nowhere surrounded by this incredible landscape. It was so quiet and at times, I was completely alone. I ended up missing the glacier walk I was supposed to do, so I spent a lot of time exploring Jokulsarlon, which was definitely one of the best places I saw. Across the road, there was a beach with a bunch of glaciers washed ashore. They call it the Diamond Beach or something because the glaciers look like a bunch of diamonds scattered among the black sand. I visited a smaller glacier lagoon on the way back to my next guesthouse. This was the first night we had that was completely clear and I was determined to see the Northern Lights again. It took a lot of trips outside to check, but finally around 11 pm, I went outside and was absolutely overwhelmed by the display. I only saw the green, but instead of looking like green wispy clouds like they had the previous nights, they were very distinct and I could actually see them shimmering among the vast number of stars.

On Friday, I got the pleasure of traveling with an awesome German girl I met at the guesthouse, and her and I drove back out to Skaftafell to do the glacier walk I was supposed to do the previous day. The glacier we hiked on was called Svinafellsjokull, which descends from Vatnajokull, the largest glacier cap in Iceland. Aside from dealing with obnoxious tourists on the walk, some of which were taking pictures of themselves laying on the ice pretending to fall into crevices (and making our guide extremely nervous), it was an amazing experience. Apparently I was standing on the same glacier where they filmed Batman Begins and Interstellar! After the tour, I had to begin the long five hour drive back to Keflavik, stopping in Vik briefly to enjoy the sun set behind a cliff near a beach.

Saturday was my flight home and quite honestly, I was completely exhausted. I had plans to go to a museum, but I decided to just relax and explore local life in Keflavik before returning my car and heading to the airport. I went to a local pool and then to a coffee shop where I had my last cup of delicious Icelandic coffee and a really good donut.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Yeah, I have to be an adult and stuff, but at least I'm no baby.

Journal prompt #4: What is your earliest memory and (I believe) how did it make you feel?

This one is a hard one to answer, but I'm going to go with the memory of how I met one of my first friends, since it happened when I was four and that's when you start forming reliable long term memories. I was sitting on the sidewalk playing with some chalk and one of the neighborhood kids came over and asked me to be his friend and if I wanted to come over to his house and play. I said yes and I went over to his house. I know, it's kind of an anticlimactic memory. It's basically something a typical four year old would do. But that's not why I decided to put this post in my blog. As I was thinking about this prompt, I got on a whole other topic.

Emily prompt of the day: Why do we begin to form memories at age four anyway?

This got me thinking. Four is such a random age to begin remembering things and it's really quite late when you think about it from an evolutionary standpoint. I'm sure back in the day, when our very survival depended on our capabilities as human beings (unlike now, when technology has enabled a completely directionless, dependent, lazy person to pass along their traits to as many kids as he/she desires), it was important for a young child to be able to remember important stuff, like lions are bad and will eat you, etc.

Of course, times have changed. I'm sure that the real reason behind this phenomenon is simply that age four is when our brains are developed enough to form long term memories, but I have a different theory.

Think about it: you're a fetus, floating around in the womb in a nice, warm, quiet environment. Everything you could ever need is literally fed directly to you through a giant tube in your stomach. You don't even have to open your eyes. You just sit there, occasionally suck your thumb and throw out some kicks for good measure. Then, all of a sudden, without warning, the warm fluid you're floating around in goes away, and the walls of your bedroom literally push you right out the door. Within a few hours, you're thrown into a cold, loud world full of bright lights and strange people. I think the reason that we don't remember things as babies is because we simply just aren't ready for this bullshit.

I know that your first thought is that babies have it really easy. Your parents literally do everything for you and all you  have to do is smile occasionally, spit some food on your clothes, and cry whenever you get the least bit unhappy. Sounds like an easy life, doesn't it? In reality though, babyhood is like one giant Monday. I don't think we give babies enough credit for all the shit they have to go through.

For starters, they don't get a say in what they eat. Have you seen baby food? Is there anything remotely appetizing about pureed mushrooms or chicken mush? No. There isn't. In addition to that, half of the things babies eat make them puke anyway, so they get to taste that shit twice. And they get no say, because they can't talk yet. Sometimes they get Colic, which is just one giant stomach ache all the time. That doesn't sound remotely fun to me. Then there's the whole teething situation, which is the first time a human being gets taught the lesson that their body will betray them on a regular basis. They can't even just drink the pain away like adults do, since they're babies and their tiny fingers and lack of motor skills renders them incapable of opening whiskey bottles.

It only gets worse from there too. I think one of the worst things about being a baby would be that literally everyone and their mother wants to be in your face and holding you. And I don't blame them, because babies are adorable and squishy and I think it's a stress reliever holding something that squishy. They're like living stress balls (but only when you can return them to their rightful owner when the going gets rough). The problem here is that every baby has a disgusting relative--a person with questionable hygiene and absolutely no capacity for personal space who only seems capable of destroying a baby's personal bubble and going to town with the ridiculous faces.

Thinking about all of this stuff, I can't imagine what it would be like if I remembered every instance I threw something up or had my personal space violated. I'm pretty glad our brains decided to delay this memory forming process, otherwise, I'm pretty sure every single baby on the planet would grow up to have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I'd like to thank old dead guys for doing my thinking for me

I know I haven't been good about writing in here lately, as I am now an adult with an adult job and I  require an insane amount of energy just to stay awake and function day to day. This, in addition to what I consider an "easily excitable mind," has resulted in a behemoth writers block that I haven't been able to shake for a while. I found myself reminiscing the good old days of high school and college english class, being given a prompt and being forced to sit and write in a journal. Some of my best work came from being forced to just write the first thing that came into my head. Luckily, I was given an awesome book for my birthday that includes 365 writing prompts, so it's basically like having my own nagging english teacher!

Today's writing prompt was the following: What does 'happiness' mean to you? Would you describe yourself as a naturally happy or an unhappy & worried person? Tell me about a time when you felt really happy and about a tie when you made someone else feel happy.

Happiness is a strange concept to me. Looking for some inspiration, I read the quotes in the back of the book on happiness and found one by Aristotle that kind of jumped out at me: "Happiness depends upon ourselves." This, of course, led to a google search (where the magic begins) on the quote, which led to a mad frenzy to find my copy of Nicomachean Ethics that I SWORE up and down that I kept, since I keep pretty much all of my textbooks from college (I believe you can learn a lot about a person by what's on their bookshelf), only to find that I had, in fact, gotten rid of that book. So until I receive my ordered copy of the book, the internet has to suffice.

Aristotle has kind of a strange perspective on happiness that does not in any way support anything our society does nowadays. Lately we have "rediscovered" the concept of mindfulness (which is basically the new "kale"--aka a trend that everyone pretty much disregarded for years and now all of a sudden its the hottest "thing" in health. This isn't shocking given that our society has basically been built upon giving history the giant middle finger and doing what we want anyway. Modern day society is basically a giant teenager full of angst and bad decisions); we have learned that living in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future can be beneficial, which makes sense, but Aristotle believed that we should always act with the future in mind. How will our actions now make the future a better place? 

Aristotle believed in happiness as a human goal (which it is) and the central purpose of life itself (which I suppose it kind of is. We haven't figured out the purpose of life quite yet, so I guess this one wins out as a default). He believed that happiness is an end result, that it's not something we can feel and then not feel again in the course of a few minutes. It's not the result of something good happening, and when something bad happens, its not a feeling that can just go away. It's a culmination of living a fulfilling, virtuous life. If you have friends and are just, courageous, and a good citizen all in a way that is neither excessive or lacking, happiness is the end result. Like when you're playing the Sims, and you've achieved their life goal and their Sim thing turns gold for the rest of their lives.

Now obviously I do not regard Aristotle, as insightful as he was (basically the Jesus of ancient philosophers) to be an all-knowing authority on such a complicated, intangible concept, but he has certainly put more thought than a lot of people have and his ideas have helped me in answering the question of what happiness is. I, too, believe that happiness is not a temporary feeling. I believe that one can be happy and also feel bad for a bit. I believe that a person can be content with his or her life but get angry over somebody cutting them off in traffic. Despite having an asshole boss, one can still be overall happy with everything else and grateful to have a job. I think that each positive action that one performs during life is a brick and happiness is the building that results from many good actions. Everyone is in charge of their own happiness and they decide how strong the building will eventually be. The stronger the building, the more able to weather any storms that life decides to conjure up. 

Personally, there are lots of things that make me feel good that I should probably implement in my day-to-day life and I think it's important to figure out the difference between things that make me feel good and things that will make me feel happy in the long run. I feel that this whole Aristotle business was a good way to start and was also kind of like knowledge porn for my brain.