Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Handball news

So, you might already know this, but Iceland won the silver medal in the Olympic Handball championship! Pretty impressive for such a tiny country. In fact, for something to be considered a true achievement here, it has to be a per-capita world record. And Iceland is allegedly the smallest country (population-wise) in the world to get a medal in a team sport at the Olympics, so there you go!

The final was on Sunday at 7.45am, and I joined the rest of the nation in getting up early (despite a party on the previous night) and watching the game. Unfortunately France proved to be too strong a foe.

Note that this is the only medal Iceland got in these Olympics. Which is approximately the same number of medals won by Lebanon (it's just one less medal for Lebanon...).

Anyway, today as I left work I walked by Kjarvalsstaðir, a nearby art museum which contains some paintings of Iceland's most famous painter, Johannes Kjarval. On the side of the building I saw three guys (all with the same blue shirt) peeing on a side wall of the museum.

Now, public urination is pretty common here on weekend nights, when Icelanders metamorphose from quiet distant folk to loud drunken party animals. But during the day? It's pretty uncommon.

A woman who was not too far from these guys (and must have seen them pee) told them as they were done, "Til hamingju með það", a form of congratulations. It struck me as a bit weird that she would congratulate them for peeing, as she did not seem sarcastic and one of the guys politely thanked her. But as I made it to the front of the Museum, I saw a bunch of people grouped there, including policemen and whatnot... And then it clicked, those guys were some of the handball players, and there was a celebration of sorts! In fact, I had read that they were going to receive some awards with elaborate names from the state, such as Order of the Falcon and Knight Grand Cross. Fancy.

As I inquired there, I found out that they were gearing up for a celebration party downtown. I continued walking home and by the time I reached Árnarhóll, the grassy knoll next to Lækjartorg, lots of people were heading there and watching a big screen, while sellers on the side were lining up Icelandic flags and t-shirts. As I walked into Vesturbær (the Western part of town) people were walking opposite me and towards the knoll... They must be getting ready for quite the party!

Indeed as I turn on the TV now I see the president being interviewed. About the Handball team. Well this is Iceland, it's not like there is much happening here otherwise! :). And now, he's making a speech - live - in front of the players... And he just said, "Er hægt að vera Íslendingur, og að vera bestur" which translates as "It's possible to be an Icelander, and to be the best". And he's handing out the awards.

Alright, enough with the live blogging of the handball celebrations. It's time to go to the gym to get in better shape, and possibly become the best!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hiking the Laugavegurinn trail

Well! We're already in August, and the summer is starting to slip by... And what a nice summer it's been. Plenty of beautiful weather, including the day with the highest recorded temperature ever in Reyjavík (26.2 degrees Celsius / 79 degrees Fahrenheit!). It's almost too good, for this place.

Don't be fooled by the lull in posting, we've been doing plenty of stuff this summer :). And there will be other posts after this one detailing our activities.

But this post is about hiking the Laugavegurinn trail. In mid-July, we decided, along with 4 friends of ours, to do this hike. It's a 3 day hike, 55 kms (34 miles) long , which takes you from the rhyolite mountains of Landmannalagar, through geothermal areas, to fields of obsidian rock, to a black sand wasteland, and finally through a real Icelandic forest (birch trees) with a great view of several glaciers. Oh and along the way, there are several unbridged glacial rivers, which we had to cross by foot. It was a seriously intense experience for me... As I'm sure Jó could tell you.

We camped for two nights, and carried all our stuff in our backpacks (which weighed close to 14 kilos / 30 pounds). The last day was particularly intense as we had to catch a bus by 3.30, and Jó had to soldier on through her 7-8 blisters to get there... But we made it! And as soon as we did, it started raining, after 3 days of great weather. That's luck.

Oh, the cabin at the end of the trail sells hot dogs. After three days of freeze-dried food and whatnot, those were the best hot dogs I've ever had.

And, now, the pictures. Many thanks to Jó for taking most of them! We had to do with the small camera, as the nicer one would have been to heavy to carry on the trip.

Pretty mountains in Landmannalaugar

Steam in a lava field

The erosion is taking out this mountain's burnt cover

Notice the almost bluish spots in some of the mountains


The view of the first campsite, surrounded by shiny obsidian rocks

The snow looks like rivers between the mountains

A geothermal stream. Some spots even had boiling water!

The best view of the trip... Álftavatn lake viewed from a mountain 500 meters above it.

A mountain in the sunset, around 11pm.

Crossing the long black wasteland. People call it a desert though it's technically too wet to be a one, but it has almost no vegetation.

The glacier, always showing us the way

A (luckily) bridged river crossing

We had to go up and down so many mountains...

A very red field

The birch forests of Þórsmörk

On the way back, the bus had to cross some rivers too...