Tuesday, September 27, 2011

5 more Icelandic trivia

Here goes more Iclandic trivia.

#9 To get your electrician's license you need to pass exams in Danish (it's also compulsory at school).

#10 There were no plans to establish any Icelandic military forces after the II WW, although on 30 March 1949 the Alpingi (parliament) decided that Iceland would be a charter member of NATO, thus turning its back on neutrality. However, an Icelandic Defense Force came to live, with its all American military personnel.

#11 In schools, going to the swimming pool is compulsory.

#12 Iceland has something in common with Asia. They're beginning to have two sets of prices in some places - for the locals and for tourists (f.e. entrance to the Blue Lagoon is 4500 ISK for foreigners and 1900 ISK for Icelanders).

#13 Back in the day swimming pools used to employ a person whose only job was to oversee that visitors shower naked before going into the pool. Apparently, about 20 years ago someone told them it was a tad bit odd, so they fired the poor folks.

Keflavik presents: The Base. Part 1

Sooo... Finally will have some time to sit down and write a bit more about Iceland. During the trip I had loads of ideas for posts, most of which have been forgotten unfortunately. However, whatever I managed to scribble down is gonna be appearing in the following days/weeks.

To start with, a bit of  Icelandic history for those interested.

.    .     .     .     .

Ever since Americans took over Iceland from the British after the II WW, the Base has been a source of dispute and controversies on the island, but has also influenced the local population a lot. It was estabilished around a 40 minute drive from the capital in the town of Keflavik, where the only international airport is located.

From what I read in the Reykjanesbaer Heritage Museum:

In the minds of most Icelanders, the Keflavik Base was primarly a heated political issue. For the local population, the US base was a major employer, and a neighbour. The Base was not only a military installation, but an autonomous community with its own schools, church, hospital, shops, cinema, clubs, radio and TV stations, newspaper, and all the accoutrements of daily life, workshops, workplaces. Everything was different inside the wire: electrical current, buildings, furtniture, currency - all was as it was in the US of A.
On May 30 1949 the first US military personnel of the Icelandic Defense Army arrived on the island. Extensive construction work began, to provide accommodation for the troops and their families, along with all the necessary services of a military base. Initially many of the personnel were billeted in nearby villages, but over time almost all were housed on the base. The Keflavik base operated continuously for 55 years, until it finally closed down on 30 September 2006 (..)

The Organisation Against Military Occupation was founded on 19 June 1960, symbolically at Þingvellir - the ancient parliamentary site and cradle of Icelandic nationhood. It later became the Organisation Against the Military Base. Supporters of the American military presence also made themselves heard, for instance by collecting signatures for a petition under the title: "A land defended". Local people too took sides in the debate: the Njarðik Youth Organisation, for instance, declared its opposition to the Base on nationalist grounds, with the slogan Iceland for Icelanders

So what were the Americans doing, while the Icelanders argued over their presence? The most noticeable sign of life on the Base was the regular roar of fighter jets taking off and landing: mostly on patrol flights to confront the opposition. Soviet planes ventured close to Icelandic air space to test how far they could go, and their US counterparts  "headed them off the pass".
Between 1980 and 1991 an average of 132 such missions were flown each year. The aircraft of the Keflavik base alone flew almost as many missions against Soviet planes as all the rest of the USAF put together (..)

Visiting the base was an adventure, just like going on a trip abroad. There was even a different smell. That was probably what sparked off my wanderlust. It was a special experience that I loved, comments Dagbjort Oskarsdottir, remembering her childhood outings to the cinema on the Base in the 1950s.

The nearby communities were influenced by their coexistence with the Americans. In the Suðurnes region around the Base, people were known for driving big American automobiles, and keeping up with the latest music, they had American TV and radio stations and in their homes they had American domestic appliances, furniture, even American foods and beer. They dressed differently from other Icelanders, in their American parkas and baseball caps, speaking both Icelandic and English - and sometimes a mixture of the two.
Decorating homes with strings of Christmas lights was unkown in Iceland until the Americans on the Base started hanging up lights during Advent. Their Icelandic neighbours followed their example and before long this had become a national phenomenon. The people of Suðurnes are still renowned for the enthusiasm with which they decorate their homes and gardens with lights at Christmas.

Why do I write about it though?
Cause I was staying in one of the troops' housing buildings, no. 961 :)

Also, I did visit a different, still operating, American Base a couple years back and I remember how surprised I was to see that it really was a piece of the US of A abroad. A big premises with proper lanes & avenues, stores where you pay in $ and get all American products, restaurants, gyms, a cinema hall..

.     .     .     .     .

Actually, it's been suggested to me once that I should move somewhere close to one of the Bases and get myself a soldier hubby, preferably one that would be sent to a war zone, so I could collect the 200 000$ widow money and live happily ever after. How could I have not acted on such a perfect plan..? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What not to do in Iceland

Jim has sent me this short article and I decided to add my short comments.

True. The paths will be on your map, allright, but no point looking for them in real life.
Yup. Although, I did manage to understand a couple of things here and there, to the utter bewilderment of me and the people around me alike.

Nor in food pricing. 
Not-co-great-looking restaurants in some small towns (which means around 15-20 houses in Iceland..) will be more expensive than cool spots in Reykjavik. I was actually very surprised to see that eating and going out in the capital was quite affordable, even for someone from my part of the world (meaning it was up two two times more expensive, not more).

See Antoine? Had we gone to Sudavik, you might have seen the foxes! ;)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kahlua&Baileys night

Last year on this day I was leaving for Paris. 

Leaving with two backpacks and 1/3 of the things not mine. 
Leaving solo for the first time.
Leaving for my longest trip yet, a month and a half. 

Leaving with so much hope in my eyes, 
with uncertainty in my heart,
without a doubt in my mind.

.     .     .     .     .

365 days
7 trips
14 countries                                          later
20 flights
thousands of miles

I find myself back home, waiting for another chapter to begin. 
A chapter I believed over. 
An old chapter coming in a new design.

.     .     .     .     .

Kahlua & Baileys are the perfect taste to my memories.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Home sweet home

 49 days
6 countries
1 tent
17 hosts
8 old friends met
? new friends made


Normally coming back home isn't so sweet.

Don't get me wrong - I love my home and my family but coming back usually means leaving an interesting place, saying goodbye to great people and 'see you later' to adventure.

However, this time by the end of the trip I felt homesick. On Thursday I was already thinking how good it'll be to be home already. Just sit in my room and stare at its walls (and yes, I definitely need to change the wallpaper!), not do anything, not talk to anyone, not go anywhere. Just sit there and breath in  home.

And then get my shit back together and get doing things.

.     .     .     .      .

A welcome back raspberry peach cake. 
Moms are the best.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Most grateful

Was supposed to be writing my next note about something different but then again, was supposed to be camping out somewhere on the outskirts of Montpellier. 

As it is, am comfortably lying on a sofa, with fresh linen and pillows, full of good cheese, pizza and positive energy coming from all the international tong twisters we were reading in the evening and the amazing generosity and hospitality of yet another hosts.

We didn't manage to get a couch for ourselves in the city but luckily Paszczak and Ewelina are in Montpellier as well and agreed to let us use their tent for tonight. We spent the afternoon walking around town, at round 6pm went to get our bags from our previous host and caught a tram going to the guys' hosts. I was the designated French speaker and before we got on the tram, I called to ask if we could come along to their place, so that Paszczak could give us the tent. The girl said yes, sure and apologised she couldn't host us but they were already having 3 surfers over.

We got off the train and called Jeremy, the host, to ask how to get to the house. He told us to stay put, as he would come to pick us up. Come he did and invited us to stay over at their place, although he was sorry the conditions wouldn't be too good. He must have been kidding, 'cause the conditions are great. The flat is so homey and nice, the people living here are all sweethearts. We've been offered a place to sleep, food and drinks, computer time and anything else we might need.

.     .     .     .     .

I have met some generous and hospitable people who went out of their ways to make my stay in their home town a most comfortable one but it still is amazing to discover that they are not so few as one might expect. A similar situation took place in Iceland but more about that on a different occasion. Every time, I feel so so lucky to come across them and see into their world, if only for a couple of hours. 

Also, the French have a rather bad reputation but all the hosts (and hosts by chance) have been amazing people. So down with cliches, once again!

To all the kind souls and trustful strangers ready to turn into trusted friends in an hour of need - thank you.