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And the Winner is…

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It has been a long and arduous experience, but I can finally reveal the winner of yesterday’s competition, as well as a selection of the best runners up. So, our abject grovelling love and adoration go to our winner, and a nod and a wink to our runners up. Also a big thank you to everyone who e-mailed – they were all great to read!

WINNER:

How to survive Iceland

I’ve been reading the Icelandic telephone book. That might sound an odd way of passing the time but it is a rather interesting document. I first came across it because I wanted to interview Páll Óskar about the Eurovision, and after asking a few people how I might contact him, did he have an agent etc, I received fairly bemused looks and the reply, “Just look him up in the phone book.” Evidently being ex-directory is not a big thing here.

After getting thoroughly distracted by the uniqueness of a telephone directory listed by Christian names (there are some great names – Ebenezer Þorláksson) I chanced upon the only bit in English – “Instructions for the general public regarding natural disasters in Iceland”

Now this is brilliant; with all due sympathy to the tsunami victims you can’t help thinking that Thailand could have done with something a bit like that in the phone book. There are general instructions about evacuating etc and you don’t evacuate to anything as innocuous as a “Muster Point” or even “Community Centre”; in Iceland if you have to leave your home in an emergency you head straight for the nearest “Mass Casualty Centre”.

There is no substitute for telling it like it is.

You are given strict instructions as to the procedures to follow if there is say, a volcanic eruption, a disaster which is actually dealt with specifically. Interestingly enough you must “take measure to ensure that food will not be spoiled.” Talk about remaining calm under pressure.

Earthquakes are particularly thoroughly covered:

“It is good to memorize the words DUCK, COVER, HOLD to remember how to react in the event of an earthquake.”

A helpful graphic depicts “Ducking in the corner of a supporting wall, covering the head and holding on, if possible.” If possible? My point exactly.

The instructions are signed off in bold capitals:

ALWAYS BELIEVE THAT YOU WILL BE RESCUED. THAT WILL INCREASE THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING FOUND ALIVE.

Indeed. Another example of that straight talking, no beating round the bush, telling it like it is vibe again.

Coming from a country where a power cut is considered a disaster it’s difficult to imagine checking the fridge during an earthquake, so it is easy to picture a scenario of general chaos. But bear in mind that a massive eruption in 1973 nearly wiped out Heimay in the Westmann Islands. The eruption commenced at 2am on 23 January and lasted for five months spilling more than 30 million tonnes of lava over the town, destroying 360 houses and creating a brand new mountain. A third of the town was buried beneath lava flow, and the island increased in the size by 2.5 sq km.And the residents? All 5000 inhabitants were successfully evacuated to the mainland.

Clearly they’d been reading the phone book, which worryingly for us outlanders devotes four pages to the Instructions for Natural Disasters in Icelandic, rather than the mere two in English. www.ontheruntur.com

Clement Wilson

Small World Annoyances

I was staying by myself at a hotel near Skaftafell in August of 2001 when I had one of those strange encounters you have to go halfway around the world to have. The center table of the dining room was occupied by a large tour group of Americans, drinking and guffawing. Everyone in the group seemed to be beholden to a tall individual named Charley, seated at the head of the table. Noticing that I was dining alone and grimacing at the fracas they were creating, Charley offered to buy me some wine. I politely declined and scarfed down the rest of my meal.

When Charley stepped out for a moment, several members of the tour group started complaining about him. It became evident that Charley was the infamous Charles Keating, the founder of the notorious Lincoln Savings & Loan, and the poster boy for the Savings & Loan collapse of the 1980s.

He had spent several years in prison for looting the S&L's assets, and nearly brought down the political careers of 5 U.S. senators, including John Glenn and John McCain. He was directly responsible for the disgrace of Senator Alan Cranston of California, who was voted out of office for his role in the scandal. Now he was doing his best to wreck my dinner.

By the next morning, Charley and his tour group had moved on, and I mused over the strangeness of the encounter. Last Saturday, I was at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles, and I brushed by actor Robert Blake, recently acquitted of murder, eating lunch with a young woman. Now I wonder what discredited individual I'll meet when I go on my next vacation, to Patagonia.

James A. Paris, Los Angeles, USA

Poetic Justice

I visited Iceland a few years back and the one of the things I enjoyed the most was the "hot pots" all over the city...

Anyway, after I got back to the states, I was reading Gary Wake's column in DNFI and he asked his readers the question, "why do Icelander's live the longest - happy"? He requested that readers send in their thoughts. Well...I just assumed that he didn't speak English very well (I was young, naive, and thought he must be a foreigner and therefore, didn't understand English very well - duh!) So, my response was something like this:

"Iceland is a nice place...I like Iceland...I think the hot pots are very nice...etc. etc."

I went on and on -- I sounded like I was 5 years old! As it turned out, Gary was from England! To make it really, really embarrassing – he published my response in DNFI – so every person in the whole world could read it!

PS: The people in Iceland speak English better than I do!!!

I did end up meeting Gary and touring the DNFI offices during a later visit and he even let me write the weather report!

Jude Civello, West Chester, PA, USA

Easy Maiming

My partner Andrew and I have visited Iceland several times. We have always been impressed by the lack of any kind of health & safety regime. You know the sort of thing...'this packet of nuts may contain nuts', 'the water in this hot tap may be very hot' etc, etc. Iceland has a very refreshing attitude to H&S - there isn't any. Let me give you a few examples.

1. We went snowmobiling. This is in itself a slightly dangerous thing to do but we added to the tension by going on a June day when the glacier was shrouded in fog. In England this would have immediately resulted in cancellation of all activity for the day but being Iceland we were shown to our machine and off we went. Our guide gave us extensive training - (don't stick your leg out if the snowmobile turns over, this makes it go, this makes it stop) and we set off across the glacier.

At the far end we admired some blue ice and casually asked the guide if it was ever dangerous on the glacier. Oh yes, he said, in the summer the ice melts and crevasses appear. He though for a moment and said 'On the way back, if you see a crack don't stop, just keep going!'

2. Horse riding. I hadn't ridden since I was 14 and my partner had never been on a horse in his life. Again, in England we would have been given at least an hour's tuition in a nice quiet paddock before being allowed out on a trek. In Iceland Andrew was hauled and shoved onto his horse, told to keep his feet forward and off we went. For three hours over lava, through pebbly bottomed streams and along the top of steep ravines. The guide shot off in front and let us all set our own pace, which in Andrew's case was just as fast as his horse wanted to go. Being an intelligent animal it quickly worked out the Andrew didn't have a clue what he was doing and ambled along snacking on anything tasty and ignoring his despairing cries of 'giddy-up'.

3. Geysir. There is a lot of boiling water at Geysir, some of it in pools, some of it leaping into the air. There is no marked path, no safety fencing and if you want to step into super-heated mud then you can knock yourself out. Around Strokkur, the most active geysir, there is a pathetic little fence made of baling twine threaded through foot high metal rods and a small notice about a foot square, which simply says (in Icelandic) 'HOT'.

I hope with all my heart that this never changes. We are all nannied and coddled and told what to do until we are incapable of independent thought. We all need to have the opportunity to make idiots of ourselves and get a few scrapes and bruises doing it. What else is life about? Long live Iceland.

Gill Thomas and Andrew Lee, London, UK

Wild Horses…

In 2001, my husband and me went to Iceland for our honeymoon...We rented a car, traveled around and admired the sights.

On this particular day, my husband decided to take a picture of the famous Icelandic Horses that can be seen next to the road. We stopped the car, I stayed inside, off he went to take the picture...30 seconds later he comes back and asks me: Do horses bite?

I answered that, as far as I knew, no, they don't bite (mind you, I am no horse expert...).

He tells me that when he was preparing to take the picture, this horse just came running and stopped just before the ditch that separates the fields from the road.

I told him not to worry, that the ditch is probably there so the horses don't go in the road. He went again to take the picture...30 seconds later he comes back...this time running and yelling: He's after me! Run!

As we drove away I could see the horse through the rearview mirror, looking at our car, with a puzzled expression and going back to the field.

We still have the picture of the horse, both front legs coming out of the ditch (the one he wasn't supposed to pass). I swear, the horse seems to be laughing at us!!

Silvina, Toronto, Canada

Export Value

Okay, the funniest story is after having a wonderful dinner in Reykjavik (I can't quite remember the name of the restaurant, but it's across the street from the Stella sign on Laugarvegur in 101) near where the old tourist center was. We had lamb and it was wonderful.

Upon returning home, we were at our at our local restaurant in Minneapolis (where the Mississippi river begins in the center of North America) and the special that night was – yes, Icelandic lamb! Well, we had damn near the same meal here as we had in Iceland, and it was just as wonderful.

Both were put on my credit card, of course. When I got the bill, the charge for the Restaurant in Iceland was US$120, in Minneapolis it was US$60.

Why is Icelandic lamb cheaper to eat in the US than it is in Iceland??

Donald, Minneapolis, USA

A Fitting Tribute

Iceland has a very special place in my heart, and with June 17 here, I wanted to celebrate Iceland’s independence as well. In my city of Duluth, Minnesota, there is a bronze statue of Leif Erickson in a popular park. Although it is not as impressive as the Leifur Eiríksson statue in Reykjavik, it is the connection I feel with the two statues that is important. In October 2002, my girlfriend and I embarked on an adventure to Iceland, and I had romantic intentions in mind. After our over night flight from Minneapolis, we toured through Reykjavik and the first photo we took was in front of Leifur Eiríksson. During the trip we drove up the west coast to a mountaintop near Snæfellsjökull. When we hiked to the summit, I set up a camera to take a timed photo of us the instant I proposed to my wife. A year later, we were married in Leif Erickson Park here in Duluth. For our honeymoon, we hopped on a flight back to where it all started, Reykjavik and the Leifur Eiríksson statue.

I wanted to share my enthusiasm for Iceland with my city, and I planned on making an addition to the Leif Erickson sculpture here in Duluth. The statue of Leif has him steering the styri of his ship with one hand and the other hand appears that it should be holding a solarsteinn, navigational tool, but it is empty now. That is where I had an epiphany, “Leif should be holding something, and why not make a statement at the same time?” That is when I thought that Iceland should be equally represented in the statue.

The monument was raised by the Norwegian League in 1956. The plaque on the statue reads:

Leif Erickson, Discoverer of America, 1000 A.D

Sponsored and erected by the Norwegian American League Of Duluth, Minnesota And Popular Subscription Presented to the City of Duluth, Minnesota August 25, 1956

The majority of people here in Duluth assume that Leifur Eiríksson sailed from Norway to discover America. Even though he was born of Norwegian parents, many people here do not know that he was, in fact, born in Iceland. My goal with my project is to make my neighbors aware that Iceland had a significant part in Leifur Eiríksson’s life. To draw attention to this idea, I constructed a large flagpole to display a large Icelandic flag. I was careful to place the flagpole from the base to his empty hand.

I also designed a small plaque proclaiming Leif Erickson’s Icelandic ties:

Leifur Eiríksson, Son of Iceland, First European to step onto North America, Courageous and a Heart for Exploration

With June 17th being the Icelandic Independence Day, it was an opportune time to display the flag and proclamation. Here in Duluth, it is also the busiest weekend of the entire year. It is the annual marathon where over 10,000 people run past Leif Erickson, and hopefully many people will stop and take notice. So on this significant day in Icelandic history, the Icelandic flag will wave proudly in Duluth to symbolize Iceland’s role in our history. I hope to make this an annual tradition here. http://www.justcoffeeart.com/Islandsvinur.html

Andrew Saur, Duluth, Minnesota, USA

The Smell of Progress

Last year, my buddy Joel and I were hitchhiking from Vik to Reykjavik. A geologist had driven us from Vik to Hvollsvollur, so we had some hot dogs and kept walking west. An old man in a pickup truck stopped to let us in. I sat in front and Joel sat in back. Unfortunately as it turned out, the man spoke several languages but not English or French - the only ones we had at our disposal. I tried to make polite conversation, saying I liked the music on the radio (something classical) and was it Icelandic; we are from Canada, that sort of thing. Anyway I just enjoyed the view, every once in a while pointing and making international noises of appreciation so that our driver didn't feel like he'd picked up a couple of rude, incommunicative idiots.

In Hella, he dropped us off and smiled and waved goodbye, and Joel and I retrieved our packs from the back of the truck. As he drove away, Joel asked me "man, what was that smell? I thought I was going to die!"

I said, "I didn't smell anything."

Joel's eyes popped out of his head in disbelief. What did I mean I hadn't smelled anything? Apparently there had been a plastic sack in the back seat beside Joel, and the smell was so strong that he'd been gagging all the way from Hvollsvollur. At one point he'd even rolled down his window and dry-heaved as the driver and I tried to work out whether I wanted him to change the radio station or not. He said it was the worst smell he'd ever encountered, like rotting meat covered in feces, urine, vomit, and sulphur, and he couldn't believe that I hadn't noticed it.

We saw many beautiful things in Iceland, but beauty doesn't necessarily make good stories. Unearthly smells emanating from mystery sacks in trucks driven by strange old men do, though.

Hey if I win, maybe somebody could send me a 66 degrees north ball cap, I lost mine in a bus in Montreal.

Thanks, and a big hello to anyone staying at the Northur-Vik hostel and reading this from the post office.

Ryan Purchase

Emotional Baggage

This story is neither funny, sad, weird, nor confusing – but I wanted to share it with someone.

Last summer my wife and I spent two weeks in Iceland with a tour group. We stayed the first two nights in Stykkisholmur, then left on the third day for Akureyri. About an hour down the road, our guide informed us that our luggage had been left behind in the hotel. (It was his fault, but that’s another story.) He said that the hotel would put it on the next bus for Akureyri and that it would arrive later that night. We were pretty sure that our luggage was gone for good.

That night, we checked into the Hotel Edda in Akureyri. We explained our situation to the hotel staff and they said that they would send someone to the bus station to pick up our suitcases when they arrived. Not really believing them, and wanting to make sure that everything made it OK, I asked if someone could take me down to the station to pick them up. So about 11 pm, one of the student/managers drove me down to the station and waited with me. While we waited, we had a great conversation about life in Iceland. Eventually, the bus arrived…and our suitcases were there. Needless to say, it was a great relief, and, I’m ashamed to say, a big surprise.

The trip continued to have its share of ups and downs (exclusively related to the tour group experience). After getting our luggage back, however, we were pretty sure that if there were a problem, the Icelanders would take care of it. The experience turned out to be an odd highlight of our trip.

As for Iceland itself, we loved it. I wish we could spend two weeks there every year, and each day at work, I check the Iceland Review website to see what’s happening. The Photo of the Day is a nice addition. I’m looking forward to reading the other submissions.

David Jacobsen, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

A Love Lost

My Iceland story is short and about an opportunity missed.

I first visited Iceland back in late October 1990. It was the last night of my visit. A group of us had just returned to the Saga hotel from an all day excursion to Gull Foss. We were speaking with a hotel employee trying to get some ideas for where to eat our last evening meal when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and saw one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.

I suspect she was a model from the entourage she had with her. While I was looking she turned and looked in my direction and our eyes met briefly. The effect was one I had never experienced before or since. It was as if someone had hit me between the eyes with a high voltage wire, my head actually jerked back. I thought she had felt the same thing, but before I could cross the lobby to talk to her she disappeared into the bowels of the hotel.

Steven Jay Gordon

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Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.