Iceland: The Waterfalls

In addition to lots of landscape, Iceland also has approximately one bazillion stunning waterfalls scattered about the place, usually located on or near a river. Here are some of them, more or less in the order as we experienced them whilst driving around the island clockwise from Reykjavík:

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Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most popular because of its proximity to Reykjavík and its position on the “Golden Circle” tourist route (and probably also its prettiness). Its name means “Golden Falls”—all waterfalls end in “-foss,” the Icelandic word for waterfall.

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Iceland: The Driving

As I imagine it is for many tourists upon arriving in Iceland, our first stop was the car rental place. We were intending to rent some now-forgotten but small and gutless 2-wheel drive. Instead, we were magically and randomly upgraded to a Nissan Qashqai. We loved it so much that we decided to buy one ourselves someday, and probably would have last month if it had better fit Tiny Baby Alice’s big-girl car seat.

One of its best features, at least in Iceland, is that it’s a 4-wheel drive, and there are lots of roads—primarily in the interior, where the mountains and glaciers are—on which non-4x4s are strictly disallowed.

This is a regular road:

And this is a 4×4 road:

Don’t ask me what the difference is. Oh, except for this:

Our first, last, and ultimately abandoned river ford, due in part to this warning label prominently displayed on the passenger side dashboard:

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We drove on roads like this one:

And this one:

And this one (through a lava field in the south):

Some roads are paved and some roads are not, but almost all of those that we drove on were in really good condition. We went through a construction zone once, which consisted of a warning sign beforehand and a big backhoe and a few people doing something—and that was it. No cones, no sign holders, no temporary traffic lights (the UK’s chosen and super annoying method because I’m pretty sure they just put them up at the beginning of the project and let them run 24/7 until the end of the project, even whilst no work is actually being done). It was so refreshing: there’s some people working up ahead, use your common sense and don’t hit anything. Takk!

Also: Iceland drives on the right side of the road, like normal people (I mean, it’s right there in the description: THE RIGHT SIDE), and they use the metric system, like normal people should.

We had lots of good adventures in the Qashqai, including when we were the only people visiting Dettifoss (Europe’s largest waterfall) in the snow—some Germans staying at the same place we were tried to get there via the road on the other side of the canyon, only they never made it because their Suzuki (or something) got stuck in the snow and they had to be pulled out, so they just slunk back to town. Take that, Germans!

We took this next photo whilst enjoying the very welcome warm waters at Grettislaug, a legendary hot pot (more on which later)—it’s just a shame they put those big rocks marking the edge of the car park so far away, because that is a long way to go in nowt but a bathing suit (wet or dry) when the air temperature is barely above freezing and further bracing winds do insist on rolling in from the ocean a few yards away.

But the Qashqai had heated seats! And USB music listening! And the whole roof was glass, which was excellent for things like when it snowed or there were mountains or the northern lights to look at.

When you go to Iceland, you should probably rent a Qashqai.

Iceland: The Landscape

I like to think that one of the things that makes us all human is the collective existential crisis we all experienced when we learned that Greenland is covered in ice while Iceland is nice and green.

Up is down! Black is white! What does it all mean? How can we really KNOW anything?

What I can tell you is this: overall it’s cold—icy, even—because it’s so far north (just barely south of the Arctic Circle), but it’s considerably warmer than other places of its latitude because SCIENCE. All of the volcanoes and geothermal activity plus glaciers and rivers and wind and erosion and things make for some pretty otherworldly landscapes which (SPOILER: segue!) I will now show you.

[Note: If you have been dutiful and/or a little stalkerish, you will have already seen most of these approximately 1.5 years ago when I posted them on Picasa and Facebook. Only THIS time, they may or may not come with additional commentary.]

[Also: this will by far be the longest post. Probably.]

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Iceland: An Introduction

Iceland, Land of Fire and Ice

Once upon a time, Stephan and I got married. We didn’t really have any money at the time, but that was okay because we were In Love and also that was the entire reason we were getting married in the first place: it just made fiscal sense.

I really wanted to go to Iceland for our honeymoon, but we decided we’d wait until we had some a) money and b) vacation time to do it up right. So instead of a proper honeymoon, we went to Skamania Lodge for a few nights which was extra super fun because I was food poisoned at some point but NEVER MIND. And THEN Stephan surprised me with a honeymoon to Maui a few months later anyway—like, totally surprised. Emailed my boss and requested my vacation time, gave me 30 minutes to pack (apparently, my brain hears “80 degrees” and thinks “oh, short-sleeved sweaters”), didn’t tell me where we were going until on the way to the airport.

That was an excellent and super fun trip where we went snorkeling every day and saw a turtle (we like to tell ourselves). The only drawbacks were that Stephan was sick (one of us always is!) and I accidentally stepped on a hermit crab and cracked his shell open, an ecosystem-shattering grievance for which I still feel guilty to this day. Since that trip ticked the honeymoon box, though, we put Iceland on further hold, until we turned five.

So in the fall of 2011, at the very tail end of tourist season, we went to Iceland. And, Internets, it was the best trip I’ve ever been on and my new favorite place in the world. It wildly exceeded my expectations and I would move there tomorrow if I could.

I meant to tell you all about it much sooner, but first there was that job I had just started, then I got pregnant, then there was that job from which I was made redundant, then I was still pregnant, then there was that famous baby from The Daily Alice. Because it was so very, very long ago, you probably won’t get much narrative, but that’s okay because BORING. Who wants to hear a minute-by-minute account of someone else’s vacation anyway? I thought that’s why Al Gore invented the Internet, so he wouldn’t have to sit politely through other people’s hours-long vacation slide presentations. Put it all online where you can sit through interminable blog posts as impolitely as you want.

[I have lots of photos so there will be LOTS of posts. You have been warned.]

Contest

I have what is known in the business as Bad Handwriting. I attribute it entirely to my engineer father and not at all to my nurse mother, who has probably the neatest handwriting you’ll ever see. (Also a pet theory that I’m supposed to be left handed: almost everything I do except write and chop things heavily favors my left hand.)

5 million points to the first person who can tell me what this delightful scrawl says:

Hint: I recently discovered it in some notes I made regarding life in England. From context, I do know what it says.

The Buck Stops Here

Remember back before there were computers? I don’t, not technically, but that’s only because my personal father is a computer programmer, among other things, so we always had at least one about the place. In the very earliest days it was a portable computer called the Roadrunner that was basically a big plastic box with a handle on one side and a screen on one end, which could be covered and protected during transport by the removable keyboard. My interactions with it were limited to the occasional game of a Dig Dug knockoff and everyone having to tiptoe around the house when it was in use lest our footsteps cause vibrations that would crash the hard drive.

Okay, so the point is that once upon a time, not very many people had personal computers, and then they did, and then everyone got email and slowly became more familiar with things like Nigerian scams and chain letters regarding how Bill Gates was dying to give away free Xboxes or whatever if only you would forward this email to your entire address book. But back in 1989, when I was 7 or so, I didn’t know about the Internet or Nigeria or that there were doctors out there who would deny life-saving surgery to innocent children just because they weren’t liked enough.

All I knew was that when my cousin Kimberly sent me a chain letter (through the mail! with a stamp!), it specifically told me to send her some stickers and to copy and send the letter on to 5 new people. And I didn’t. It’s clear that my overzealous respect for authority was already at play at this young age because I knew that my Aunt Carolynn had helped her with the letter and I knew that my Aunt Carolynn would know that I hadn’t followed the instructions, so the next time we saw them, I actively avoided her so I wouldn’t get in trouble.

Why didn’t you send the letters, Katie? She would say.

Why didn’t you follow the instructions?

I’m not mad, just disappointed.

(Of course, none of this actually happened: not a word was ever mentioned about it from then till now. Now that the silence has been broken.)

Well guess what, Internets—I’m about to do it again. My friend and former coworker Marie tagged me for a Liebster Award, which instructs me to answer 11 questions, give 11 random facts about myself, and write 11 new questions for 11 other lucky recipients to answer. Only I’m not gonna.

I thought about it. But then I realized that while I really like blathering on about myself (obvs), I read almost zero blogs to pass the love on to (blog community? I’m just writing into a vacuum, right?). Plus there was all the thinking involved (11 x 11 x 11 x 11! That’s a lot of 11s!). So instead I’ll use Marie’s excellent questions for individual blog post inspiration sometime. You know, because I blog all the time. What with the new(ish) baby and all. You know.

And In Conclusion

And FINALLY finally, the UK maternal health system. Overall, I was quite pleased. They are heavily midwife run, which, having a low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancy, I really enjoyed. I saw the midwife 10 or 12 times, went to the hospital clinic twice for ultrasounds (appointments at which I was seen by a doctor), and once for the actual birth, which was attended by midwives. I never had to have a glucose test, which I hear is all the rage in the US and also not the most fun in the world. I had an internal exam exactly once, when I showed up at the hospital in labor ready to be admitted, and the only monitoring during the birth was an external fetal heart monitor from time to time.

I was able to have a water birth without all the hassle and risk of filling up a wading pool in my living room. I was able to go home (though Alice was not) 8 hours after the birth, and in the first 2 weeks, a midwife, health visitor (RN with additional baby training who is available for consulting for up to 5 years), and lactation consultant all made house calls, some more than once. Alice was in the hospital for 6 days, completely free of charge, and I was able to stay in a private room with her there for 3 nights.

The maternity ward at our hospital is midwife led, so they handle everything unless there is a reason to bring in a doctor. They are much less likely to intervene medically (fewer episiotomies and C-sections). The primary drawback is there’s no way of knowing who will actually be delivering your baby—the “community midwife” I saw throughout my pregnancy only did one shift a week in the maternity ward; I had never seen the two midwives who delivered Alice before in my life. Along with this, since I didn’t have a primary obstetrician, sometimes the left hand didn’t quite know what the right hand was doing, but it worked out fine in my case.

My only other complaint was that whilst I did get to stay in the aforementioned private room, the “meals” they provided left something to be desired. The first breakfast I had before I got smart and started having Stephan deliver consisted of one piece of toast, one small banana, one of those tiny boxes of Rice Krispies that your mom never lets you buy because they’re too expensive even though single-serving cereal is obviously the most amazing thing ever invented, and one of those orange juices they give you on the plane in a plastic cup with foil on top. And I’m supposed to be feeding an entire other person on those calories?

One final complaint: the pediatric system is similar to the maternity system, in that you never see a specialist (ie, “pediatrician”) unless there’s something wrong that your GP doesn’t know how to fix. I am not entirely comforted by this—while I’m sure Alice’s GP is competent enough (we haven’t had to test her yet!), I kind of think that babies should have their own special doctors whose caseloads don’t include newborns, old-age pensioners, and everyone in between. The health visitor came 4 times in her first 3 months, primarily to weigh and measure, but now won’t see her until she’s almost a year. There are no well-baby visits.

But all of that aside, it’s free. Free, free, free and more than adequate. I can’t imagine what we’d have had to pay in the US for Alice’s hospital stay, and she wasn’t even that sick or there that long. It was a great relief not having to even think about the money once, because it’s not like you have a choice when it comes to your child’s health.

This concludes my report on pregnancy and childbirth in the UK. I hope you have enjoyed this report.