Evelyn Evans taught high school English and more importantly she taught life. She took the time to give me and other of her students a glimpse into the potential that she saw within us. Another of my high school teachers once took me aside and expressed his opinion that I might be better served in pursuing a “technical education” … college was probably not a prudent option for me. Mrs. Evans looked beyond my struggles with spelling, penmanship, and adolescence to express a different opinion. There are only two assignment artifacts that I have retained from those days, not because of the content of my classwork but because of the content of Mrs. Evans’ written comments to me. Her words mattered and it is not hyperbole for me to express that they may have changed the course of my life.
Each of us has the potential to give the gift of “words that matter” to either encourage or discourage. Be mindful in the exercise of such an awesome responsibility.
Peace Everyone, Pete
PS: There was also Mr. Robert Dreher. He was a successful attorney in Carbondale Illinois who taught a “Survey of the Law” general education course at Southern Illinois University. On the first day of class he confidently strode to the front of the auditorium and announced to the assembly of over 100 students, “I’m Robert Dreher, I’m a LAWYER… you may call me Mr. Dreher or Professor Dreher. You may NOT call me Doctor Dreher… because I’m a LAWYER.” Mr. Dreher, though short and portly, wore his three-piece suit with the strength and dignity of a medieval knight in armor. The large cigars that protruded from his vest pocket were like a coat of arms.
At mid-term, we were required to submit an essay to him. The day that the papers were to be returned to us Mr. Dreher began his lecture by first asking, “Is Peter Schloss here?” (we had never spoken). I raised my hand and he then asked me to see him after class. My heart was in my throat for the next 50 minutes. After class I walked up to him and asked, “Professor, you wanted to see me?” He looked me in the eye for a moment longer than was comfortable and asked, “Have you ever thought about becoming a lawyer?” “No sir”, I replied… To which he responded, “You should”. That was the extent of the “conversation”. Words that matter.
There are many great nations in the world today, but perhaps only one whose people are self burdened by the sobriquet of “Greatest Nation”. There are also a few nations whose people wish to have that burden. So it is and so it has always been.
That burden has been borne by Rome, Macedonia, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, ancient China, and a host of other notables whose accomplishments are recorded in the annals of time and the ruins of tourist destinations. During their reign as “The Greatest” was there ever a time when their citizens imagined that they would not be the greatest? Could Romans imagine a world without Rome? Could Britains imagine a day when the sun did set on The Empire?… Spaniards and Portuguese contemplate a North or South America where they held no territory?
Humans have a wonderful instinct for the moment. We identify events and we memorialize them with monuments and sometimes holidays… we teach them to our children and they become part of our culture. The year 1066, December 25th, July 4 1776, December 7 1941, June 6 1944, and yes 9-11. Dates and events that remind a people of an important moment in time.
Humans are good at recognizing the crossroads of history, but poor at recognizing historical trends within the times that they live. There is typically no one day that marks the apex of greatness nor the moment of decline. With the benefit of telescopic hindsight those “events” can be identified, described, and written about… that is the purview of historians. Books that chronicle decline take hundreds of pages to describe the erosion from “greatest”, and notwithstanding that the decline occurred, the books often generate controversy among peers as to when and how.
It is perilous for a citizen to warn of decline or the loss of greatness during the time that the mantle of “greatest” is worn by fellow citizens. At best the cryer is marginalized, at worse vilified… sometimes even prosecuted. Yet their cautions to fellow citizens were proven in time. Warnings are threats to the status quo. Cautions threaten both the entrenched brokers of power and the population that is ever eager for the assurances that they remain “The Greatest”.
No doubt there were Romans, Britains, Spanish, Portuguese… who saw their leaders redefine “truth”… who recognized the concentration of power into the hands of a few whose agenda was the pursuit of personal goals and an abandonment of the nation’s interests… who saw their people equate military might as the sole measure of greatness, abandoning maintenance of infrastructure, and neglecting the care and education of their people… who recognized that fear mongering was merely a ploy to divert a peoples attention from the real ills of their time… who saw their one nation becoming a house divided.
The inertia of greatness may well be the ultimate cause of the decline of all great civilizations. When confronted with a peril to navigation a small boat can alter its direction with ease, but to change the course of a great ship much effort, distance, and time is required… if the peril is not recognized in time then disaster is inevitable.
Fortunately, all this is about history and boats. Nothing here is relevant to the place and times within which we now live.
We are grateful for the contribution of so many people to our journey. I told Christine of my intention to name those we met and those who have followed us. She replied, “How are you going to do that? You would have to name everyone on Facebook plus everyone who has subscribed to your posts!” Of course, she is right. I launched my “Thoughts” posts in February 2018 in anticipation of the start of our travels in March. As of this writing there have been over 16,000 visits to my posts. I really can’t select individual “followers” of our journey without risking offense to others who I inadvertently omit to recognize. I trust that you know who you are, and most of all I hope that you know that you are loved by us and that we know who you are. Thank you so very much for your replies, “likes”, comments, and even just silently staying with us.
For those who became a part of our journey, I want to recognize you individually and express our love and appreciation. It is likely that I will forget to mention someone. I apologize in advance for any omissions:
Beginning March 24th, we were guests for 3 days in Puerto Rico of hotelier Eddie Ramirez and his wife. It turned out that he had walked the Portuguese Camino in 2016. He arranged for us to receive Pilgrim Credentials issued by the Asociaciόn de Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Puerto Rico for our Camino. We were reminded by Eddie that, “In life there are no coincidences.
From March 27th to April 10th we sailed aboard the Viking Sea from Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain. We met many wonderful travelers and we were wrapped in the luxury of a voyage at its most elegant. This would be in stark contrast to the rest of our journey. Aboard we enjoyed the services of an extraordinary professional staff and we were entertained by very talented young people.
Our needs were meticulously attended to by Augistino and Noni, who were our cabin stewards from Indonesia.
Among the shipboard travelers that we met were Mary and Gary Oesterle from near my hometown in Illinois. We greatly enjoyed their company and we look forward to continuing our friendship into the future.
We arrived in Barcelona on April 10th and during our 3 days in that wonderful city we connected with Neus Santacana and her family. Neus had spent time with us in the 1990’s as a high school exchange student. We met her in Spain during our 2013 Camino and we were thrilled to see her again.
On April 13th we were in Madrid for 3 days. We received a text message from Ron and Lena Meck asking where we were. We first met them during our 2017 journey in Alaska. It turned out that they were also in Madrid! It made for a wonderful chance reunion that I am sure will be repeated in the future, where is to be decided. “In life there are no coincidences!”
On April 16th we traveled by night train from Madrid to Lisbon. In the dining/bar car we met a wonderful young couple, artist Morgane Xenos and restaurateur Jerome Bollom. They had known each other since childhood and it was in adulthood that they discovered that they loved each other. We talked of life from both sides of the mirror, sharing laughter seasoned with wine and olives. Later we would rejoin them in Lisbon. They are special people. We suspect that we will meet again.
On April 19th we toured the Cathedral in Porto. The briefest encounter with two young University of Porto students, Mafalda Lemos and Rita Nogueira, proved to be one of the sweetest and most memorable of our journey. They thought that we were Canadian because we had such big smiles! They had taken our picture and were selling memory booklets at the Cathedral. Understanding that we could not carry the booklet in our backpacks they took it upon themselves to personally package and mail the book to us in the States. They have followed us on Facebook every day since. We hope that they will visit us some day in Kansas City. The world is in good hands with young people such as these!
Our 11 walking days on the Portuguese Camino began on April 20th. Each day included pleasant and memorable encounters with “Hospitaleros” (folks who provide accommodations), wait staff, merchants, and of course Perigrinos (Pilgrims walking the Camino). All contributed to our experience, but some are worthy of special mention.
April 20th was our first day on the Camino and with it came friendship with Kirsti Sergejeff and Sirkka Vikman, two Perigrinas from Finland. We would see them on occasion throughout the Camino.
There was Dortha, an expat from Poland now a citizen of the US residing in Maryland where she is employed as a scientist. Her Camino was cut short by very serious foot blisters that required medical attention. I regret that our last exchange of “Buen Camino!” was a parting without a real prospect for continued communication.
There was Jim, a respiratory therapist from Maine. Jim was tall… how tall was Jim? Tall enough that his feet always hung out over the end of the beds on the Camino. We encountered Jim throughout the Camino as he pursued his search for a bed that fit.
The walk on April 21st brought an encounter with a troop of Portuguese Scouts. These boys and girls ran to us offering a free meal for us to carry with us. They were thrilled to be with us in a picture that I would post the next day on my website.
April 23rd was the day more dear friendships were created. We met and shared dinner with Irène Lässig and her sister Manuela Joseph, women from Switzerland. We shared the Camino with them over the course of a few days and felt a bond that was out of proportion to the time spent together. Irène reflected that perhaps such friendships had their start in another life.
The four of us went to dinner that evening at a charming restaurant near our lodgings in Balugães Portugal.
The owner of the restaurant, Edwardo, projected a strong sense of admiration for me as I sat at table with 3 lovely ladies. He declared me his “Amigo!” and brought me a snifter of his best house brandy, thereafter holding court at our table in Spanish that Irène could thankfully translate.
That same day we met 3 gentlemen from Germany at our lodging. One of them, Sven Münster later befriended Christine while she waited alone for me in Ponte de Lima Portugal. She had gone forward by taxi still recovering from a migraine that resulted from choking on a large insect that decided to fly down her throat. Our path pleasantly intersected with Sven’s throughout the rest of our journey on the Camino.
April 27th was the day that we met more German pilgrims, lots of them! They became the voice of the Camino for me, albeit in German. I pressed my resources from high school German class to the point that I found myself dreaming in the language! There was physician Reiner Vogt and his wife Ina Massing who manages a firm specializing in prosthetic limbs. Faris Abu-Naaj is an internet expert who would later lead a group of people struggling with obesity on a Camino pilgrimage. Stanislaw Mowinski, a German citizen originally from Poland, would stay in touch with us and rejoin us for an afternoon in Berlin.
Then on that day there was Grzegorz Polakiewicz. “Greg” spoke no German, but what made his friendship with all of us remarkable is that he was walking his second Camino with one leg and assisted only by his two crutches. Discussions at table, interpreted by “Stanley” resulted in arrangements for him to travel to Germany where Ina and Reiner would arrange for him to receive a prosthetic leg. I would have called this encounter an amazing coincidence, but I am reminded, “In life there are no coincidences!”
On April 30th a random comment to us from a Canadian couple turned into a nonstop conversation that seemed to transport us across 10 kilometers in the blink of an eye. Tom Shillington and his wife Nanci Burns were our doppelgängers from Ottawa Canada. Each topic revealed a new thing or experience that we had in common. It was uncanny. It is a friendship that extended through the end of the Camino and that we hope will endure long thereafter! (Tom, please see my “PS” at the end of these Acknowledgements.)
I don’t play the guitar and I don’t speak or for that matter sing in Spanish. Yet on May 4th in Santiago we were watching an evening performance outside of the Cathedral by a very talented Mariachi band. As I was videoing the performance one of the guitarists gave me a sly look. A few minutes later he grabbed my smartphone and thrust his guitar into my hands. Overcome by the “moment” I began my one (and probably only) stint as a Mariachi band member. The guitarist continued to video, capturing my “moment” about 2 minutes into the video. Christine laughed so hard that she almost passed out. This is a link to that most memorable performance.
Our walk on the Camino ended on May 3rd and we departed Spain, bound for Ireland on May 6th. May 8th and we arrived in Waterford Ireland for our pre-planned meeting with longtime friends from Wales United Kingdom, Huw and Nina Thomas. It had been 11 years since we last embraced but the bonds of friendship melted away the years that parted us. We spent the next 5 days on a wonderful tour of Ireland with these dear friends.
Upon parting with Huw and Nina we continued our wanderings through Ireland and Northern Ireland, departing for Scotland by ferry on May 18th. Our next memorable encounter was with a most remarkable family in Glasgow Scotland. It was there in a restaurant that I was approached at the bar by Garry Clifford, his oldest son Sean, and their friend John Curran. After a brief conversation they treated us to drinks… for the rest of the evening! Garry’s wife Kathleen, Sean’s wife Julie, and John’s wife Carol completed this impromptu gathering of Scotland hospitality at its best. Within 24 hours we were all Facebook friends and the 6 of them have since followed our journey. We look forward to the day that Garry and Sean may stop in Kansas City as they pursue their dream to cross the USA on Harley Davidsons. Of course, we hope to welcome the rest of this wonderful crew into the hospitality of our home!
On May 20th we traveled by train to Fort William in Scotland’s northwest Highlands. Our host in an Airbnb adjoining her home was Shana. I mention her because she graciously met us in the rain upon our arrival at the train station and drove us to her home. She did our laundry, twice! She prepared a traditional Scottish breakfast for us on the day of our departure together with sandwiches for later in the day. We met her mother and her son. Her hospitality made us feel that we were much more than boarders.
We were in Edinburgh on May 28th when we had a prearranged meeting for lunch with “Mickey” Ferguson, the granddaughter and daughter of longtime friends from the legal community in Kansas City. She and her boyfriend, Ben Wright, are students at the University of Edinburgh. Mickey is studying archeology and is looking forward to participation in excavations this summer. Both of these young folks impressed us as smart, talented, and very personable. I will say again that the world is in good hands if left with young people such as these!
In 2013 we walked the French route of the Camino de Santiago. In the course of that 820km pilgrimage we met many like-minded people and established a number of enduring friendships with folks from around the world. Among them was Jacobien Ubbink of the Netherlands. On May 29th Jacobien invited us as guests into her home near Amsterdam. We met her family and enjoyed her personal guidance through the sights of Amsterdam. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time once again with this good lady.
We learned on May 31st that while we were touring the Rijksmuseum with Jacobien on the previous day another friend from the 2013 Camino, Henk Kaspers, was at the museum as well. It saddens us that we missed this opportunity to see this good man and his wife. This same missed opportunity occurred during our April 7th tour of the German Reichstag in Berlin. We learned the following day that another dear friend from the 2013 Camino, Gabi Pfauth, had been there that day.
During our 2013 Camino we met a pilgrim from Colorado, Kris Ashton. A friendship of such proportion developed that over the next 5 years she and Christine would refer to each other as “sisters”. That friendship expanded to Kris’ husband, Dennis Waite. We have since spent time with them in Colorado and as recently as this last February they were guests in our home. Kris and Dennis visited Fort William Scotland mere days after we were there. On May 30th, while hiking on the Isle of Skye, Dennis became the victim of a tragic accident, falling to his death from a trail. The loss of this friend and the devastating impact on his wife Kris profoundly directed our thoughts over the remaining course of our journey.
On June 4th a dear friend from my journey through adolescence passed away after a lengthy illness. Dean Ortinau welcomed me into my new high school as a mid-year freshman transfer. He was an established “native” of my new community and welcomed me as if we had been friends throughout childhood. Our adult friendship built upon those early roots.
In the passages of Dennis and Dean I am reminded that life is temporary, life is a lottery. Don’t put off until tomorrow the things that you may then find you are no longer able to do. They never did.
During a 1991 vacation in France we met an extraordinary young lady who was then 14 years old. We maintained contact with her and were thrilled to again see her over a quarter of a century later. On June 1st Bryony Ulyett greeted us as we exited our train from Amsterdam to Brussels Belgium. She gave us her weekend, accompanying us in our visits to both Brussels and Antwerp. Friendship is timeless.
During the 1995-96 school year we hosted an exchange student from Slovakia. Svetlana Rosinova went on marry Milan Rosina, make their home near Bratislava, and bring 2 darling children into the world. She also established herself as a psychologist treating troubled children. On June 4th she and her husband welcomed us as guests into their home. She still refers to us as “Mom and Dad” and we in turn feel great pride in the accomplishments of our Slovak daughter and her family. We look forward to the day that they may visit us in Kansas City.
On June 7th we arrived in Berlin Germany where we were greeted by our first high school exchange student “son”, André Lieber. André spent the 1992-93 school year in our home. He now works for the German Ministry of Finance and is fluent in 6 languages which include Japanese and Chinese. André met his Japanese wife Asuka while they were both studying Chinese in Beijing. They have established their home in Berlin where they are raising their 2 children who primarily speak Japanese to mom, German to dad, and are learning English. We remain “Mom” and “Dad” to André and will forever treasure the time that we spent with him and his family in Berlin.
On June 11th we exchanged a tearful farewell with André and his family in Berlin for a joyous 4-day reunion with our 1994-95 high school exchange student “daughter” Hege in Oslo, Norway. Hege remains as full of joy and childlike wonder as she did nearly 25 years ago. Moreover, in her husband Jan-Cato she has succeeded in finding a soulmate who has the same zest for life. She and her husband, together with their 3 children, have established their home 40 minutes outside of Oslo. They are both elementary school teachers and we are left with no doubt that they are held dear in the hearts of their students and co-workers. As I am writing this I am receiving text message updates from Hege regarding their travels on vacation in the United States. We eagerly look forward to their arrival in our home in just a few days.
I have left for my final recognition the most important person on this Journey. On June 19th, while traveling in Iceland, Christine and I celebrated 41 years of marriage. We have known each other for better and for worse, while richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Through it all we continue to love and cherish each other as we once promised 41 years ago.
Upon his return to Ottawa Canada from the Camino and European Journey with his wife Nanci, my friend Tom Shillington sent me a message. He cautioned that returning home after such a journey is like rising to the surface from a deep-sea dive. One risks suffering “the bends” if one does not take time to “decompress”. I now reply: Tom, the time that I have spent recounting the people that we met and the friendships that we made is therapy. I highly recommend it my friend!
Our non-stop flight from Iceland to Kansas City touched down in KC the evening of June 22nd. Three days later and I am still catching up on mail, bills, time with family, and reacquainting myself with the marvels of my own bed and shower. My backpack and assorted items from the journey remain piled on a chair in our bedroom, demanding my attention. Perhaps later today, but first these closing “Thoughts” from the journey.
March 5, 2017 was the day that I “met” Carmen. She was the telephone agent for Viking Ocean Cruises. We talked for almost an hour, first about the details of booking a transatlantic repositioning cruise that would take us from Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain, and then about life and family. We became Facebook friends and Carmen has followed our wanderings ever since. April 11, 2017 was the day that we booked the cruise and thus took the first tangible steps in translating a dream into a reality.
Christine and I have mused about an extended trip abroad since the early days of our marriage. Contemplation became earnest with our retirements in 2015 and the structure of such a journey began to take form in our discussions. With the completion of our goal to camp in 49 States, 8 Canadian Provinces, and the Yukon Territory it became our “next thing”.
August 31, 2017, we purchased one-way travel aboard an Icelandair flight from Oslo Norway to Kansas City, with a one-week stopover in Iceland. This secured the bookends of our journey. We now knew the date of our departure from Kansas City to Puerto Rico, March 24, 2018, and the date of our return to Kansas City, June 22, 2018. On October 22, 2017 we purchased Eurail passes that would allow 60 days of open rail travel throughout most of Europe. Except booking accommodations for our arrivals in San Juan and Barcelona the pages of our storybook journey would remain mostly blank until we were actually on the road.
Friends provided us with insights into their own travel experiences. We listened, learned, and a plan developed. Neighbors Charlie and Mary, and my friend Hugh provided us with insight into Ireland. Moira and Gene lent us maps and advise on Scotland. Cal and Nancy shared their own plans for walking the Camino Portuguese. We would miss seeing them in Porto by only a couple of days. Kris and Dennis provided us with details from their own experience walking the Camino Portuguese and their plans to walk the Highlands of Scotland. We would miss seeing them in Port William Scotland by less than a week. We will now miss seeing Dennis ever again in this lifetime as he tragically perished on May 30th while hiking in those Highlands.
One can pour over maps, talk with friends, cruise the internet and thus come to understand and anticipate the places and things that will unfold in the course of a trip, a vacation, or a journey. However, trips and vacations are primarily about places. A journey is also about people. There are no resources to anticipate the chance interpersonal encounters of a journey. Preparation for those encounters is a matter predetermined by one’s own interpersonal skills. Like flowers on the tundra which must adjust their lifecycle to fit within an abbreviated growing season, a journey compresses the time within which relationships can form. Our journey was filled with new relationships and the brevity of the encounters did nothing to diminish the depth and richness of the experiences. In another post to follow I intend to acknowledge as many of those relationships as my memory will allow and to extend my gratitude and affection to those who allowed us into their lives and thus became a part of our life “story”. But first…
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed watching people. I love to be invisible to those around me and become a part of the wallpaper of a place. I imagine what they see as they cast their eyes about. I wonder who they are, where they have been and where they are going. I look for answers to those questions in the clues of their dress, gate, and facial expressions. If their eyes should pass across me I wonder how I appear to them. I ask myself the question of what they see when they look into a mirror and if there is a disconnect with what I and others see when looking at them.
By the numbers we have been outside of the United States and “on the road” for 91 days, traveled nearly 22,000 miles/35,200 km (a distance that nearly equals the circumference of the Earth) through 16 countries, and visited as many capitals. We have been exposed to media within those countries and the opinions of those who we have encountered. As citizens of the United States we have been a magnet for the expression of those opinions. We have had the opportunity to watch our Nation from abroad through the eyes of others. As a temporary outsider I have found myself wondering what the United States sees when it casts its eyes around the world. As a temporary outsider I wondered about the United States, where has it been, and where it is going. I have looked for answers to those questions in what the United States projects on the world stage, in the consistency of its policies, the effectiveness of its institutions, its reliability as an international friend and partner to its allies. I have asked myself the question, “What do the people of the United States see when as a country they look in the mirror.” Is there a disconnect with what those outside the United States see when they look at us? Our journey gave me pause to ask these questions and then to answer them for myself. I invite similar reflections from you.
This was our last touring day in Iceland. Heavy rain kept us and my camera in the car much of the time as we made our way back to Reykjavík. However we did take the time to visit Iceland’s Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park and get soaked in the process.
The Park was founded in 1930 on the millennial anniversary of the first Althing, an annual gathering to review and declare law for the coming year. These gatherings occurred at the Löberg (Law Rock) from 930 until 1271 when Iceland voluntarily placed itself under the rule of Norway’s king. The Löberg is still venerated today as the birthplace of Iceland.
The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It straddles the only place where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rises above sea level. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the longest mountain range in the world at over 25,000 miles (the second place Andes are less than 5,000 miles long). It is formed from the boundary of two huge tectonic plates that separate the Americas and Europe/Africa. These plates continue to diverge at the rate of approximately one inch each year.
We stood atop and within the fissures, and viewed a waterfall created by one of the ridges. One nearby ridge once serving as a place for meting out ultimate justice.
June 22nd is our 91st and final day of this journey. This will be my final post until we are home. There will be at least one concluding post to this sequence that I have been composing in my thoughts. Until I share those thoughts with you…
During his 1817 visit to Florence Italy Marie-Henri Beyle, using the pseudonym “Stendhal”, described the sense of being overwhelmed by the magnitude and beauty of what he beheld. His experience was not unique. We learned while touring Florence many years ago that there are a handful of susceptible individuals each year who actually require hospitalization to overcome the effects of seeing too much good art. The condition has come to be known as “Stendhal Syndrome”.
I wonder if the same holds true in Iceland where there is so much incredible scenery? Apparently we are not susceptible individuals as the only treatment that we require is the 8 hours of airplane therapy that will return us to Kansas City. That treatment is scheduled for Friday.
I am hard pressed to think of a time or place where I have seen such an endless exhibition of natural beauty. Today it was presented to us in the form of black sand beaches, basalt rock formations, and receding glaciers that are being strangled by climate change. Here are selected images of the day. Enjoy!
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. 8 years ago the glacier filled this valley up to the location of this sign.
41 years ago today we were married. The extent of pre-nuptial counseling that I received was the minister’s pragmatic advice, “If it doesn’t work out then get a divorce.” It has worked out, but then we continue to work at it.
In the context of the last 87 days this has been a good day, but not exceptionally so. In any other context today would have been spectacular beginning with lambs bleating beneath our window.
We visited a museum dedicated to Iceland’s pre-modern turf homes. Unfortunately the museum was closed, but we were able to enjoy views of the exterior and gain a sense of those pioneer times.
There were waterfalls…
and really big waterfalls.
We left the interior in favor of the south coast and the community of Vik. We will be here two nights and then return to Reykjavík on Thursday in anticipation of our Friday flight back to Kansas City. Our lodging in Vik is a well appointed satellite cottage adjoining an ultramodern hotel with a top notch bar and restaurant. There is even a half price “happy hour” where beers are discounted to $7.00 from the usual $14.00. One does eventually get over the “sticker shock”.
Those of my generation may recall a time in 1972 when the eyes of the world were focused upon two men and the chess board that separated them. The stage was Reykjavík Iceland and the players were Soviet Russia’s Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer of the United States. The chess they played was at a level beyond the comprehension of all but a very few. The Cold War tensions seething in the workup to the match were palpable. It was not just white pieces vs black pieces but West vs East, Democracy vs Communism, Good vs Evil… National Pride on the world stage was at stake in a time that the United States still took pride in its reputation on the world stage. Bobby Fischer was our hero and he was victorious.
In 1975 Fischer forfeited his title and went into seclusion until 1992 when he and Boris Spassky played a rematch tournament in Belgrade Yugoslavia. The once heroic Fischer was declared a criminal by the United States, citing his participation in the match as a violation of an economic embargo that it had imposed upon Yugoslavia. The US issued a warrant for Fischer’s arrest and thereafter he remained a fugitive from the country that once adored him. He was eventually granted asylum and citizenship by Iceland where he lived until his death on January 17 2008 at the age of 64. He was buried in an obscure church cemetery surrounded by farmland just outside of the small town of Selfoss. It was there today that I found Bobby Fischer… “en passant”.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. We have gifted each other an upgrade to our flight on Friday from coach to first class. We have earned it.
After breakfast we asked a hotel staff person for some sightseeing suggestions. He gave us an itinerary of places less often visited by tourists.
Just down the road we visited the oldest hydroelectric plant on the River Sog. It was installed in 1937 and upgraded in 1944.
Next was the 6500 year old Kerio volcano cone and walked the circuit of its immense rim. It you look carefully at the top of the far side of the rim you can see some “specks” that are people. It will give some sense of the scale of the crater.
30 minutes down the road we visited a unique hydroponic tomato farm. A brief presentation and tour preceded a $23.00 bowl of tomato soup. It was worth it! This one farm harvests over 2,000 pounds a day, 365 days a year. They supply 20% of the islands tomato consumption. Their unique restaurant is situated within one of the working greenhouses. They do “everything tomato”, including cheesecake, and two different varieties of tomato infused beer!
Lunch concluded, we drove to the Fludir hot springs pool. The Blue Lagoon attracts throngs of tourists, so many that reservations are required. We were the beneficiaries of “local knowledge” that directed us instead to the oldest public bathing spring in Iceland. Hot water is hot water, and relaxation is much easier to achieve when one is not elbow to elbow with other bathers.
We visited another set of spectacular waterfalls that join at their base. Again, a careful examination of the images will give you an idea of the size of the falls.
Eye popping scenery continues to be commonplace. As beautiful as the pictures of the last two days have been, it is a tribute to the hand of Nature and not the photographer.
Tomorrow, June 19th, is special. In 1977 41 years seemed an unimaginably long time to me.. nearly twice as long as I had then lived. Today I look back on those 41 years with wonder at just how fast they have passed. We were married 41 years ago tomorrow. Much has changed, and much remains the same. We are a bit slower and a lot grayer. However, 41 years ago we embarked upon our life together with a 30 day honeymoon camping trip that covered 9 northwest States. It was Christine’s first camping trip and it was an epic journey for a young couple… Epic like the journey we are now concluding and epic like the marriage that we share.
We departed Reykjavik this morning choosing to embrace the countryside over the urban celebrations of Iceland’s National Day. For us the party actually began a little after midnight when volley after volley of fireworks explosions “split the light”. Remember, we haven’t seen darkness since we arrived in Iceland.
Þjóðhátíðardagurinn, celebrates Iceland’s June 17th plebiscite which severed its centuries long ties to Denmark and established the Iceland Republic. Shortly thereafter Iceland joined NATO and is not only the member with the smallest population (350,000) but the only one without a standing army. It is considered the “greenest” nation in the world with almost 100% of its energy needs being met through renewable non-polluting sources, geo-thermal being the primary one.
Iceland is Europe’s second largest island, second only to Great Britain. It is geologically active and is the only place where the tectonic plates of the mid-Atlantic Ridge are found above sea level. Although Iceland is situated just below the Arctic Circle, it enjoys a relatively temperate climate due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Winters are said to be more moderate than those of New York City.
Iceland is geologically young and rapidly changing. These factors contribute to its remarkable beauty. The “Golden Circle” is an arbitrary route outside of Reykjavik that links some of the most popular and accessible tourist sites. It is under 180 miles in length and can be driven in under 4 hours. 6-8 hours are needed to include visits to the major attractions.
Today we mostly enjoyed the remarkable vistas.
However our drive included stops at the Geysir (actual spelling) geothermal area and the stunning Gullfoss waterfall. The Great Geysir has been mostly silent in recent years, but we were treated to multiple eruptions of the Strokkur Geysir which are only slightly smaller than those of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful.
The Gullfoss Waterfall descends over 100 feet in two huge cascades, discharging over 35,000 gallons of water a second into an ancient river gorge. It is breathtaking!
We may give thanks to the tenacity of one woman for the preservation of this wonder.
Tomorrow we plan on continuing our leisurely tour of the Golden Circle and may include some hiking in and around Iceland’s Þingvellir National Park.
In the meantime we are enjoying our rustic but comfortable hotel accommodations which include a bar, restaurant, and the obligatory Iceland spa.
While Kansas City sweltered in humid temperatures that approached 100 degrees, we shivered in constant rain with temps that didn’t make it to 50. Nevertheless, nothing interfered with this as a unique and fun filled day.
First stop was the nearby Catholic Cathedral where we secured the final stamp in our Camino credentials. Reykjavik’s Cathedral of Christ the King was built and consecrated in 1929. Its new Bishop was installed that year, the last one having been executed in 1550. There were virtually no Catholics in Iceland until the late 1800’s, a 1970 census placed the number at just over 1,000, and today there are about 13,000 in a country of 350,000.
We also visited the towering Lutheran Church, which is the center of Iceland’s official religion. In front of the Church is a beautiful bronze statue of Lief Erickson, a 1930 gift to the people of Iceland from the people of the United States.
In the course of making improvements to the center of Reykjavik the remains of an 1,100 year old Viking settlement were discovered. These ruins which are below modern street level were preserved and the urban improvements were installed overhead. This information rich site provided us with details about life in the early settlement, and even insights into the genetic heritage of the original and modern inhabitants. DNA establishes that most of the early male inhabitants were from Scandinavia but most of the females were from Ireland and Scotland. This is consistent with the practice of raiders during the Viking era of taking women into bondage.
We also visited the oldest remaining house in Reykjavik, which dates to 1772. It now serves as a museum that features temporary exhibits. Currently photographs from 1918 are on display. These images portray life in the months preceding the Spanish Influenza epidemic that devastated Iceland and the world.
Tomorrow is Iceland’s National Day, but for soccer fans that day was today. Russia is hosting soccer’s World Cup. This is the first World Cup competition for Iceland and today was its first match. They faced an experienced team from Argentina and were considered to be hopelessly outmatched. Iceland played Argentina to a historic 1-1 tie which we and much of Reykjavik watched on a huge outdoor screen in the city center. We again had the experience of finding ourselves in the right place at the right time. Serendipity at its best.
Finally, we attended an intimate play at Reykjavik’s Harpa, a remarkable center for the performing arts.
It was a one act performance featuring two talented and energetic actors. They presented an interwoven comedic script based upon the subjects of all 40 of the surviving “Icelandic Sagas”.
At times they made this into an outrageous audience participation farce. I myself became the recipient of a pair of large hanging boobs. We reprised this in a post production photo opportunity with the actors.
Tomorrow Christine and I strike out into the countryside for a very different “Icelandic Saga”.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. On a street corner is a non-descript food stand that sells hotdogs. Bæjarins beztu has been there since 1937, and is one of those “must do” things that visitors of all stripes “must do”,