Wednesday 8 July 2020

Book Review - A Grand Madness Twenty Years After, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff

This book is a follow up to the successful book, A Grand Madness Ten Years on the Road with U2 which documented the story of a U2 fan. Time has gone by and this book tells us what the next twenty years held for this fan.

As Beeaff follows various U2 tours (the last being in 2018) across Europe and North America, there are stories of places, new people met along the way and meeting up with old friends once more.  It also has unique, previously unpublished photos of the band taken by Beeaff and other fans. The adventures and the highs and lows of being on the road keep you turning the pages.

But most of all it is about a band that has inspired people for 44 years with music that is more than just sound, it is art, it says something and can touch the soul. This is a fascinating account of what being a fan is all about and well worth reading.

Friday 13 March 2020

Iceland 3 - The Wonders of Snaefellsness

18th January 2020

Our last full day in Iceland and we had an all day tour of the Snaefellsnes peninsula to look forward to.  It was a very early start but we were soon on our way in a small coach. We had a comfort stop at Borganes around 10am and it was just getting light. We then crossed over the landside of the peninsula, stopped for a while on a beautiful high plain surrounded by mountains.

We then crossed to the northern side of the peninsula with amazing scenery everywhere. A lot of the mountain sides had frozen waterfalls/streams creating beautiful ice sculptures. We passed through the small village of Grundarfjordur and close by was the striking mountain, Kirkjufell  (Church Mountain) which was situated on a piece of land that juts out into the sea.  I've seen lots of pictures of this stunning mountain and have even painted it from a photo. In real life, covered in snow, it is even more wonderful! We were blessed with good weather and seeing it backed by the unique blue, milky yellow skies of Iceland it was just perfect! The snow was quite deep in places so we didn't get to the nearby waterfall but I was quite happy just gazing at this beautiful mountain. The fact that there were not many tourists there and lovely and peaceful added to the mood of the place.

We then followed the northern coast to a small village called Olafsvik where we stopped at a restaurant called Sker for our lunch. It was a small modern place that had water decanters in the shape of fish! We had a table beside the window that looked out to a small harbour. For lunch we had the best cod I've had (very recently caught) done with vegetables and berries, delicious, I love how Nordic countries use berries in their food! As we left after the meal I saw the very modern and unusual church nearby.

We drove on and entered the Snæfellsjökull National Park which is at the western tip of the peninsula. We stopped at Saxhólar a conical crater just off the road. To the left was the Snæfellsjökull gleaming white in the sunshine. There were steps to the top of the crater but they were covered in snow and ice so we didn't go up. It was very windy and cold there but also very beautiful, I was glad I had bought the hat the day before as I felt cosy with it on.

We then drove on to Djúpalónssandur which was an area of amazing lava formations, columns and cliffs with a black beach. There was time to wander around and soak in the scenery. 

We then went on to to Arnarstapi a very small community by the sea. Some people walked along the beach  but I went and looked at the harbour which our guide said was part natural and part man-built. to the north of it lava cliffs stretched along the coast. All these places were blissfully quiet with few tourists.

Our last stop was the famous black church at Budir. It is on a lava field close to the sea flanked by snowy mountains. It was starting to get dark when we arrived and there was that rich blue light you get at twilight in the north which made it very atmospheric. The church is tiny, black with a white door and window frames. It, and the small graveyard beside it, is surrounded by a low stone wall.  I loved it there, it was almost magical.  

That was the last stop of the tour, we then headed back towards Reykjavik. On the way our guide told us about the only Icelandic serial killer. A man many, many years ago who used to ambush travellers passing through a narrow valley. 

The tour was fantastic, it confirmed to me once more what an amazing country Iceland is. Reykjavik is a modern, busy city with a delightful quirkiness. Once you get out of the city you are soon in real wilderness where nature is still in charge and I love that.  We were going home the next day but I know I will be back one day.

Black Church, Budir

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Iceland 2 - Reykjavik and Elf School

January 17th 2020

Today we explored Reykjavik. We first went to Hallgrimskirkja the beautiful church that soars into the sky and is visible from most places within the city centre. Inside it is simple in design but I find it very beautiful.

I went up the tower, the first part is a lift to the floor where the clock faces are. From there you walk a few flights of steps to a higher floor where there are three windows on each face of the tower. The views were stunning from every vantage point, but my favourite was the one towards the mountain Esja that watches over the city. She looked especially beautiful in her cloak of snow.

After this we walked down to the main shopping street Laugavegur and browsed. We then went to the concert hall, Harpa which is an amazing piece of modern architecture that looks different on the outside depending on the light. We again looked round the shops inside, I bought a warm hat and a tub of Lakrids, delicious  Danish delight of liquorice covered in chocolate. Both expensive but worth it - the hat especially useful the following day!

We decided to have lunch there and shared a large sandwich and had a cake each.

View of Esja from Tower of Hallgrimskirkja

We went back to the hotel before setting of for the Elf School (yes you read right). As it was a bit away from the city centre we got a taxi there. As we got out of the taxi the driver said, "Are you going to learn to be elves or learn about them?" This gave us a good laugh!

The school was on the first floor of a modern building, with large plastic gnomes guarding the door. We went into a rather chaotic room, we later learned some renovations were in progress. We paid our money , were given a studybook  (which was interesting to read afterwards) and then went into another room which had chairs in it. The room was small, filled with bookcases full of books and mementos, photos, elves, gnomes, lamps and pot plants that were a bit worse for wear. It was all very eccentric and I liked that!

Magnús Skarphéðinsson who runs the school is a portly man  with grey hair and beard who, quite fittingly, resembles a gnome. He studied history, anthropology and folklore at university in Iceland. He aims to put together a book of stories of elves and the hidden people of Iceland as told by people he's spoken to as no one has so far done this.

There were nine people there, Americans, Irish, Germans and us Brits.  Magnús spoke for a long time, telling stories that people had told him about elves (many types exist from tiny to about two feet high) who live alongside us but are secretive.  The hidden people are just like us but live in another dimension that humans can only occasionally enter

He quite often drifted of on tangents including asking what Marian and I thought of Brexit and that he thought it would mean the break up of the UK and the Queen would only be "Queen of England" in the end which I think is quite possible. He told us about his brother Ossur who had been Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Icelandic government and had an amusing story about Obama. He had some pretty off the wall theories about schizophrenia which some people agreed with, but not me, but I kept quiet. He is also part of the paranormal community in Reykjavik.

We learned a lot about Icelandic history, how hard life was until relatively recently and folklore. The stories he told were captivating. Sometimes roads are re-routed in Iceland so as not to upset the elves and hidden people.

We had a break when we had pancakes filled with cream and jam plus lovely homemade bread, really tasty. This was followed by chocolate wafer bars and a hot drink. As we were eating I noticed snow was starting to fall outside.

My Diploma
Magnus talked for three and a half hours, I think he could have gone on until midnight! It was a bit too long for me but I did enjoy it, certainly a unique experience! At the end we were given our course completion diplomas in  "Elfs and Hidden People research study." Luckily we didn't have to sit an exam lol!

I asked Magnús if he could call a taxi to take us back into the city centre but we were lucky, his husband (who had supplied the food and drinks and generally looked after everyone) was going into the city and was happy to give us a lift. He was a lovely, quietly spoken guy (unfortunately I didn't catch his name.)  He told us that he was originally from north west Iceland but had lived in Reykjavik for a long time and worked as an accountant.  He dropped us off right outside our hotel which was wonderful.

We nipped to the small supermarket beside our hotel and bought sandwiches and crisps to eat in our room. They were lovely and quite cheap. So ended another day in which we saw many sides of this wonderful city!

Monday 10 February 2020

Iceland 1 - Chilling in the Lagoon

15th January

We landed at Keflavik airport around 10am and it was still dark, but dawn was starting to break. We got the Flybus to Reykjavik passing through the lava fields that white instead of black as they were still covered in snow from a storm the previous week.

We were staying at Hotel Plaza Center  which was lived up to its name being very central and also very good. Nordic in style with little night lights flickering all around in reception and bar areas.

House in City Centre
After unpacking we went to look around the city. First we stopped at the Cafe Paris for a late lunch we both had omelettes which were delicious and pricey but that's the score when you come to these northern countries.

We wandered into some side streets where there were lovely traditional houses. Many with lights in the windows and outside. I love that Nordic way of using light. When it is dark few people close their blinds/curtains so the light can spill out. It was so good to see homes right within the city centre.

We then sauntered on to Tjornin, the Pond, most of which was iced up.  There were ducks, pigeons and very noisy swans all vying for food people were putting down - the victor often running of with its prize chased by other birds! As I , as well as many other birds, have a counter-current heat exchange system between the arteries and veins in their legs. Warm arterial blood flowing to the feet passes close to cold venous blood returning from the feet. The arterial blood warms up the venous blood, dropping in temperature as it does so. Isn't nature amazing?  The sun was setting and it was beautiful.

We went back to the hotel for a rest before heading out on our northern lights trip. Our guide had a lot of knowledge but she talked too much! We were taken to  Þingvellir National Park where it was pitch black except for a few lights in the distance. We got out  and waited. It was very cold so I ended getting back into the coach to wait there. Unfortunately the lights didn't appear and we were back in Reykjavik by midnight. We were really tired as we'd been up since 5am.

January 16th

Breakfast at our hotel was very good, lots of choice. Later in
Blue Lagoon
morning we got the bus to the Blue Lagoon which is about 50 minutes from Reykjavik in the middle of lava fields. Once there it was all very organised, we were given our wristbands, robe and sandals. Then it was off to the changing rooms ro change into our swimwear. A shower prior to entering the water was mandatory. Afterwards we were given a towel and after drying off hung it up, stepped out of the sandals then down the ramp into the water     

The icy cold outside is a shock to the system until you are well into the water which is delectably warm. then it is bliss! Lava formations were all around, some with snow on them, distant snow

Blue Lagoon
covered mountains, the blue milky water and steam rising from it made for a surreal, but very relaxing experience. 

A woman with a ladle gave us a handful of white silica mud to put on our faces, you keep it on for ten minutes and then wash it off with the water. The lagoon wasn't too full, and we found ourselves a lovely quiet area where we could sit on seats with the water coming up to our necks. 

We stayed in the lagoon for one and a half hours and felt totally chilled. Another shower after we went back in the building, making sure our hair was well washed as the minerals in the can make it go hard if you don't!

We had a snack in the cafe and browsed round the shop but didn't buy anything. Then we got the bus back to the city. I have to add a postscript that within two days of bathing in the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon my eczema disappeared, and as I write this, three weeks later, it still hasn't come back. 

Later we went to the Italia Restaurant on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik.  I've been to this restaurant on each of
Me in the Italia Restaurant
my four visits to the city and it is always very good. It is small and made up of cubicles each named after a place in Italy, ours was Sorrento. I had tortellini in a cream sauce with ham and mushrooms and it was delicious, Marian really enjoyed her meal too. We shared an amazing dessert of chocolate cake with cream and chocolate sauce with blueberries and redcurrants, I love how Nordic countries use berries a lot.

It had been a wonderful relaxing day, it was so good to be back in Iceland.