Inside Iceland

Iceland, one of those places that had been pending on our bucket list since long. The volcanic terrain jagged with huge boulders, proof of Mother Earth’s fury spit on the surface, had been alluring us for sometime now. A formidable land that reminded mankind of nature’s might; an apocalypse ready to strike without a moment’s notice.

Our stay in Europe could have never been completed without a trip to this majestic land; the land of Fire and Ice. So this winter we decided to finally set out on our adventure trip to this mysterious land which is rife with a rich heritage of culture, mysteries and of course nature’s marvels.

When we landed in Reykjavik, it was almost evening. It had been raining the whole day and we could still see the thin receding grey line in the horizon over the Atlantic Ocean.

The landscapes in Iceland are rather eerie and otherworldly and offer the perfect conditions for adventure. Summer landscapes are strikingly different from the winter land.

The uncanny landscape had a high degree of quirkiness in it. Majestic mountains rising up like the phoenix, boiling water bubbling just beneath the surface, steam gushing out suddenly into the numbing Artic air, miles upon miles of blackened lava fields donning a white coat of snow, and the gaping fault line dividing the American and Eurasian tectonic plates presenting proof of the highly volatile ground we stood upon.

Iceland is blessed with the wonders of nature and one such wonder are the ‘hot springs’ that dot the landscape, aplenty. Tapping the water of the hot springs, and supplying it to the city is the job of the glass dome, sitting high on top of a mountain, and is called ‘Perlan’. ‘Perlan’ or the ‘The Pearl’ is the nerve center of the entire hot water supply chain for the city of Reykjavik. The taste of the water is rife with the smell of Sulpher, as it is sourced directly from the hot springs and is particularly inconvenient to drink as the pungent smell lingers predominantly in the periphery. But if you can get used to the smell, then nothing is more pure, natural and healthy than this ‘Hot’ water.

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Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. Infact half of Iceland’s population live in this capital city.But despite its size, the capital city has a friendly village feel to it.

View of Reykjavík from ‘The Perlan’

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The ‘Orca’ was one of the must-sees in our trip apart from the ‘Northern Lights’, Geysirs and the Tectonic Plates. The ‘Orca’ or the killer whale is the largest member of the Dolphin family and Iceland is supposedly the best place to spot one. But unfortunately, like the Puffins, the ‘Orcas’ are difficult to find in the harsh Icelandic winters.

With our hopes of spotting the ‘Orcas’ and the ‘Puffins’ dashed, we set out the next day to see the other Icelandic must-sees. Our first stop was the ‘þingvellir National Park’. The National Park is one among the many UNESCO’s world heritage sites. An excellent spot to see the two tectonic plates. It is an active volcanic area and the best defined feature of the National Park is the rift valley, that is continuously drifting apart as a result of the incessant volcanic eruptions underground.

Our tour guide was pretty nostalgic when she was talking about the drifting of the rift valley. As a child she was petrified that one day Iceland might be divided into two parts and the ocean might take over the rift valley. But slowly, as age got the better of her, she realized that it would never happen. The incessant volcanic eruptions underground will keep throwing out the lava, which will eventually solidify, creating more land mass and bridging the gap.

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Gateway to Hell:The American (L)and the Eurasian (R) Tectonic Plates

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Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. And hence suited to those who love to relish life in the realms of nature and fancy the sense of isolation.

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Our next stop was Geysir, the mother of all hot springs, where the champion boiling water fountain is called Strokkur. It is a 30 meters high hot spring that unleashes every 8 minutes. Plenty of American, Chinese and Japanese tourists flocked to see this nature’s marvel. As the ‘gammel’ Geysir gurgled and spit, we managed to click some amazing pics.

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One cannot move around the unforgiving, craggy Icelandic terrain without one of these monstrous wagons.

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Our last stop of the tour was the Gulfoss WaterFall. It is the confluence of a number of waterfalls that merge together to form a magnanimous waterfall with deafening noise. It was a perilious 50m walk from the bus to the rimmed edge with the icy Artic gusts blowing at 80-90 kmph. The snow had settled down and the continuous thronging of tourists had made the ground extremely slippery, and almost dangerous.

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The view from the rimmed edge, with the land plummeting dangerously beneath, it is rather intimidating to stand at the edge, brave the icy winds and click some good photographs. But in Iceland you cannot go wrong and every picture will ultimately turn out to be a masterpiece.

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We finally ended the tour witnessing a glorious sunset behind the volcanic mountains and head for another tour to catch the elusive ‘Northern Lights’.

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The last two nights had been good and people had witnessed a lot of ‘activity’. The tour guide was very optimistic and told us that the probability of seeing very good ‘activity’ is at the highest. Our spirits were touching the skies just like the probability figures. But everything will turn out to be just the way we want it to be is like wishful thinking. Hence, in spite of all odds in our favor, and waiting for 5 hours, we failed to get a clear view of the ‘Dancing Lights’ and came back home feeling miserable and wretched as ever.

But nonetheless the unfathomable charms of Iceland are too tempting and we will be going back again in the summer months to see what we couldn’t in the last trip.

 

 

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I melted under her glare

The flakes had bombarded the sleepy town the previous day. And as the trite ‘mennesker’ struggled in their houses to snuggle around the fire-place and soak themselves up with all the heat they could possibly gather, we decided to take a trip down the white roads; as if someone had summoned us to take stock of the blizzard that had rampaged the night before.

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Days may come and days may go, some go fast and some go slow, but it is days like these that make me stop, go out and explore because nothing else’s matter!

 

 

“Because The Rolling Stone Gather’s No Moss”

I loathed even the thought of going to the hospital. The air always rife with the stench of antiseptics, people with grim and sombre faces moving around in a state of being stretched tight mentally. It gave me the perpetual creeps. But the top contender of hereditary ailments passed down generations in ‘S’s family had struck one fine evening. I had witnessed many of his relatives go down battling their way against this faceless monster. It felt as though an ominous bank of dark clouds had suddenly gripped my unsuspecting mind when ‘S’ complained of a pain on the left side of his chest. The feeling was quite stifling and I didn’t want to take any chances. So the next day we booked an appointment with the GP and headed straight to meet our health commitments.

We had barely made it into the reception area when a beaming young nurse in her spotless light blue hospital uniform barged in and called out ‘S’s’ name. As ‘S’ foundered clumsily to raise his hand up in the air in acknowledgement, I threw him a weary look and let out a sigh of disappointment cursing him silently under the breath. He is always late for appointments especially the ones that are medical in nature. The nurse immediately gestured him to follow suit, and ushered him into the ‘Doctor’s Room’.

As I watched ‘S’ wading through the jam packed reception area and disappear behind the doors of the ‘Doctor’s Room’, I digged into my bag; pulled out the earphones and the e-reader, slid a bit forward on the chair, made a comfortable trajectory with the back rest and started reading.

Half way into my book, I looked up to scan through the ever increasing crowd around me. Howsoever I detested a visit to the hospital, a congregation of people always fascinated me. These are excellent places to pick characters and dialogues for your stories especially if you are an aspiring writer. So I closed my e-reader and started looking at the people around me; observing them; eavesdropping on their conversations and trying to spot characters for the story that I intended to finish for quite some time now.

There is something about a wait, it seems endless. People try all sorts of positions, shift places, check their watches every minute, in an attempt to shorten it, yet the wait goes on, unperturbed and seamless. It’s amusing to see how in our oh-so-ever busy lives, just stopping for a while makes us so restless; even if that stopping means gallons for our own health.

I watched her as she slowly tried to make her way through the sea of impatient people. Her hands were shaking, legs trembling and there was an unfading forlorn look on her face. She meandered slowly through the crowd to the reception bay which read ‘Hjerte Patient Afdeling’ in bright red. Her walking aid would occasionally clamber up on someone’s ankle or bump into someone’s posterior. She would apologise immediately for her mistake, flashing a warm sunny smile.

She finally made it to the desk, where a lady with blonde hair and wheatish skin, flaunting a sparkling silver ‘Christiain Dior’ sports watch sat, busy talking to someone on the phone. Must be an angry enquirer on the other side for her face was all flushed up!

As the ‘lady behind the desk’ finally placed the receiver back, ‘my old lady’ murmured her query; her frail voice lost amidst the swelling voices of the crowd. I watched her as she repeated her question. The ‘lady behind the desk’ heard her this time, answered it and gestured her to take a seat handing over the token.

She turned around to find herself a place to sit. My eyes scanned in toto. Unfortunately the place was teeming with so many people that you should consider yourself lucky to find a place to stand, leave alone a place to sit. I watched her as she looked around once more in desperation and suddenly the waves of guilt drowned me. Although I was reluctant to let go of my chair because the sole electricity points that matched the pins on my charger were right behind it; but somewhere my conscience beckoned me and I obliged.

She saw me get up, smiled in gratification and budged towards me. With my place taken and ‘S’ nowhere to be seen, I assumed that it will be a long wait. So I sat down beside the old lady, re-plugged my earphones and resumed my read.

Through the corner of my eye I could see two hands frantically criss-crossing. As I followed the hands I saw that it was the old lady who was making futile attempts in catching my attention. So I quickly removed my ear-phones.

“I am sorry I took your place,” she said in her frail voice.

Her apology drowned me in shame, once more.

“Never mind,” I said. “I am sorry; I shouldn’t have taken the seat in the first place. But my mobile phone had conked off and I wanted to charge it a bit.”

We chatted for some-time. She was particularly curious of my presence in the ‘Cardiology Department’ since I was young. I told her that I had accompanied my husband for a cardio check-up because he had a family history of heart diseases and he was complaining of a chest pain last evening.

“Even I have a daughter,” her voice pepping up as I told her about mine.

She told me that her daughter works in the Danish Labour Market; and her office was in Copenhagen where she lived with her husband and a 5 year old daughter. The old lady had lost her husband 2 years ago following which she had shifted to a senior citizen home, about 3 hours from Copenhagen.

“Why don’t you live with your daughter and her family?” I enquired curiously.

“Oh no-no,” she said her face flushed in exasperation on my proposal. “She has her own life and her own family. They come to visit me every month though. Moreover I can very much live on my own and fend for my living. I have worked for most of my life and the pension money sustains my daily needs,” she said proudly.

Realising that my honest concern might have offended her amour propre, I immediately swung to the damage control mode.

“I am sorry if I have offended you which definitely wasn’t my intention at all,” I said. “I come from a country where taking care of your aging parents comes naturally,” I continued. “We don’t wait for our parents to ring us and tell us to come over; we do it anyway. Most of our parents are financially independent; they can take care of themselves and might not be dependent on their children. However, the presence of the children when they are in the hospital is a moral reinforcement for them if not anything else. It doesn’t matter who pays the bills finally, the presence is what matters.”

She seemed to comprehend the point I was trying to make here. “Copenhagen is too far dear and I have to visit the hospital atleast twice a week for a check-up,” she said.

“But isn’t it her duty to take the day off and accompany you to the GP?” I retorted.

“I like it this way dear,” she said. “I like doing my own chores, doing my doctor’s visits, carrying my own groceries, sending my mails and helping myself to a glass of red-wine once in 3 days. It gives me the feeling of empowerment as well as spares me the guilt of becoming a burden on someone. My husband was bedridden for 7 years before he passed away and there wasn’t a day when he didn’t regret it and felt sorry for me. He was an athlete all his life, a national level triathlons champion, never skipped a day of run in the hope of remaining fit throughout his life. Yet he became paralysed waist down following a lethal stroke and was completely dependent on me. I know I won’t be able to continue for long on my own this way but I want to carry on, and enjoy my independence for as long as I can because ‘A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss’”, she finally said and got up.

Her token number was still flashing on the overhead display as I caught ‘S’ finally emerging out from behind the ‘Doctor’s Room’ doors as ‘my old lady’ dissapeared behind the same, with the beaming nurse in tow and her final words still ringing in my ears.

The Midsummer Bonfire

I suppose I am always in look out for a story; especially, when I am travelling. Its always the local stories that go behind the local traditions and the local food that fascinates me. I think in order to assimilate with the local culture and understand people in an adopted country, knowing their culture and the history behind that culture and tradition is very important. The stories that give rise to decades old tradition are not mere stories. In fact I think they are a lot more than a string of words strung together to form a, more or less, linear, dramatic arc. These stories matter so much and are the ones that have been held on to and kept the longest, because they are the stories that are build, organically, with no boundaries set in theme or time; these are the stories of who we are; each one of us. What our lives mean. Who we love and count among our tribe, our family. What be believe, truly in our hearts. Why we strive. These are stories, and the people and places we choose to include as characters and settings, enter in and leave us. Some stay. Most move on. Some are like snowflakes that arrive gently and some are like hail that batter us hard. But they’re all pieces of this puzzle we call life.

As we begin the second year in Denmark, learning more about the local culture and the stories that have given rise to this culture is up on my agenda. And to further this agenda, I begin with the first tradition that is celebrated across the country to mark the summer solstice and the eve of St John the Baptist alleged birthday, the Sankt Hans or the Midsummer Bonfire.

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In Denmark this day is celebrated on the 23rd of June, the eve of the summer solstice. It is something similar to celebrating Christmas eve more than Christmas. To mark the occasion, gathering and celebrations are organised where people bring in their picnic dinner to share, huge bonfires are lit, music is both sung and played, and speeches are made.

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Sankt Hans is the Danish name of St. John the Baptist who was allegedly born on 24th June. Huge bonfires are lit to ward of any evil that were presumed to be roaming freely when the sun was slowly turning towards the south side again. They are lit in order to protect people from the evil eyes of the witches who were believed to become powerful during this astronomical transitional phase as they often met more powerful beings to increase their dark powers.

In ancient times, during the period of 1540 to 1693, many women who were considered witches by the church were burnt alive in these bonfires in Denmark. However, from the 1920’s an effigy of a witch made out of straw and cloth was burnt traditionally in the bonfire as a remembrance to the past brutality that were inflicted upon many innocents. In the modern era, the witches are now made out wood. People gather around the bonfire and sing midsummer hymns as the effigy burns. It is believed that the burning of the ‘symbolic witch’ would send the witch to Bloksbjerg, the Brocken mountain in the Harz region of Germany where it is believed that the great witch gathering was held on this day.

We celebrated this tradition as a couple this year as our little one had fallen asleep in her stroller. It is said the occasion is best celebrated near the water. As we do not have any water body in Billund, we celebrated it in a nearby park with a huge crowd gathering with live music, dance and grilled and roasted bread and of course drinks. A gospel choir entertained hundreds of spectators with a short concert and at 9 pm the bonfire was set ablaze. We stood there watching the fire, pulling our jackets close, as it was a windy day, and clapped merrily with the crowd. 20150623_214946

Walking the Red Carpet…

“And The Award Goes to…”

A familiar phrase heard a number of times when we skim through the TV channels broadcasting the awards ceremonies for different categories of films and television shows. And it is not very often until one is himself/herself a movie star or a relative to a superstar that an ordinary person like myself get to attend these award shows. But I was lucky to attend one such show; I was lucky to walk the red carpet. If you are wondering which one then let me wade away the cloud of disbelief; it was the show of not the stars but the budding stars in different categories hosted by the International School of Billund; the super-stars of tomorrow.

As I made way into the dimly lit auditorium, I was greeted by a massive screen which said “1st ISB Movie Premiere”. Wow that was indeed inviting and exciting.

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So there were 4 movies which were to be screened for the premiere and the winners for all categories were to be decided from them. The movies were Robin Hood, Bloody Mary, The Little Red Riding Hood, and The Lego Movie 2.

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And the categories of winners were: Best Scriptwriter, Best Movie, Best Director, Best Editor, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cameraman, Best Sound, Best Costumes etc. Here are the awards that were to be given away to the best of the best.

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The children displayed some great levels of creativity, talent, motivation and enthusiasm in organizing this amazing show. All the movies were shot by the children of the Primary Section. They designed their own costumes, created the special effects, edited the videos. Even the awards were made by the children using different Lego Bricks.

The audience which included the parents were equally enthusiastic because am sure many including myself were attending a movie premiere followed by an awards ceremony for the first time in their lives; and all thanks to the wonderfully talented little kids.

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So the movies were screened and the awards were given out. There were a bunch of enthusiastic kids and parents who walked out of the auditorium feeling fulfilled.

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This was the first Annual Movie Premiere and Awards Ceremony of the ISB kids. Will be looking forward to more such amazing display of talent shows from these super talented kids. I wish we had such amazing exposure to the variety of opportunities that are being bestowed on today’s kids. But feeling extremely proud to be part of a team and school where kids are being given the opportunity and the scope for getting the best out of themselves. Kudos to team ISB and the wonderful kids.