Thursday, April 09, 2015

Important lessons in phallology, and other tales from Iceland

We went to Iceland last week for spring break.  Me and the kids and my parents.  It was a fabulous trip in a fascinating country I had never visited before.  We learned about the Vikings and went to museums about whales and the aurora borealis.  

And penises.

Yep, there's a penis museum in Iceland (the only one of its kind in the world, apparently), featuring specimens from the various mammals indigenous to Iceland.  The kids were looking forward to going there for months.  At one point before we left, I was telling Josie about the different things we could see in Iceland, including a museum with life-size replicas of whales.

"Doesn't that sound cool?"

"Mama, I don't want to do anything until we've seen the penis museum."

Fair enough.  Luckily, it was right down the street from our apartment.

Mrs. Humpback Whale is a happy camper
So we saw specimens that ran the gamut from humpback whale penises to tiny little mouse penises, and everything in between.  They even have a human specimen (how they obtained it is the subject of the documentary "The Final Member," currently streaming on Netflix).

Josie's remarks on it were, "geez, it's really hairy!"

It's good to learn these things early.

Everything about the trip felt like an adventure.  We went on a helicopter ride over Reykjavik and saw the lava- and volcano-covered countryside, including landing on the side of a volcano next to a thermal vent, where boiling water was bubbling out of the snowy ground.

The view of Reykjavik from the helicopter.  The tall building is the Hallgrimskirkja, a beautiful church and the tallest building in the city.
A geothermal vent.  Iceland is basically one giant geothermal hotspot.
We climbed up the side of a cliff (via a built in staircase) and viewed the spectacular Skogafoss waterfall from the top.

The kids were totally down with walking up the 438 steps to the viewing platform (and insisted on counting the steps as they climbed).
We saw the Strokkur geysir erupt about 5 times (it goes off every 4-5 minutes).  Every single time it was startling and thrilling.

We hiked to a glacier.  It's amazing to think of the land being shaped and molded by these giant, heavy flows of ice.

The marbled glacier ice.  To get a sense of the scale of it, you can see a person on the right side of the photo, hiking up it.
We went to the black sand beaches of the southern coast, with its enormous, angry surf and its otherworldly cliffs and rock formations borne of ancient volcanoes.

Cliffs formed by basalt columns at the Reynisfjara beach (similar to the Giant's Causeway in Ireland).
The landscape was like nothing I'd ever seen, desolate and lunar-looking and stark and beautiful.  It felt like being on another planet, sometimes.

But then we were brought back to Earth by the inevitable crazy-small-world encounter.  The last night we were there was the first night of Passover.  Before the trip, we went online to see if there was a Passover seder somewhere in Reykjavik that we could attend, and found one run by a Chabad group.  Chabad is an ultra-orthadox Hassidic movement in Judaism, and quite honestly, I find its practitioners to be creepy as fuck, but it was the only game in town.  When we got there and I went to introduce myself to the rabbi, without thinking I reached out my hand for him to shake.  He recoiled as if I had threatened to spit on him and said, "sorry, but my mother taught me to never touch anything that isn't mine."  Ugh.  Fuck you, dude.

But I digress.  Back to the small world.

There were a bunch of other folks there, a couple of locals, but mostly people like us who were traveling and wanted to still observe the holiday - Americans, an Italian, some Israelis, and a French woman who was married to an Icelander.  After we went through the initial part of the ceremony and had dinner, we went around the room to introduce ourselves, say where we were from, and maybe say something about our own experiences or traditions with Passover.

One of the women was a retired teacher named Susie from central Colorado.  She and her husband were traveling through northern Europe to do some nordic skiing.  And so we compared notes and it turns out she knows a bunch of people in the Colorado special education world that I know, and is close friends with a woman who works in my office.  But to meet Susie, I had to go to a Passover seder in freaking Iceland.

The kids, meanwhile, had a blast with the children of the French-Icelandic couple.  Rather than sit through the seder, which included a lot of songs they weren't familiar with because I don't include them in my seders at home (Josie harumphed, "this isn't a dinner!  It's a song-over!"), the kids hung out in this little play area in the hotel outside the dining room.  The other kids spoke only French, and my kids speak only English, but they immediately established a rapport and had fun playing.

Zeke came back in and exclaimed, "Mama, I love this Passover!  I get to play with my friends!"

"What are their names?" I asked.

"I don't know," he shrugged, and headed back out to them.

We came home the next day, happy and tired, with our horizons broadened and new, nameless friends to call our own.


  1. What a great trip! Your kids will never forget it, will they?

    1. No, I don't think they will. It was really fun, and there wasn't a single thing we did or saw when either one of them said, "I'm bored." We had a great time.