I treated myself to a bobsled ride at the Nordic and Sliding Center in Lake Placid for no particular reason, and it was amazing.
Yet the notion of barreling down Mt. Van Hoevenberg in a pocket rocket was never part of my original bucket list…although it should have been. So I added it, just so I could cross it off my list.
True, there’s another bobsled run in Park City, but I’m not schlepping to Utah for another sliding track if I’m already here. Besides, Olympic history was made at Lake Placid, when the Americans defeated the Soviets in the men’s hockey finale.
Leah had less than zero interest in joining me, so I was on my own. Unfortunately, she was nursing a bad lower back the past few days, and missing out on a world of world-class activities–
while I was anticipating the thrill of winding through a dozen curves in a rumbling sled, and wondering how I would capture it all without dropping my phone. Carpe diem, all the way!
I filled out a “hold harmless” waiver online; showed the attendant my drivers license (although I wasn’t driving); and booked a 1pm run-time for $125. I thought it a bit pricey for a 55 second experience, compared to the “value” of free-falling from an airplane (Free Fallin’ Off My Bucket List),
or riding Class 4 and 5 rapids on the New River (New River Gorge), but at least I’d have bragging rights among friends.
Leah was willing and able to join me on the Legacy Tour, where we previewed the Olympic Center’s newest facility–the first of its kind, indoor push-track for bobsled and skeleton in the United States–
where athletes can practice start gate techniques for skeletons, and bobsleds. But they’ll need to dress for winter, because it was like a mammoth refrigerator inside!
We warmed up while examining the 1980 track, which is built atop the 1932 track, which runs parallel to the Cliffside Coaster, North America’s longest coaster.
Next, we boarded a bus that drove us to the 1st of 4 start gates of the Combined Track, completed in 2000…
for a look at what $50K to $100K will buy these days.
Then we walked the upper course…
past Curve 1…
to Start Gate 3…
with a distant view of the Ski Jump Center.
I shared my downhill ride with an anonymous coed, who took the first position behind the driver. I squeezed in behind her, with my butt planted on a quilted foam pad. Definitely, not the best position for a bad back, so Leah was right to sit this one out. Instructions were simple: hold onto the inside bars with both hands.
“But how will I video this?” I asked.
The attendant picked his words carefully: “You didn’t hear this from me, but if you hold your phone near the edge of the sled and brace your arm against the roll bar, your phone should fall into the sled if it slips out-ta your hand.”
We got a push and we were ready to roll…
We posted a respectable 52.25 seconds over the 1500 meter run. Olympian athletes can reach speeds of 90mph barreling down the same course.
While not the fastest run at 48mph, it was quick enough to earn me a moment on the gold medal podium.
Today was departure day. While other travelers were hastily checking out of Grandi to meet their airport connections, Leah and I had other plans. We had purposely booked an evening flight to give us another day of touring, but nothing too rigorous. We jumped on the option of keeping the Land Cruiser, and driving ourselves to the airport, coupled with a visit to Blue Lagoon.
After two weeks of circumnavigating the country/island for a total of 2020 miles, we were more than ready for a few hours of rest and relaxation before battling the airport madness.
We stopped briefly at a roadside turnoff in Reykjanes to explore our surroundings,
and spelunk a small crater from last year’s eruption.
However, as I write this, I regret missing the spectacle of Iceland’s August 3rd eruption and lava flow of Fagradalsfjall’s Geldingadalir volcano.
Nevertheless, because of the fissure’s volatility, the landscape is scarred and uninhabitable, yet eerily beautiful.
And because of Reykjanes’ geothermal properties, the Blue Lagoon has become legendary for the healing properties of its milky, mineral-rich waters.
The social and political landscape of Iceland is an unusual paradox–progressive in some matters, while also Puritanical at times. For instance, currently 67% of women no longer consider marriage a precursor to children.
Nor is organized religion very popular these days. Although Iceland has adopted Lutheranism as its state religion, the majority of Icelanders identify as eitheratheist or non-religious.
Iceland is also a global leader in promoting and protecting gender rights and equality.
Which begs the question: How can a Penis Museum exist in the center of Reykjavik when Icelanders prohibit nudity at any and all pools, spas and beaches?
After arriving at Blue Lagoon registration,
we claimed our color-coded, “Comfort” bracelet, which entitled us to:
Entrance to the Blue Lagoon
Silica mud mask
Use of towel
1st drink of our choice
We grabbed a towel on the way to our respective locker rooms–offering both public and private spaces for changing and showering. Once we located an available locker, we were directed to shower before entering the pool. Same-sex monitors were everywhere to assure compliance.
I met Leah outside the bathhouse with my towel and phone. The air temperature was 54oF and we were both shivering.
“What are you doing with your phone?” she asked.
“I need it to take pictures,” I answered.
“Don’t ya think you’re taking a big chance out there?” she continued.
“Probably,” I admitted, “but the water’s no deeper than 4.5 ft, so I’m not too worried. And NO splashing!”
“Okay, but just so you know–if you drop your phone, it’s gone forever. You’ll never find it in this,” she warned.
I gripped my phone with one hand and grabbed Leah’s hand with the other, and together we slipped into the warm, milky waters.
The water temperature felt like 90oF, but as we approached the bridge, rushes of hot water circulated around us with a thin mist hovering over the surface.
It’s hard to believe that Blue Lagoon was created by accident when engineers discharged geothermal plant condensate into a nearby lava field and expected the water to permeate the porous rock. But they didn’t consider that sedimentation would eventually clog the pores, and turn the fields into expansive reservoirs.
The lagoon didn’t seem overly crowded, but a lifeguard assured me that today was the busiest day since the pandemic recovery.
Although, the further we ventured, the fewer people we encountered.
until we reached the outer limits of the lagoon to enjoy a quiet moment by ourselves.
That’s when we realized that most of the crowd was either drinking around the bar,
or applying a silica mask doled out from the treatment kiosk. So we did both!
Unfortunately, our time in Iceland has come to a close.
We’ll resume our summer travels in Maine and Canada.
Till then, Kveðja Ísland! (Farewell Iceland!)
P.S. I didn’t sacrifice my phone to the Blue Lagoon.
Thanks to an earlier tour of The Cave Víðgelmir, Leah and I rolled into Reykjavik @ 4pm–an hour ahead of schedule–and it made all the difference. I immediately found a legit parking spot by the side of Grandi Center Hotel, and we quickly settled into our suite long enough to unzip and freshen up. Before long, we were out the door and heading for the harbor by foot.
As we were in a hurry to walk the 1 km, there was no time for snacks…although, passing by Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur was tempting…
This little stand has been serving “the best hot dogs in town” since 1937, hence the name translated; although, some fast-foodies claim they’re the best in the world. In fact, hot dogs are so pervasive throughout Iceland, they are jokingly referred to as Iceland’s national dish.
As much as I wanted a wiener, my mission to conduct hard research on “pizzles,” at the Icelandic Phallological Museum was time-sensitive; we only had an hour before closing.
The phallo-logic behind this museum is best expressed by Sigurður Hjartarson, the museum’s founder, who recently sat down with Felix Bazalgette, contributing writer for The Guardian.
In Sigurður’s words…
For most of my life I’ve been a teacher in Iceland, where I was born. In the 60s, I did a postgraduate degree in Edinburgh, but in the 70s I settled into life as a history and Spanish teacher in Akranes, a town north of Reykjavík.
One night in 1974, I was having a drink with my fellow teachers after school and playing bridge. The conversation turned to farming in Iceland – we were discussing how the industry finds a use for every part of the animal. Take lamb, for instance: the meat is eaten, the skin used for clothes, the intestines for sausages and the bones turned into toys for kids. Someone asked if there was a use for the penis, which made me recall how, as a child, I had been given a dried bull’s penis as a whip, to drive the animals out to pasture every day.
I was telling my fellow teachers about this and said that I would be interested in finding a whip like that again. “Well,” said one of my friends, “you might be lucky.” He was returning to his family’s farm that weekend and offered to find me some “pizzles” (a very old word for penis). I agreed, and the next week my friend came back with four bulls’ penises in a plastic bag. I took them to a local tannery and had them preserved. I gave three away as Christmas presents and kept the fourth. That was the start of my collection.
At first, it was a bit of a joke. It was very common then for teachers to have other jobs in the farming and animal industries, such as whaling. So to tease me, other teachers began to bring me penises from their second jobs – whale penises, sheep penises. I started learning how to preserve them. Then, gradually, the collection took on a life of its own. I thought: what if I collect the penises of all the species of Iceland? So that is what I tried to do.
I kept an eye on the news; if an interesting whale was found beached on the coast, I would try to get the penis as a specimen, or if an outlying island was infested with black rats that had escaped from a ship, I’d ask the pest control technician to send me one. (I’ve always had a rule that no animal would be killed for my collection.)
By 1997, I had amassed 63 specimens and the story of my collection had become more well known. I was invited to display it in a small space in the centre of Reykjavík, and my penis museum, or the Phallological Museum, to give it its proper name, was born. There are a lot of different ways to preserve a penis and I have tried all of them, so the collection varies between dried, stuffed and mounted penises, and also those floating in alcohol or formaldehyde.
The collection is very large today, as people have sent in specimens. The largest, from a sperm whale, is about 6ft long, while the smallest, from a European mouse, is less than a millimetre and must be looked at through a magnifying glass. We have one human penis on display, from a 95-year-old man who left it to us in his will in 2011. A few well-endowed humans, one from America and one from Germany, have promised to donate theirs when they die. They are young, though, so we will have to wait a while for those.
You might call me a bit eccentric. At first people thought there was something wrong with me, but over time they saw I was a serious collector who was precise and accurate with the information I kept, and that there was nothing pornographic about the collection. I’m happy that people don’t think I’m a pervert any more.
I’m now 80 and have retired to a small town in the north. I’ve had great fun building the collection over the years and starting the world’s first penis museum; before me, there had been some small collections of penis bones – which many animals have – but not a more comprehensive collection of all these different types. Some people collect stamps or rare coins; I chose instead to collect the phallus. Someone had to do it.
In the words of Sigurður Hjartarson, Fri 22, Apr 2022–as told to Felix Bazalgette
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a museum where the patrons have been so animated. Women easily outnumbered men by 2:1, and everyone seemed to be engaged. I saw no evidence of embarrassment, and selfies dominated most picture-taking opportunities.
But what surprised me most were all the children running through the exhibits like they were at a petting zoo. And their small hands were very busy at the gift shop,
where I found a great souvenir,
and many more items…
for more sophisticated palates.
All in all, it was an uplifting hour, yet extremely humbling for human egos.
Leah and I overnighted in Arnarstapi, a tiny fishing village perched on a lava cliff in West Iceland, where Mt. Snapafell looms large across the horizon.
Icelanders believe the village still pulses with a healing energy that emanates from chieftain, Bárður Snæfellsás, half ogre/ half human and sorcerer from the first settlement.
Legend suggests that Bárður was swallowed by Snæfellsjökull glacier. Perhaps it was his penance for killing his nephews, who admitted to pushing his daughter out to sea on an ice floe.
Consequently, Bárður was forever frozen in time and eternally committed to protecting the people of SnæfellsnesPeninsula,
and preserving its unspoiled natural beauty…
Another storm was brewing the day of our drive to Snæfellsjökull National Park. We mapped a route in search of the mysterious Snæfellsjökull Volcano, and took the high road as directed by GPS…
until we ran out of road and visibility halfway up the pass.
It was snowing on the other side of the mountain, and road crews had already conceded to Mother Nature.
So back down the mountain we went, where the weather was more predictable, and the roads were more reliable.
Unfortunately, we sacrificed a critical hour to correct our course, which translated into less time exploring Snæfellsjökull glacier at Snæfellsjökull National Park.
Instead, we continued to our next destination and penultimate excursion–
Our pre-paid guided tour of Iceland’s largest cave was originally scheduled for 1pm, but with rain clouds rolling in and a cold drizzle spoiling any chance of sightseeing or picture-taking, we expedited our drive to Borgarfjörður, with prospects of joining the noon tour if allowed.
We arrived at 12:05pm, but Sigurður (Siggy) agreed to include us, since he was already waiting for another late arrival with reservations. Hallelujah!
With our tour party now complete, each of us received a hardhat and headlamp, and Siggy (our only true-born Icelandic guide during our trip) led us 100m across a lava field called Hallmundarhraun to a twin opening in the earth where the roof of Víðgelmir had collapsed, revealing the cave’s only entrance.
We were dressed for winter inside the cave, where temperatures usually rise to 4oC, but Siggy was comfortable in a traditional Icelandic wool sweater knitted by his mom that he wore this day to celebrate Iceland’s Independence Day.
While traditional wet caves boast an array of stalactites and stalagmites, Víðgelmir cave gave us icicle formations,
and colorful mineral deposits imbedded in the walls,
After an hour, we reached the end of the boardwalk where the tube narrowed,
and it was time to resurface.
With a 2-hour drive to Reykjavik ahead of us, we may yet reach the Penis Museum before closing time.
Warning: Be advised that the photographs presented here must be properly viewed on a big screen. Failure to comply will result in diminished satisfaction and an acute craving for Taco Bell and The Kardashians.
Leah and I approached Westfjords with three scheduled days to weave through as many of the fjords before reaching the Brjánslækur ferry crossing. Total driving distance added up to nearly nine hours, but with so many photo opportunities and sightseeing possibilities to consider, I wondered if three days was enough to adequately explore the oldest part of Iceland–where its raw, rugged beauty continued to surprise us around every hairpin turn of every rutted ridge road.
Sadly, the answer was “no,” given the scary condition of so many summer-only roads, not to mention our pending midday ferry reservations on Day 3. Regardless, our time retracing the “dragon’s head” was eye-opening, head-turning, and breathtaking. With so much landscape candy still to process, I’ve momentarily selected the following collection of picture postcards for review: