I recently returned from a European jaunt with my family. It was an exciting time to be in Europe with both the Brexit vote and the Euro Cup. The football tournament took center stage — we happened to be in downtown Reykjavik for Iceland’s first goal (the loudest cheer I’d ever heard), and endured a cancelled train due to hooliganism in Marseille. A few stories from our trip …
Let’s Go Swimming!
We flew in and out of Reykjavik primarily because we were seduced by the ultra-low fares of WOW Airlines. By the time you pay for your hotel in Iceland, you don’t actually save any money, but we enjoyed our short stay. There was a Viking longhouse museum directly underneath our hotel, an early settlement discovered during construction. Among the many fascinating things I learned at the museum is the fact that about 80% of Icelandic men have Nordic paternal ancestry, while about 60% of Icelandic women have Celtic maternal ancestry (Norse Vikings taking wives from the British Isles and settling on the western isle, apparently). The early Icelanders didn’t stop their western explorations there; Greenlandic Icelanders briefly settled in Newfoundland around 1000AD.
After watching Iceland tie Hungary and learning about Vikings, we had a half day remaining and wanted to make the most of it. We’d heard about the famous geothermal Blue Lagoon, but looking into the details it looked both too fancy and too expensive for us. We ended up at Laugardalslaug, an outdoor pool complex, also geothermally heated, with an epic waterslide and a half-dozen hot tubs/hot pools. Cheap, easy to get to, a mix of locals and tourists, and loads of fun. We spent so much time in the pool I ended up with a mild sunburn, something I didn’t expect was possible so far north.
Double thumbs up for Iceland. Friendly people (at least the ones we met), great water park, and the never-setting summer sun helped us adjust more quickly to the timezone.
Fun Iceland fact: Iceland recently sentenced it’s 29th banker from the 2008 financial crisis to prison. Considering Iceland’s total prison capacity is 121, that means that 24% of Iceland’s prison population consists of bankers.
Next we visited my dad who lives in Saint-Hilaire-d’Ozilhan, a village in the south of France near Avignon. This involved a flight from Reykjavik to Lyon, and a literal sprint to catch the last train to Avignon. After a short stay in the village, we all drove south to the beautiful coastal city of Cassis. Cassis had more of a party vibe than I imagine it usually does, quite full of enthusiastic English football fans, probably due to it’s proximity to Marseille, where many of the Euro Cup games were being held. We lived the good life for a couple nights in Cassis, catching up with my dad and his wife. It had been too long since we’d visited them, and I promised we’d go more often, so you can expect a Europe travel post at least every other year from here on out.
On the way out of Cassis we met Valler, an Icelander on his way home after cheering himself hoarse in Marseille. Turned out he’d lived in San Francisco for many years and married a bartender from the Tenderloin. Small world!
Driving in Rome
From Cassis we took the train to Marseille, a bus to the airport, and a plane to Rome. In Rome we met up with my mom for the third leg of our trip — an ancestry research adventure in the mountains of Abruzzo. With an eight-year-old in tow we passed on Rome’s many art museums, instead visiting fountains, churches, and the city’s main synagogue.
History is everywhere in Rome. I was admiring an Egyptian obelisk atop a fountain in Piazza Navona when I decided to look up the meaning of the hieroglyphics. I learned the obelisk in question was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Domitianus in the first century AD, constructed in Egypt, and the hieroglyphics refer to him in some sort of self-congratulatory way. But I couldn’t find a direct translation. Could be something along the lines of the following:
… there is now an obelisk cut in Egypt for the Emperor Domitian and inscribed with his name, and with all those blasphemous titles of deification (though he was still living) which are joined with the names of the earlier Pharaohs : “Sun-god, Son of the Sun-god, Supporter of the World, Giver of Life to the World, the Man -god Horus, the Son of the Woman Isis, who is to come and avenge the death of his ancestor Osiiis, King Living for Ever”
After a very enjoyable few days we took a taxi to the train section, rented a car, and prayed (even atheist Americans pray while driving in Rome). Google Maps navigation, bad pronunciation of Italian streets aside, got us out of the city with no more than five wrong turns and a few friendly honks in our direction. Italian driving is definitely aggressive, with many games of chicken, but I didn’t see people doing dumb-ass things like texting on their phone while driving (that I see at home all the time).
An aside: I relied on my phone heavily during this trip. T-Mobile came through with flying colors. I have T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan, unlimited talk + text, and I didn’t have to do anything to enable my phone for Europe. Except for a few valleys in the Italian mountains I had at least 2G service at all times (voice and data), free roaming data (at 2G, slow but good enough for email and reading news), and calls at $.20/minute in every country I visited. Every time I arrived in a new country I received a text with local rates. Texts were supposed to cost 20 cents each, but I just looked at my bill and I wasn’t charged at all for text. As advertised, no charges for data. Total voice charges were about $5 for two weeks. Nice job T-Mobile!
Next installment: ancestry research and great food in the town of Scanno, Abruzzo, where two of my great-grandparents were born.