Monday, August 27, 2018

Two Lands

The last ten days have been adventurous to say the least as I visited two lands - Iceland and Cleveland - and it was the latter of the lands that blew me away.

I am trying to visit as much of America as I can.  I have an agenda in which to see said cities of often derision or dismissive as a way of tapping into what is best these places have to offer over those of the worst.  I have not been surprised in any way in fact I have been amazed as to the graciousness of those who were my hosts over the extent of my stay.

It began in Pittsburgh over Memorial Day and I had I met my amazing Lyft driver, Darryl, sooner I am sure my appreciation of the city that gave us Mr. Rogers and Mr. Warhol only would have been even larger.  That said the check to the conservatory is coming that way as that was a morning I could not have imagined had I tried.

Then it was Louisville and the weekend of Bourbon, Horses and Ali.  What happened that afternoon at Churchill Downs could not be replicated as it was the day of Belmont and the winner of the Triple Crown a local pony that did good but the city too did good by me as well.  The must see is the Muhammad Ali Institute that yes was about the man but also about the works.  He worked it out in many ways and his wins were ours as well.

Then I took a brief hiatus and instead decided to explore my own city and try every weird thing that crossed my pass, from salt caves to sweat lodges (infrared saunas) as I waited for what was planned, Cleveland; Which in turn became a trip to Iceland as a detour to get there, for  it was Cleveland that stopped this emitting volcano from blowing up and managing to get me to Iceland for what became the perfect layover en route to Cleveland.

I want to talk about Iceland in a positive way and that is possible when you realize what the country is about and the people so tolerant, so generous as the herds have descended upon it in numbers that are twice exceeding its population on an annual basis. Some are just layovers onto other destinations thanks to cheap air fare that enables one to get to Europe to Iceland the same manner in which I refer to mine to Cleveland.   The fares on WOW and Icelandic air put the phrase "dirt cheap" into a whole new meaning that translates into Icelandic as "Sucker."

Iceland is expensive and without organized tours and a sense of purpose or research into understanding where you are going, how to get there and the costs involved you are an idiot.  I am said idiot. But I have dignity and treat the people and the place with the best of intention and wanted to make lemonade out of what began as lemons.  Understanding the place and the people is essential in travel, be it locally or less so.   Iceland is trying to figure that out and they are doing it better than I.

I should have first researched WOW air.  I am not going into detail but this airline is a startup, it is in financial trouble for doing what all startups do - get you in then promptly rip you off.   I think this blog article from a veteran traveler who works in the industry explains it all. The comment section has numerous additions that confirm most of what the author says and there is little to say good about WOW Air.  Travel and Leisure also has a fairly salient piece and in turn reminds you you get what you pay for and you pay in more than just cash.

Now the reality is that Iceland is just that the land of Ice and Snow and in turn its open widely only three months of the year and the daylight is as long as the day in that period and that is when the herds arrive en mass and I feel really feel for everyone, from the tourists to the locals who have to somehow coordinate and organize the thousands that speak multiple languages and have multiple customs and idiosyncrasies heavy on the idiot part.

The late Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations visited  Reykjavik and went in winter when the city is in darkness as long as the days and in turn tried the "native" cuisine and found it inedible.   He hated it but I feel that he did not really get the culture of the people and that is as tough as the rock they reside upon.    The city food situation is challenging but mostly expensive so the focus seems to be the three basic food groups - Fish and Chips, Hamburger and Chips and Pizza.  The local dish of lamb stew/soup is the most frequent you find but again $25 dollars for a plate of decent fish and chips and $10 dollars for a beer in which to quaff when you eat finds one checking one's wallet over one's waistline.  

Oddly if you do one tenth of the activities in Iceland for which they are known - hiking, swimming, horse back riding and other outdoorsy things you won't gain a pound. That said ironically while I found the food inedible at my hotel, (for the record the Hotel, the Foss was off the chain fantastic from location to service) I managed to put together a sammy of croissant, ham and cheese with a banana that fueled my day.  I had a pretty good salmon sammy but the windy roads the endless cold and rain took a toll so I ate half and tossed the rest and wisely so as it exhausts you and that lends to nausea as one of the travellers on my day trip discovered.  I stuck with beer and bread oddly works.   That an a chocolate bar one gets far.  But then I stopped hiking 3/4 up the "volcano" "hill" "mountain" for the rain and cold was too much in rented gear and I had nothing to prove.  The lagoon at the bottom was there waiting for me and I wanted to enjoy it.  That is another custom the swim where one strips down in front of everyone and takes a shower first, puts their suit on and jumps in.  Many had no problem and those that did did.  The same goes at public pools and they frankly are superior to any of this lagoon shit and way cheaper as they dot every township that aligns the land.  So when I return and I will I will take my own food, plan my trip when I get there and fuck the major tours other than one that has a brisk walk and will call it day.  The endless push to prove how roughing it is a good thing is not my idea of a good thing.  Thanks Martha!  This Forbes article is how I managed to find the pleasures that makes me want to return,  I would just throw in a performance at the Harp versus the overpriced super meal instead.   Honestly I felt like a heroin addict must feel when they need their drugs, I just wanted a salad! 

But onto the land of another place that I am not sure Bourdain visited as it has a reputation that even I was unclear as to why - Cleveland.   Look into the history of this city and it was one of great wealth and capitalist bourgeoisie that aligns its aging streets in ways that makes one wonder what it was like "back in the day." But this is the now and the city is changing. Many think of it as the home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum or that of the Christmas Story and Ralphie's endless pursuit of his Red Ryder gun.  Well they also have a world class Orchestra which has the notation of being the most recorded American one in history, their home perch of Severance Hall is a place of amazing beauty and history that is worth a visit with or without the music..chose the music as that performance I experienced marked the perfect ending of three perfect days.   And music you will find from the first ever City music themed festival right in downtown Cleveland to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame you will get your groove on.  The highlight of that visit was the booth where you could listen to one hit wonders A-Z and listen, dance and get the scoop on the writers, the musicians that created these singular hits that seem to be on every playlist forever.  Again the staff of that place extended such courtesy and graciousness that again made my heart bleed or my feet ache more from the dancing and walking that took over four hours to enjoy.   And the same for the Cleveland Museum of Art that was the entire prompt for the trip and their showing of the acclaimed Kusama Mirrors exhibit touring the country.   It is a must see and again the Nordic Gods were smiling upon me as each room requires three to enter and my partners became a charming Father and his son who enabled me to see the art through some new eyes and they too endeared me to Cleveland in ways that never stopped amazing me.

Food, people, weather and history make a trip.  Getting there is not always easy and I can assure you my fuck up on WOW air that led me to miss my flight enabled me to have an overnight in Cleveland initially I did not expect and then the Sheraton Airport Hotel stepped in and led me to the most amazing restaurant I would have again never put on my must list - 100th Bomb Group.  Sitting outside listening a fun blues band, eating delicious skirt steak with perfectly cooked green beans was an evening that I cannot forget and enabled me to return to the airport to embark to Iceland at midnight that night or as they say in Iceland, midnight the morning of.  There began the confusion and it did not end until after I returned even more chaos to lend itself to a trip that was nonsensical to begin with.   Here is where Cleveland needs work.  To clear Customs is one thing and Border entry but to have to clear TSA upon ARRIVAL made no sense.  It is 11:30 PM when you land and you clear customs, then go pick up your bag after yes after clearing customs where you then put it back onto a luggage transfer and go upstairs to line up for TSA clearance.  The entire plane waits and given WOW and their problems in that department mine was the last to land with a few before me.  I put my bag however at the front of the pile, entered the line where one TSA agent was clearing passengers, I was however ready as I put all the weird shit, like water etc in the "checked" bag and managed to get through what added an hour onto the exit plan.  I called hotel at 11:40 and did not arrive until 1 am.  But when I cleared bags were just arriving at the second claim and mine was one of the first off so many who had cleared an hour before me were standing there as the entire plane load of bags were just coming off.  Yes folks this is WOW air and this process is a mess that frankly needs another adjustment.  I thought the bizarre shit in Iceland with WOW with one line after another and then more confusion was just them but apparently no one knows how to fix this and I would warn people about this in the future if you fly out of Cleveland internationally. 

So what I have learned in my tale of two lands?

Cleveland is amazing and I will go back just because I can and I don't need a reason.

Iceland is amazing and I have much to see I will just do it on my own without relying on a travel agent (but the groups and hotel that she had booked me through were amazing and fully refunded me for me for those I missed but still do it yourself when you get there to allow for weather or other issues that can change plans) and bring your own snacks or go to a proper grocery store to get basics.

WOW air is garbage and if you choose to fly it go with a backpack and pay the carry on fee and bring your patience and tolerance for crowded flights, bullshit lines, canceled flights, weird flight times and in turn no ability to check in other than online and find that too is full of bullshit when it comes to doing so or calling the scripted Indian agent who will charge you for the conversation that goes on for a long time; children crying endlessly (they did on both flights), filthy planes, overpriced water and inedible food (a prep for Iceland) and rude rude clerks.  WOW is what I said when I finally got off ato never fly again.  Again WOW translates from Icelandic - SUCKER.     

Thank you to the people of Cleveland and to those I met in Iceland (the locals only two tourists were again civil and again a father and daughter camping but most were not as they did not speak English and the ones that did were in shock over the food and costs so they were masking their anger and frustration for the trip.   The couple from Arkansas who went on the Game of Thrones tour (yes there is that which files under youhavegottatobefuckingkiddingme, tried to make it to the bar for happy hour in which to get a beer under 10 bucks and share a plate of fish and chips they had eaten for the two previous days they had been there.  I thought well that could have been me, so WOW did me a favor.  Thanks it all worked out in my tale of two  lands.


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