Iceland: Xmas & New Year 2016/2017

Iceland isn’t the first destination that comes to mind as a place to spend Christmas and New Years. Yes, its THE place to visit now, but normal people venture there in the high season of summer and fall when you can circumnavigate the nation on the Ring Road. When all roads are passable, the temperature is pleasant and everything is open. On the downside, the airfare is more expensive, the accommodations aren’t cheap and the island nation is over run with tourists.

We’re going in the dead of winter when the temperature hovers at freezing and there’s only six hours of  daylight. When its the low season and many of the rural museums and sights are closed. We’re going then because Iceland has quaint Christmas traditions and one of the world’s best New Years Eve fireworks shows, all research subjects for future travel articles I’m writing.

Of our ten days in the country, half will be spent Reykjavik and half will be spent seeing the sights outside the capital. For part of the trip, we needed a 4 wheel drive, budget accommodations for four outside of Reykjavik and some idea what’s open in the off season. For that I turned to a surprising and very helpful resource – Hostelling International Iceland. 

Their website is filled with information including a country map of all the hostels, detailed information and links for each one, a comprehensive downloadable booklet, suggested trip itineraries and the offer to make all of your hostel and vehicle rental reservations. As I’ve been researching their possibilities, they’ve been responding within 24 hours to my various questions. How far between the hostels that are open that time of year? It’s on their website. What’s their advice about driving from Hostel A to Hostel B a distance away? They reminded me there’s limited daylight and suggested there would not be much open on that road that time of year. Do the hostels have a private room (for me) and dorm room for the three young adults who are part of my intrepid band of fellow travelers? Yes! What’s their recommendation about a travel guide? Their downloadable itineraries provide detailed information and they give you a travel CD as part of their service that explains the sights. What are the hidden fees? There aren’t any. They provide the reservation service for no fee and the vehicle pick up and drop off has no extra fees because some of our group is staying at their Reykjavik hostel.

We leave in two months. I’m looking forward to finally seeing the fabled northern lights, Elf School (more on that later), rural hostel living, hip Reykjavik, a glacier tour and the quaint Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve!

A Message From Van Gogh

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View of the Sea at Scheveningen

During my recent week in Amsterdam I wandered through five museums; four in Amsterdam and one in de Hague. I had a vague understanding of the Dutch painters, but seeing their work up close in Dutch museums is completely breathtaking.

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Dutch master and Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Willem van Gogh has an entire Amsterdam museum built in 1973 devoted to his works and that of his contemporaries conveniently located a 10 minute walk from my houseboat accommodation.

In 2002 thieves scaled the Van Gogh Museum wall, smashed a window, evaded the security system and stole two works of art including View of the Sea at Scheveningen, one of only two Dutch seascapes painted by Van Gogh. While the thieves were caught in 2004, the paintings were never recovered until the news broke of their recovery while I was in Amsterdam. According to Smithsonian.com the theft was linked to the Camorra crime syndicate in Naples. This wasn’t the first time a Van Gogh museum theft occurred. In 1991 twenty paintings were stolen from the museum and recovered 35 minutes later in an abandoned car.

I attempted to sketch the mural side of the Van Gogh Museum when I was there and gave up feeling not at all up to the task. Returning home a quote from Van Gogh popped up on my Facebook feed; a message I wished he would have delivered in that moment of intimidation that discouraged me from pressing on with my drawing.

“If you hear a voice within you saying, “You are not a painter”, then by all means paint….and that voice will be silenced.”