Chilling out with the family in Iceland & Greenland
by Alan E. Lewis
Entry: October 2010
The Lewis family in Greenland.
Many Americans look back with a fond sense of nostalgia to the days when kids were piled into the station wagon for family vacations. Times have changed, of course. But travel is still a great way to bring families together—even well after the children have left the “nest.” So it was a real treat when Harriet and our two grown children, Edward and Charlotte, were able to shift our schedules and get together for another Lewis family holiday this past July. This time we decided to visit Iceland and Greenland—destinations that had piqued our curiosity for far too long.
By the way, Harriet has already written about the Iceland portion of our trip in her section of the website, Harriet’s Corner—and I urge you to check it out. But I thought you’d like to hear my perspective as well. Plus, there’s one experience that I wanted to tell you about that I’m quite sure she didn’t share with her readers!
Right off the bat, the names of these countries are misleading. There are times of the year when Iceland is brilliantly green. And Greenland—well, the vastness of the ice found here certainly does stagger the imagination. But for different reasons, we loved them both equally well.
With Harriet at Gulfoss, one of Iceland’s most scenic waterfalls.
It didn’t take us long in Iceland to realize we had chosen our vacation well. The landscapes were indeed spectacular—more than once my jaw dropped at the sheer beauty that unfolded before us. We witnessed thundering waterfalls, great raging rivers, and ice-capped mountains bisected by verdant valleys and creeping glaciers. And the geothermal activity is everywhere—hissing, roiling geysers and bubbling mud-pots to the most soothing thermal pools you can imagine. And let me tell you, nothing brings a family closer together than slathering warm white mud over each other’s faces.
Even on family get-togethers like this, we make it a point to meet as many locals as possible. We found the people of Iceland to be gracious and universally fascinating, both in Reykjavik and beyond. In spite of a reputation for toughness and independence—which comes with the territory, I suppose—all the Icelanders we met were incredibly warm and eager to show off their country and regale us with stories.
But there was one conversation in particular that still has me chuckling—and shaking my head in disbelief. We were in Husavik, a small town along Iceland’s northern coast, and decided to chat with a gentleman I met on the street. I assumed he was a fisherman—most of the people from this remote village by a bay where whales cavorted day in and day out fished for a living. But when I politely asked him what he did, his answer shocked me. “I run a phallus museum,” he said.
Now, I’m not usually at a loss for words, but that remark stopped me in my tracks. The only thing I could think to say in response was, “Oh,” followed by, “that’s rather unusual, isn’t it?” He smiled and told me that after retiring from teaching in Reykjavik, he moved to this remote stretch of coastline to start his museum. It’s a serious venture, he assured me, telling me that the museum contains penis specimens from almost every land and sea mammal that can be found in Iceland. “It’s right there,” he said, pointing to a building a short distance away. Sure enough, there it was before me—The Icelandic Phallological Museum. If you ever get to Husavik, you might want to pay it a visit. When you get back home and compare unique travel experiences with your friends, I venture not too many people will be able to top your story.
A settlement along the east coast of Greenland, just south of the Arctic Circle.
While Iceland more than lived up to its reputation as a showcase for some of the world’s most spectacular scenic beauty, we didn’t know what to expect at our next island destination. Greenland was shrouded in mystery for us.
But the whole point of travel is to open your eyes to new experiences. And our family had several of them during our brief time on this forbidding island. While some 80% of Greenland’s land mass is covered in great swathes of ice, the shore is dotted with the occasional sheep farm and a few picturesque villages—really just clusters of brightly painted wooden cottages. We found it simply breathtaking. In Greenland you’ll discover nature at its most unspoiled and raw. And you can never really go “on the road” at all in Greenland—roads here are virtually non-existent. In fact, I was told that there are just four traffic lights in the entire country (which boggles the mind when I consider the years I spent driving on the streets of Boston).
Edward and I hope to enjoy many more Lewis family vacations.
While we were there, we chartered a small boat for a close-up look at some of Greenland’s stunning glacial beauty. One scene I’ll never forget is how the man at the helm maneuvered the tiny vessel. The waters were strewn with icebergs—and the man was jostling great chunks of ice with his boat, trying to gently push them out of the way so we could proceed. It was a surreal experience. I recall looking at Harriet, Charlotte, and Edward—and seeing the same expressions of awe in their faces. No one spoke, but I knew all of us were in sync, just reveling in the moment. I also remember thinking to myself, “this is what adventure travel is all about—and family, too.”
Greenland is also home to an amazing wilderness region in its northeast corner. Brimming with fjords, glaciers, and giant mountains, Northeast Greenland National Park is actually the largest national park in the entire world. With no human inhabitants, this vast and frigid kingdom is the exclusive domain of polar bears, walruses, and other mammals that can tolerate extreme conditions. I hear, though, that it’s definitely no place for timid adventurers. But, boy, does it ever plant the seed in my mind for a future Lewis family vacation.
Alan E. Lewis