Monday, November 24, 2014

June: International Institute of Social & Economic Science Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland

Just one week after returning from the Netherlands, I was off to Reykjavik, Iceland to participate in the IISES (International Institute of Social and Economic Science) conference. I had attended their conference last year in Norway and had been asked to be on the review board for one of their journals as well as chair a session at the 2014 conference. I'd never been to Iceland and was pleased to have my paper accepted for presentation in addition to the other duties.

Given his interest in volcanoes and earthquakes,
John decided to accompany me on this trip. We had a horrendous time getting there since Delta rescheduled us on a later flight out of Detroit than we were originally on, said flight was then delayed because of mechanical issues arriving at JFK in New York 10 minutes after our flight to Reykjavik took off. Even though they knew we were coming and that they didn't have another flight to Reykjavik for 24 hours, they didn't wait the 10 minutes for us and another couple. After much wrangling with Delta customer service we were finally scheduled on an Iceland Air flight the next morning and they put us up in a hotel for what remained of the night. If the Iceland Air flight had departing when it was supposed to, I would have arrived in Reykjavik about 10 hours before my presentation. As it was, I got there just 2 hours before showtime. As we were registering at the Iceland Air desk their computers went down and never came back up. After 2-3 hours of waiting they decided to issue hand-written boarding passes for everyone, which took several hours. Our 10 a.m. flight finally departed at 5 p.m. It was quite a nice flight with interesting videos about Iceland - a great introduction to the country. We arrived at the airport outside of Reykjavik around 3 a.m. and it was not quite dark but not quite dawn either. On the long bus ride into the city we passed landscape that looked like the moon (with green moss).

Finally arrived at our hotel (the Hilton, a little less expensive than the conference hotel and just a short walk away) in time for me to take a shower, dress, inject some caffeine and get to the conference. Tired and more than a little worse for the wear, but ready to go.

Impressive lobby of the conference hotel (Grand Hotel Reykjavik)

The session I was to chair was the first of the morning after the keynote speaker (I may have nodded off a few times during his talk). I managed do my duties of time-keeping and discussion leader, and then I also had my paper to present before being able to relax at a very nice luncheon (some of the best smoked salmon and roasted lamb I have ever had). It was all I could do to stay awake until a reasonable bed time, so in the late afternoon John and I took a bus ride into the city (our hotel was just a ways outside of the city center - a walkable distance, but not this time) to explore a bit. The weather was cool (50s) and a little damp, but comfortable (and good for keeping awake).
Most of the buildings in Reykjavik are very nondescript but here are a few I found more interesting. Corrugated metal is the standard material so those that use color help cheer up the rather gloomy landscape.

Back to our hotel for an early dinner (appetizers in the club lounge actually were plenty for us). We had a nice view from the lounge, the city in one direction and water in the other (well, water both ways). Visiting Iceland in late June assures one plenty of daylight.

On our second day in Reykjavik, the conference continued and John explored. I joined him again in the afternoon for a more thorough tour of the city. The famous landmark of Reykjavik, the Hallgr√≠mskirkja (even the manhole covers feature it - see below), is visible from almost everywhere with its tall steeple. The inside was very modern (and closed for a funeral, so we had to return the next day for me to see the inside). The architecture of the church is supposed to represent the volcanic rock of the island.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      An interesting feature of the Hallgr√≠mskirkja interior is that the backs of the pews easily reverse from facing forward toward the pulpit to facing the fantastic organ in the rear for concerts.

We then walked down the hill (Reykjavik has quite a few) and along the water to the old port and the striking concert hall called the Harpa, the most unusual modern architecture we saw in Iceland. It was difficult to get a good picture of the exterior (below, I tried). Some of the most interesting views of the building were from the inside. Below, you will see a photo of me relaxing (we walked a lot) and then a picture when I looked up at the ceiling (the yellow is the bench I'm sitting on and the blue is my jacket).

                                                                                                                                                                                                               Reykjavik manhole cover. (Those of you who have traveled with me know I always take pictures of the manhole covers in the cities I visit.)
 More interesting modern architecture at the city hall and museum.
The last day of the conference was a bus trip for attendees. Besides having social time to get to know the participants better, we toured some of the most famous Icelandic geological sites on what is called the Golden Circle Tour. This tour included the Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geothermal area (after which all other geysers are named) with its active Strokkur geyser and several "hot pots," and - most interesting to us - the Pingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

To the right the Gullfoss waterfall. Below, a stop along the way to see an old-fashioned little turf church.

Standing stones of  old bishops, I guess.

Next the "hot pots" and my attempt at a shot of the Strokkur geyser. Apparently the only other places in the world with this type of geological activity are Yellowstone Park in the U.S., North Island of New Zealand, and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia.

But the most amazing part of the Circle Tour for us was the Pingvellir (or Thingvellir - Icelandic language gets translated various ways) National Park. It was named a national park because of the historic events that took place there (the world's first parliament was held here in 930 AD, where it continued to meet until 1798), it is the geology of the area that was so interesting to us. As the place where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet (and continue to separate by about 3 mm each year), walking through this area was just magical. Photos can't begin to give a sense of the place.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           On the bus ride back to Reykjavik we saw much of the starkly beautiful landscape punctuated with patches of wildflowers (apparently Alaskan lupine gone crazy - very pretty but hard to get a good picture through the bus window).
At the end of each day I was able to relax in one of the "hot pots" at the hotel's spa. These are hot tubs filled with mineral water from the Icelandic hot springs. Not only are they very relaxing (I could float with just the back of my head resting on the edge), a masseuse would stop by to give head and neck massages!

We could have used the day we lost trying to get here to see more of this amazing country. Despite the shortened time, the trip was definitely worth it, not only for what we were able to experience of Iceland but also because my paper was accepted for publication in the IISES journal! 

Good-bye Reykjavik!

                                                                                                                                                Some interesting Icelandic breakfast foods: shrimp, herring, mushroom, or bacon butter for your toast with a shot of cod liver oil. But they always had plenty of smoked salmon for John and their own type of yogurt, called Skyr, for me. We had lots of very good food.

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