Category Archives: Iceland

Hull, UK City of Culture – Slave Trade, Fishing and (redundant) Dock Yards

“God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners” – William Wilberforce ( A great man of Hull)

After the short detour I considered another, to see the statue of the poet and novelist Philip Larkin, a former resident of Hull, but it was back the way that I had walked already so I ruled it out and continued to the Museum Quarter.

There is a Philip Larkin walking tour of the City but I skipped that as well and left it for another day and another blog post!

I had been to the Museum Quarter before, to the Street Life Museum and the History Museum so I bypassed these and went first to the small independent Fishing and Trawler Visitor Centre in an old ramshackle dockside warehouse.  A  wonderfully eclectic place, the sort of museum that rejects no exhibits, finds a place for everything and piles them up in random order all over the place, a sort of alternative to the minimalist National Gallery of London or the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.

It was an entertaining visit, run by volunteer ex-fishermen oozing with enthusiasm, one of those places where, if you show the slightest dull glimmer of interest, the volunteers will latch on and beat you into submission with stories of the fishing industry and life at sea.

I liked this place, I liked the bric-a-brac exhibits, the scrapbook newspaper cuttings and the detailed models of the old Hull fishing docks (now sadly a shopping mall).

I told them that I was a visitor from Grimsby which claims to have once been the biggest fishing port in the World and this immediately presented a challenge to their bragging rights.  They were keen to point out that Grimsby may have been a big port but Hull had much bigger trawlers on account of the larger capacity of its docks.  Not being a genuine Grimbarian I was careful not to take sides in this potentially dangerous debate.

The Visitor Centre is close to the banks of the River Hull and close by is the trawler Arctic Corsair one of the last side-winder fishing boats to operate out of Hull before the Cod Wars with Iceland and the ignominious collapse of the UK fishing industry.

It is a big ship, about twice the size of the Ross Tiger museum ship in Grimsby but I didn’t go on the guided tour today and thought that I might leave that for a future visit as well.

Instead I went to the William Wilberforce Museum which I had missed previously when I was with the grandchildren because I wasn’t certain that they would care that much for a museum about slavery or that it would hold their attention for very long.

William Wilberforce is probably the most famous son of Hull.  He began his political career in 1780 and dedicated almost all of his life to the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Most countries have something ‘not to be proud of’ (USA and the bullying of the Native Americans, most of Central Europe and the treatment of the Jews under the Nazis, Australia and the indigenous Aborigines and so on and so on) and in the case of Great Britain the African slave trade is right there at the top.

Thousands of Africans were transported to the colonies in the West Indies (Caribbean if you prefer) and to the emerging southern states of the USA.  In a way it might be argued that Great Britain was responsible for the American Civil War.

For Wilberforce, abolition became his obsession and life’s work.  In 1833 the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act and three days later the exhausted Wilberforce passed away.

It is a good museum housed in Wilberforce’s actual birthplace and other adjacent Georgian buildings which by pure chance survived the German bombing raids of World-War-Two whilst everything around them was destroyed.

I had a few minutes to spare now so I walked around the Mandela gardens where I came across an unlikely statue of Mahatma Ghandi dedicated to achieving solutions to difficult World problems through peace and then I spent a final thirty minutes in the Museum of Street Life.

I had missed quite a lot here on my first visit as my grandchildren charged about like a Barbarian Army entering Rome.  My most noticeable ‘miss’ was a bust of the aviator Amy Johnson who in 1930 was the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia.

I knew that already but what I didn’t know is that she was born in Hull in 1903.

I should do more travelling in England and the UK and I am sure that I will when I grow tired of flying to Europe and visiting the Continent.  I have visited the obvious places like Oxford and Cambridge, York, Stratford-upon-Avon (I even lived there for a while) and Chester, Edinburgh and Belfast but I have never been to Bristol or Bath and never previously to Hull but if anyone asks me for a recommendation right now I point out directions to the River Humber and the A63.

I finished my visit by strolling along the banks of the River Hull, a dirty muddy estuary the colour of milk chocolate with decaying dockside buildings and wharfs which was once a busy fishing port but which now is gradually breaking down into an open-air museum of crumbling brickwork, twisted metal and sagging piers with a thousand untold stories to tell.

I like Hull and look forward already to my next visit.

Want to know more about HULL, UK City of Culture 2017? Then visit…

https://www.hull2017.co.uk/

The Huldufólk of Iceland

“This is a land where everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect” –  Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

We have moved on from Wroclaw in Poland and its street dwarfs so I thought you might like some pictures of the Huldufólk. the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore who live in a mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds, of arctic chill, windswept valleys, gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss and winter scorched meadows.

“It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.” – Icelandic Singer Bjork.

In a land like this. of fire and ice, a place that is wild and magical, where the fog-shrouded lava fields provide a spooky landscape in which it is possible that anything out of the ordinary might lurk, stories flourish about the “hidden folk”.

According to Icelanders these are the thousands of elves who make their homes in the wilderness,  supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.

People in Iceland do not throw stones into the wilderness just in case they carelessly injure an Elf!

“It has caused a lot of arguments, as it’s something that’s very difficult to prove. Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do” – Terry Gunnell

If you are wondering where the Huldufólk are in my pictures? Well, according to Icelandic lore they are hidden beings that inhabit a parallel world that is invisible to human eyes, and can only be spotted by psychics and little children, unless they willingly decide to reveal themselves to people.

Sometimes however you can see their houses…

Have you been to Iceland – Have you seen the the Huldufólk?

Fishing For a Post Idea

Bari Fisherman and Net Puglia ItalyFishing Port EssaouiraKlima Fishing VillageRoss Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage MuseumFishing for Supper in WalesIos Greece Last Night's CatchCorfu Boat Building ProjectSpain Fisherman with NetHaugesand Norway Fishermen

Iceland, National Beer Day – 1st March

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland

“Drink is a sort of anaesthetic, it diminishes the pain…and I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one’s local in Paris and woke up in Corsica.” – Peter O’Toole

In Iceland March 1st is National Beer Day and my blogging pal Richard (https://abitofculture.net/) explains why…

“Before I talk about beers and bars, here’s a bit of history that might surprise you. Prohibition was introduced in Iceland in 1915, and although spirits and wine were later allowed, beer was still outlawed until 1989. The beer ban was finally lifted on 1st March that year, a day celebrated annually by the nation as Beer Day. Beer festivals, pub-crawls and drunken debauchery allegedly ensue. I’d loved to have experienced Beer Day in the bars of Reykjavik, but unfortunately got there four days too late!”

I imagine Richard found Reykjavik a little quiet as it recovered from a collective hangover!

Like Richard I have visited Iceland but never on National Beer Day.  I would like to but here is a word of caution, if like me,  you are tempted to join Icelanders to celebrate 1st March then be sure to take a lot of cash because beer (and everything else as it happens) is very expensive.  Here is a top tip – if you are travelling to Iceland and you want some spirits, beer or wine then be sure to visit the airport duty free shop after you land because here alcohol can be bought for almost sensible prices.

keflavik-duty-free

But Iceland isn’t the only place to celebrate a National Beer Day.

National Beer Day is celebrated in the United States every year on 7th April, marking the day that the Cullen–Harrison Act which repealed prohibition became law.  After being signed off by President Franklin D. Roosevelt it is alleged that he said “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” 

Everyone seemed to agree with him because it is said that on the day that the Act was passed into law people across the country consumed one and a half million barrels of beer to celebrate.  This raises a question mark for me – during prohibition who brewed one and a half million barrels of beer and why?

Not satisfied with National Beer Day, the USA has a second day of celebration on 27th October which is celebrated as National American Beer Day.  There are more than two thousand breweries that manufacture beer in the United States and I suspect that they all taste the same.

rose-and-crown-epcot

In 1990 I first visited World Disney World in Florida and spent an hour or so at EPCOT World Showcase.  After a whirlwind tour of the World we came eventually to the United Kingdom, designed to look like a typical British village with shops, thatched cottages and gardens. The shops sold British goods, such as tea, toys, clothing, and Beatles merchandise. I was fed up with it all by now and bypassed Hampton Court and the Cotswold village and aimed for The Rose & Crown Pub which at least served English beer.

I ordered a pint and so did an American guest but he took one sip and his face distorted in agony at the taste (English beer has flavour whereas American beers do not), he said ‘What the hell is that?” and slammed it down on the bar and left.  I was tempted to take it but the bar staff, obviously used to this reaction, swiftly took it away and poured it down the sink.

EPCOT UK Barmaid

And another day to mark in the diary in the USA is 24th January which is Beer Can Appreciation Day which celebrates the day in 1935 when beer was first sold in cans.

National Beer Day in the United Kingdom is celebrated on 15th June which is a happy coincidence for me because that also happens to be the day of my birth.  15th June was chosen as the day of celebration not in recognition of my birthday however but rather because it happens to be the day in 1215 when Magna Carta was signed by King John and the Barons at Runneymede and article 35 of the Charter stated “Let there be throughout our Kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale…”

magna-carta-beer

During research I have been surprised to find no mention of a National Beer Day in Australia but someone suggested to me that is probably because every day is Beer Day in Australia.

If they ever did have a National Beer Day I would suggest April 30th to celebrate a gargantuan beer drinking achievement.  The Australian cricketer David Boon (who had a moustache so huge it had to be taken out twice a day for a walk) famously drank fifty-two cans of beer on a flight from Sydney to London before the 1989 Ashes tour, breaking a record of forty-four set by Doug Walters and Rod Marsh on an earlier flight.  Boon himself played down the achievement by pointing out that they were only small airline sized cans.

David Boon Australia Beer

National Pizza Day in the USA

53 Naples Pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day. 

First, the facts…

… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.

We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left-over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste.  Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!)  I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’

If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

Centro Storico Naples

It was lunchtime and because we were in Naples we had to visit a pizzeria because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.  Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the famous pizza on a visit there in 1889. Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas – of which, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) the simple and patriotic version was her favourite.

A lunchtime pizza stop in Rome…

Pizza Stop in Rome

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  And, I am not the only one who thinks pineapple is wrong on pizza; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  He said…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.  For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy itself has a National Pizza Day!

Maybe because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

Canada joins in on Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.  If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit”.

poutine-pizza

Happy National Pizza Day USA  and Canada and Australia too, I believe – have an extra slice for me (no pineapple preferred).

pineapple-pizza

 

Elves, Elvis and Huldufólk of Iceland

Huldufólk Iceland

“This is a land where the wind can knock you off your feet, where the smell of sulphur from your taps tells you there is invisible fire not far below your feet….Everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect”.

Terry Gunnell,  Folklore Professor at the University of Iceland

Elf Houses 1

Sightings of Elves are like sightings of Elvis – frequently reported but never confirmed!

elvis-elf

In a land of fire and ice, a wild and magical place, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape it is possible that anything out of the ordinary is possible and stories abound about the “hidden folk”.

Hidden people are special In Iceland and it is said often appear in the dreams of Icelanders but if you ask me that could just be the result of too much home-brew.

They are usually described as wearing nineteenth century Icelandic clothing, and are often portrayed as traditionally wearing green.  One of Iceland’s most famous people, the singer Björk was asked one time in an interview on US TV if people in her country believed in Elves; she explained. “We do….It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

yule-ladsiceland-elves-warning

We stopped now and then to photograph the real people houses and I reminded everyone to be careful where they walked in case they stepped on one of these tiny alternative inhabitants because Icelanders prefer big people to be careful and even frown upon the throwing of stones in case you inadvertently hit one of these small invisible folk.

These are the thousands of elves who make their homes in Iceland’s wilderness and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic humans.  Iceland is not alone in this and Scandinavian folklore in general is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven’t taken them seriously for several years now but elves are no joke to many in Iceland and in a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 it found that sixty-two percent of the respondents thought it was at least possible that they exist.

icelanders believe in elves

Even previous President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson seemed taken in by this and explained the existence of Huldufólk tales by saying: “Icelanders are few in number, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies.”

Huldufólk are believed to live close to humans and are often blamed when things go missing rather like the plot of the 1952 book ‘The Borrowers’ by the English author Mary Norton.

“…Borrower’s don’t steal.”
“Except from human beings,” said the boy.
Arrietty burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hide her face …. “Oh dear,” she gasped with tears in her eyes, “you are funny!” She stared upward at his puzzled face. “Human beans are for Borrowers – like bread’s for butter!” 

To illustrate how seriously Icelanders take the issue of elves in 1982 a delegation of Icelanders went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets” and in 2004, Alcoa (the World’s third largest producer of aluminium) had to have a government expert certify that their chosen building site was free of archaeological sites, including ones related to Huldufólk folklore, before they could build an aluminium smelter in Iceland.

Huldufólk House Iceland

More recently Elf protectors have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project because it might disturb them and their homes. The proposed highway would offer a direct route from the Alftanes peninsula where we had been earlier this morning to the capital Reykjavik but the project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on the case.  The activists cite a cultural and environmental impact – including the plight of the elves – as a reason for regularly gathering hundreds of people to block workers from bulldozing the area.

elf-house

And it’s not the first time issues about the Huldufolk have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that “issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on.”  

Huldufólk Iceland

Apparently there have been quite a few noticeable instances of construction projects being postponed for fear of building on land occupied by hidden people and a medium is often called in to negotiate with the elves to ask their permission to build.

As we drove the final few kilometres I kept a careful eye out for any signs of the elves but of course this was pointless because you can’t see them unless they feel like showing themselves to you so all I could imagine was – where they watching us as we approached the spiritual heartland of Iceland at Þingvellir?

Iceland Reykjavik Huldufolk

Elf Houses

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Insurance and Punctures

Iceland Car Hire Sixt Volcano Damage Insurance

Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight because there is an inevitable range of confusing add-on charges and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue.

Sixt in Iceland have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.

This is like excluding burglary from a house insurance policy or heart attacks from medical insurance.  Brilliant business for them.  The customer buys insurance but they exclude the things that you might need to claim for!

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage – WTF? I wondered if I was on ‘Caught on Camera’ or something!

Iceland Volcano

On enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Sixt provide this explanation and justification for this additional level of insurance cover:

“Due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland in recent years there is still a great amount of ash in the highlands that tends to cause damage to vehicles in windy weather.  Any damage caused by volcanic ash is not covered by any insurance or terms and conditions in Iceland.  We do what we can so that our customers can travel our beautiful country without a care and this is why we now offer all customers to purchase sand and ash protection and Gravel protection, specially made to deal with our unique Icelandic conditions.”

Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease and my bones were surely burnt to a blackened cinder was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!

Sixt rent a car logo

Sixt are good at this sort of thing.  Last year in Ireland I returned a car and a member of staff carried out an examination and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a potential £60 cleaning charge.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I covered my nose because I noticed that there was funny smell and I reminded him that I am Sixt Platinum customer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel with a wet-wipe just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!

These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

So, what is the solution?  There is an alternative.  Buy some cheap car hire insurance in the UK and when under pressure at the sales desk think of Captain Kirk and raise a force field around yourself to resist the hard sell.  It usually means leaving a deposit on the credit card to pay for damages but this can then be claimed back from the cheaper insurer.

It works.  This year I went to Ireland and one day had the misfortune to get a puncture.  I was really annoyed about that because I hadn’t bought tyre damage insurance from the car rental company; I always buy tyre damage insurance and I have never had a puncture so I cursed my misfortune on that day.  I needn’t have worried.  When I got home I made a claim on the cheaper ‘buy before you go’ option and they promptly paid up!

The puncture story reminds me of another.  In 1986 I went to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands and mid-way through the holiday hired a car, a little blue Seat with an open top and on the first day set off into the mountains in the interior.  This turned out to be rather hard work as the road looped in extravagant sweeping motions around deep valleys and gorges and followed a precarious route to the top.

Actually, we didn’t get to the top because after an hour or so we got a puncture and I had to change the wheel at the roadside.  We were high up and close to the edge and part way through the process the car started to slide off the jack and I wondered how I was going to explain to the hire company just how the car had fallen off the road and disappeared into a ravine.

To my eternal shame I didn’t own up to the puncture but just put it in the boot without even pumping it up and left it.  I have always felt guilty about that!

Car Hire Gran Canaria 1986