Our travels introduced us to many beautiful landscapes, intriguing cultures, questionable food and, well, really odd clothing. Here are the top five bizarre wearables we observed:
Iceland's climate is harsh - cold, windy and wet - so one must protect the entire face from freezing, including the beard and mustache. The beardcap does just that. Made from soft lambswood, it is a modern day "lambshed-hood" which was traditionally worn by Icelandic farmers walking long distances to their field sheds. Vík Prjónsdóttir produces these quirky caps which come in two styles - the Farmer and the Gentleman. Read more about our adventures in Iceland here.
On the small island of Taquile, in Lake Titicaca, Peru, the men wear belts made from their wives' hair. A young woman will use her shiny long hair to make a marriage belt which is a gift for her future husband. The bride mixes her hair with alpaca hair and the result is a black and white striped belt that her husband will wear every day for the rest of his life. The belt is sturdy and worn like a girdle so it supports his lower back. They say it helps the kidneys and prostate so in essence the bride is making a belt to protect the health of her future husband. Read more about Taquile, Peru here.
A common sight in China is a toddler missing a critical component of his wardrobe. They call these toilet training pants or split pants, and they feature a big opening in the crotch area (no diaper). The parent/grandparent will regularly fold the kid in half, bum towards the ground, and urge the baby to take care of business. You see it happening everywhere - on the sidewalk, in the park, over a garbage can at the train station, etc. We took extra care to avoid all puddles after seeing this! To read more about China, check out my China blog posts here.
The people pictured below are not Mexican luchadores or Marvel's latest superheroes. They are Chinese beachgoers wearing a form of extreme sun protection called the facekini. While the Icelandic beardcaps provide protection from the cold, the facekini provides protection from UV rays and jellyfish. In Asia, most people consider tanned skin to be less attractive than pale skin because a tan implies peasantry while pale skin implies you lead a pampered life. We often saw Asian tourists and locals cover up their skin and wear wide brim hats on sunny days. Drugstores advertised skin bleachers as opposed to self-tanners popular here in the US. Well, the facekini takes sun protection to a new level and has grown in popularity among the Chinese, particularly those from Quingdao. While I'm typically happy with sun-tan lotion, I could have used a facekini while snorkeling among Thailand's stinging sea bees!
Females of all ages in China were sporting headbands with animal ears. Typically they were cat ears but we saw lots of variations - bunnies, bears, mice, and my favorite... giraffes.
Icelanders are known for many things, chief among them, their healthy appetite for some of earths most adorable creatures. Here are a but a few:
Puffin and pony were too bold a leap for us to make, so instead we decided to start small with earth's largest animal - whale.
Minke whale is widely available in Reykjavik restaurants. We had a really great seafood dinner in Iceland, anchored by the dish shown below.
The whale was blackened outside and raw inside. It was served with potatoes, mini corn on the cobs, corn meal puree and some random pieces of popcorn. The combination worked very well. The meat was red, akin to a fresh tuna steak, but with a totally different taste. It was unlike anything we'd eaten before. But it was sensational. If you find yourself in Iceland (or Japan, where I hear it's also available), definitely give it a try.
There is a lot to love about Iceland in the summer: extra long days, other-worldly landscapes, and incredibly fresh air. But there are also some drawbacks: it's cold, it's expensive, puffin and horse are menu items and it's almost impossible to see anything when it rains, which I'm told, happens often.
We arrived late at night (around 11:30pm) and picked up our rental car. Note, car rentals in Iceland are super expensive. Our 2 -day Iceland car rental cost slightly less than our 3 week car rental in Australia. The car rental companies have big signs warning you to hold your car doors at all times because the wind can be so strong that they rip off the doors or slam them into a limb that might be in the process of entering or exiting the car. Yikes!
We drove about 40 minutes to our hotel called Hotel Hafnarfjordur, which was about a 20-minute drive from the capital, Reykjavik. The drive was really cool because it wasn't fully dark yet -there was an orange glow coming from the horizon where the sun set. The hotel, on the other hand, was nothing special. It provided a comfortable room and decent breakfast at a reasonable rate (for Iceland). The guy working the front desk messed up the exchange rate and ended up charging us 50% more, which didn't occur to us at the time. We paid in cash, but luckily insisted on a receipt with the amount we paid, so we were able to sort out the difference the following morning and get a refund. It was a good reminder that, when traveling, always know your exchange rates before arrival and always insist on a receipt!
We were lucky the next day: it was a clear day and relatively warm. Since we had such lovely weather, we decided to drive the 'Golden Circle' - a name Iceland gave to a driving route that brings you to a series of sites including a massive waterfall and geysers. Here is what we saw:
Geysers are the Worst
One of my many quirks is that I strongly dislike anticipation. Things like a Jack-in-the-box or opening a champagne bottle bring me close to a nervous breakdown. Even the Jack-in-the-box song, Pop Goes the Weasel, causes my stress level to spike. Well, bubbles & Jack are no match for a geyser.
The largest active geyser in Iceland is called Strokkur and it's supposed to erupt about every 8-10 minutes. Having come from Germany, I was expecting this bad boy to run like clockwork. So I waited, and waited some more, and just when I gave up, BOOM, Strokkur shot water 20 meters into the air. Of course, I was caught off-guard, which resulted in me screaming and then cursing Strokkur. Overall, I'm glad I saw the geysers, but I definitely don't need visit them again.
After the geysers we saw one of Iceland's many waterfalls called Gullfoss (golden falls). It was stunning!
At Gullfoss we stopped for some lunch (traditional lamb stew and Icelandic yogurt) and checked out the tourist shops where they sell lots of wool, furs and other traditional Icelandic fashions.
During the afternoon we drove back to Reykjavik to check out the town and grab some dinner.
After dinner, it was around 10pm. Our waitress suggested we drive to the lighthouse to watch the sunset. We are so happy we followed her recommendation, because the sunset was beautiful. Here are some of my favorite shots from the lighthouse:
The Blue Lagoon
The next morning we awoke to clouds and rain. Our flight departed late in the afternoon, so we decided to spend our last day at the Blue Lagoon - a geothermal spa located in a lava field fairly close to the airport. It was a great experience! You check in, change into your bathing suit and a robe, and then head out into the cold misty air for a second, only to immerse yourself into warm bright blue water surrounded by black lava fields. They provide silica mud, which is supposed to be good for your skin so you see people swimming around with white faces due to the caked mud they applied earlier. There is also a swim-up bar where you can get beer and different types of smoothies. We both enjoyed the experience and it was the perfect way to relax before our flight to Boston.
Iceland - A Great Stop-Over Coming Home
Afterwards, we checked into our flight to Boston and we were home by 8pm local time. Iceland is a great way to break up your trip back to the US from Europe for a few reasons:
1) It's only 5 hours away from the northeast coast of the US and just a few hours from much of Europe.
2) You start adjusting to the time change while in Iceland (since they are 2 hours behind most of Europe). By the time you get home, you really only have a day of slight jet lag.
3) Iceland Air is a really affordable airline so you can get a flight home from major Europen cities with a stop in Iceland for less than most flights home on other airlines. Keep in mind you can easily spend the difference while in Iceland. It's a very expensive country.
Iceland was a cool place to visit, but because it's so expensive, I wouldn't recommend planning a trip longer than 2 full days there, and I'd definitely tack it on to a trip to elsewhere in Europe.
Eva has been traveling for 15+ years, including an 8 month journey around the world.