Tag Archives: Iceland

Iceland: Loved Too Much?

Iceland, which bills itself as the land of fire and ice, has also become the land of foreign visitors.

I should know: My wife and I honeymooned on the island nation in July 2010 and returned for a 48-hour visit in January.

We love it there and so, apparently, do many, many others.

And therein lies the problem.

Consider that the Icelandic Tourist Board reported that 502,300 people visited in 2008.

By 2014, that number had climbed to nearly 1 million. Two years later, that number skyrocketed to 1.8 million.

That means in 2016, visitors outnumbered locals by a ratio of about 6 to 1.

The steady stream of tourists — and its consequences — has not gone unnoticed.

In March, The Financial Times quoted Paul Fontaine, news editor of the English-language The Reykjavík Grapevine: “It’s got to the point where even the tourists are complaining about too many tourists.”

There was a perceptible difference in what I observed in Reykavik during our recent visit compared with 2010.

We had walked Laugavegur, which is one of the main streets in the capital, in 2010, but when I was there in January, I was struck by how tourist-y, bordering almost on honky-tonk it had become.

The lower end of Laugavegur. As you progress along the street, the number of tourist shops increase.

Souvenir shops catering to out-of-towners and hawking sweatshirts, mugs and Nordic-themed seemed to be bountiful.

One chain retailer, cleverly called I Don’t Speak Icelandic, sells “Enjoy Our Nature” condoms with names such as “Volcanic Eruption.”

Iceland’s penis museum, technically known as the Icelandic Phallological Museum, also had a different, um, feel to it. When we visited in 2010, it was located in the small fishing village of Húsavík.

There, it had a rebellious almost cheeky vibe. Now located in downtown of Reykjavik, it felt more like a gimmicky tourist trap instead of being a genuine reflection of someone’s hobby and passion.

Even the Icelandic people who we found to be reserved but friendly in 2010 now had a certain resigned demeanor/brave face that comes from dealing with hordes of tourists.

Wherever we turned in a public setting — hotels, the city hall, stores, transit hubs — I was struck by the huge arrays of brochures touting visits to glaciers, ice caves, the Northern Lights, helicopter tours, bar crawls, various museums, etc.

As a city, Reykjavík might be accustomed to heavy foot and vehicular traffic, but what about the areas outside of the capital, such as the waterfalls, the glaciers, the farms, the beaches, etc.?

These are places that are I am sure ecologically sensitive and not ready for the stomp-stomp-stomp of thousands of LL Bean boot-wearing outsiders.

It recalls to mind when I worked in New York’s North Country. The Adirondacks, with its clean air, hiking trails, lakes and other natural attractions, were alluring for visitors.

The High Peaks, particularly Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York, were in danger of being loved to death, however.

Rare plant species and wildlife habitats were being damaged or endangered by so much foot traffic. Long holiday weekends saw a parade of cars filled with hikers.

The idea of getting away from civilization and enjoying solitude in nature became increasingly harder to achieve with so many people coming.

So it is with Iceland and its tourists. Sure, outsiders are good for the local economy, but ultimately at what price?

Cranes are a common site in the city, as new construction seems to be going on everywhere.


A Visit to the Penis Museum

Why Do You Hate Me, Mother Nature?

Dear Mother Nature,

Why do you hate me?

I have tried to be a good steward of the Earth.

When I was a kid, I made “Do Not Litter” signs.

I led a crusade to clean up Ferry Point Park in the Bronx, spending two summer days stabbing and bagging trash by myself after getting a permit from the city’s Parks Department, which thought the “Campaign to Clean up Ferry Point Park” was an entire army of people instead of some Pollyanna 12-year-old kid.

I was a Boy Scout and learned the importance of environmentally friendly camping techniques and best campfire practices.

So why oh why do you hate me Mother Nature?

By my count, it is Mother Nature: 4, Chris: 0.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx, I thought the Bronx Botanical Gardens was the woods.

So when I moved to the Adirondacks and had a chance to see a moose — A MOOSE! — in the woods in its natural habitat, I was super excited.

Instead, not only did I miss out on seeing it once, but twice. And as I have chronicled, further moose expeditions in Maine and New Hampshire yielded similar lackluster results.

Other efforts to commune with nature were equally pitiful.

I went whale watching in Maine, saw no whales but I did get horribly sea sick.

And on the same trip to Maine we hiked through a wooded path littered with raised stones and tree roots so we could see what a brochure promised would be harbor seals.

Seals, shmeals. There was bupkus.

And now the latest indignity: A trip to Iceland primarily to see the Northern Lights, that flashing razzmatazz of a light show unique to that hemisphere during winter.

Iceland? In January?

But it will be so cool, I promised my wife. After all, we honeymooned here in the summer of 2010, toured the island, loved the country and said we would return to see the aurora borealis.

After a 45-minute bus ride, we arrived at the viewing area, a place so remote and isolated its name loosely translated in Icelandic means “like Ithaca, only colder.”

Like UFO believers, bus loads of us huddled, looking at the night sky. The ice and snow crackled and crunched beneath our feet as we shuffled to stay warm.

Our guide told us conditions had improved to see the Northern Lights, which Icelandic lore attributes to heroes fighting in the afterlife.

Among fishermen, the lights are seen as a harbinger of a good herring catch to come.

Me? If I had seen the lights I would have taken it as a sign that Mother Nature’s angry streak with me had finally come to an end.

Instead she threw shade — lots and lots of it.

And in the stillness of the night, I could hear the mocking laughter of harbor seals, moose and whales.

What I had hoped to see….


…and what I actually saw.


No Moose, No Peace

Another Moose Egg

A Visit to the Penis Museum

There has not been this much news coverage and public conversation about penises since Anthony Weiner’s campaign for New York City mayor flamed out over some too-revealing selfies.

Donald Trump’s allusion to his manhood — in no less a setting than a Republican presidential debate — and Hulk Hogan’s recently concluded trial against Gawker (“Hulk Hogan lied about his penis size”) propelled penises into people’s living rooms and into water cooler chatter.

So I feel it is my current-events duty to tell you about our visit to what is billed as the world’s only penis museum.

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I say “our” because my wife and I visited.

During our honeymoon.

Yeah, I know, I’m just a hopeless romantic.

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My wife Meg checking out the goods.

Here’s the background:

About 30 miles from the Arctic Circle in the fishing village of Húsavik (population 2,200) is the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

It is housed in a non-descript two-story building. There is no hint about what is inside except for perhaps the giant wooden phallus standing sentry outside.

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The museum has a collection of more than 200 penises and “penile parts” (ouch!) that belonged to almost all of the land and sea mammals found on Iceland.

Among those on display are ones from a polar bear, seals, walrus and 17 different kinds of whales.

I’ve got to say that I’ve never given much thought to the male anatomy of mammals but this was truly eye-opening.

And let’s just say that some mammals are quite, um, gifted.

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Sure, the museum is a bit of gimmick (I’ll leave it to your imagination about the souvenirs on sale) but still, it was genuinely informative and certainly unique.

Years after our visit there in 2010, I heard of a documentary called “The Final Member” about the museum curator’s quest for a donation from a homo sapien.

The movie took some peculiar turns.

For instance, there were two donors vying for bragging rights to be the first to have their member enshrined in the museum, including an American who named his “Elmo.”

The other donor was a 90-plus-year-old Icelandic man who went so far as to have a mold made of his privates.

Let’s just say that was painful to watch.

The museum’s curator, a guy named Sigurour “Siggi” Hjartarson, had two requirements for the donation of a human specimen: A legal document (letter of donation) signed by three witnesses, and proof that the penis was of “legal length” — at least 5 inches.

He based the minimum length requirement on an Icelandic folk tale called “A Legal Length,” in which a woman requested a divorce from her husband because his penis was less than 5 inches long.

The documentary does, unfortunately, perpetuate a myth of masculinity that links the length of a guy’s member with his character and standing in society.

To which I say, don’t confuse the measure of a man with the size of his penis: A leading presidential candidate is proof of that.

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