A Warm Saga from the Land of Fire and Ice

By Haley M. and Anna S. ’20
Photos by Hayden F. ’20

Not long after waking up on our first day in Reykjavik, we had already managed to dress in full Viking regalia, with steel helmets and swords. It was an incredible and hilarious tableau that encapsulated what would be, for the 23 students and four chaperones who travelled to Iceland over spring break, a truly incredible experience.

After leaving the Viking museum (and doffing our Norse battle gear), we explored the city of Reykjavik and learned about the country’s history. We took in the majestic Hallgrímskirkja cathedral and then visited the Reception House of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and even wandered around the grounds, as it is open to the public. This openness and trust helped give us perspective on the oft-repeated claim that Iceland has the nicest citizens in the world.

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A Warm Saga from the Land of Fire and Ice
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At the Whales of Iceland Exhibition we saw realistic, life-sized models of 23 species of whales and dolphins. Because of the material the models were made of, the carefully hand-painted details, and the sounds of whales echoing through the speakers, we felt as if we were beneath the waves.

The next day on the way to Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri, we stopped at Grábrók crater and admired the breathtaking landscape of mossy lava fields. It was one of many stops amid the mountains and ridges that form Iceland’s rugged geography, and that allowed us to take in the full breadth of the tiny island’s unique beauty.

From our base at Akureyri, we ventured out to first stop, Goðafoss, which the locals call “the waterfall of the Gods” for good reason. We stood in awe of the 40-foot-wide Skjálfandafljót River cascading 100 feet to the rocks below, taking photos galore. Next came Lake Myvatn, whose frozen surface offered great snow angel-making, and from which we made our way to Dimmuborgir. The name means “dark castles” in Icelandic and looked eerily like Mordor from “The Lord of the Rings.”

Later we took a dip in the milky blue, mineral-rich Myvatn lake and kept a look out for the elves whose existence a majority of Icelanders believe in, or at least don’t deny.

We saw no elves.

We did see, through the steam rising from the volcano-heated springs, falling snow which capped the rocks surrounding us.

Iceland’s hot springs — and its entire existence — are the product of active volcanos; the island sits atop the boundary of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and some of us were even able to straddle the two, essentially standing in two different continents at the same time. It rocked.

The next day, we suited up in bright red, hooded-parka onesies and embarked on a whale-watching and fishing expedition, looking like a troupe of frigid firefighters. We tried our hand at catching cod, the staple of Iceland’s fishing industry and therefore its national economy.

After we disembarked, we met Elvar Reykjalín, a colorful fisherman with no shortage of stories and who, among other things, demonstrated how to properly butcher a cod and chased us around with a fish eyeball in his mouth. Our fishing-themed day continued with a visit to Siglufjördur on the north coast, where learned about the early herring industry.

We stayed across from a beautiful river ringed by stunning mountains, but the most striking sight awaited us in the night sky. We flooded outside and beheld a rippling ribbon of green. The Northern Lights defy description and though we all took pictures, none fully captured their unique majesty. Our tour guide, who had worked in Iceland for 10 years, said that this was only the fifth time he had ever seen them, and they had never been as vibrant and active as they were that night. It was a truly a once in a lifetime sight we will never forget.

On our journey back to Reykjavik, we stopped at the University of Akureyri for a lecture on the effects of climate change on the fishing industry in Iceland, which engaged us all. We followed that with one more stop, at the unique turf houses made by the Icelandic people and which have been preserved from the 18th century.

Later we took in another natural wonder, Gullfoss, an impressive two-tiered waterfall which deserves its title as one of Iceland’s most famous sights. If you look over the edge just right, you can see a perpetual rainbow during the day.

Afterward, we visited one of Iceland’s geothermal power plants and learned about Iceland’s impressive use of renewable energy. Harnessing the endless supply of heat from the earth’s core that rises to the island naturally, the country is able to meet its energy needs while producing virtually no CO2.

After leaving the plant, we visited the Lava Tunnel and were given chains to attach to our shoes, and helmets with headlights to help guide us through the tunnel. We walked through the lava-formed cave, and admired the red hued, upside-down icicles. At the end of the cave, our guide instructed us to turn off our headlights and experience complete darkness. She told us this was the darkest environment we would ever (not) see. The experience was bizarre and disorienting — and fascinating.

Our journey had come to an end, but we reflected with gratitude on the friendships and memories that we will carry with us forever. Perhaps the most enduring lesson this tiny island in the North Atlantic taught us was that nature’s beauty is good for the spirit, and for that lesson we are all profoundly grateful too.

Modern Caballeros Andantes Discover ‘Pure Magic’ in Spain

By Christopher M. ’20
Photos by Grace G. ’20

Spanish Civilizations and Culture, or Span Civ, is a course that dives into an intense study of the history and culture of Spain. Since its inception, taking Span Civ has also meant a trip to Spain during spring break, a sort of ultimate test of your Spanish knowledge at LCDS. In March, the current crop of Span Civ students embarked for the nation we have been studying since September.

As we killed time at the Newark airport, the energy in the air was anxious but excited. Sure, we had studied the culture and the history, and we knew Don Quijote cold, but we all felt unprepared for our first real conversation with a Spaniard. There wouldn’t be any time to fix confusing the past tense with the past perfect tense. There wouldn’t be any way to correct some grammatical gender slip-up. Everything would be one take, and we were terrified. What we would come to find out, however, was that we had been prepared all along. As the week went on, our Spanish would become more cohesive and fluid, to the point where it felt unnatural to speak English when we returned.

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Our first full day included a trip to a place that would become a favorite for many of us: Segovia. We arrived in the ancient city, beneath the massive Roman Aqueduct that has towered over the Old Town for the last 2,000 years. We continued to stroll until we stopped at el Alcázar de Segovia — a medieval castle where Queen Isabella once stayed. Its beautiful views left us breathless. For many of us, el Alcázar was when it first hit us: We were in Spain.

For all its beauty, el Alcázar wasn’t what we most wanted to see. That honor belonged to the windmill of Don Quijote, or los molinos de viento. The story of Don Quijote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, had captured our hearts, and visiting the iconic windmills was a fantastic way to commemorate our favorite knight errant (caballero andante). We reenacted scenes and took photos, and then made our way to Granada.

Our first night there, we ventured through the old section of the city for a traditional Flamenco performance. Our guide, Ulises, told me before the performance that at really good shows, there is something called “duende” in the air. There’s no equivalent word in English, but it connotes the emotions evoked by a fantastic piece of art. As soon as the performance ended, I rushed over to Ulises and whispered, “I think there was duende at that performance.” His nod told me all that I wanted to hear. The whole experience was pure magic.

The next day, we left for Sevilla, where we saw another Flamenco show and had the opportunity to learn a short routine. This lesson, taught completely in Spanish, left us tripping over our feet and smiling through it all. The lesson was one of many experiences that brought each one of us closer to the rich culture of Spain.

Our next day in Sevilla centered around La Alhambra, a Moorish fortress dating back to the ninth century. La Alhambra is famous for its intricate azulejos, a kind of mozaic, and beautiful gardens, called the Generalife. The atmosphere was illuminating.

From Sevilla, we travelled to Córdoba to visit La Mezquita, a mosque with a Christian cathedral inside of it. We were mesmerized seeing in real life the beautiful architecture that we had studied in class. The smell of the blooming orange trees in the courtyard provided a wonderful ambience that suffused our adventure. After a morning in Córdoba, we boarded a high speed train for our next destination: Barcelona.

Barcelona was the city that many in our group were most excited for. We had just finished our study of Antoni Gaudí, the famous Catalan architect. His creations dot Barcelona, and we could not wait to see them. We saw Parque Guell and Casa Mila, but the most incredible was La Sagrada Familia. This unfinished basilica has been worked on for more than a century, with the inside only being completed in 2010. When we walked into the basilica, the grandeur of the forest-like columns stunned us all. No other church that we had seen on this trip could touch the wondrous colors and sights of La Sagrada Familia.

Our final destination of the trip was Montserrat, a monastery about an hour outside Barcelona. The almost 1,000-year-old abbey rests completely within the surrounding mountain, and is spectacular. After touring the monastery, we took a funicular to the top of the mountain where we hiked in small groups. During these hikes, we really bonded as a group. Whether through the struggle of making it to the top, or the camaraderie engendered through helping someone find their headphones after they rolled down the side of the mountain, this final trip brought us even closer together.

As we woke up the following day, ready to depart for the airport, the feeling was bittersweet. We were excited to see our families again, sure, but we were dispirited that we would have to leave Spain behind. After bidding goodbye to Ulises and boarding the plane, we assured Señora Heim that we were planning to return as soon as possible.

Standing Where Historical Figures Once Stood

By Winston T. ’23
Photos by Winston T. ’23 and Ms. Formando

During spring break, 16 eighth graders went on a thrilling adventure into the Scottish Lowlands. We returned with a greater understanding of Scottish culture and history as we explored historic cities and castles, food, and learning from a Kelvinside Academy community very similar to LCDS’.

On Saturday morning, everyone met up with their host families and discussed what they would all do the next day. Some went to Loop and Scoop, a delicious ice cream bar, while some went bowling. Some went to museums, while some just simply slept in.

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On Monday, we explored student life in Kelvinside Academy. Kelvinside is very much like LCDS in its very welcoming community, small class size, and curriculum. Its dress code, however, is very unlike LCDS’. It’s very formal and consists of a white button-down collared shirt, a necktie, and a blue blazer for boys and girls alike expect for the boys wearing black pants and the girls wearing kilts.

The next day, Country Day and Kelvinside students toured the city of Glasgow. We first visited the Riverside Museum, which houses the Glasgow Museum of Transport and showcases antique cars and buses, as well as a model of an old street.

The next day was very rainy and we took a bus to Stirling Castle. Old stone and big pillars surrounded every angle when standing in the castle. From there we could see the National Wallace Monument, a tower atop Stirling Hill, standing in the fog.

A long bus ride the following morning brought us to Loch Lomond, where we hiked up Conic Hill and had a spectacular view of the loch. Then came the saddest part of the trip. We had to leave our host families. After the big hugs and many tears, we got on the train to Edinburgh.

The beautiful, old city of Edinburgh was a visually striking sight. After some minor mishaps with hotel location, we all went out for a delicious dinner and then a spooky ghost tour in the city’s catacombs.

On Friday, we toured the beautiful Edinburgh Castle and stood where historical figures once stood. Alas, our trip to Scotland was soon to became history too, and that night we had to start packing for the end of the adventure.

Early the next morning, we got on the bus to the airport and started to tear up. As we sat on plane that would fly us home, we all gathered the happy memories and said, “We’ll miss you Scotland, but we’ll be back someday.”

Picture or Imagine: An Italian Wonderment Retrospective

By Maddie B. ’21
Photos by Alex V. ’21, Mae B. ’21 and Annika K. ’21

Photo Essay By Alex V.

My constant objective as a photographer is to capture fragments of life that can connect to the individual viewer. During this trip, my goal was to create a series of powerful, expressive images to encompass the inspiring environment I was surrounded by for 10 days. I hope you enjoy the series.

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Picture sitting on a bench in front of an illuminated fountain, centuries old, surrounded by street musicians and architecture with a richer backstory than you would think possible. Or imagine strolling down a cobblestone street while the setting sun filtered through the buildings lining the sidewalks. Seventeen students were extremely fortunate to live in that feeling of peace and history for a little more than a week over spring break as we explored Italy with Dr. Pomponio, Mrs. Turner, and Mr. Bostock.

Starting off our trip in Florence (or Firenze, in Italian) directly following 20 hours of airport naps and multiple flights was an exhausting yet refreshing endeavor. The chill air relaxed us as we walked toward the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or St. Mary of the Flower. Commonly referred to as “il Duomo,” meaning “the Dome,” this red-bricked architectural feat designed by Brunelleschi is a staple of the Florentine skyline.

The next few days we spent in Florence were packed full of adventure and history. The medieval town of San Gimignano, just south of the city, captured our hearts with its tall stone towers and picturesque views of the Tuscan countryside that made it feel as if we were living in a fairytale picture book. In the city, ordering coffee at a local bar (cafe) and painting frescos with an Italian artist in his studio introduced us to Florentine culture and gave us a chance to practice our Italian conversational skills.

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What struck us most was our visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia, the home of Michelangelo’s David. No words can describe the intense feeling of awe as you step into the sunlight cascading down the 17-foot statue and you realize no picture could ever capture the true magnificence of the sculptor’s artistry.

Following our three days in Florence, we headed to the region of Umbria, where the town of Assisi sits among the hills. With bright blue skies overhead, we hiked to the fortress above town and enjoyed some serene moments gazing across the rolling fields. After exploring the town, we visited the Basilica of St. Francis and the Basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clare), where we took in the original San Damiano cross, before which St. Francis is said to have been praying when he was called by God to rebuild the Catholic Church. The silence and attention within these churches created an atmosphere of admiration and reflection felt by everyone.

Pompeii prompted a similar reflection on the history of the civilization that once thrived, only to face violent destruction at the hands of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Walking across the stepping stones, you could almost see what life had been like, even as the constant reminder of what caused swift, fiery end loomed above.

Our second day in Campania took us across the Bay of Naples to Sorrento, from which we took a ferry to the island of Capri. Once off the boat, we immediately understood what made Capri such an appealing vacation destination: On the winding roads up the hill to Anacapri, we had a perfect view of the beautiful turquoise water, the colorful houses on the hillside, and the lemon trees that have become as much a symbol of Capri as the Faraglioni (three famous rocks, carved by waves just off the coast).

Traveling inland once again, we spent the remainder of our trip in Rome. We began by entering Vatican City, where we saw amazing collections of art culminating in our arrival at the Sistine Chapel. As we craned our necks in an attempt to take in every square inch of fresco, a sense of wonder rose at the fact that Michelangelo was not a painter but a sculptor. That night we strolled through the streets, simply enjoying the culture and history surrounding us, and ensuring our return to Rome by throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain.

We spent our last day at the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, where we could see where they had once been buried deep beneath the ground. Rome is referred to as the “lasagna city” for that very reason: You can see the layers where buildings were built on top of others over the centuries. It is an overwhelming feeling to sit in the middle of a piazza and picture the chariot arena beneath your feet that the shape of the buildings still resemble.

Picture sitting back home reflecting on a trip filled with astounding architecture and beautiful settings everywhere you look. Or imagine looking at pictures of eating gelato and laughing with friends. We are fortunate to have left Italy with a greater understanding and appreciation of its history and culture, as well as a closer group of friends.