Friday, July 20, 2012

Iceland: Part One

Okay! Let's talk Iceland!

There was a free Of Monsters And Men show the day we landed, which was astoundingly good luck. That band, which has gotten pretty buzzy in the US and Canada, was giving a "we're so grateful to you all!" concert in Reykjavik's main park. It was advertised as a family event, and seeing many, many children at an event that went, daylit, until 11 PM, sort of drove home the message that this place is weird and special. They also had a jungle gym that was teeming with children 100% of the concert's duration, and people brought their dogs. It was pretty great. Later, we found out that 18,000 people had been there. I would estimate that about 16,000 of them were wearing sweaters like these:

That sweater is mad popular in Iceland.
Everyone there speaks English, but they all sound like elves. It's enchanting. (Okay, in fairness, if someone was like, "Canadians all speak English, but they all sound like rodeo clowns," I'd be pissed. Suffice it to say that the accent is charming, and their fluency is impressive. It is way better than, say, Alabama.)

The local Subway restaurant had a flavour called "Reggae Reggae," but it wasn't jerk chicken. I don't know what it was supposed to taste like.

"KryddaĆ°u tilveruna" translate to "spicy life!" HELPFUL.

Not having any real nighttime is simultaneous not super-weird and the weirdest thing ever. I kept anticipating that tonight would be the night when things got really dark, and that night never came. There is a period of about three or four hours between 11 PM and 3 AM when the sky gets pinky-orange and the sun dips below the horizon, but it isn't even what you could call "twilight." The sun takes about five hours to set and then pops right back up again.

In Reykjavik, there's a Big Lebowski-themed bar, where they serve 18 different versions of a white russian, and the minimum price is 1,700 krona, which converts into approximately 14 bucks. I found their currency to be totally confounding - it's as if everything is priced in pennies. After a few days I sort of relaxed and went with it, but it takes some getting used to. This is especially true in grocery stores, where prices seem totally absurd (1100 krona for a hunk of cheese?!) until you get to the candy aisle, where most things are between 60 and 150 krona and you feel like Willie Wonka has just handed you a wad of Golden Tickets. (Unfortunately, most of their candy seems to be anise-flavoured). Anyway, The Lebowski Bar was a shameless tourist rip-off, but I'm also super glad we went.

This is me, giving myself a high five.

We visited Gullfoss, which this crazy waterfall, and Geysir, which is a hot spring that shoots 100-degree water in the air every ten minutes or so. Both of these places had minimal approaches to safety. The most they really offered were these dinky little fences that came up to your knees and were made of rope; a tripping hazard, in other words. In Geysir, we went slightly off the path and discovered another, unfenced hot spring that was literally boiling. Attempts to touch it were followed by everyone jerking their hands away and hissing, "That's hot!" It was refreshing that the big natural-formation tourist attractions didn't assume that you were an imbecile that was going to touch the hot spring/get too close to the waterfall's edge, even though we totally did both those things.

The mid-level and cafe food food in Reykjavik wasn't really much to write home about, although I do want to give a shout-out to Cafe Loki's skyr cake. Skyr is a dairy product that's technically a cheese, but it tastes like Greek yogurt mixed with sour cream. Making a cake with it, plus rhubarb jam, plus whipped cream? Icelanders are geniuses. They also like smoked fish, eggs, and dense breads, all of which are things I like very much. Also, there are so many Thai places in Reykjavik.

Next week: misadventures in the hot tub, sunburns in the Arctic circle, and Icelandic sandstorms.