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Posts Tagged ‘tourist’


After landing in the rain and early dawn on Keflavik, sleepless, I was starting to get that nauseous all-nighter feeling and dozed woozily the whole bus ride to our hotel.  Derek says I missed nothing.

We weren’t expecting to be allowed to check in at 7am, but we were welcomed in (all the Canadians arrive at that time- that’s when the flight from Toronto gets in) and promptly passed out for 4 or 5 hours.  It was like getting two nights for one, because we got up and walked all over Reykjavík in the afternoon and then got to sleep at the hotel again.

We were officially welcomed to Iceland by this cat. It’s not every day you both say out loud at the same time “Hey, is that a Norwegian Forest Cat?”

As we walked around Reykjavík I took pictures everywhere of road signs and apartments and houses jutting into the sidewalk, etc, to remember the difference about them, knowing that in no time we’d be so used to it all that we’d stop noticing the uniqueness of common design.

I love the freedom of being a tourist like that.  Instead of “Why is that strange woman taking a picture of the roundabout?”, any bizarre behavior gets completely dismissed with “Tourists.” and they barely even look at you, as you’re snapping photos of door handles.

First we headed for the Saga Museum at Perlan, because it was close to our hotel.  Little realizing I would practically live on the stuff for the next month, we sampled skyr for the first time at the Perlan cafe on the viewing deck overlooking the city, among a fantastic overload of breakfast sugar.  A “Belgian waffle” here bears no resemblance to the grilled pancake batter of NA (North America- I’ll be using this a lot).  It’s dark, to start, like whole wheat bread, and thick and “meaty”.  Not fluff.  You know you’ve eaten something, and it was delicious.  And “cream” in Iceland, whether ice or whipped, is another different animal.  It’s not white, and it’s not Cool Whip.  It’s cream coloured (wow!) – a distinct yellow buttery colour, and it tastes thick and complete and real.  I was in love with the cream in Iceland.  It must be local.  There are enough cows it would be absurd for the island to import milk.  I did not confirm this at all, but kept a fantasy that all the milk there is whole and minimally refined and therefore good for us, because it tasted good.

That was breakfast.  Luckily, a delicious introduction to Iceland, because it rather went downhill from that meal, food-wise.  I’d later be reduced to wandering gas stations in a hypoglycemic haze going “I just want something that’s not a skink sandwich!”  Skinku=ham.

The Saga Museum is a bunch of wax figures of Vikings being Vikings.  Well executed.  Static.  Except for the animatronic breathing Viking.  I wasn’t convinced he wasn’t one of those crazy people that stands stone still while people speculate whether or not they’re real, so I spent some time lurking and spying on him from other parts of the museum. Like I was going to jump out from behind the witch being burned at the stake (so that’s where all the trees in Iceland went), all “Aha!  You are real!  You moved your hand!”  No such luck, he just kept breathing and breathing.

The funnest part (and that’s saying something, considering the above-mentioned lurking) was trying on the chainmail and waving around blunt swords which are there for kids to play with.  Getting oneself extricated from a 50 pound chainmail dress provides entertainment to all passersby.  Can’t believe THAT’s not chained down- that thing is VALuable; an amazing piece of chainmail work.  Although, difficult to imagine anyone wearing it out under their clothes to steal.  Waving to the person at the desk “Thanks, great exhibit… clanking?  what clanking?”  Difficult to breathe in, as a matter of fact.  Lifting one’s chest against all that metal to inhale is work.  Them Vikings were tough.

On to Hallgrímskirkja.

Kirkja=Church.  Don’t dare say that like Kirk, a man’s name.  It sounds like there’s a bunch of “e”s in it.  Hallgrímskirkja is the highest point in Reykjavik, apparently suffered controversy over the design (surprising; considering church design throughout the country, this one looks just like a church) and some bad contractors, and the architect died before it was finished.

We were quite fortunate; after coming down out of the bell tower, the organist playing in tomorrow nights’ concert was practicing his program on the huge and very unique organ.  For free, we got to see and hear the organ boom and rumble.  Very exciting, although I would guess not so fun for the organist, to practice with an audience of tourists and cameras milling around.  No pressure.  The pew seats were another instance of cool design (I was already collecting advanced “scandinavian” design features), which could switch to face either the altar or the organ.  Genius.

I loved the clean lines of the church, the most minimal church I’ve ever seen.  It may be irreverent, but I couldn’t get fish bones out of my head looking at the lines inside this church, which is actually a compliment because fish are very elegantly designed.

Across from the church we wandered through the sculpture garden of Einar Jónsson at dusk, as the Lonely Planet suggested.  The gate was not immediately apparent so we jumped the fence to get in.  It was nice to see these bronze castings on our first day, because the whole rest of the trip we recognized his works reproduced in parks and parking lots and generally random places.  Clearly he’s an artist beloved in Iceland; his work is just shockingly, compellingly weird and striking.  So, love at first sight for me.  Can’t believe I’ve never encountered his work before.  Some of his stuff is so beautiful it makes you feel ill.

Finding the real gate, we continued, trying to find the Volcano Show on time.  Even with a map and not being confused at all, let’s just say we got there circuitously.  It’s not really on a street, so it’s kind of hard to find.  But we saw some more cats and architecture on the way.

The Volcano Show.  Well, can’t tell you much about it, because while I’m sure it was terribly interesting, the soundtrack was incredibly soporific and the little theatre was black out dark.  All I retained were visions of orange lava boiling and spewing, hypnotic music, and the feeling of struggling against sleep because something important was happening.  Heimaey may have been being destroyed by lava.  I jolted awake for intermission, learned Derek had also been asleep, compared notes (we didn’t have many), and went back in to sleep through the second half.

The Volcano Show is the work of Villi Knudsen, who is really funny, has been stealing pens from Icelandic banks since 2008, and cannot quite conceal his glee at the prospect of the next big eruption happening imminently, sure to cause unimaginable chaos, destruction, and loss of life and property (I was wake for his commentary; the lights were still on).  Hekla and Katla are both due or overdue.  Villi is a volcano chasing son of another volcano chaser, between them capturing 50 years and miles of stunning and one-of-a-kind footage of eruptions.  Which we slept through.

Refreshed, we carried on back into town; light still in the sky at 10:20.  We shared a great pizza, made for us by an engineering student, walked through the streets that were beginning to party this Friday night and walked back across town and walked some more, especially after taking the bus one stop too far, about a hundred miles past our hotel (but if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have seen that one really weird sculpture that made us laugh).

My first impressions of Iceland after one day, as noted in my book:

Google gives Icelandic results first!
Water hot as f***.  I’m going to spend a lot of time in the water here.
Lots of cats.
NFLD in corrugated steel.
Everyone’s blond.

Really, a window into my soul.  I hadn’t even twigged to the weird sculpture and ice cream habits of the Icelanders yet, although I’d seen a fair bit of both.  I continued to be constantly mind-warped into Newfoundland, what with the picturesque fishing villages and fjords and bright-coloured housing.  The similarities are really quite innumerable, although it could never quite be mistaken for exactly the same place.  Maybe that contributed to why I felt so damn at home there, all the time.

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August 31, 2010

Iceland is a very helmet-free society.  They eschew guardrails, frivolous warning signs, and regulations.

You just will not get hit over the head with explicit, blaring signs warning of things that will kill you (like buckets, or hair dryers).  Not here.

I was sitting at the edge of a 100 ft cliff, that I’d just walked up to after watching an arctic fox sprint across the flat land, getting high on the vertigo of the height and the beauty of the distant waves below me,  and my brother walked up behind me and said “Oh, did you notice this sign?”   It was basically a 4×4 inch pictorial suggestion that it was possible to fall off of the cliffs here.  In case you didn’t figure it out for yourself.  One sign for 100s of meters of cliff.

And that’s what I love.  They expect you to figure out for yourself that if you step or slip off the edge into the waterfall almost the size of Niagara that’s thundering over the edge, right there, that you probably won’t make it. If you lean too far over to see the birds, you could die.  You shouldn’t need a sign to tell you so.

If you’re stupid or careless enough to trip, slip, fall, or drop your camera or your kids over the edge, well, that’s your business.

Icelanders are not in the business of protecting anyone from themselves.

I. Love. This.

Our lives are in our own hands all the time, and you can get numb and forget that if you’re always walking paved paths surrounded by lines that tell you you’re safe within them.  Stay safe, stay between the lines, behind the rail… not here.  Iceland doesn’t play like that.  It’s more “take care of your own damn self, you should be able to figure this out, you decide what’s safe for yourself.”

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