Iceland? In March? Who does that?
The idea started years ago. Hate, Rosebud and I were having a beer at Brouwer’s in Fremont. It seemed delightful: a quick weekend jaunt off to the tiny, frozen place. Sadly we never did anything about that idea.
Then suddenly BC and Rosebud sent me a message: it was on. Here’s a date. Book the flight. Take a day off work.
Let’s start with a fun fact about Iceland:
Geographically, it’s a little smaller than Kentucky. However, at a little over 300,000 inhabitants, it’s quite a bit less crowded since Kentucky has over four million people.
So we left around 5:30pm Thursday, and arrived around 8am Friday morning. Since I can’t sleep on planes, this means that by the time we arrived I was able to muster just enough brain cells to form monosyllabic grunts and move my feet with relative coordination.
Coincidence: this is a state I would return to late that night. But more on that later.
The place we rented was right smack dab in the middle of the best part of town. Now, Reykjavik is a pretty small place for a major city, so it’s not hard to be close to all the happening stuff. But this place was something else. A two bedroom loft on one of the main drags through town, a bakery right across the street, and a beautiful view out on the deck.
Now, the interior was decorated in modern style mostly, which is very cool by me. Clean lines, lots of windows, funky furniture of questionable value for actually using, all that normal modern European quality. However, the artwork inside the place was… interesting? For example, one wall held this statement on it (and this is the only lettering in the entire place, it is not a continuation of anything else):
The loft contained a mere two bedrooms, and neither of the beds were the “two twins stuck together” that we might separate in order to comfortably house the three of us, so Rosebud and I opted to alternate on one of the beds; I would take first night, he would take second. The other sleeping surface was a perfectly serviceable couch. As it happens, I would not actually get to use the bed. More on that later as well.
Right. So we perused the bakery briefly, then agreed that a quick nap (no more than 2 hours, don’t want to miss our chance to get to sleep at regular times tonight) was in order. After that, we had to get the main attraction of town out of the way first: Hallgrimskirkja:
Another fun fact: 85% of Iceland is Lutheran. Another 10% are other assorted Christian alignments. Around 5% are undeclared or unaffiliated. What other country (shut up, Vatican City) can claim that kind of alignment around beliefs!?
Post-church, it was time again to indulge our stomachs. We wandered for a good long while before settling on a lunch spot that seemed to offer a wide enough selection to appease us all. Rosebud The Adventurous chose a Minke Whale Burger. It turned out to be basically a very tough steak slapped between two buns. Not worth anything more than the novelty of it. And for the amount of disdain and moral shame he should feel for eating a whale, totally skippable. I opted for the remarkably safe chicken salad. BC got a safe-sounding club sandwich, which turned out to be a fabulous surprise:
While we ate, it came to our attention that someone thought a necessary dining view would of course have a depressed sculpture hanging its head for your enjoyment.
Post-imbibing we ambled around town rather aimlessly taking in the sights. While Reykjavik has many “normal” buildings, it also has some of obvious new design that stand out:
It’s also got some public sculpture that is NOT of sad, moping gentlemen. Which comes as a relief.
Also, while cruising around town there are other unexpected sights to appreciate:
Lastly, just as in places like Croatia, the street names are sometimes a joy all on their own.
Eventually nighttime fell and we took a deep breath and braced ourselves to sample the nightlife. If you don’t know, Reykjavik is developing a bit of a legend where it comes to having a night scene and the party culture around it. We being old, OLD men (well, okay; I’m technically the OLD man, whereas my companions are just old): we were eager to see what the collection of whipper snappers could bring to bear.
Happily, we discovered some rather excellent bars. For example, the first establishment (the questionably named “Bunk Bar”) turned out to be a well designed, airy, and thoroughly hopping establishment. A couple of the local beers turned out to be quite nice as well.
This message was displayed on one of our later establishments, much to our approval:
Some places were not quite the home run that these others were:
Eventually we found ourselves in several British or Irish seeming bars that fit us just fine.
Now, the thing to realize about nightlife in Reykjavik is that it goes on for quite a while. In fact, it goes on far longer than one might expect. In our glee of trying new bars and new drinks and new bars and new drinks and new (well, you get the idea), eventually four or five in the morning rolled around. BC, being a reliable steward of such nights out, at one point ferried me back to the house when I had seemed to regress to my previous monosyllabic state, but we had lost track of Rosebud. So,
BC gamely ventured out to reacquire Rosebud, and on return they found that I was occupying the restroom, which was of concern as they were in need of such facilities.
Upon entreating me to finish up, the sad news was delivered that I didn’t actually know how to get out of the bathroom, the door refusing to release me when tried. They did explain slowly that there was a key, and it should be turned (as keys are usually supposed to be operated). I informed them that not only did I not know the location of said key, but could, in fact, not say whether there was even a keyhole in the door for application of such technology.
Long and short: in the morning when I awoke in the bathroom, the key was quickly located and the door performed as expected. The bed accepted my exhausted head for a good fifteen minutes before our bus was ready for our day’s tour.
Fun fact #3: Iceland has a split down the middle which marks the division of two tectonic plates: the North American plate on one side, and the European on the other. And you can visit this divide. Awesome.
So: the tour. First we bussed out to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall area in the middle of a stark, desolate plane of rock and whiteness.
After Gullfoss, we visited a geyser area, which was notable for being rather bereft of snow due to the extreme temperatures from the boiling water which would erupt on a rather regular basis. It was also notable for having wind that would nearly pick you up and hurl you, screaming and confused, into one of these open pots of boiling water. This wind would never actually stop. No, it might die town to a minor threat for a moment or two, but then, as if to say “ah hah! Fooled you!” would pick right up and yank all of your clothes violently against your frame, attempting to tear it all off you. Alarming. And freezing.
Only Rosebud had the patience to hold a camera steady at the geyser long enough, letting the wind tear at his frozen, locked fingers, to get an actual video of the geyser going off. Kudos to him. BC and I quickly glanced around the frigid landscape, then scurried inside warmer places.
Then it was off to the divide. The split. The tectonic rift. A placed called Þingvellir. And it did not disappoint, as you can walk down in it:
We returned to Reykjavik red-faced from being windblown and more than impressed with the starkly beautiful, rugged and stony landscape. It really is a beautiful country, definitely worth seeing once in your life. Actually, probably twice: once during the cold, and once during a greener time, where maybe the wind might not be so committed to assault and battery at every chance.
That night we opted for traditional Icelandic food, which basically means a bunch of fish dishes.
Fun fact #4: 70% of Iceland’s export economy has to do with the fishing industry.
All the dishes were ordered with a little bit of hesitation as “fish soup” doesn’t engender the same kind of mighty salivating as a great steak or a even a scrumptious crepe. Salted fish on rye; similar. “Mashed fish” was the one none of us were going to touch, but ended up getting anyway. Surprisingly all our dishes panned out beautifully. All of them were quite tasty, with the Mashed Fish taking top honors. We all agree they need a marketing revamp, and found that once you put the word “fish” in anything, it takes on a less appealing aspect. Eventually BC came through with the improved name: “Flippers and Mash”. If you see this on offer next time you are in Iceland, you have him to thank.
We resolved that, while we would go out for another couple drinks, none of us were at all into the level of exertions we performed on the first night. Our first bar, called Ob La Di Ob La Da was approached with subterranean expectations, but it turned out to be quite excellent. Fate decreed that Rosebud would discover that an old college friend was in town at that very moment, so our threesome became four, and we moved from beer at the Beatles bar to whisky at the whisky bar. After that, the details don’t really matter but we found ourselves enjoying cigars on our deck at five in the morning and shaking our heads at the fact that we had gone through two nights in a row at that speed.
Overall, I’ll give Iceland 4.5 pickled herrings (out of 5).
I’m only deducting a half a herring for the bloody wind.