Published: July 22nd 2012July 21st 2012
"Ooh it's fresh outside". Funny about that Penny. Had we been exiting the airport terminal in Hotandhumidland, an expression of surprise would have been appropriate with the mercury tipping 10 degrees. On the other hand, even if you knew Jack diddly squat about Iceland before arriving, with a name like that you really should have some fleece locked and loaded.
The touchdown in Reykjavik was perfectly synchronised with a glowing sun nudging the Atlantic horizon, right on cue at 11.40pm. The light pink hues of that sunset morphed 2 hours later into a soft, pastel orange as the sun poked its head back above that same horizon. In between, the sky never turned completely black. At 66 degrees north, the days are long come July in Iceland.
Those long daylight hours sent our body clocks into a 7 day tailspin. For a bloke who can normally nod off on a picket fence, trying to bunk down in broad daylight at midnight has been a struggle.
If you are going to draw parallels with a personality, Iceland is like a modern day Mel Gibson, not beautiful but ruggedly handsome despite being knocked around the edges quite a bit.
Actively volcanic and isolated as it is in the North Atlantic, Iceland is on the receiving end of some serious thumpings from underneath geothermically and above from the weather. There's a national quip that regularly does the rounds here:
"If you don't like our weather, come back in 5 minutes".
It's true. When the forecast predicts a beautiful day, this translates, "there's a slight chance it might not rain".
The country's international reputation, like Mel's, has also taken on some water over the past few years. While Mr Gibson has had public issues over "brews and Jews", Iceland's Achilles heel has been "cash and ash".
This was an unlikely nation to be so devastated by the global financial crisis but the previous government's decision to place all its Krona cash reserves into the one basket was an economic master stroke at the wrong end of the scale. Thanks very much American sub prime loans.
This obviously didn't sit too well with a generally affluent, civilised and well educated populace, 20% of whom became insolvent overnight. People power inevitably oversaw Iceland's political Glaznost even if Mr Presidentsson took his time raising the white flag.
upside of this is that Iceland suddenly became moderately affordable for run of the mill tourists, ie. us. Prior to the GFC, this island was a bastion for toirists of the well healed variety. It's still not exactly bargain basement but you no longer need to take out a loan to buy a lager.
A couple of years back, just when the financial situation was starting to show some green tips on the leaves, along came the second WHAMMO: I'll dip my hat to anybody, other than an Icelander, who can spell THAT volcano. A double dip if you can then even remotely pronounce Eyjafjallajokull. Simple, rip out your tongue, fill your mouth with cake like substance and it's:
We drove by the infamous Eyjafjallajokull and it couldn't look more innocuous although this hasn't stopped the locals cashing in on its notoriety.
The food menus can make for interesting reading as well. One restaurant offers a whale menu and a puffin menu. The fried whale meat seems a paradoxox given that whale watching tours are offered everywhere. Maybe all the paying customers are issued with a harpoon on boarding so they can bring home the
spoils for din din. Roast puffin, though, may be worth a try. These birds spend so much time around the ocean that their wings must taste like chicken AND fish.
With fish being about the only food produced locally and almost all fruit and veggies having to be brought in, we were recommended to try the fetid shark, an Icelandic speciality. The shark is left rotting underground for 6 months before cooking it up for the happy diner. I think I'll stick with the puffin.
We haven't had an anecdote of the week for some time, so:
Thermal baths are considered an essential element of the Icelandic experience. I'll leave Penny with the grizzly details but prior to entering the water, one is required to be thoroughly cleansed in the change room showers without swimmers, ie displaying all your birth day glory in communal washrooms. Perhaps I was simply unfortunate with my fellow scrubbers but timing is everything and I felt most inadequate in the company. From here on in, if you want to give someone the ultimate machismo compliment, try:"
"He's hung like an Icelander".
I am not
sure if I am daydreaming, sleepwalking or just plain delirious after 6 nights of perfect daylight!!! The first night (or was it day) was a novelty trying to get to get to sleep at 2am with the sky still blue. There were no streetlights on, why would there be, it was a perfect clear day/night.
By day two, the eyes are stinging and a slow glaze comes over you.
Day 3, something had to give, we were feeling comatosed, we really needed a good NIGHT sleep. In my book, night is exactly that, night. So a bit of McGyvering. I sticky taped our blind to the wall in an attempt to block some of the daylight. 60 percent effective. Added to this is my trusty sarong over the top of the blind, bingo. We have a dark room, and we both slept the best we had in days.
With our beauty sleep taken care of, we wanted to experience the thermal pools that everyone, even the flight attendants, had spruiked as a "must do" in Iceland. We didn't want to go to the touristy 'Blue Lagoon' but rather to experience the thermal pools the same as
the locals, so we chose instead a local pool within close proximity to where our apartment is.
I guess I should have suspected we were out of our depth when the girl on the front desk ( identifying us as tourists) said in a very polite manner, make sure you shower without your clothes on first. Yes, of course I shower without my clothes on!! We are now in Europe Penny, pools work differently here, but I just wasn't sure of the protocol. Everything was written in large letters. Large Icelandic letters. Walking into the change room, there were rows of nude women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Grandma, mum, daughters and school friends all stripped off naked chatting amongst themselves. Added to that they were all walking to communal showers, leaving everything behind. It felt like the round up in Austwitz when the men and women were separated, then told to strip and leave their clothes and walk towards the showers. They didn't know they were going to the gas chambers.
Well, I had stripped, left my few clothes behind and followed the other women and girls to the showers. More large writing, this time
a few pictures to help. A picture of a person and a red haze over the head, underarms, groin and feet. Ok, I'll wash my head, underarm, groin and feet and follow everyone else. Next room, we were to dry ourselves, luckily I had salvaged my sarong from being the blind for the day. And finally we were able to put our swimming costumes on and go out to the the pools. The bright side, Gary was waiting for me on the other side looking more disturbed than me. When I said to him it had been a bit intimidating his reply was, " how do you think I felt, these Icelander men are the most well endowed of any men I have every seen, I just had to get out".
Suffice to say we enjoyed the pools, let our nude experience melt away in the warmth of the water. They say the pools are very therapeutic. We both look 10 years younger from the experience but probably don't need to run back in a hurry. A warning to anyone going to the thermal pools. Do take a towel and leave your modesty at the door.
Dont blame me, I didn't create this language
we have visited on this trip we have made an effort to go to a local performance. This time we found a poster advertising a " one women show" in a small theatre within an Icelandic house. There was an audience of 4, and that was probably 4 too many. The women read us stories of some of their folklore, dressed like a troll, and played with some toy dolls. All in all, an hours performance that was an hour too much.
What was she thinking! She said she lacked marketing and could we spread the word. Ok, if you are coming to Iceland and would like to see a performance, don't waste your 2,500 kroner. You can get a beer for 600 kroner and after a few you can act like a troll and make up a few stories and probably have a jolly good night.
Finally, we thought we should try some local food / delicacies. Iceland has a reputation for dried cod. It's reputed as being very smelly but delicious with a lathering of butter and being chewed slowly. We purchased " Filetti I'd Eglefino Liofillizzato" dried fish fillets full of Omega 3. I
Reykjavik's most recognisable sight
am happy to confirm they stink, but they taste like salty chips. If you can stop yourself from inhaling and just eat them, they are ok. On the down side they are about 3 times the price of chips.
I have enjoyed our week in Iceland once we sorted out our dark room. It's quite different to anywhere else we have been. Although Reykjavik is a major city it's small and manageable with plenty to see and do. Because the sun never goes down in July, you have all day and all night to get out and about. The bars, pubs and restaurants do close sometime in the wee hours.
Fact 1: 3 Icelandic women have been crowned Miss World.
Fact 2: the English words geyser, saga and berserk originate from Icelandic words.
There are more photos below