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Published: March 21st 2020
As day three Dawns upon us, we start the journey to the capital. Present in the moment, as only Iceland can teach you to do. We follow the highway upon what I expected to be an ordinary drive, filled with the same scenery as the days before. Be warned Iceland really sucks at ordinary and mundane. Instead of the mundane, we are presented with roads that turn into cliff climbs, bring us up hundreds of feet of elevation. The clouds hanging low, their wispy fingers brushing the car, leaving fingerprints of dew upon the painted surface. We wind or way along this Highway of unexpected pleasure, I never knew a transfer route to be so scenic. Cars whir past us with no real sense of hurry. The light low and flat, but our senses tuned in to the frequency of the world. The greens become more vibrant, yellow splotches of lichen sprayed like paint across exposed rocks. Clouds playing around the peaks in the distance. The black tarmac threading between the peaks with skill and careful planning. Little cairns popping up purportedly the homes of the trolls. A road or two has been known to be rerouted in Iceland due to
trolls tampering with equipment, and the planners heading the warnings. They cause machines to break down, endless electrical problems, misplace tools, and cause general hi-jinx. At home before leaving safely behind my keyboard I would secretly scoff at that notion. When you are in the environment, it becomes reality, not just a suspicion but fact.
Finally arriving at the nation's capital of Reykjavik.The Traffic increases as we wind our way through the streets. From here the experience changes focus from the strikingly beautiful landscapes to the people of this great nation. They speak little, but feel so much. They don’t fill silences in conversations that North American's find uncomfortable with words. Instead they almost find comfort in the quiet, like me snuggling into my moms home made sweaters, comfortable.They are not usually in a rush, and are honest and sincere in their lives. Crimes are almost absent, and most crimes make headlines in this country. Typically committed by foreigners. The streets and roads feel safe, and business like. We arrive at our destination, and are welcomed heartily into the office to meet my new friend, and my wife's old friend.. We are taken to a little cafe
where we have some of the best fish and chips I have ever had, (not “the best” that may make an article later on.) For now, a darn good fish and chip. We talk at length, around life in Iceland, crimes in Iceland as there were just a rash of break ins, and tourism. Now an amusing story for you. In person, if you are new to my company I am often somber, thoughtful, and quiet. My wife having a relationship with the two ladies I had not made much conversation, but enough to be polite. Our host is a wonderful large hearted lady, who does not mind your opinion of her. She has in her employ a German girl, who also joined us for lunch. The German lady was several months pregnant, and we were discussing at length what she will do on her maternity leave. There were the usual remarks, but she was concerned at the reduction in pay as her husband runs snowmobile tours, and tourism was still in an increase. The discussion surrounded how her husband could make more tips. I arising from my silence said, you could always dress the kid up in a penguin costume and get tourists to take pictures with it. “ Our host roars with laughter in this tiny restaurant and thunders in this Icelandic English. “He doesn’t say much but when he does….Oh Boy is he funny” And just continues to laugh till out of breath. If you ask me why I travel, it is for moments like this, where I will never forget that interaction for the remainder of my life. We leave our company, with warm hugs, and bonds forged. Making our way to our hotel, unencumbered ourselves of our luggage, and head for what we believe is the best way to understand a city. A free walking city tour.
We meet an Icelander with a name that North Americans struggle with, so he goes by Martin, which we made sure to do the Martin, Martyn introduction stick. As we walk through the city, he spins yarns on how the city was founded, the social political and economical landscape, and you get to ask candid questions.The two hour tour gives a great starting point to understand the country, the reason for the curiosities. Not to mention him pointing out the Nordic architecture, and all the best places to eat. We feel like with a locals perspective we are being woven into the local tapestry, an indoctrination to the country if you will. The city unfolds before us, we wind our way around the streets, just being present in the moment. Looking in windows of shops, reading menus, trying to stay dry as rain had moved in and of course people watching. A great time was had and we mill about the tourist shops poking around for gifts for people.
Tonight is the main event for us, the excitement is building. We realized quickly we got our hands on one of the hottest tickets in town. The EUFA international game between Belgium and Iceland. It is a matter of national pride that is on the line tonight. The energy in the city is palpable, people with viking horns, and others wrapped in Belgium flags roll out of pubs arms linked over others shoulders, and national club songs being sung off key at the tops of their lungs. We head back to our hotel to ready ourselves. We are a five to ten minute walk to the stadium, and throughout the city the Belgium invasion had begun. Red and Yellow flags draped upon the invaders shoulders. 30 minutes before the game the procession of people starts migrating past the hotel. We join the hordes. We love both countries, but being in Iceland we were not going to cheer for anyone else. Step by step my excitement builds as we walk to the pitch. Entering the stadium, we feel overwhelmed with energy, and appreciation for being able to enjoy this moment. Most people speak English, and it is easy to join in. Though to really make us feel welcome they speak Icelandic to us, and then apologize. Being Canadian we apologize right back. It makes us feel so welcome, and everyone is so inviting. We take our seats, we don our new Afrim Island Scarves. Blending in to the point people start speaking Icelandic to us again, and we just go with it. We read from their body language what they were trying to have us do, and manage not to insult anyone. The crowd packs the stadium, no empty seats are left. The chants start from both teams, warm ups begin. Iceland plays hard for the first half, with many good chances. Time to bring out the iconic viking clap, to infuse the team with our energy. A slow rhythmic clap over our heads to a drum beat, that increases to a fervor. The team regains its energy with the home team crowd behind them. Ultimately they fall in defeat, the Belgium team besting Iceland. The lights in the night making the turf glow a vibrant green, the crowd seething with hope and anticipation now quieted, but still hopefully of a great story from the team that is yet to come.. Seeing some really big stars in both clubs, the kids idol these players, and we watch their best moves as they play through the legs of strangers. Showing off their best moves to their mates, and parents.My mind rewinds through the moments of a fantastic night standing for the anthems and just feeling the national pride, you can’t but feel swept up in the passion. I urge you when in a city, look for these local events, they will be lifetime highlights for you. These are what make trips amazing, after all we travel to experience a place, and there is no better way than joining an event like this. It may not always work out that schedules work out in our favor, but when they do, they are a wonderful experience. As we get back to our hotel, I misplace my passport for a spell, making me think I have left it back in the summer house. Contemplating a drive back to a summer house hours away, and then segwaying right to the airports is not a great thought, but eventually I find it in the place I placed it so I would not forget it. During this time we ordered diner, pizza the universal equalizer. The pizza costs nearly as much as a steakhouse dinner out at home. Having my passport, our cases packed, we are able to sit and think for a moment of what we were able to be part of, and what we were leaving with. What we got back is far better than the price of admission. This country writes in an indelible marker on your soul. It is not in pencil. These changes are permanent. The colors are vibrant, and can be seen by everyone. When you get home, your mind can’t help but take little trips back, and wonder what adventure lay down the roads untraveled. Your mind will settle for only one answer…..Next time.
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