I got to Astoria and found out my buddy's music shop -- featuring 12 plectras for $1 and cheap guitar stands -- was gone. The trip to Astoria almost made me late for Brooklyn where the car service to the airport was to meet me. At least I'd bought the aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen and hydrocortisone cream in DC two days earlier.
I got to the airport before 6:00 p.m. for the 8:50 p.m. flight and there was no queue, which is the reason I show up so early. Drinking at the airport isn't much more expensive than in NYC anyway. The woman motioned me right to the counter and started looking at my ticket while I opened up my hand luggage to get the passport out of my hand luggage.
"You're here early," the woman said.
"I hate standing in line."
"No, I mean you're more than a day early.
She showed me the ticket and explained that today was the 10th, and I was due to depart rather than arrive on the 11th.
Could I fly today? Sure. Now, I'd've liked to stay with my friends another day, but it's a $40 ride back to their place and another $30 back to the airport. Even if there's no room at the hostel, I can get a hotel in Reykjavik for about $70. I think. Plus, I really, really want to see Iceland and know that no matter how much I like it, I'll probably never get back there. We'll know tomorrow. Sorry, Dawn, and I hope you understand.
Icelandair didn't charge me for the ticket change, but I'm stuck in the ass of the plane, all the way back in row 34, and there ain't no 35. There were three seats still open, but no chance for the exit row. Meanwhile, here at the bar where I'm typing this, the bartender just served me a Tetley's (beer, not tea) and I'm going to play with the computer and make myself look important. There are no pinball machines here so maybe I'll practice sign language.
I was at the gate as soon as the airline got there and I was denied the exit row seat. They were annoyed with the counter people for telling everyone the exit rows were still available. As we started boarding, I shuffled on back to the ass of the plane. Five minutes later, my name was called. "Shit," I thought. "I'm getting another FBI interview again."
Nope, I got a seat reassignment. Why? "I don't know, sir." They moved me to 11F, exit row window. Icelandair has been-a berry, berry good to me.
Flying from the U.S. to Iceland sort of sucks because there's nothing to see on the way, which is fine since I need to sleep when headed east from the U.S. to avoid jet lag. Keflavík airport is right at the western coast of Iceland. Still, the last couple minutes of the flight give you a glimpse of the moonscape awaiting you.
Customs was a breeze- I wasn't stopped, although I don't think anyone else was, either. Once I got outside I was right in front of the bus to Reykjavík and 1100 kroner (currently about US$15/€13.50) later, on it.
Fly me to the moon
What Neil and Buzz would've seen had there been lichen up there
In-fucking-credible. Sorry, but I have no better way to describe it. I sat staring out the window, eyes bulging and mouth agape, looking at the scenery whizzing by. I'm not a nature person as those who have met me can attest, but Iceland was just too much. Words still fail me hours after having seen it. I took some pictures, but I mostly sat taking in the view. I make fun of tourists who only see things through the viewfinder and miss the big picture when they're actually somewhere.
Most houses and buildings really are pretty brightly coloured. Everyone speaks English. And everything is expensive.
What to do in Reykjavík
Dude, where's my town?
The entire country has about 280,000 inhabitants and the biggest city and capital has about half of them with 120,000. To Icelanders, that's a metropolis. The smallest town I ever lived in was Regensburg with 130,000. However, everything was pretty close together in Regensburg, whereas this place is spread out over much more ground. I walked to town -- about 5km away.
I walked back and forth to town four times on Tuesday. Since I had to walk along shore, I went to the seawall and climbed down to the beach -- not as easy as it seems. I don't know why I always head for the waterline; it's just something I always do when I'm at a coast. The picture was taken a couple hours later when the tide had come up and buried the area I was actually walking on.
Traveller's Tip:Oh, look! Rocks.
Credit cards accepted everywhere
But not AmEx
You can pay for everything with Visa, Mastercard, Electron and Maestro cards. Everything. A book. A single beer (pay-as-you-go in bars). Even the 220kr bus fare in Reykjavík (about EUR2.85/USD3.20). Bank, not private, ATMs can be found everywhere but you really don't need them. Of course, Icelandic money is pretty so you may want to at least get some coins.
They're trying to tell us something.
That line was uttered by Tom Baker as Doctor Who
1 and was terrbily funny in context. I couldn't help thinking ablout that scene over and over as I stared out the window at Icelandic nature. There's an awful lot of geology in Iceland, and not surprisingly, a lot of geologists and geology students, every one of whom is covered in scars and cuts. If you're walking in Iceland and you see someone sporting some bandages, it's probably a geologist.
If the science of geology ain't your bag, don't get caught alone in a room with a geologist (look for many cuts on hands and bandages). They always carry their own maps in case there isn't a handy one on the wall and they will inevitably begin to tell you much more than you ever cared to know about the formation of
[digging into pocket] this piece of lava as opposed to
[digging into another pocket] this one, and how both of them are much finer examples than that piece you have in your hand and picked up just because it looked pretty spiffy. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
Native Icelanders also love to stack rocks. You'll find rocks everywhere here, which isn't all that surprising since this place is basically a load of mostly extinct volcanoes. The people here like to stack rocks in piles. There used to be a good reason for these piles, namely to help you find the way to safety and shelter. You'd find a rockpile through the snow (which doesn't fall much anymore), sight another one, then follow that line until you reached a house, which you would eventually manage if you didn't die first.
Of course, if a rock pile is small or crappy (i.e., not tight and neatly built) it was made by a tourist with nothing better to do than waste an afternoon in the hopes of playing just like the natives while having no clue what the reason is for the piles in te first place. Quoth more than one to me: "Yeah, we made a rockpile today just like the icelanders. It was cool."
Not many people know how to "read" the piles anymore (you've found the line but in which direction should you go?), but that doesn't stop them practicing building piles everywhere. And if you don't feel like picking up rocks, bricks provide a handy substitute. I was told later that in many cases, the piles are between two safe havens, so it doesn't matter which way you go... most of the time.
Disgusting national foods
A diary for alt.tasteless
Every country has its own disgusting foods, but Iceland is far and away the champion. Head cheese? A mere snack. Haggis? Feh. Lutefisk? Thousand year-old eggs? Well, you're at least on the right track. Among the Icelandic specialties are rotted Atlantic green shark (hákarl) and pickled ram's testicles (hrútspungar). I'd heard about these before coming here and have been in search of them. They're not as popular as some Web sites have made them out to be, but I'm not giving up so easily.
In the mean time, I've already found one disgusting national food obsession: Pylsa með ölli (Pull'*sah meth öht'*leh). In English, a hot dog with everything. Here, "everything" includes ketchup, a mustard variant, hot dog sauce (more or less a remoulade), finely chopped fresh and fried onions, and maybe potato salad. Hot dog stands are ubiquitous and they have a lot of variants on the theme. You can also get them at every service station. I've had three of these things so far. They taste OK but my insides are complaining.
What's that smell?
Free hot water has its price
In Reykjavík, hot water is pretty much piped directly from the ground to buildings. It stinks from the sulphur. It really stinks. You supposedly get used to it in a week. I didn't. This means you don't speed up cooking by putting a pot of hot water on to boil, but electricity in Iceland is much cheaper than on the continent (it may be the only thing that is). It also means you shower with a well-perfumed soap.
That said, the cold water is excellent. Iceland has joined Munich and southwest London on my extremely short list of Places Where You Can Drink Straight From the Tap.
Please don't let my roommates be American.
You're not in Kansas anymore, dude."
For my first night at the hostel, I had a 4-person room, which meant there was a bathroom/shower available just for that room. I took a nice, long shower before going out. Then I grabbed the squeegee that was in the shower and got all the water from the floor to the drain, there being no lip to separate the shower from rest of the bathroom floor, just a shower curtain. Not the most thrilling activity, but ISK2200/day beats the pants off of ISK12000/day for a hotel.
I went to town and had a few drinks at various bars, none of which had many people. I did my best to make up for their lack of attendance. This improved the bartenders' moods tremendously.
I later made it back to the hostel. Some old Spanish man and his wife were talking with the girl at the desk and no one was terribly happy. I walked into my room quietly to find that the two in the room were still awake. I went to the bathroom and my feet were soaking. The toilet was also unclean.
When I came back out I asked who had showered, dreading the answer.
Quoth the Yank, "I did. Why?"
"The squeegee is there for you to use to dry the floor after you shower so that no one else gets wet feet. The toilet brush is there for you to clean up anything the flush didn't get."
"What are you, my mother?"
"No, I'm one of the three men you're sharing a room with. You're in Europe. This is a hostel, not a hotel. You're not alone and we're not here to clean up your mess. It's called common courtesy."
He got up and I heard him squeegee up the place as I passed out.
Half an hour later, the confused Spanish man I saw at the counter when I got back stumbled into the room, turned on the lights and started talking loudly to himself. I had to tell him - in Spanish, because he didn't understand the other guys asking him to be quiet in English - to STFU because it was almost 2:00 a.m. and the rest of us were trying to sleep.
I passed out again wondering whatever made me think staying in a hostel to meet lots of people would be such a good idea.
1 From Destiny of the Daleks.
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