Print Story The Iceland Diaries II - - Day 1
By BadDoggie (Mon Feb 07, 2005 at 11:19:04 PM EST) (all tags)
Munich, Keflavik
Wednesday, 19 Jan 2005

I'm an idiot.

I made a Don't Forget list. I forgot it. I didn't pay attention and got to test out my cold-weather gear earlier than expected. I also didn't pay close enough attention to the warnings and Very Helpful Advice about Icelandic customs.

And despite it all, the day didn't turn out too badly. After all, before 6:00p.m. I was in Iceland, but it almost didn't happen...

  • What did we forget?
  • Let's go to the airport
  • Getting there is not half the fun (SAS charges for all food & bev)
  • Homeward bound.
  • Party?

The Iceland Diaries II: Preface, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, "Food", Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15, Day 16, Day 17, The End.

You can't take it with you...
...well, you can but you have to remember to do so.
What I forgot:
  • 512MB data key with 2 Web sites to work on and much music. At least it's still plugged into a machine I can access.
  • Setting up a port 80/8000/8080 redirection for the FTP, VLS and pcAnywhere daemons since the line at the hotel wireless access restricts all of these ports.
  • The bloody (and bloody expensive) Black Forest twisty sausage I was bringing for the guys in Keflavík tonight1. IFI. Because it's in the sealed but not airless bag, it will probably be green and hairy when I get home.
  • Bags of original Haribo gummy bears (no need in future; Haribo sells 'em directly now)

The dangers of courtesy
Despite this, I'll still tell the damned tourists off.
After a long wait due to some signal malfunction (again) I finally got got the S-8 to the airport. I know it was the S-8 because the station announcer said so while I had my nose buried in my Icelandic book. I got on, as did others with suitcases. I put the rolly-case on the upper rack to keep the seats free for others to sit in and had the computer case under my legs. The main suitcase was at the door.

The train stopped at Ostbahnhof. The "Last Stop, Everybody Out" message played. That meant the announcement and signage were both wrong when I got on and the S-8 was the next train in one minute on the next track that you can only get to by running down pone of the two staircases to the underground halls, then back up more stairs. I grabbed the computer and suitcase and flew. I was out of breath as I made it to the top of the stairs and saw the S-8 approaching.

Then I saw the S-Bahn I was just on pulling away from the station to go to the depot.

Then I remembered the rollie case.
With my passport in the zippy pocket for safety so I couldn't lose it.

I was told by the attendants I had to go to the next station where they'd have the case since that's where the out-of-service train was headed. I got there on the S-8, blocked the door's light sensor so I could grab my case from the guy and stay on the same train. I'd still be close to my schedule and wouldn't have to wait 20 minutes in the cold at an open-air station for the next S-8. The track was void of workers. I figured that meant someone would be coming over to that station from the service center. Dammit.

Testing, testing
Visiting IcelandGermany? Don't skimp on the warm clothing.
I pulled my case out of the door and resigned myself to the fact that the new coat and shoes I bought for this trip were to be prematurely tested for warmth and comfort. Maybe I should've coughed up that extra €100 for the North Face coat. Too late now.

I went into the station's cubicle to ask about my rollie case. They had a few bags but not mine. Ten seconds later, another guy comes waltzing up to the office grinning with my case in tow and repeatedly asked for a fiver or tenner as a reward. Fucker. Had he moved a bit faster, I wouldn't have been facing 20 minutes at a windy -2°C. At least the next S-8 wasn't delayed.

I got to the airport and there was no queue. The woman informed me, however, that I'd have to go over there to pick up my ticket from the holding counter, but she'd take care of the suitcase and seating now. Of course, when I returned, she was busy with a very confused man for another 10 minutes. Still, check-in was a more or less a breeze. That should've tipped me off.

Traveller's Tip
Booking travel to Iceland
If you're flying from the US, you don't have much choice, but if you're flying there from Europe and can't go directly, make sure you fly through a UK airport. Flying through Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen or other Scandinavian airport adds about an hour to your flight time due to the different route used. Look at a globe and figure it out yourself. Most planes will fly over or near land as long as possible. You've been warned.
The plane to Copenhagen was almost empty, raising my hopes for the connection to Reykjavík. However SAS charges for everything, even water. The prices aren't that high, but they're not cheap either, and economy-class sammies are never that good anyway. And a eurobuck or three for a 15cl soft drink? Meh.

The Copenhagen airport is very nice. It's also relatively quiet due to the lack of constant announcements. This has the downside of making it very easy to miss your flight. I guess Danes have or expect a lot of concentration and I'll check with Great Dane on this latest theory of mine.

The plane to Reykjavík isn't/wasn't close to empty. It could be worse -- at least there's no one in the middle seat.

[Update: We're about to land in Keflvík. The kid in front has been crying for half the flight and the girl in back was kicking the seat and playing with the tray for 2.5 hours until I pleaded with dad to get her to stop -- he was quite nice about it. And IcelandAir made me pay for the beers which kept me calm through the three and a half hours of torture.]

We were on approach and I couldn't get to my camera to take some pictures of a spectacular sky and landscape. Clouds were streaked across a deep blue sky at dusk. I was pretty sure some major weather had been through the area and I just sat with my forehead pressed up against the window. I stared out into the twilight with its amazing shades of blue filling the sky and tingeing the clouds. It was breath-taking.

I say, I say, I say
Please step this way, sir, and remove your wallet.
Since I was coming from Europe and not continuing onwards, there was no passport control and no nifty stamp. Damned European Community. You can't get a stamp even if you ask nicely except in the UK. But after I picked up my suitcase (which was already there after the 10-minute walk down the terminal and the 15 minutes I'd spent in the shops getting a nice sweater), I was pointed over to an X-ray machine and, after they'd hemmed and hawed in hushed tones while pointing at the screen, ushered over to the curtained area.

"Ha," I thought, "The joke's on them! With two 0.5 litre bottles of schnapps and only 6 beers, I'm still 6 beers under the limit." The guy was nice enough and seemed relieved that I could speak a little Icelandic. The grunts and pointing helped me understand what he wanted, which was good because his English wasn't up to the task. Despite my previous experience with customs people who delight in humiliating you, treating you like a criminal and ripping everything apart in the search for something to give them a super-duper bust and score brownie points with their bosses, Icelanders don't piss around. They X-ray the bag and decide whether to search it. If they search it they know exactly what they want to see. Finish that and you're done and out in 3-30 minutes and you won't have to totally repack your suitcase. They also treat you with a modicum of respect.

So we opened up the rollie case and he knew what he wanted to look at and exactly where it was. I had each beer bottle individually wrapped inside a clean sock. I don't know what he thought might be in there but seemed relieved once I pulled a couple Augustiners out. Yep, six of 'em, half a litre each. No problem. Go ahead and close it up.

Then on to the suitcase. Again, two 0.5l bottles of Williams-Birne pear schnapps2. Wrapped in socks. Except they weren't 0.5l bottles. They were 0.7l bottles. I'd grabbed the wrong bottles in my hurry at the supermarket. It turned out to be a costly mistake. I explained that I'd made an honest mistake. With some quick-'n-dirty calculation, I also reckoned there's about the same amount of pure alcohol in the excess 40cl of schapps as would be in the 6 bottles of beer I didn't bring in. Houston, we have mitigation. Repeat, we have mitigation. ROR, what?

I was led with the bottles to a payment area (Krona or credit card only), handed over the goods and was asked for my passport. I started getting nervous. Technically, I'm sure they could expel me. They even had a big explanation and warning video in the plane listing all the possible combinations and limits on alcoholic bevvies and telling you to go to the red line if you have any questions or are unsure about something. I just went through the green line because... well... I'm an idiot.

Traveller's Tip
Customs limits on alcohol
You can bring up to the maximum amount listed in any one of the following combinations into Iceland:
  • 1 litre of spirits and 1 litre of wine
  • 1 litre of spirits and 6 litres of beer
  • 1 litre of wine and 6 litres of beer
  • 2.25 litres of wine
"Spirits" mean anything above 22% (42°); "wine" is anything weaker than "spirits" and not beer.

Additionally, tobacco is limited to 200 ciggies or 250g (whichever comes first) and both fine snuff and chew are illegal. Food is limited to 3kg not to exceed a value of 13,000kr (about 140 eurobucks) and any meat must be fully cooked -- sausages and salami not allowed. No phone equipment (except for a single cell phone per person) and no radio transmitters of any kind without a permit (includes remote control toys), and (duh) no weapons. If you have any questions, ask.
All information experienced or taken from the Icelandic Directorate of Customs' pamphlet "Customs Rules".

I kept trying to be cooperative and explained a few more times what an idiot I was and that I'd meant to grab the 0.5l bottles, and I was trying to do it in Icelandic. The guy at the window summed it up and told me to fork over 1410 krona. That's almost 20 Euro-bucks. For 40cl of 80 proof stuff. That works out to about US$250/USgallon duty.

King Christian III was pretty fanatical about forcing the Reformation on Iceland. Yes, he wanted power in his hands and not Rome's and he made sure Bishop Jón Arason and his sons were beheaded (removing the last serious defender of Catholicism in Iceland). But there was more. I'm invoking Occam's Razor: the real reason they gave up Catholicism was because no one could afford the wine for communion each week. That's my theory and I'm sticking with it. The reason it isn't mentioned in the Sagas is because expensive alcohol, like rain that falls sideways and weather that changes drastically every 30 minutes, is a part of everyday life in Iceland.

Anyway, customs only charged me for the overage and no penalty, but my name is now in the system. I can probably expect more attentive treatment in future.

Oh, it's you.
Vá!, og þú talar íslensku!
So I got outside in the cold and snow and slush and called the B&B Guesthouse. Svala was therewithin 10 minutes to pick me up. It took her a minute but then she recognised me and was happy to be able to talk to me in Icelandic. She even made an effort to speak more clearly and rephrase sentences if I didn't understand. She said she thought I wasn't going to make it due to the storm. Up until two hours before there'd been sudden massive winds and snow. It coated the windward side everything with an inch-thick layer of snow that she pointed out to me as we drove by the car rental area. The storm had gone away just as suddenly as it had arrived.

As we arrived at the guesthouse, I noticed the Stubbahús I'd explained to the smoking infidels in the Diaries I, Day 1 was conspicuously absent. Was this a smoking place now?

No. Some things transcend all cultures and fireworks misuse is certainly one of 'em. Some kids had blown the thing off the wall 19 days ago.

Tasty hot dogs are just across the road from the guesthouse After dumping my stuff in the same room as last time, I went across the street for a pylsa með öllu (hot dog with the works), soda water and Coke, hoping my buddy was working at the stand. He wasn't, but I got the stuff and had it along with the sviðasulta I'd picked up at the airport.

At 1830 it's still not completely dark. The sky is half filled with an eerie sort of twilight. Are we far enough from the solstice that the Sun's just going to hang around just behind the horizon? That would kill my aurora borealis plans, but the look is pretty neat.

Tonight we're gonna party like it's August, 2004
Where have all the drunkards gone?.
At 1930 I headed off to to Paddy's, where I'd expected everyone to be.

I'm an idiot. No one goes out that early. The barman/owner recognised me and was glad of the gift of an Augustiner beer straight from Munich and available nowhere else. I'm probably the only person on the planet who visits bars in different countries and brings beer for others' consumption.

Orn showed up and seemed surprised to see me. We chatted a while in Icelandic and English once the conversation got beyond my meagre abilities and it turns out he's doing quite well, having become the foreman on a construction site. Which one? The new power plant everyone's been protesting. NIMBY, you know. He's ready to complete the job on Saturday a week ahead of schedule. That's impressive enough but before he took over, it had been four weeks behind schedule. He'd also got a big, fat raise. Too bad he has so little time to do anything with the money due to a second job. Such is the norm here.

Are you serious?
You want to do what?
I mentioned to the guys that one of the reasons I'm leaving on the 5th is so that I can go to a Þorrablót in Munich with the Icelandic group there. Orn is serious about his roots and was surprised I'd even heard of this feast. After the laughs with the hákarl (rotten shark) last time, he was almost incredulous. When I told him I know what's served and I still wanted to go, he made me an offer I wasn't about to refuse. He, Óli, Hagrid and maybe some others are going to one in Reykjavík on Saturday. Guess who'll be there with them.

Paddy's was clearing out around 9:00 so I went back to the B&B to write up some of the previous intro and make notes. I watched some TV and made a grilled cheezy-hammy-sammy in a pan. You can't put those light butter substitutes in a pan and fry anything because the water separates and leaves a gummy mess. After scrubbing the gunk out of the pan I tried again and found that you can spread the stuff directly on the bread and then grill it in the pan.

I returned to Paddy's a couple hours later and others I'd met during my last trip had arrived, along with a noticeable number of young, pretty specimans of Viking womanhood. I met Dan and Jeremy, two Yanks who were sitting across the bar, and Dan and I began taking the piss out of each other. Meanwhile, some woman named Helga who'd earlier been talking with some guy at a table tried to get Dan to buy her a beer. After he walked away to talk to someone else, she tried to convince me that I wanted to shell out another 500kr with the sob story that she stayed because she thought Dan invited her over to buy her a beer and it looked like Dan and I were buddies so I really should buy her a beer. Yeah, right.

Raven-haired, big-blue-eyed Rósa had already come by once to warm her cold hands and she kept coming over to me. The chat was constantly changing between English (if the Yanks joined in or it I didn't understand something) or Icelandic if the Vikings were talking to each other. Rosa ended up giving me her number and wants me to call when I'm back in Keflavík. The way she said it sounded like she either wants to get very intimate very quickly, or she's hoping to have found someone to buy her beer all night. She's pretty, but at the tender age of 19 she's unlikely to outfox me: I haven't been that long without.

I mentioned this to Óli and according to him, while she'll drink quite happily if I'm buying, she's probably not just trying to con me out of an evening's worth of booze. "She doesn't think about your age or she would have walked away. Icelandic girls are pretty direct. She likes you." We shall see.

We all continued talking and joking and drinking until around 1:00 a.m. I said I was leaving for Reykjavík the next evening but I'd be back in a couple weeks. As I trudged through the snow and slush back to the guesthouse, I realised how little I'd drunk compared to the past few weeks and wondered if I really intended to keep up the pace of the last trip. Any attempts to do so would bring both my liver and my bank account to the very brink of existence.

Schladerer Williams Birne  

I couldn't sleep so I went on-line to check my mail and some sites.


Only a bottle of ice-cold Williams-Birne was there to keep me company.


1 Of course, if I'd had the sausage with me customs would've confiscated it, as I found out later. They didn't notice a few small Landjäger sticks. If Icelandic customs is reading this, I'm sorry. They never told us here in Munich we can't bring sausages and there are very few of your pamphlets to be found around these parts.
2 I hear you drooling, tidave.

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You, sir, are mistaken. by ti dave (4.00 / 1) #1 Tue Feb 08, 2005 at 07:25:11 AM EST
You did not, in fact, type Berentzen Apfelkorn. I remain drool-free.

I don't care if people hate my guts; I assume most of them do.
The important question is whether they are in a position to do anything about it. --W.S. Burroughs

The Iceland Diaries II - - Day 1 | 1 comment (1 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback