Monday, June 6, 2011

IS - Northwest

June 6                   Monday               Iceland                 Northwest                                                         

My best guess was that the Cold War was back on again.  That was my thought as I emerged from sleep to the sound of a loud jet rocketing overhead.  Given the nature of the fjord’s mountain walls: I had no idea if the jet was tens of thousands of feet above or if it was just alongside the mountaintops; but it was certainly a bit unexpected for this area.

The weather had warmed & it was bright and sunny.  I made it into a bank for my first time.  Up to this point I hadn’t used cash… and really I didn’t expect I’d ever need to.  Iceland has embraced the credit card with spectacular zeal: they use it for even the smallest of purchases.  I really just wanted some cash because I like to collect the currencies of countries I visit, and with the Euro a potential possibility in Iceland’s future: there may not be too many opportunities to get some krónur.  Plus it gave me opportunity to gawk at two spectacularly bank tellers.  The one looked like a downright doppelganger to a girl I’ve had a crush on since I was in kindergarten, albeit with a bit more red to her hair.  The other girl was also a redhead.  Steve: I suggest you take a vacation and travel to this bank.  Sure enough I got the looks-like-childhood-crush teller & just sort of fumbled my words, got my cash, and was out of there.  So that was #1.

#2… zooming along the Ring Road, my next real stop is in Blönduós for lunch at the Pottunrinn og Pannan.  In my absolute blindness to noticing that the only building – apart from the petrol station & odd church – facing the Ring Road was this very restaurant, I ended up getting a rather nice self-tour of both sides of Blönduós’ dividing river.  Once I found the restaurant I sat down and ordered yet another Indian dish, as the owner also hails from the Subcontinent.  Up until the last few minutes: I was the only customer in there & the waitress is exceptionally cute… not hot; not beautiful; but really really cute.  Great eye contact, cute smile, clearly nothing else to do as I’m the only customer, obviously waiting for me to strike up a conversation… and I’m too enamored in my book trying to figure out where I’m going to spend the night: do I drive all the way to Reykjavik?  Do I find somewhere before then?  I could’ve opened conversation with tourist fare – any interesting sites; how do I pronounce this; how do you say... – or I could’ve gone with usual banter with girls in their 20s – are you in school; what do you study; what are your hobbies – or even the potentially sleazy inquiry of whether she has any suggestions on where I spend the night.   I could’ve even wussed out and at least wrote my email on the receipt or left a card on the table… better than nothing.  Countless opportunities for me to say something and: nope.  As another backpacker would describe it oh so eloquently once I arrived in Reykjavik: I cockblocked myself.

Speaking of attractive people… Iceland has a decided lack of them.  Sorry, Iceland, but I think too many centuries of genetic isolation & high-latitude living has not made for the most alluring of peoples; and I include both men & women in that description.  Overall most Icelanders actually tend to be quite trim and in shape, but it’s really more in the faces.  Of course, there are exceptions… like the several in the previous paragraphs.  But by and large this isn’t a go-to country for singles of either gender.

Along my drive I also found my missing lenscap.  That very morning, in Akuryeri, I bought two new lenscaps… and now my missing one turns up under the drivers’ seat; just sitting right there beneath it in plain view.  I had torn that area apart – I have no idea how I missed it.

Then about an hour later I lose my big lenscap, which goes to my L-series (read: expensive) lens.  I never did end up finding it by the car the next day.  I have absolutely no idea where they were hiding… seriously, this car eats lenscaps.

Arriving in Reykjavik I made my way to Guesthouse Baldursbrá; a name which conjures images of a demonic creature wearing a bra of smiting.  I picked this place because it was central and had wifi, whereas the hostel had comparable amenities (including wifi) but was too far out of town for me to consider with such a limited schedule.  The French couple running the hostel were phenomenally friendly… to the point that when he was talking to a woman at the house I was staying in: I somewhat thought she was an employee.  After I struck up conversation with her: I discovered she was just a Swiss backpacker (from Zürich) who had been there for one day…  the couple running this place are so friendly that they instantly treat you like they’ve known you for years.

Also, along the way I’d gotten used to leaving my shoes at the door, even in the hotels and guesthouses.  I am hard pressed to think of a single country I’ve been to where it isn’t customary to take off your shoes upon entering a home.  With the USA formed by people from these very countries, you’d think that the American Forefathers left just because they wanted to wear their shoes indoors.

For the third night in a row, I arrived at an almost booked-out place and nabbed a double for the price of a single.  As soon as I unloaded my gear, I opted to take advantage of the midnight sun and head out to explore the town.  Reykjavik is much larger than I’d anticipated… it’s no NYC or even DC, but it’d certainly give Midwestern cities a run for their money.  It has a cute downtown, but it seems Iceland isn’t quite sure what to do with it – whether it should be traditional or modern – and it sometimes seems a bit awkwardly oriented as a result.

Speaking of orientation…  I’ve always been exceptionally adept at always knowing where my cardinal directions are, but with the sun shifting around the northern horizon, my sense of direction has become virtually nonexistent here.  Not to say I can complain: the fact that I can enjoy several hours of simultaneous sunrise and sunset is a definite bonus.  It creates a really weird but beautiful effect: there’s a huge swath of green and purples in the sky as compared to the usual strength of orange and yellow in a sunrise/sunset at lower latitudes.  This has been one of the biggest causes of so many late nights in Iceland… and also so many occurrences of sleeping throughout much of the morning.

My dinner was at Hornið, as I’d been craving Italian.  Arriving at minutes after 10pm, however, meant that the kitchen had closed… all I could get was pizza.  Had I known that the country’s most popular food option – a hotdog cart just next door – was what it was; I’d have opted for that… while Hornið apparently gets good marks for its Italian fare; I have to say it had pretty lousy pizza.  The waitress also seemed rather disinterested and just downright eager to go home (the place closed at 11pm).  I suppose that’s a reasonable issue, but none of it gave me a favorable opinion of the place.

It was amusing to see Icelanders in an urban setting.  Their fashion is still generally more like what we see on the American continent, but on occasion some of the younger folk are more Euro-clad in designer jeans (men) or , for women: outright crazy-looking attire where I have to wonder if they’re actually ladies of the night.  But by and large, the typical guy is pretty nondescript other than it looking like he just rolled out of bed, with his hair oriented in all directions; or in some cases they have a part on the side of their head with hair that’s a bit too long in the back & WAY too much grease.  The typical girl is wearing the wackiest glasses I’ve ever seen – looking like a hipster – and there is a distinct fondness for skirts over full stockings.  In many cases the stockings are also out of this world.

My journey took me past both the Icelandic Parliament as well as the US Embassy.  I loved the disparity between the two… here I could walk right up to the Parliament.  Actually, the next day when I passed it by there were work crews just leaving the door wide open – I could’ve single-handedly invaded Iceland and conquered its administrative center.  Time was that was all it took.  I could walk right up and draw faces in the windows if I wanted to.  No security; nada.  Then I pass by the US Embassy, located just near my lodging… you can spot it by the masses of concrete barriers and the sentry patrolling back and forth in front of the door.  Oh and the bars on the windows.  It’s an outright fortress in a city (nay, country) where a violent night is one where a fist fight breaks out near closing time at a bar.

As I wondered about, my camera itself began to give me its first signs of trouble… it was making a sound as if the motor or shutter were straining – almost as if the camera was wheezing with every click.  No sooner did I start noticing the sound did I take a photo & the shutter didn’t complete its movement… it gives me an error code 20.  I turn it off & on and it fixes itself… it also takes the photo; and overall it kept working with only the momentary hiccup where I turn it off/on again.  So still working, but I knew I needed to look into other options.  I’d kind of been thinking of getting a new camera, anyway. 

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