Tag Archives: Travel

Ég tala ekki íslensku.

(I don’t speak Icelandic.)

Despite that, people keep trying to speak it to me.

The flight over was uneventful, passengers seemingly evenly split among Americans, Brits and Icelanders. The chicly-attired and blonde (naturally) flight attendants were efficient and conspiratorial, offering sly winks as they managed our 6 hours across the Atlantic.

A couple times they’d try to talk to me in Icelandic, and I wonder what was setting them off, because they seemed to know when to use English otherwise for other people. Was it my attire? My hair and eye color? The way I carry myself?

Icelanders seem to be well put together, healthy within their age brackets, and the older women reminded me of my maternal grandmother in her grander days: perfumed and moisturized with blonde or white hair, chunky baubles and rings over stylish and elegant clothing.

After a smooth landing, we were quickly ushered through immigration, where I answered no questions and filled out no forms—do bad people just skip Iceland? Or do Icelanders trust people more?—and then it was onto a bus for a 2 minute ride to the main terminal to pick up luggage. The airport isn’t much bigger than your average small regional airport in the US, and it feels like one you’d find in the northern climates back in the states, with lots of wood and natural materials throughout. Mlis and Steph arrived shortly after and after a waltz through customs (again, no questions) the three of us joined our rental car representative to pick up our cars.

A note about Icelandic men… I’ve dated a couple guys of Scandinavian descent over the last couple of years, and the resemblance is uncanny. As we’ve been traveling around the city, I’ll startle as I notice someone walking or standing in my peripheral vision, only to realize that on second look, whoever he is, he isn’t anyone I know.

The women are—mostly true to stereotype—blonde, except for the one who lives above us and spends much of her time walking loudly on the concrete floor in clogs. I suspect she’s related to the Björk, and I shall call her Stömpi.

It’s chilly here, like Michigan in early December. Skies are a continual churn of sunny, slate gray and blue, and the water surrounding the city reflects that. I thought my windbreaker, hat and gloves might be overkill, but they’re not. Cars are mostly diesel, and either very small, or 4×4 trucks to deal with conditions outside the city. We have two 4x4s ourselves, and as we drove to Reykjavik from the airport in Keflavik, the primeval volcanic landscape coming to life under a dramatic sunrise just off the road provided a good potential reason for having them. A point in contrast: we also saw a Taco Bell.

After settling into the apartment below Stömpi, we took a brief walk around the city to find food, ending up at a place called Cafe Babalu, which was alarmingly stuffed with the women’s Canadian hockey team. The owners were just slightly concerned, quietly scurrying about and nervously glancing at their very full dining area. The city was pretty sleepy, so it was the only thing we could find open at that point on Sunday morning.

Dinner was after another walk around town (after crashing into a snoozing heap from jet lag in the afternoon), and we ended up at a decent place called Cafe Paris. We shared a goat cheese appetizer at the table, and had variants on cod and a lamb-based Icelandic goulash for dinner. The chocolate cake was a little too sugary for me, but it seems like every sweet is served with a side of real whipped cream which helps cut down on it. The cappuccino was excellent!

On the walk home, we stopped by a mini-market just down the street from us called 11-11. As I smartly loaded up my basket with breakfast items and then stylishly brought them to the cashier, he babbled at me in Icelandic. It turns out he was just asking if I wanted a plastic bag, but it’s the first time I’ve been somewhere I can’t actually speak the language. I paused, and instead of using the few words I do have, I switched into English and we all winced as the charade came to an end.

That said, everyone around here speaks English, and it’s all over the buildings, signs and windows. They seem to get that it’s probably in their best interest to be accommodating, because it’s probably few the number of people who are going to learn to speak a language only used by 300,000 people in the world.

However, tomorrow, I’m going to try.

[thethe-image-slider name=”Iceland Day 1″]

Reykjavík bound!

I’m sitting at the gate at Dulles in DC, awaiting my flight to Reykjavik. The reaction I’ve gotten so far has been “Iceland!” and then, “why Iceland?!” And the answer is “to understand Björk”. No, not really. Well, sort of.

Iceland seems like an exotic place to me: it’s on TOP of the world. Get out Google Earth (because who has a globe?) and center it on the equator. Spin the world around. Do you see Iceland? No, because it is ON TOP. Almost the arctic circle. Those mercator maps are full of lies! A volcanic ice ball of an island, fortunately heated by the gulf stream. It gets colder where I live, but our shortest day is 9 hours, not 2. Volcanic! Ice! I like juxtaposition. (I just hope no volcanos go off while I’m there.)

Roughly populated by the same number of people who live in my county back home, it’s hard to believe it’s an independent country. The only people they’ve gone to war with are the British, and that was over cod. There aren’t any trees, or at least not big ones. And if any of them are remotely like Björk, I suppose I’ll be surprised, but it probably won’t last long. (The people. I suspect the trees are very Björk-like.)

Exotic is hard for me to come by. I spent my teens in Japan, a place synonymous with exotic for many people. I get why that is, but to me, it’s also home. I understand how it works. I can read the signs and understand what people are saying. Once you get to that point, you can start to see the flaws in a place, and the exotic begins to wear thin. The rest of Europe seems reasonable: you’d want to go there to see history, or where your ancestors came from, or if it really lives up to all those chick flicks. There’s warm weather, beaches, vineyards, biergartens, which are very very nice, but not particularly exotic.

I haven’t been out of the states in over 9 years—Canada doesn’t count; I love Canada, and am of Canadian descent, even (mon Ecossais-Québécois grand-père, une travailleuse du Canada)—so I’ve been itching to go somewhere new and interesting, where few of my friends have gone before. I’m also curious to see if it provides any insight into what makes Björk tick. I get the cold, and the lack of sunlight, but is there more to it? Besides marrying Matthew Barney?

It’s been a long time coming. I decided I wanted to go there while driving back to university one night eighteen years ago, in the fall of 1993. I was speeding along through the crisp Fall night, the sounds of Björk’s solo debut filling the car, and I wanted to know… why.

So I’m off to Reykjavik and beyond to see what it’s about. I’m meeting up with old friends from university, and we’re going to a music festival during the latter part of the week we’re there. Of course Björk will be there, along with bands you’ve never heard of, AND Yoko Ono! I’m going to check out the hot springs, and hopefully a volcano or two. I can’t wait.

Ekki treysa nunnum.

20111008-185210.jpg