Iceland - Reykjavic

by Kimp 24. May 2013 05:11

Photo Blog

I must have been doing some low light photography before heading to Reykjavic. About 1/2 of these pictures turned out very light. I darkened them as must as I could. It's relatively easy to lighten photography, but very difficult to darken photography. Sorry for the poor picture quality. After I take a picture I start concentrating on the next picture and never stop to look at the one I just took.

I meet Jason in Iceland. Jason is one of my favorite people to travel with. We've been lots of places together and we have exactly the same travel style. I call it A2C2N2 pronounced "A two C two N two" which stands for Art, Architecture, Culture, Cuisine, Nature and Nightlife. We hit at least one of each area, each time we travel. He's one of a very small handful of people, whom I've meet, that have the interest, drive and stamina it takes to travel that way. He also has the "I'm on vacation" travel philosophy that I try to maintain. That means, I know that one or more really messed up things are going to happen, I don't know what they are going to be, nor when they are going to happen. I just know that they are going to happen, and when they do, I am just going to make the best of it, laugh it off and not let it bother me, cause I'm on vacation.

My history
Odur Burenson, a jazz drummer from Reykjavik Iceland, was one of my good friends at music college. His father was the principle Trombone player for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. For some crazy reason, Odur thought that I had really good ears. I remember him taking me to several music stores in Boston to pick out new cymbals for him. Thirty years ago, a single top quality cymbal was often over a thousand dollars and I kept telling Odur that I wasn't comfortable picking out part of his kit for him. But he insisted. Cymbals are all hand made from multiple alloys of metal which yield a variety of distinct properties both within the same batch and between batches. So their sounds have acute to obtuse differences in them. I liken it to picking out a fine wine, which in the end, really comes down to personal taste. We spent about 4 different days going to different places, and he was taking notes as I described the sounds that I was hearing. In the end, he picked out the three that he liked and made me make the final decision. That was a great showing of respect on his part.

One time Odur's older brother came to visit. His brother always carried a flask full of whiskey with him and he poured it in whatever we were drinking. Morning coffee, something at the ice cream shop, McDonald's, it didn't seem to mater. I didn't really start drinking until I was about 25, so I didn't understand that, but he was really cool and I accepted it. None the less, this was Odur's brother, that he looked up to. Turns out, that's a part of their youth culture.

Beer was outlawed in Iceland until 1989 (pet dogs where also outlawed until about the same time), so hard liquor was what everybody drank before that. Now there are about 4 breweries with VIKING (always in all capital letters in a sans serif font) seeming to be the most prevalent. I sampled quite a few of those, and give it Craig's seal of approval.

Viking/Irish Blood Line
The first people in Iceland were Irish Monks who came migrated there around 700 A.D. because it was very peaceful on that very Northern rock. The Viking discovered Iceland around 850 and in the 870's there were lots of political issues in Scandinavia which started an Icelandic migration wave.  Many of those early settlers were Farmers and Irish people just looking for a peaceful place to live. They lived peacefully with the Viking's for about 20 years. Around 890 the Viking's wanted to expand their empire, so they built huge strong fleet's that took over nearly all of the European coastal area's, even all of the way across the Mediterranean. Iceland was no exception and the non-viking Icelanders became slaves to the Viking ruling elite.

It's been said that the Vikings often had children with their Irish slaves and I can definitely see the blend of Viking and the Irish heritage in Icelandic people. For the most part, they appear to be a hearty people, with a hearty appetite for food and fun. Having the longest continuous democracy of any country, they are a fiercely independent society and voice-tress against anything that hints of governmental control of the people.

It has been said that if a Viking from 1000 years ago came back, he would be able to understand and speak fluent Icelandic. The language stayed true to its old Norse lingo. And Iceland still uses the Nordic naming convention. If you are a boy and your father was named Carl, your last name will be Carlson and if you are a girl, your last name would be Carlsdattr. That makes tracing Icelandic linage, very difficult.

Today Iceland's population is around 300,000 with more then 200,000 living in Reykjavik. There isn't a single train in all of Iceland (most people own cars), yet it's a very easy city to get around in. And there appears to be a preference for four wheel drive vehicles with extra large tires.
The heat and smell of Iceland
Reykjavik means smoky bay. That's from all of the thermal activity in the area. The heating is very cheap, all they need to do is pump the water. In order to get cold water they need to cool it. It's the only place in the world where the water needs to be cooled to get cold water. I didn't find that out until Jason told me. I saw an air-conditioning truck driving down the road and was laughing at it. "Why would they need air conditioning in Iceland?". Jason say's, "They need it to cool their water."

The prevalent smell in Iceland is from the minerals in their water. The tap water is actually very healthy, but the sulfur content makes it smell like rotten eggs and it has a strong mineral taste. I was used to that from Ohio water, where I grew up and didn't notice it at first, till Jason mentioned it, then it was very noticeable. The closed up apartment we stayed at, smelled like someone had hidden two dozen eggs under the furniture at Easter, two years ago, and only found a dozen of them. Jason's term was, "The whole place smells like rotten eggs and farts."

Icelandic people have the longest longevity of any culture. They are the only country in the world that has free public heath care and doesn't have a single private health care insurance company. They are also well educated, being the only country in the world that has free public college and not a single private college.

The one down side is that they're a debt driven economy. When debit was cheap they max'd it out, and now that debit is expensive, they're paying a high price for the learning experience.
Modern Artistic Meca
Reykjavik is full of artistic people driven by youthful energy. It's color is ever changing and part's of it are as exotic as the landscape. If you are easy going and care free at heart, it kind of fits like a glove. Coupled with friendliness, a very low crime rate, and long hours of sunlight make for a wonderful care free experience any time of day or night. 

Most of their art is post WWII, I found it to be young, modern, colorful, meaningful and vibrant. Even the statues look modern. Not much that is classical nor neoclassical that I noticed.

Most construction looks like post WWII and not much other then the color choice and metal roofs stuck out. Driving through Iceland, the only naturally occurring colors I saw were black, grey and various shades of brown. No trees and most of the small amount of grass they have is brown. They make up for that in the colors that they paint their buildings. Bright and vibrant, yet tasteful are the adjectives that quickly came to mind. Lots of color in even their tiny fishing villages. The metal roofs are brightly colored as well and I was told by a local, that if were went to climb the top of the church steeple and look down at Reykjavik, the tops of the roofs would be just as colorful as the buildings are from the street.

There are two main types of food in Iceland. There's lots of very healthy fish and there is lots of very hearty fat food, with little in-between. I would have to say that their heavy dish's rival only the United States in grams of fat per serving. Not many milk cows in Iceland. The prevalent dairy product seemed to be cheese and they put the cheese on thick.

They also like lots of sweet flavor. Seems like there is some type of sweet sauce on just about every meat sandwich. It's kind of like a very sweet hollandaise sauce. I like sweet things, so I was favoring it the time.
Food only comes at one price level, very high. The highest I have ever seen. Probably driven by everything, except fish, being imported from great distances. Even the fish is expensive, because they can export it at high prices. Why sell cheap locally, when the rest of the world will pay a premium for your product.

Any restaurant lunch (lunches are as hearty as dinner) or dinner meal is $50 minimum. Breakfast is on the hearty side and usually runs about $20. I was averaging about $100 per day in just food, which was one restaurant meal, something like Pizza or a sub sandwich, a few snacks or pastries and beer. Beer is about $10 each, but of very good quality.

Saturday night, we ate at the trendy restaurant that was run by the top chief in Iceland. Absolutely the best fish I have ever eaten. I tried to order Ocean Perch which looked like it was on the menu, but was instructed that was not on the menu and told that I needed to pick from the main courses, which did not have Ocean Perch as a selection. Not sure what that was all about, maybe Ocean Perch is his signature dish, but they don't serve that on Saturday, which would be the day you can't hardly find a table at his restaurant. Or maybe she just didn't like the way I looked. I also had a large bowl of spicy fish soup that left me wanting a lot more. Very small main course portion and two small beers (I called them baby beers) ran a little over a $100 for me. We were way under-dressed, but nobody seemed to care or even pay any undo attention to us.

Place's to stay
Hotels are expensive. Since Jason was meeting me there, we rented an apartment from a local artist for $160 a day and split it. Very nice place, I loved it a lot, took lots of pictures of the apartment, could easily live there and be very happy.

Arctic Circle
Sunset 11:15 P.M. Sun Rise 3:30 A.M. in late May. The very top of Iceland is just on the Arctic circle, so they don't have midnight sun, but for the most part, the sun just kind of goes down and then comes back up. You almost don't even notice the sunset, as it doesn't get very dark outside. Jason and I kept a very late schedule the whole time we were there.
I quickly discovered that a 60% chance of rain means some type of rain for about 6 minutes then not raining for about 4 minutes, then repeat the cycle. I could tell you the chance of rain on any given day, just by looking at my watch. There was a thick fluffy cloud cover the entire time we were there, however it was still very bright out. The sun is so strong up there, that it's light cuts through the clouds. Even when it was raining, the light was strong. Most of the rainfall was lite, but did accumulate on our clothes making them fairly wet. Wool seems to be a prevalent material in most Icelandic outer garments, since it stays warm and comfortable, even when it's wet. Usually May is in the Mid 50's, but it was in the mid-40's the whole time were were there. It felt like good fall football weather to me.

Mostly Lutheran/Protestant with a small Catholic (probably Irish) contingent. Making a comeback is a revival variation of an old Norse pagan religion, but still only about 0.5% in strength. 


Iceland's nightlife culture, called the Runtur (means Round Tour) goes like this. Come home from work and rest up. Around 10 or 11 P.M., start drinking at home. Around 12:30 A.M. make an early hook-up at a local establishment. Meet some people, then about every thirty minutes, move down the street to the next place. Repeat, occasionally purchasing an expensive drink along the way. Most Icelanders nurse only two drinks the entire night. About 4:30 A.M. when the bands stop playing (lots of live bands with no cover), maybe think about starting to leave. Around 5:30 A.M. make your final hook-up for the night, go get something to eat at the pizza place or at one of the many food trucks that are lining the square, then head home. The walk home is going to feel like noon because the sun will be blaring.

The best Runtur is any Friday, but Saturday was pretty good too. Jason and I did a 1/2 of one on Friday and a whole one on Saturday.

We created an Americanized friendly Icelandic method. We walked around town listening for live bands that were playing. They play very loud, so it's easy to hear them from the street. When we heard one that sounded like we could sit and listen all night, we went in. We started around 11:30 P.M., so most places were dead and it was easy to get a prime seat for viewing the band and the small dance floor at the same time. About 12:30 A.M. the people start to show up and after that it is wall to wall people until around 5:00 A.M. We got to see everybody in Iceland because they all bar hopped and we just stayed in one place.

Long Island Girls
Early on Saturday night Jason and I ran into two Long Island girls on the street. They were looking for a very artsy bistro turned bar that Jason and I had hung out at, for a while on Friday night. We chatted with those girls for a while and they wanted pictures with us (I have no clue why). One was very cute, but it quickly became apparent to me, that they could leave NYC, but couldn't find it in themselves to leave the NYC attitude in NYC. If it wasn't for that, I might have asked to join them and had at least one beer before going on our way. Instead, as the pain built up in my head, I found myself trying to get rid of them quickly. I told them that they were going to love that place, point it out, and quickly turned to make an escape.

Reykjavik has lots of very artistic Bistro's. Kind of like a really nice and comfortable coffee shop with great food during the day, that turn's into a bar at night. It's an, all day, kind of comfortable.

Saturday Night Live Skit
On Friday night,Jason and I hit a great band at a large bar named Finlandia. Just Guitar, Bass and drum's playing mostly 70's era music. Those guys were great and we really enjoyed the music along with all of the other activities that were going on around them. We left without our hearing, a little light headed, and with big smiles.

Saturday, we saw a band setting up there, and headed in for what we thought was going to be another great night. Five pieces (drum, keyboard, bass, guitar and vocal). The vocalist had a very colorful personality that started with his Brown plaid suit jacket that didn't match anything else, that he was wearing, nor his Irish red hair, and ended with a vibrant smile. He came over to me, shook my hand, and told me that this was the best band in all of Iceland. He said that normally they play for thousands. Jason and I likened it to being in a small pub in London and in walk the Rolling Stone's.

As soon as they started playing, it turned into a really funny Saturday Night Live skit. Nothing, even remotely, had any quality to it. The drummer and keyboardist may have been good, but there was so much craziness going on around them, that it completely masked anything they were doing. One of their first tunes was a fairly simple, Van Morrison's, "Brown Eyed Girl". The bass player was out of tune and off beat. The vocal was in English, but with a comically thick Icelandic accent and very pitchy at times. And I'm pretty sure that the guitar player was playing a different tune in a different key. Yet, the charismatic lead man was grooving like it was perfect.

I don't remember the name of the next song, but it had a four part harmony in it. Whew, that harmonization would have had any dog within 20 miles crying. It also had a guitar solo. True to form, the solo starts out in a different key, different tempo and was unlike anything I've ever heard. The only saving grace was that his amp went down half way through his solo and he just kind of stood there dumbfounded while the rest of the band was trying to keep playing and troubleshoot the equipment at the same time.

Jason and I were crying tears of laughter for three songs and were trying really hard to make it through a whole set before leaving. About the 4th song, the novelty had worn off and we headed out mid song to find a place to sooth and repair our damaged ears.

Earlier in the day, I had remembered walking past an Irish pub that had a sign advertising live music on it. I have been to lots of Irish pub's all over the world and the few that have live music are usually nice quaint dueling guitars or something like that. This was no exception and luckily we got there just before the big crowd's started to arrive. These two guys were very high quality and one of them was tour quality in my opinion. After hitting the jackpot a second night, we settled in for a very nice evening.

Irish Bar hilariousness
I have been to Irish bars in at least 20 different countries and all have just about the same business model. Very comfortable, the owner is usually a old cantankerous Irish dude that comes complete with a strong Irish attitude. If you make the mistake of ordering french fries instead of chip's you'll get what I call the "Chip's are not French fries lecture.". They appear to dislike the French. On weekends they are the best sport's bar's, people always speak English in them, Monday night is usually music night (bring your own instrument and sit in), Tuesday night is Quiz night and they have an occasional mystery night (act out a part to help solve a mystery). The all have an Irish green color theme and they always have Guinness on tap.

I walk into the Icelandic Irish Bar. Green color theme and a very large Guinness sign right out front beside the main door. I walk right up to the bartender and order up two Guinness, with a big smile. The bartender gives me a very confused look and ask's me to repeat what I'm ordering. I'm thinking that maybe I was supposed to day Pint's, cause they seem to like to hear the word Pint inside of 1/2 liter.  So, I hold up two fingers and loudly say, "Two Pints of Guinness", with a bigger smile. He turns to the other bartender and says, "Dude, do we serve Guinness?". Dude, say's, "Nope, we old have Viking, Viking amber, and Viking stout. But the Viking stout is just like Guinness.", and their ain't no smile on his face. "Fine, I'll take two VIKING Stout's." It was a good beer, but wasn't anything like the beer created by Arthur Guinness. Guinness can only be made in one place and there is no substitute.

Captain's Hat
From around 2 A.M. until 4 A.M. is seemed like hundreds of people were streaming past our table every ten minutes, either on the way in or on the way out. Several were wearing sailor's captains hat. The kind that a wealthy sail boat captain would wear. Except they looked more like the relaxed captain in the "Captian and Tennille" musical duo.  One stopped by to shake my hand and Jason asked him what was up with the captain's hat's. He said it was college graduation. So we were guessing that's a tradition at the local college.
Just after Jason and I arrived at the Irish Bar a beautiful Icelandic women in her thirties sat in with the duo and sang Dolly Parton's Jolene. She had a pleasing voice and sung it very well. She was like a sophisticated southern country girl trapped in a world at was anything but that. About 4 A.M. she sat down at our table across from Jason and they chatted it up for quite a while. She was saying that Reykjavik has a small town feel to it, most of the bar people know each other and they're kind of like family. There are always a lot of foreign people passing through, and they enjoy hanging out, with many different types of people. Hearing her perspective, warmed my heart.

The boat

At 5 A.M. Jason and I headed to the square to get something to eat. There were a dozen portable food truck's there. It was one of the rare times where making a decision of what to eat, was confusing to me. I was talking to a girl next to me in line at one truck and she pointed and said, "The best place to eat is over there.". I asked her what to get, and she said, "I got the boat yesterday, and it was awesome. I would get one today too, if I hadn't have gotten one yesterday.". I headed over there like superman. Able to leap from truck to truck in a single bound.

I was very tipsy, but I think mostly from being tired. There were two people in front of me in line, but I was starving and tried to order in front of them, by yelling over them. As son as I heard, "Who's next?". "I'D LIKE TWO BOATS PLEASE!!!". Very confused the minimum wage worker asks me to repeat my order. In rapid succession, "I'd like two boats, I was told to get a boat cause it was the best, I just need a boat, could you please get me two boats? I really need a boat!!!". The worker looks like she is about to cry, when I glance at the menu and see that there are a bunch of items with the word boat behind them (I realized that boat means make a sub and put everything on it). Quickly picking one at random, I yell, "Ohhhh, Pizza Boat?!?. Yea give me two Pizza boats. I'd really like to have two Pizza boats, please :) That's just what I need!". I'm even leaning over the two short people in front of me and have my finger on the menu next to Pizza boat, even though the menu was in a place where the worker couldn't see it, nor what I was pointing at. She made them in about 1/2 a second just to get me away from there. Later, Jason told me I was entertaining the whole crowd in the square. They were all laughing at me.

It dawned on me the next day, that the girl telling me to get the boat, may have just been trying to get rid of me.



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