Friday, September 4, 2009

Day One: Iceland

The Flight
Sitting in the airport lounge I discovered that the drinks and food were free after much waiting and watching. The waiting and the watching didn't actually help mind you – nobody seemed to be aware of the protocol here. I finally asked the door staff, and when they informed me it was free – well that was my cue. In no time I was drinking beer out of tall wine glasses, for that extra classy appeal. You understand, of course.

But then the time came to board my plane, and I was forced out to rejoin the masses at gate 170. Why they weren't in the lounge too, I don't know.

Boarding the plane I found myself sitting “in front of the curtain.” What trickery is this? All I'm saying is that the arm rests were eight inches wide, and my butt had inches to spare in the seat. I don't recall paying extra for this ticket?

As I took off over the city of Toronto at night, I found myself enchanted my the lights – the roads becoming akin to Christmas trees stretching off into the distance. But then I realized, I had no idea what I was looking at. This was my city, and I couldn't make sense of it – and I was about to throw myself into new destinations around the world.

When I saw the glow of the open-roofed Sky Dome I was able to regain my bearings, and even locate where I lived last year on Ossington Avenue.

I phased in and out. Though it was only 9:00pm, I was acutely aware of the fact that when the plane landed in five hours it would magically be six o'clock in the morning. Sleep was something I needed and would be foolish to ignore. Also – I couldn't find the jack for my headphones, being wrongly instructed to shove it into the seats electrical outlet by the lady beside me. Without sound, what joys could be gleaned from Live Free, Die Hard?

Landing, and First Glimpses
Well, I made it. The trip is begun. I am in a new country I've never vistaed before, and that's just lovely. Now if only the lady at the FlyBus ticket window wasn't so grouchy – angrily telling people to just follow the crowd when they asked where the bus was boarded. She was soon miles away, and nearly forgotten though.

Bounding across the flat plains of Iceland, broken up by rock cracking through the fields, I was reminded of Newfoundland. A very flat Newfoundland, but Newfoundland none the less. There's a beautiful place to visit – just as I'm sure Iceland will be once the clouds clear. I'm here four days, they will clear won't they?

Stepping off the Bus
Arriving at the bus terminal, I grabbed every promotional map of the city that was available to me. And not just one copy, no, two or three. I hungrily shoved them into my pack with religious vigor that I'm sure I startled all number of passengers who probably thought me most mild mannered on the bus over. But there are few resources as important as free maps to the world traveller.

Geocaching at The Pearl
First order of business: as mentioned previously I was given some travel bugs used while geocaching. The basic idea is that you take a stuffed animal, or action figure, and attach a special dog tag to it that comes complete with a serial number. You then hike to a cache, and put it inside, so that someone else can pick it up and help it continue on its journey.

As it was early, not yet eight in the morning, I decided that the one and a half kilometer hike would be a good way to spend my time. After all, I was closer to The Pearl now than I probably ever would be again this trip.

After hiking down the street, carrying fifty pounds of gear, I finally reached the strange building with the fishy name. I'm not sure what it is – but it smells like a chocolate factory from time to time. On my way there I was passed by a ground of grade three children on a field trip, who no doubt said uncouth things about me in a language I could not understand – but the joke was on them as confusion set it – they watched as I circled an area of rocks over and over, until getting bored.

Once they were gone, I was able to grab the cache and drop off the travel bug. I took a plastic dinosaur, and left a little Canadian Flag patch behind for future visitors. Despite the fact it had threatened to rain the whole hike, it was pretty fun, and I remembered how much I liked this hobby I had neglected for years.

Now it was just one and a half kilometers back to the bus station, and another one and a half to the hostel. Where I now sit. Terrified after seeing the prices of food – even the hostel breakfast costs 1000 Icelandic Kronur – which I believe is around ten dollars. A hamburger down the street runs 2000.

Well, when I started this trip I was in the worst shape of my life. We'll see if any changes will occur due to constant heavy lifting, and malnutrition.

Into the Urban Expanse
I'm not going to lie to you – Reykjavik is a pretty small place. My walk from The Pearl (anybody else think of Lost every time they see that?) to the hostel took me from the complete south to the complete north of my map, and also covered about a third of the width. Only a quarter of the map is bordered in red (tourist zoning) and I've already seen a good chunk of that.

I wandered west from Aegisgata along Hafnarstraeti until it gently merged with Laugavegur. Laugavegur is a street so highly thought of that it has banners hanging over it reading “The Best Shopping Street.” or something else to that effect. You need to appreciate that while this may be no different from the Main Street of any middle-sized town you've been to (pubs, tattoo parlors, bookstores, etc.) it is all Iceland has got. Number One Shopping Street, you must remember.

The one thing that this city does have going for it is its street art. The first thing I saw leaving the hostel, was a brilliant piece along the side of an alley (somewhere a girl named Laura is shaking her head with disdain.) And from there, the pieces continued to pop up. Public parks had walls covered, schools were decorated, people even covered their own backyard fences with graffiti art. It's quite strange because you have to wonder – has it become so common place here that it has lost its guerrilla appeal? And if so how does that change the art? Nevertheless it added some colour and cheer to an otherwise grey day.

As I finished my walk at the end of the street (indicated by yet another banner for people entering from the other direction) I headed back to the hostel along Hverfisgata. It too was coloured yellow on my map (alone, aside for the street I took west) and so I thought it would be an adventure in consumerism and delightful people walking arm in arm. But no – it was empty, the shops were closed, and the only real activity was taking place in the local comic shop – where prices are 150% of what they are in Canada – let me never complain about comic prices again.

Halfway back I popped in a 10-11 grocery store – not to be confused with the 11-11, or the 7-11 back in North America. Never before have food prices flummoxed me so greatly. To understand you really need to walk the aisles and become one with the world seemingly created by a spastic with a pricing gun. Nothing, to my sensibilities, makes sense.

A loaf of bread costs 600 kronur (I'm still assuming the conversion is 100 -> 1CAD. Oh how I hope so.) A loaf of bread. The most common staple, easily created. Back home in Canada I was shocked when prices jumped to 2CAD. Bread here is so expensive that they literally sell it in a package of three slices. This package you can purchase for the lost price of only 258 kronur. Now to put this into perspective for you, a roasted chicken was on the shelf for 589 kronur. How does that make sense?! It was one of the cheapest things in the store! We are talking an entire roast bird! The full thing! While this may seem like a great deal to you, one worthy of celebration, I was – instead – wary, and fearful and as such passed by the poultry for a kiwi bread cake... thing... stopping only a moment to look at the pre-formed ground beef burgers packaged with buns – only 599 kronur for two patties and two buns! With the price of break these days, maybe that truly is a great deal. They did advertise it on the outside window, after all.

And then it was back to the hostel to lug my bag up to my room, unpack everything, so I could repack it in a more sensical manner, and then – typing. I've walked a good seven to ten kilometers today – I've had my fun. I'm sleepy. Perhaps a nap now will work wonders, provided it remains simply a nap. And on top of that I feel my Tokyo knee acting up again.

Well it's six thirty now. I've been awake for only half an hour, but I think I now know what I want to do with my time in Iceland. Unfortunately the weather doesn't look like it will be improving while I'm here – but skies always seem a bit bluer in memory, if not in photographs.

As for my future plans, check back. Now, how do I figure out this shower – and, the more I read, the quicker I can offload some books from my pack. That's encouragement if I've ever heard it.

Final quandary: Should I rip out the sections of “Let's Go: Europe” (a terribly heavy continental travel guide) that I won't be visiting? And if I do, who will that affect the structural integrity of the entire artifact?


  1. I remember the food prices in Iceland being both odd and terrifying. I beleive it's because they have to import so much of it.

    Sadly most of the food itself is also both odd and terrifying. If you go out to eat, stick to seafood is my advice.

  2. Yes, rip them out. F*!k integrity of the artifact; go for practicality. You'll have time on your hands while resting...get an exacto knife ;)

    Congrats on pulling it all off, by the way. You'll be in my thoughts. Keep the updates coming when you can!

    Buen viaje!

  3. Your blog is interesting. It was nice going through your blog. Keep it up the good work. Cheers :)

  4. The exchange rate btw (as of Sept. 5) is 100 Krona (ISK) = .86 Canadian (CAD) so it's close. Also, I wonder if the high costs are a result of Iceland being the first nation to almost declare bankruptcy when the global recession. I guess the first thing that people stop buying when the economy colapses is Bjork albulms.

  5. Poor crazy Bjork - how will she survive? I wonder if she's huge in Iceland, or if it's like Celine Dion where no one cares until you cross the border.

  6. I just heard how Bjork performed a concert on a raft in a circle lake / pit and people surrounded her. So I guess they love her here indeed.


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