14 March 2011

Iceland Observations

We’re on the plane home from Iceland as I’m writing this, and I’ve been thinking about how best to tell y’all about our little vacation. I may have mentioned that this was the first time David and I have ever taken a vacation that wasn’t tagged onto either one of my conferences or a family visit. It most definitely did not disappoint. In fact, if someone were to offer me a good enough job in Reykjavík right now, I’d jump at the chance to live there, at least for a while.

I think that the best way to break this down for blogging purposes is to do it as three separate posts. For this one, I’m going to make some general observations about Reykjavík and Iceland more generally in bullet format. Then I’ll do more of a travelogue, and then finally the yarn pr0n - best for last, of course.

  • · The Reykjavík capital area is comparable in size to the Portland (Maine, of course) metro area, so it’s a small enough city that it’s really easy to keep bumping into the same people over and over. More on that later.

  • · If you don’t believe me about how small a city it is, just look at this:

  • 031311Toy_Harbor

  • · Despite the fact that Icelandic delicacies are heavy on such wonders as svið, sviðasulta, hákarl, puffin, and whale, it actually wasn’t too terribly hard to find vegetarian fare, at least of the ovolacto variety.

  • · Food is pretty expensive there. So are clothes. Wool, on the other hand, is not.

  • The lopapeysa (lopi sweater) is probably the closest thing to a national costume that's currently and commonly used in any developed country these days. Seriously, people were wearing them everywhere. It's a beautiful thing to behold.

  • · Whenever I told Icelanders how much snow we got this winter and how cold winters typically get where we live, they always looked slightly horrified.

  • · Icelanders are so used to the snow melting within a day or two that they seem never to have gotten the concept of shoveling sidewalks. So naturally, we happen to get there just in time for a cold snap after a snowstorm.

  • · Icelanders, in our experience, are really nice people.

  • · They do not, however, know from spicy food. I asked for “Thai hot” at a noodle restaurant and got mildly piquant. At the Nepalese restaurant where we ate last night, they told us that they stopped keeping chili sauce on hand because nobody ever asked for it, and that they had really had to adjust their spice levels during their first few months open. They did come up with a good lime-chili pickle mix, though.

  • · Icelanders do, however, love to spend time in the municipal swimming pools, which are geothermally heated, have steam baths and saunas and wonderful “hot pots”, and are relatively inexpensive (We got free passes from our hotel).

  • · One Icelandic woman I spoke to told me they have a saying that all the problems of life are solved in a hot tub. I told her I couldn’t think of a better place for it.

  • Sitting in a hot tub during a snow squall is also pretty damned special.

  • · I’m kind of sorry that Maine doesn’t have any volcanic activity, because I would totally put a geothermal hot tub in my back yard.

  • · This is one that really surprised me: Iceland is every bit as much a car culture as the US. I think this is part of what made it feel really familiar. I told David at one point, “It’s like a weird alternate version of the US, where everyone speaks elvish.”

  • · Reykjavík’s bus service is actually a semi-decent way to get around if you don’t have a car or a tight schedule, but the drivers don’t stop if you don’t flag them down. Even if you’re clearly waiting in the bus shelter and they’re the only line that goes past that particular stop.

  • · The Icelandic language is really lovely – trilling and wispy at the same time – and I could listen to it all day long. I expect it probably helps to speak it if you pretend you’re Orlando Bloom and/or Cate Blanchett. Or Björk, of course.

  • · I am pretty firmly in the No camp when it comes to licorice, but I tried the Icelandic version and, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d ever truly convert, I’m at least likely to try it again.

  • · After skyr, I think caramel buttermilk may just be one of Iceland’s best contributions to the culinary world.

  • · In the 6 days we were there, Iceland gained about 22 minutes of daylight.

  • · It’s possible to wander around outside the Icelandic president’s summer cottage and not be shot, shooed away, or questioned.

  • 031211Presidential_Cottage

  • · I already miss it.



berlinBat said...

sounds like an awesome place to be! And the hot tubs make me kind of jealous..

btw, interestingly enough this post read in my google-reader as

"v!--[if gte mso 9]^ Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE HI v![endif]--^v!--[if gte mso 9]^"

, where I replaced < by v and > by ^.

Mel said...

Weird! I just checked Google reader and got the same. It has something to do with copying-pasting the text from Word into Blogger's compose mode, which dumped a ton of useless, and apparently glitchy, style information into the HTML code.

Lee Ann said...

You completely crack me up, Mel. Also, good to know about pasting Word into Blogger...since I'm about to try this baby out. I used to paste text from Textpad and use HTML for characters for that very reason, because Word dumped a whole load of crap into the post on my Roller blog if I copy-pasted from there.

And now I want to go to Iceland.

Yes, really, NOW.

MaureenTakoma said...

Looking forward to the yarn pron and hopefully pictures of lopi on the hoof, so to speak.

JelliDonut said...

I have wanted to go to Iceland for the last 25 years, since a friend came back with tales of 24/7 S-E-X. Now that I'm old and tired I want to go because of the yarn.

Mel said...

JelliDonut: I must be old and tired, then, because I read "S-E-X" as Stash Enhancing eXpedition. :-D

Alwen said...

What a beautiful place. I love the blue water.

margene said...

Thank you for sharing your impressions on Iceland. It's a place I'd love to visit someday and now I know I'd love it.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great place. I have a friend that has been sending me links of all kinds of wonderful things to do and see in Iceland... and we were going to go on a trip when one of us won a lottery. Sadly, she passed away near the end of the year. She would have loved it there, I know. Now, I need to go there more than ever. Thanks so much for your views; looking forward to the next reports!

Gerri in St Paul said...

Thanks for the great pic! I'm hoping to go this summer but feel a bit intimidated by the language. I look at place names and nothing sticks in my head! BTW, when you get to the yarn porn, can you talk about where you got the book? If there was more than one book, talk about them all!

Glad you had a good, true, vacation!