Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Take thy vitamins

I must plug the Vitamin String Quartet here.

They are a string quartet, obviously, but what makes them unusual is that they only play arrangements of popular songs - everything from The Fray to Shania Twain to Guns N' Roses.

Reallay, you say. Yes, really! say I. And they pull it off quite well, too.

My personal favorites: Enya's "Boadicea" and Coldplay's "X&Y."

Here, have a listen. If you can't see it in your RSS readers, there is a playlist below, or you can look them up on iTunes for a way better selection of tracks than they have on Project Playlist.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"I'm coming home to my city by the bay..."

Clear, been-raining air on my face and a nearing ocean - finally I am not cold - I can just stick my hands in my pockets and let my legs WALK and not have to think, or think about whatever I want -
One careful foot
I walk a straight line
under the edge of the awnings,
imagining those shuddering drops of rainwater
landing on my part
and then how I would send them off the tip
of my nose
with an inexplicable bob of the head...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Enter E. and A.

[Introduced here as the nameless roadtripping companions]

E., who had the Japanese roommate at the hostel who brushed his teeth for ten minutes at a time. Twenty-one and an economic consultant in New York. Wire frame glasses and a concentrating expression. Looks sort of like a grown-up Bleeker. Studied math at Reed. Favorite drink is soy milk - says getting it for free at work is the best thing his company could possibly offer, and the fact that it's mine as well must be why we get along. Very intelligent, sardonic, and (I suspect) kind.

A. is the only person with his name in all of Iceland (we look him up in the phone book, which is for the whole country and goes alphabetically by first name). Nineteen, a freshman at Northeastern because he took a gap year to travel. He's skinny and has a long neck, dark hair, slightly protruding ears, and an easy sense of humor. He made himself a Thanksgiving dinner in the hostel kitchen. His suitcase, whence he offers Absolut, is "embarassingly large." One of those people who by virtue of their expressions and way of speaking seems perpetually stoned.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Early Christmas present for you Blogger users

Let it snow! :)

Turkey Day in Ísland

Thanksgiving Thursday was another walking day. I had a solitary breakfast at the hostel, then after sunrise I walked the two miles or so along the sea to Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik. I was pretty freaking cold, despite my layers [boots with hiking socks, tights and thermal leggings under jeans, camisole, t-shirt, light cotton sweater, medium-weight wool sweater, peacoat, Earflap Hat, clan scarf, and gloves], but it is interesting to see the more industrial part of town. I am firmly of the opinion that one cannot get the real flavor of a country by seeing just The Sights.

Here is Laugavegur:

A lot of the stores have that intimidating "our crap is expensive" look - you know, where there's a lot of empty space in the store and everything is very carefully arranged and the salespeople are very well-dressed. I check out the ones that don't, including several awesome vintage stores. One has a strapless pale pink satin 80s number that I am very taken with, especially with The Boots and tights, but it is (sorrow) ~ $70. I buy two CDs at a cool record store - one based solely on the cover art, and the other a múm album I've heard in part before.

I have some pad thai for lunch (sampling the local cuisine, that's how I roll) and continue browsing and wandering. I stumble upon a magnificent used bookstore that is practically overflowing with books - you actually can't go down some aisles because they are stacked full of books. There are a couple Americans in there whom I almost wish a happy Thanksgiving, but I don't have the nerve. I briefly browse in a surf/skate shop and laugh at the idea of buying something Billabong in Iceland to bring back to California.

I've overcome my inhibitions enough to photograph these bling halskædes in a clothing/accessories shop:

My game for the day (for the rest of the trip, actually) is seeing how far I can make it through an encounter without exposing myself as a foreigner. It's pretty easy; I can return a salesperson's greeting and thank them in Icelandic, and if I know the price of an item I don't have to understand them when they ring me up. A vague smile and a shake of the head usually suffices for the second salesperson question (you know, "Are you looking for anything in particular?" or "Can I help you find anything?").

Some street art from the area:

Yes, instructions for different methods of tying a tie!

The lava is made out of huge sequins that glittered when it rippled in the wind. There is another building with a black side decorated similarly with gigantic silver sequins to look like a snow-capped mountain, but it's too dark for a picture by the time I see it.

Here and there:

These beautiful mountains stand on several sides of the city - you can almost always see them.

The wind around sundown is unbelievable - you pretty much have to do a vector addition problem every time you want to walk in a straight line. I hear later that flights had trouble landing.

After dark, I end up back at the City Pond catching the bus back to the hostel.

Once back in my room, I nap until about nine (darn jet lag). After I wake up, I check my e-mail on the hostel computers and make small talk with the group of Germans in the lobby (YES - opportunity to use German, check!).

I'm looking at the postcards when I hear a couple American guys talking to the woman at the front desk. I'm getting impatient about this whole meeting-people thing, so I get up the nerve to approach them with something like, "I heard American accents, so I had to wish you a happy Thanksgiving."

I find out they came separately and just met; one of them is from New York and the other is from Santa Cruz (which is near San Francisco, if you didn't know - sweet coincidence). We talk a little about why we're here, how long, what we're doing, blah blah, and it turns out they're planning a road trip for Friday to Sunday.

I don't really have solid plans, though I know how to take a bus and/or ferry to a couple towns in other regions that I've picked out from guidebooks. So when they invite me along on the road trip, I say yes right away. Companions and a trip split three ways? I can recognize an adventure when it lands in my lap.

We make our plans that night. We'll do the Golden Circle tomorrow - a route out of Reykjavík that takes you through three natural attractions in the western interior - then drive along the southern coast until we reach the town of Vík. On Saturday, we'll drive to Höfn, on the southeastern tip of Iceland. On Sunday we'll come back to Reykjavík along the coast. We agree to meet our rental car tomorrow morning around eight-fifteen.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Resisting the urge to make an "honest to blog" pun

The Honest to God meme, from the ever-gracious Sarah Louise

List 10 honest things about yourself.
Pass around some linky love, seven to be honest.

1) I can kind of see myself raising children - but the thought of actually bearing them? Terrifying!

2) I have a packet of saffron pinned to my bulletin board. Intended for Cornish saffron cake. Well, cupcakes, actually. But it's been a month and a half since the last batch of cupcakes.

3) I hate when people think that being hospitable means you can't leave a person alone.

4) I know that I make past experiences into more than they actually were, and I dislike that. It makes me feel like I can't trust myself.

5) Of the four full-length works we were assigned in my German literature class, I read one in German, one in English, parts of one in English, and one not at all.

6) I think my respect for the advice of certain friends has been undermined by the fact that they counseled me against Iceland and it turned out to be the best thing I've done all year.

7) I am good at tricking myself into thinking that I dislike people whom I actually only envy.

8) For several years, dancing professionally was my aim in life. Ell-o-ell.

9) I used to be in a Facebook group called something like, "My room is cleanest the night before a paper's due." It is so true of me - when I have a big assignment due, I go all out procrastinating. I write letters, clean dishes, vacuum, dust, do laundry, finish pleasure reading books, clear out my feed reader, re-initiate online contact with old friends...the list is endless.

10) My bookends are a bottle of rosewater, a mug of cold forgotten chamomile tea, a tub of lotion, and a tea-chalice thing my sister brought me from Morocco.

I tag:
Rebecca Joy
The Ballerina

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day the First, Part the Second

The tower that I see up on the hill looks like this:

I don't immediately recognize it as the famous Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrímur's church), which is the tallest structure in Rekyjavík. This is what it looks like without the scaffolding.

In front there is a statue of Leifr Eiríksson, or Leif Ericson, that the U.S. gave to Iceland for the 1000th birthday of Iceland's parliament, Alþingi (it was founded in 930 and is the oldest parliamentary body in the world).

Inside, the church is sparse - it feels like a very high-ceilinged cave.

The altar:

The baptismal font (thank you, Sarah Louise!):

The Japanese tourists who made me feel like way less of a tourist (they were taking about five pictures to every one I took):

The pulpit!:

The organ:

There is an organist pounding away at that beast the whole time I'm in the church, even over the sounds of construction (but hey, if any instrument could compete with construction noise, it'd be this one, right?). He alternates rather alarmingly between stereotypical apocalyptic organ music and this quieter, cheery, carnival-sounding stuff.

After getting about two hours of sleep Monday night, and almost none on the plane, I'm starting to feel pretty tired, and I'm in no hurry to go back out into the cold. I sit down in a pew and rest my head on my backpack, and the next thing I know, the church is silent and I'm blinking up at a priest who is bending over me speaking Icelandic at me. He seems concerned, but I think I manage to get across that I am only jet-lagged.

Mentally patting myself on the back for managing a nap through the combined din of the construction and the crazy organist, I make my way back down the hill to a little bakery I passed earlier, which is now full of lunch-breakers. I warm up and wake up with a cup of coffee and a kleina (basically a dougnut in another shape; pretty traditional) and my feminist anthology. When I feel sufficiently revived, I resume wandering.

On a street with a number of foreign embassies/consulates, I visit another church - this one Catholic (Hallgrímskirkja is Lutheran) and much smaller. The flyers in the front tell me it is called Christ the King Cathedral, although later googling reveals its official name is now Landakotskirkja.

An old woman comes in as I'm looking at the bulletins and books for sale by the door. We are the only ones there. The quiet beep of my camera when I take a picture, the coin clanking in the donation box to pay for a postcard, the heavy door's hinges as I push it open on my way out - these are uncomfortable against the sound of the wind outside and the woman's tightly closed eyes.

I have been catching glimpses of the ocean all day. I hold onto the next one and walk until I reach the shore.

Looking over a wall into some backyards along the way.

And coming back out of the courtyard of an apartment complex.

I'm not sure where in Reykjavík I am when I hit the ocean, but hit it I do.

The requisite "I'm in Iceland taking a picture of myself and I can't believe how lucky I am" smirk. (I tried to make a nice smile, but being by the sea in Iceland isn't the kind of joyful that makes me grin.)

By this time, it's nearly three o'clock and the wind is getting colder. I figure out my way back to the bus line, but I am seriously regretting leaving my hat at the hostel. I find knees going numb a little alarming.

I do make it back to the hostel with all my extremities untouched by frostbite. I have a four-bed room, and no roommates as far as I can tell. The view from my bunk:

I fall asleep around five o'clock and wake up only once between then and the morning.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day the First - In which I am really tired

All right. So I find myself on Icelandic soil.

After getting my passport stamped, I wander around the terminal for a good ninety minutes, in which I am addressed in English for the first and last time while in Iceland (meaning: I did a good job blending in! Whoo!). That is a long time, I agree, but:

1) When visiting other countries, airports are wonderfully in-between places, kind of like the Wood Between the Worlds in The Magician's Nephew. Think of it as dipping your feet in the water before you get all the way in.

2) The stores were full of Icelandic stuff. And even though I was about to step out into Iceland, where ALL the stores would be full of Icelandic stuff, it was too much cool for my exhausted brain to process any faster.

I change my dollars for Icelandic krónur and buy a little container of Skyr, this yogurt-like product that I had heard described as a) delicious, and b) very Icelandic.

And each one comes with a folding spoon (see the white thing under the plastic lid?).

Keflavík, Iceland's international airport, is about forty-five minutes away from the capital, Reykjavík, and I've read that the way to go is to take a shuttle bus (only about $12). I buy a two-way ticket from a machine, and then hear two American women talking to the girl at the shuttle counter.

Apparently, because the shuttles are coordinated with arriving flights and we took too long to get out here, it's going to be six hours until the next shuttle comes.

Ugh. Yes, we were slightly distressed.

But one of the women notices another shuttle outside, which is apparently delivering crew members to their hotel, and has the idea of asking them if we can ride with them. "Sure," the driver says.

[n.b. Iceland is basically populated by angels. The Icelanders I encountered in my hours of need were the kindest, most helpful people I've ever met.]

Overjoyed, we throw our bags in the back and pile in. I savor my first Skyr and wonder, not for the last time, how it manages to be so healthy and still taste so rich. I learn that these two women (who look to be in their late twenties) are from New York. We talk a little about our plans, and I chat with a captain about San Francisco when he finds out that's where I'm from. "Why did you come here? If I had a week, I'd spend it in San Francisco!" he says with a grin.

The driver drops the crew off at their hotel, and then takes us to our respective lodgings. He's surprised when he finds out I'm not with the other two, and I tell him, Yes, I'm traveling alone, and I'm hoping to meet people, although I'll be all right if I don't. He (young and with a perfect British accent from living in England) says not to worry; he's spent a lot of time traveling alone in Europe and has never been lonely. Plus, he says with a smile, you're nineteen and you're quite good-looking - you'll have boys following you around. He even gives me his cell phone number and says to feel free to call him if I don't meet anyone or am just bored. (Incidentally, the reason he's free to show me around is that he's lost his job and today's his last day of work - economic crisis in action!)

So I drop my stuff at the hostel, grinning at how wonderfully everything is going already. It's too early to get my room, so I hop on a bus and ride until I catch a glimpse between buildings of a beautiful lake. I get off, realize there are a bunch of people my age also getting off, and decide to see where they're headed. At first I think it's to the National Museum of Iceland, but then I realize the University of Iceland campus is right there. First item on my list of sights seen in Iceland. Pretty small and plain.

I find my way back to the body of water that I saw. It's Tjörnin, or the City Pond, right in the middle of town, and it is lovely in the pre-dawn (~nine o'clock) light:

[click for big, as always]

Incidentally, the pond was completely frozen over by Monday. Brr.

I spend all of that day walking around, sight-seeing after this fashion: See something interesting-looking in the distance. Walk in that general direction until you get there. And that works well; I see a lot of interesting things while finding my way to The Sights that I wouldn't have found otherwise. Walking is such the best.

In the city centre there was a wall of children's faces.

And this gorgeous mural of the harbor at night with the northern lights. I don't know what the Icelandic text says, though I've got an Icelandic blogger in mind who ought to be able to tell me.

I figure out that the tower on the hill belongs to a famous church, and is just disguised by scaffolding at present. On my way up there, I go through what I think must be the Icelandic version of a run-down neighborhood.

A lot of the houses are made of this corrugated stuff.

Church and seaside photos tomorrow because this post is getting inordinately long. I promise, most of the days won't take this long to narrate!