This afternoon, sitting in the sun below the tall tower of Reykjavik’s fabulous Hallgrímskirkja, I reached into a small bowl and sampled an Icelandic delicacy. Hákarl is shark, prepared by being buried in beach sand for several months then hung in a shed for several more (just in case is wasn’t shady enough after its underground internment). When completely ready it has a strong fish flavor and ammonia scent that turns away most, but as a lover of strong cheese I adored it! Ash, I am proud to say, almost threw up in the pot-plant next to our table.
Reykjavik is a beautiful city populated almost entirely by tall blond-haired and blue-eyed people in flashy clothes (my, these people are a dapper lot) with a few Indians thrown in to run the curry houses and Polish to do the crappy jobs. In addition to being clothes horses, Icelandic people apparently believe in elves and fairies. On a walking tour this afternoon the guide kept pointing out their mischief, a rock moved here, a collapsing building there. Apparently the elves in a Northern town were not happy about a particular building project, necessitating an impromptu guitar serenade by the mayor (it seems that they can be won over by a few crappy strums on the ol’ six string).
I don’t know how other people do it, but the first morning after arriving in a foreign city I like to open a window and take in the scene from my temporary home. In the past, I have often been greeted by a brick wall, but this morning in Reykjavik I was greeted by blue sky, a cool coastal breeze and warm sunshine, my favorite weather conditions ever (except in Ireland when I like it windy, grey and cold; all the better to heighten the sense of history, mythology and mysticism). No matter where you are in Iceland it seems that there is always the scent of sulfur in the air, which normally reminds me of rotten eggs, but is Iceland’s way of reminding me that I am in a geologically active area. Corrugated iron buildings painted bright colors, and simple concrete apartment buildings highlight the opposition between the old and new Iceland. Surprisingly this seeming architectural opposition works very well!
With only about 120,000 people Reykjavik is free of many things that often destroy a city; like sky scrapers, traffic and crime. Seriously, Lonely Planet actually challenges the reader to find a safer place. Alcohol seems to be the only real danger for most of the population over here. Icelandic people do not habitually drink during the week… but on weekends they get after it in a tremendous way. Undertaking a pub crawl even has a name, the Runtur, and usually begins well after midnight on either Friday or Saturday (most often both) and results in extreme drunkenness. In fact, Lonely Planet assures readers that accidentally bumping into a drunken Runtur-er is the only real danger in relatively crime free Reykjavik.
Iceland is also hot dog crazy. Interesting stands pepper almost every public space and are well frequented by the locals. They take the hot dog to the limit however, adding ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion and remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. Bill Clinton, greedy bugger that he is, loved the hot dog with the “works” at Bæjarins beztu pylsur. We plan to follow in Bill’s footsteps tomorrow and order a hot dog eina með öllu (with everything). Walking through an Icelandic grocery store this afternoon felt like being in the café of an IKEA. All of the products had strange Nordic names like Sol Gryn (Sun Grains), Rug Fras (cereal), Smjor (butter or margarine), Vellir: Adalbalberjasulta (some kind of current preserves), and the delightfully named Frissi Friski (a brand of apple juice)
Minke whale anyone? Seeing it on the menu of a restaurant this morning reminded me that Iceland, like Japan, still actively hunts whales for “scientific purposes”. Much of the meat from these ecological studies seems to end up on the table for hungry consumers however, while a greater portion is exported to Japan to fill their insatiable taste of whale meat. Really, it must have erectile dysfunction benefits or something, judging by the way the Japanese continue to flaunt international treaties banning the hunting of whales. Iceland apparently just needs the money after the financial collapse in 2007. For dinner we ate some wonderful but unknown form of fish that bought from the local “Bonus” supermarket. We could only purchase a large packet consisting of several fillets so we will be eating fresh Icelandic fish every evening this week. All that Omega 3 fatty acid better help my constantly decreasing brain capacity.