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AA left the Reykjavik airport grumpy. Not a single one of the shops in the arrival hall had allowed him to buy a banana without a valid departure ticket.
Thus primed, AA was not impressed with his first glance of Reykjavik proper, empty in the early morning light.
“What are we in North Korea? Is this a fake town – where are the people?”
But then our host, still in his pajamas and cheerful despite the hour, gave AA his long-awaited banana. Somewhere between that banana and Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon, AA decided he never wanted to leave.
This enthusiasm was challenged only once when, in consecutive order, our host, a firefighter and a shop clerk would each prevent AA from buying a bottle of water. AA, convinced that sulfur would magically transport itself into Reykjavik’s cold water supply, was again unimpressed.
“Why don’t they do the right thing and overcharge tourists for things we don’t need!” he quipped, but then surreptitiously bought a bottle of water from a store owner who was clearly not a native (and more interested in making a dollar than defending Iceland’s legendary water) and fell back in love with Reykjavik.
Despite our early arrival that first morning, Stefan, our host, invited us into his cozy home and sat us down for a few minutes while he made breakfast for the proceeding guests. Within ten minutes, he had served them, changed the sheets and vacuumed the floor of our new room so we could rest for a few hours. Talk about five star accomodation!
Revitalized with sleep and hospitality, we met up with our companion for this trip, Austin aka Boy Genius, a loquacious 20-year old native of Brooklyn not always inclined toward shaving. Iceland was to be his first international excursion and it had started off swimmingly. While we were napping, he made a new friend and then wrapped up the morning by stealing someone’s sandwich under the mistaken belief that his hostel fridge was a minibar.
Together we all grabbed a quick bite at a local bakery and headed off for an evening dip at the Blue Lagoon, a hot spring made from the outpouring water of the nearby geothermal power plant (and, despite how it sounds, one of the most visited spots in Iceland). Our trip to the Blue Lagoon accomplished what the nap, coffee and first-rate Icelandic butter couldn’t – it banished our jet leg.
Later that evening, we had a long chat with Stefan about the realities of living in Reykjavik while the midnight sun poured in past the curtains. As an actor, Stefan spoke about the benefits of Iceland’s support for the arts, and his less than enthusiastic take on the increasingly commercialized world of New York theater. He also extolled the virtues of Iceland’s public pool system, which he makes a point of telling all of his guests to visit. For $9, they are a better deal than the hot springs and a more social experience. Pools are like the family-friendly version of the pub in Iceland – families, co-workers and friends socialize here at all hours. They are even popular campaign spots for local politicians.
Iceland really is a natural wonderland. Trust me, your lungs will breathe a sigh of relief the moment you step off the plane.EB
Our conversation then moved on to weightier issues, to politics and the concern over aluminium smelting – or more specifically, the damming of rivers to power the smelting industry. They say it is better to show than to tell, so to capture the essence of this debate, Stefan recommended two movies: a documentary, Dreamland, and a drama, Woman Goes to War.
But of more immediate interest was the latest political brouhaha – a bill introduced by the Left-Green party to reduce taxes on the fishing industry. This bill rubbed many party supporters the wrong way since it was seen as support for continued consolidation of the fishing industry. This consolidation initially began when fishing quotas were applied to small fishing vessels. Since then, quotas have gradually transferred to larger companies, and now 80% of fishing licenses are in the hands of a few large corporations. The tax in question was supposed to level the playing field (although, in defense of the quotas, they appear to be responsible for saving the fish stock from overall collapse).
Aluminium to Nature
But, aluminium smelting and fishing politics aside, Iceland really is a natural wonderland. Trust me, your lungs will breathe a sigh of relief the moment you step off the plane.
As usual, we were on a whirlwind tour and did not have time to drive around Southern Iceland to see all that the country has to offer. But on our second day, we took the Golden Circle tour for a quick taste of Iceland’s beauty. This popular day trip includes three major stops:
We were also told that the cafe at Gulfoss serves great lamb soup – and I had to try it despite my somewhat unwarranted claims to vegetarianism.
With no point of comparison, I can only say that the lamb was delicious.
So Iceland was a place of firsts for us – the first country that AA is planning to revisit (with 170 countries in the world left to see, that’s saying a lot) and the country where I tried my first clandestine piece of meat (shh, don’t let the Brooklyn hipsters know).