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AA left the Reykjavik airport grumpy. Not a single shop in the arrival hall had allowed him to buy a banana without a valid departure ticket.
Hungry and 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.
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.
Thus 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 his guests to visit. For $9, the public pools are a better deal than the hot springs, and a more social experience. 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 the damming of rivers to power aluminium smelting. To capture the essence of this long-simmering debate, Stefan recommended two movies: a documentary, Dreamland, and a drama, Woman Goes to War.
But of more immediate concern was the latest political brouhaha, a bill introduced by the Left-Green party to reduce taxes on the fishing industry. This bill had rubbed many party supporters the wrong way since it was seen as support for the consolidation of the fishing industry. Since fishing quotas were applied to small fishing vessels, they 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.
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 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).