Monday, March 09, 2009

Batty's Saga, Part I - Einmánuður, 2000

In the year 1000, Iceland was converted to Christianity.
In the year 2000, I was converted to Iceland(ity).

Being in thrall to two mortgages, private college tuition, and car payments, the Weaver and I had limited traveling options. There was a wild card in this deck, however: Icelandair's offer of a "Mid-week Madness" package. Four days and three nights in Reykjavík, an upgrade to a high-class hotel, all for a reasonable price tag. Bill Holm's Coming Home Crazy had touched upon his Icelandic experiences. My expectations were few, I knew of its dramatic scenery but not much else. Life at home had settled into a routine of work and familial obligations. Not that that was bad, but they were definitely minor variations on a theme. Iceland would be nothing like that, I was sure.

Minnesota and Iceland share similar weather twice a year- early spring and late fall. Both are quite cool, with wind and rain possible at any time. The old Icelandic name for the last month of winter is Einmánuður, which was when we arrived, the week before Easter. The trip from the airport is usually an eye-opener in any new destination and the wild lava fields surrounding the road made the welcome to Iceland unforgettable, if a bit ominous. The Flybus terminal had not yet been completed so we were unceremoniously dropped off in the parking lot of Hotel Loftleidir, to be eventually shuttled to the Hotel Borg:

The Hotel Borg was an inviting place, even to such a rustic as myself. There was a sense of friendly spirits there- although I saw no ghosts- perhaps it was just the memories of thousands of happy honeymoons and vacations. It was too small for the big corporate conventions, but it had a long history of visits by celebrities. The breakfast room was actually a fine restaurant by night, and featured a buffet complete with cod-liver-oil (and its tiny serving spoons.) Our room was a delightful mix of antiques and modern design. A shower-head the size of bird-bath deluged me with its geothermally-heated water. Bliss. Our helpful desk clerk arranged for a tour of the countryside.

Most first-timers take a tour of the "Golden Circle." You can't go wrong with it, even with a somewhat confused bus driver. In his defense, some of the roads had just been opened (after the winter's snows), it made it seem more of an adventure ("I think I can make it over this bridge" which was only about 50 cm wider than the bus itself!) Everything there was different, there were surprises around every corner. And then there was the scent of all that fresh air, or was it the lack of a scent? Exhilarating, intoxicating, and after a day of this we were exhausted.

The next day was spent walking around town, seeing the oddly charming little houses almost in the center of town, and a few grander ones as well, places where the great leader of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. met to decide the planet's destiny.

Or was that to play a game of chess?

We scoured the town, ate at some unique restaurants with names such as Hornið and Jonathon Livingston Malvern, and saw museums of art and natural history, and also some that were not so traditional:

And, of course, the harbor had it charms, as does nearly every port. I leave the pictures of ships to another chapter. I had heard that there was a vital music scene in Reykjavík, but it being midweek in the off-season, I could only find a small combo doing AC-DC covers in Gaukur á Stöng.

There was evidence of change in the air as well. I didn't know it at the time, but the city was starting an explosion of demolition and building. There were forces working here that I was only dimly aware of. Some of the modern things were a bit sinister to the eyes of a naïf such as myself:

I knew, before I had even left, that I would return someday.

By Professor Batty


Blogger Cellar Door said...

Fascinating... I heard a rumor once, and maybe you can tell me if it's true. My 12th grade Swedish teacher said that Icelandic people don't as a rule answer letters, and that they list people in the phone book alphabetically by first name. (I guess that's two rumors.) Do you know if either is true? Both customs seem a bit Batty, if you know what I mean.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Your teacher was correct about the phone book. I've had some mail exchanged with Icelanders, although its mostly e-mail know. Icelandic postage has a long history in philately. I have heard that as a rule Icelanders don't have phone answering machines.

Blogger Móðir, kona, meyja said...

Both the part about answering letter and owning answering machines are bull.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

I have always wondered about the answering machines. I read that in some stupid guide to Iceland; most of them are by English writers, who usually seem to have axes to grind.

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