And so, this is Iceland

Leif Ericson and I

Leif Ericson and I

The country that forgot to pay the bill for the daylight they use. Hence why it’s dark pretty much all the time at the moment. Brightness peaks around midday, and even then it’s equivalent to roughly 15:30 in the UK at present.

I got to bed at the hostel around 4am. I woke up a few times in the night as I often do in a strange bed and the sky hadn’t changed. By 10:00 it was still as dark as it had been when I first hit the sack.  The very first hint of daylight didn’t strike my retinas till almost 10:30. It’s the opposite of Finland back in June where it just didn’t get dark. Obviously, Iceland is similar in the summer.

Surprisingly, it’s also warm. According to the woman at reception in the hostel Iceland is currently the warmest place in Europe. It’s certainly warmer than back in the UK at present!

I’d made the mistake of leaving my Lonely Planet at home, so I spent a little time online trying to locate my hosts for the evening, Ricardo and Tamara. I managed to get hold of them and also received an email from a Finnish chap called Thomas. While I couldn’t hook up with my hosts until later in the day, Thomas was free to walk around the city right away and it was his last day in Reykjavik. I arranged to meet him at midday on the main street (Laugavegur), gathered my belongings and walked into the city centre.

It’s about a 30 minute walk (my speed) from the hostel and the large swimming pool into the heart of Reykjavik. I got to the BONUS store dot on midday and Thomas followed along shortly. We then basically just wandered aimlessly taking the odd photo.

Hotel Pron

Hotel Pron

For brunch, I chowed down on a hotdog, the common snack food over here. There’s a little shack near the waterfront that sells “the best hotdogs in Reykjavik” and from which Bill Clinton picked up a “one with everything” when he was in town many years ago. It wasn’t bad.

We walked past the lake, a couple of museums (many are closed on Monday during winter), some interesting buildings and up to the large Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrim’s Church) on the hill. The statue of Leif Ericson was thankfully visible as the church wasn’t! Like a few of the monuments I’ve wanted to see on my travels, it was cocooned in scaffolding while work was being carried out on it. It was also shut, which surprised Thomas as it’s still being used during the refurbishment. I’ll try again later in the week.

After plodding around with a rucksack and a laptop bag for 3 hours, I started eyeing up the bars and coffee shops. Thomas agreed that we should get out of the rain, and we found a little one just of the main street. There I enjoyed a huge pastry and a nice cup of peppermint tea. It wasn’t vastly expensive – 555 ISK – around what I’d expect to pay in a similar place back home.

Soon enough, 4pm rolled around and I waved goodbye to Thomas (thanks for your company!) and walked around the corner to meet Ricardo and Tamara. They’re a lovely young couple, Ricardo from Mexico and Tamara from Ecuador. They moved to Iceland a few months ago and actually got settled while Couchsurfing with someone who is to be my host later in the week.

I dropped all my stuff in their flat and we walked around to Bonus where I picked up a few supplies. Some “lakkrís” sweets (guess what that translates to in English), some rice cake things with chocolate on, malt “beer” (non-alcoholic- imagine cold Horlics in a can. Sort of) and Skyr – a type of yoghurt for breakfast. All Icelandic produce and specialities. Back at the flat, Ricardo insisted I smell some of the fermented shark meat he had in the fridge in a tiny little pot.

Best. URL. Ever.

Best. URL. Ever.

The first whiff is like tuna. Then you get your nose right in and it smells like a slipper that a cat has peed in – very strong ammonia. Ew! If you’re going to have a food you’re famous for, Iceland, pick something that smells better!

It turns out my hosts are members of a gym right next door to the hostel, so we headed up there after we’d sat talking for ages. I walked and R & T got the bus as they were going to the gym before the pool where I’d meet them, and I needed to pop back into the hostel anyway. I’d left my towel (again), but thankfully retrieved it.

Pools are a big thing in Iceland. They’re generally all naturally heated from geothermal sources underground and the water’s not treated in any way. Hence they’re really strict about hygiene, with huge signs telling you to wash before going in and so forth. All good. This pool is the largest in Iceland and used for sporting events, as well as leisure. As luck would have it, R&T had a free pass so I gratefully received that and arranged to meet them in the water after their gym session.

Random statue

Random statue

It’s a great place to unwind after work and it was fairly busy. There are several outdoor pools as well as the 25m one, along with 4 “hot pots” of varying temperatures and a steam bath. I think the entry fee’s only around $3 anyway, which is a bargain. I had a nice relaxing swim, lazed in one of the hot pools and chatted to Ricardo in a hot-pot for a while before we decided to call it a night.

Again, I walked back while they caught the bus. A chance to take a few pictures and stretch my legs. I ate a lot over the holidays and I need to work off some poundage!

Back at the flat we had hotdogs again, and I cracked open one of the bottles of whisky I’d picked up at the airport. Well, two bottles of Famous Grouse for £20? Bargain!

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