Sunday, July 5, 2015

Welcome to Rockjavik

Yeah, I punned it. 

Sarah vigorously rolled her eyes when I came up with that zinger at supper tonight.

We left Edmonton yesterday at roughly 6:30 pm Edmonton time and arrived in Reykjavik this morning at around 12:40 am Edmonton time, 6:40 am local time. The airport is quite nice, but wow is the setup bad. When you get off your plane, you have to go through security again before you can go get your bags. I kind of see why, because it is a major transfer airport, so many people are transferring to other flights. But for those staying in Iceland, it was just enraging. Especially considering how tired we were.

Once we finally got through, we were greeted by a tour representative who was tasked with driving us into Reykjavik to our hotel. Reykjavik is about a 45 minute drive from the airport.

Our driver was a proud local man. He pointed out many different sites to us, and patiently answered all of my questions. According to him, over 80% of homes in Iceland are heated with geothermal energy (and he was right). Fishing is still a dominant industry, but tourism has become increasingly important, especially since their financial sector crashed in 2008. In fact, there was a massive national discussion recently when the government considered adding entry fees to some of the natural areas in Iceland. It was triggered after they broke the 1 million tourists in a year milestone for the first time last year. Icelanders were apparently outraged, and the idea was quickly scuttled.

Other random observations about Iceland before I get into what we saw and did in Reykjavik today:
-The landscape between the airport and Reykjavik looks like what I imagine the surface of Mars to look like
-That landscape also smells rather strongly of sulfur, the gas emanating from the numerous geothermal vents
-There are lupins EVERYWHERE; according to our driver, they were brought over from Alaska and have since spread like wildfire; they're very pretty, but supposedly toxic to sheep
-Icelanders are VERY attractive; both genders; seriously, not kidding
-Food is crazy expensive here
-A majority of Icelanders still believe in elves and trolls
-The Althingi, the national Parliament of Iceland, is the oldest democratic parliamentary institution in the world, having started in 930; Iceland is led by a President as head of state and a Prime Minister as head of government
-Icelanders don't really have last names; they have their first name and then their father's name followed by either -son or -dottir depending on if they're a man or woman; my name, for example, would be Tony Waltersson, because my dad's name is Walter; and Sarah would be Sarah Kerrysdottir; so many of them go by just their first and sometimes middle names
-The previous mayor of Reykjavik, Jon Gnarr (see, told you they just use first and middles), started a party called the Best Party, running on a campaign to bring the Jurassic Park dinosaurs to Reykjavik, free towels in all swimming pools, a drug free Parliament in 10 years, bringing Disneyland to Reykjavik, and a promise to break all of his campaign promises if elected (it was satirical obviously); he actually won; seriously, look it up
-After Jon Gnarr became mayor, he stated that he would refuse to form a governing coalition with anyone who had not seen The Wire
-Icelanders love chocolate covered licorice; seriously; it's a thing, and it's really tasty
-Iceland is considered a global leader in gender equality; first to elect female head of state (1980), equal inheritance rights since 1850, 40% of Parliamentarians are women, one of the highest female labor participation rates in the world, both mothers and fathers have independent 3 months of parental leave (~90% of fathers use their paternal leave); full ban on strip clubs since 2010, obligations that companies have boards composed of 40% women

When we got to Reykjavik, we checked into our hotel, Hotel Fron. It honestly could not be in a better location. The metro Reykjavik area is home to 2/3 of the population of the entire country. Reykjavik proper is about 122 000 people, in an area roughly equivalent to that of the urban proper area of Halifax. But pretty much everything you'd want to see is in the downtown core.

And the most bustling street is called Laugavegur. A street on which our hotel just happens to be situated. 

We wasted little time in hitting the streets. 

First stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a massive Lutheran church and one of the tallest structures in the country. It is an example of minimalist beauty on the inside, with one of the most ornate pipe organs I've ever seen, consisting of over 5500 individual pipes. We took the elevator to the top, affording us sweeping views of the city. Noticing that there was an organ concert planned for noon, we quickly rushed back to the hotel to attire ourselves more properly, and made it just in time to attend. It was worth the rush. The music was so beautiful, and the sound so encircling, that the combination of it and the jet lag made me doze off. I awoke with a start, likely to the amusement of those around me, when the organist hammered out a Phantom of the Opera-esque bass segment. 

Apparently Sarah also had a case of the nods, so we headed back to the hotel for a nap. But not before we saw a liege waffle stand and obliged our temptations. She got the plain one. I don't do plain. I do Nutella. 

After a rather refreshing nap of almost four hours, I could actually function again. By that time, the Reykjavikers had brushed off the effects of Friday night's runtur, some of them no doubt aided by the Hangover Killer at Prikid. The place was hopping. It was like Whyte Ave if you shut down the entire street to car traffic from 104th to 109th. Which they should do, by the way.

So we joined in. We walked all the way down Laugavegur and took in all the quirky shops, including Sarah's favourite, the Hand Knitting Association of Iceland. There was the Laundromat Cafe, which literally operates as both of those things, and had a cheeky sign out front proclaiming "Come on in and feel free to breastfeed. We love babies AND boobies!" There were bookstores, record stores, clothing, expensive jewelry, and a liquor store, busier than any I've ever seen in my life. And it is so strange. You buy most of it by the single. Seriously. All the cases and 6-packs are cracked open and you just grab however many you need. Which for one guy was apparently a giant Rubbermaid container full. True story.

After all that fun, we finally decided to get some supper. And boy did we hit the jackpot. We stumbled upon Sushi Samba, a unique fusion restaurant combining the fresh seafood flare of sushi with the penchant for elaborate presentation and perfectly cooked meat of higher end South American cuisine. They had a seven course set menu that was essentially a culinary whirlwind trip through Iceland.
1. Smoked puffin with blueberries, beets, and goat cheese
2. Minke whale with date puree and teriyaki
3. Arctic char with parsnip puree, fennel, and dill mayo
4. Lobster cigar (kind of like a spring roll) with chorizo, dates, and chili chutney
5. Reindeer slider with blue cheese and portobello mushroom
6. Lamb with coriander, fennel, butternut squash puree, and fennel
7. And finally, the piece de resistance, a Skyr (Icelandic yogourt) panna cotta with raspberry sorbet, passion fruit foam, and dulce de leche.

It was seriously unbelievable. Not cheap, but unbelievable. 

So far, this city gets a 10 out of 10 on the awesometer. It is currently 11:30 pm, and the street below us is still rocking, the sky bright as day.

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