Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Reykjavik Part 2 of N: Friendly Drunk Swedes, Unnaturally Blue Water, Imaginative Eyewear

After being dropped off at Hotel Odinsve we decided to take a nap. We got in the tiny elevator (my experienced world traveller wife had made a point of leaving the especially big suitcase at home, anticipating this) and then checked out the room for a bit (also small, but the entire wall facing the street was a window. We could see the ocean.) and fell asleep. For a bit.

The phone rang and my wife picked up. It was some joker from work. He had a question. Nothing was particularly wrong, but he had a question. Anyhow she refused to wake me up, but I woke up anyhow and called back to find that there was no problem to get bent out of shape about.

We left to explore the city. The obvious starting point was Hallgrimskirkja. Out front is a statue of Leifr EirĂ­ksson, who discovered North America (Vinland) around 1000 A.D. (sorry Tony Soprano). Inside is a very impressive pipe organ, with 5275 pipes, some point outward like cannons which is quite odd looking.

After reading about rotten shark, pickled ram's testicles, and the aforementioned singed sheep's heads before for our trip, we decided to play it safe for our first meal in town and ate at a vegetarian place, the 'One Woman Restaurant'. We had some curry and daal there, and a couple of lattes. The one woman, like pretty much everyone we were to encounter in Reykjavik, spoke English well.

One thing we noticed immediately were the blocky glasses many people were wearing. The frames were thick and rectangular. Despite my quasi-Nordic appearance, my wire-frame glasses gave me away as an American. I had noticed a Dutch co-worker sporting similar frames on last summer's visit to Ireland, but just figured he wore them because he was a cool punk rock guy. People of all ages were rocking these. To hell with LASIK surgery.

Later, when we were back in the U.S. eating breakfast in New York, we noticed an older guy wearing glasses like we'd seen in Iceland. Within seconds, another guy at his table jokingly referred to him as 'that Icelandic Prick'.

Our first touristy excursion was a trip to the Blue Lagoon. It's a geothermal spa next to a geothermal power plant, and it's not far from the airport in Keflavik. The water is an unnatural neon blue.

Inside we encountered more of Iceland's technological wonders. We received bracelets which both locked a locker when swept by a sensor on the door, and also could be used to purchase Viking Beer or other drinks in the lounge area. I failed to operate the lock properly, and found the door hanging open when I returned (none of my belongings were missing).

Showering naked with strangers is required before entering the Blue Lagoon, but there are partitions along the wall, so it's not some prison scene in there. From the shower area, it's possible to get in the Blue Lagoon before going outside. But we walked out on the wooden deck and enjoyed a few seconds of snow and wind before getting in. It was snowing heavily, and employees in full winter gear hovered around along the edge of the water. We relaxed in the 105F water. Some people put white mud on their faces so they could look like a photo negative of Al Jolson in 'The Jazz Singer'. Mammy!

I accidentally swallowed some water. It tasted very salty, but that was about it. I was a bit concerned about ingesting unnaturally colored water, but nothing came of it. I did not become horribly ill, nor did I develop superpowers and become Glacier Man.

Eventually we headed back inside, ate more skyr and hung out while waiting for the bus. A couple guys wearing Red Sox gear with heavy Boston accents were in our group. My wife asked one was he from Boston and he asked 'how'd you know?' My wife told them she was from Boston, but left because she married me. "Jerk." said one of them. We later wondered if they were on the run from the law, hiding out in Iceland.

The bus eventually showed up, and we asked where were we going for part 2, the 'Northern Lights Excursion'. Our Chuck Norris looking bus driver laughed and explained that was the drive back. We didn't see any Northern Lights through our windows.

As we got back to Reykjavik I again noticed some prominent graffiti in a spot under a bridge. A 'Welcome to Reykjavik' sign would have looked good there, but this graffiti said 'Supernova Sucks'. I agree, but wouldn't go through the trouble of painting it on a wall. I thought it was strange, until I later found out one of the contestants on 'Rock Star: Supernova' was Magni Asgeirsson of Iceland. He lost the competition, or didn't, depending on how you look at it.

After returning it was time to get something to eat. We had no plans, and decided to continue the risk-averse streak as far as eating went and seek out a pizza place of some kind. We ended up at Rosso Pomodoro, an Italian place that's a chain, but a good one. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with Pomodoro Rosso in New York, immortalized in Seinfeld as a good place for breakups.

Before we even sat down a very large table of men in the 30-45 age range started singing. While they didn't have fantastic voices, they sounded really good, like they'd been practicing. They were all singing in the same key and at the same tempo. They were also drinking and apparently heavily, as a couple of them fell down (but they got up again).

We decided to sit at the table next to them not in spite of the fact that they were drunk and acting odd, but because of it, but soon we started getting an uncomfortable vibe as one kept looking at us when we talked and said a couple things to the guy sitting next to him. Then one of them put his glass of wine on the table and got in our space. The waitress asked him not to put his glass on our table, so he took it off for a second and then put it back. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I just looked at him and said 'hey, how are you doing?'

He was pretty well drunk, but friendly enough. It turned out he and his compatriots were from Sweden ('the southern part'). We complimented them on their fine cars. They all were part of a 'Gentlemen's Club' called 'Round Table'. In the U.S., 'Gentlemen's Club' means a building with no windows with girls inside stripping to make college money, but in this case apparently it's a group of guys who take trips together and get drunk and sing and generally have a good time. About halfway through our dinner (I had some really good salmon), they got up, sang another song which I assume was in Swedish so nobody else in the restaurant knew what they were singing about either, and they were on their way.

We wandered Reykjavik and caught the beginning of the night's drunken revelry, but were tired and made our way back to the Hotel.

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