As predicted, the weekend dawned dim, with clouds covering the majestic mountains across the valley so thick you couldn’t even have guessed their height. Also, it was already threatening to rain.
For some reason I felt far more at home. Also, the landscape suits misty and threatening weather much more than it suits being all sunny.
We decided to drive into Reykjavik and do the sort of touristy things where you can bolt indoors if it chucks it down. This was far less onerous than I’d imagined – the place is tiny, the roads are relatively clear, and driving through down-town was more like driving through a wee market-place or something. I imagine, since I wasn’t driving. I still sodded up the map-reading like anything and the G-Monster had destinations in mind he did not actually tell me, so we had our first fight of the holiday, good stuff. Helpful travellers’ tip: right off the back of your first fight of the holiday, do not hand your partner your credit card to use in the parking-meter, because you may find them trying to pay two weeks’ parking up front with it. Although he says that was an accident.
As is usual Abroad, half the adverts are in English, which is equal parts reassuring (because I am probably not going to end up dying because I don’t understand something) and depressing (because it’s all aimed at idiots like me). I did like the ‘Island’s Got Talent’ poster though. Apparently Iceland in Icelandic is Island, which I find amusing. I did not tell any Icelanders this, because I wanted to live.
So the first thing I wanted to see was this mad cathedral they have, which you can see from miles and miles away (and we did, regularly) and which I was totally unable to find up close. Eventually we wandered down a wee alleyway and a guy came running out of nowhere at us and gave us directions, which is much nicer than what usually happens when you wander down a wee alleyway in an unknown city. Although it was a bit embarrassing because he thought we were looking for his taco restaurant.
Flushed with success at finally finding the damn thing, which is very tall and also on top of a hill, I went to look at the wee artisany shops round about. The G-Monster suggested I Viking up Beaky House (and indeed I plan to – the décor may be plain, but only so I can use it as a canvas for the most hideous monstrosities known to man) so I started off with a cheap wee metallic-ceramic Viking warrior you put a tea-light in. It wasn’t quite as impressive as the bigger version, but I am Scottish, dammit, and far too cheap to spend a two-figure (Sterling) sum on something you put a tea-light in.
It wasn’t until we got outside that I discovered I was wrong about the exchange rate by an order of magnitude, and had indeed spent a two-figure sum on something you put a tea-light in. Quite a whopping two-figure sum at that. I can only thank god I cheaped out, or it would have been a three-figure sum.
We went for a wee coffee after that, which did nothing to calm my nerves. The really exciting part is, I won’t even know until much later if I have the most expensive sodding tea-light holder ever, or merely the most expensive shards.
Having decided to buy nothing else whatsoever all holiday, we went down to the oldest street in the city where I paid a crippling amount of money (by this point, all additional sums of money were crippling) to go see the Settlement Exhibition, excavation of the oldest house in Reykjavik, as well as some of the original thousand-year-old documents. My god, these people had neat handwriting, especially when you consider the temperature they must have been writing in. And the light.
(The oldest street in the city has a pleasingly large number of craft-beer pubs on it. We never did get around to going, sadly. The street intersecting with it has the Irish Pub, the English Pub, the American Pub and the strip-club, all in a row. Zoning or what?)
It rained on and off all day, mostly whenever we stepped outside, but we still managed to go out and visit the Arbaer Open Air Museum, where the one bit the G-Monster wanted to see (the train) was shut, and the wee family zoo and the Laugurdalur park, which are right next door to each other. The park was free, oh thankyou merciful god. Sadly the park was also in the Icelandic equivalent of February, but one cannot have everything.
During all this, I discovered I might not need that phrasebook I didn’t bring after all, for sure isn’t Icelandic very, very similar to my own language in many ways? ‘Hreindyr’ for reindeer, ‘hravn’ for raven, ‘mjolk’ for milk… all I need is some verbs and I am in like Flynn!
Back at the hotel, we discovered there is another, larger pub around the corner, so we went along for a bite to eat and some beers. I asked for the traditional Icelandic dish, and it was the one thing on the menu that wasn’t on, so I was forced to scoff down the same sort of food we get at home, the horror, the horror. The Snorri No.10 beer was really tasty, however.
Eurovision was on again, worse luck, which might explain how empty the pub was on a Saturday night, but there were quite a few folks willing to have a chat about it, which made it way more fun, and there was a halftime lassie who came onstage and sang as well as any of them (although none of them had their mum or whoever keep phoning during their set). The bar might have been nearly empty, but it didn’t stop everyone (local) getting up and dancing. And Sweden won, so that was sort of a local victory.
A local guy struck up a conversation with me at the bar, and it turned out he was writing a book (hurrah! One in ten Icelanders is apparently a Published Author and here I am meeting someone who wants to join their ranks, that’s gotta be worth a coupla Tourist Points, right?)
He came and sat with us and we had a chat about bad fantasy writers, which was fab. Unfortunately, both for him and for my peace of mind, he’s writing the book in Icelandic and I took fright when he started in complaining about the grammar rules. So I asked him to say ‘Hreindyr’ and it turns out it’s pronounced more like ‘Hooshkarooshkavoosh’ and Icelandic is not easy at all. As far as I can make out, two ll’s together sound like ‘k’, which I could understand if they didn’t have a perfectly good letter k that they use all the time, and so Thingvellir (where they held the parliament, and where we plan to go) is actually said more like ‘Thingvekish’. Which means ‘r’ is apparently pronounced ‘sh’, only Reykjavik is not ‘Sheykjavik’, at least as far as I can tell, and oh god I just give up already.
So anyway, me and him went out for a smoke (I assumed everyone in Iceland would be very clean-living, but it appears not. Or maybe, I just met all the ones like me.) During this, a lassie who looked like she coulda been one of the Eurovision hosts (not to mention so incredibly drunk I briefly thought she was one of the Eurovision hosts, who had fallen out of the telly. Hey, it’s a magical place, right? Or it goes to show how good Snorri No.10 is) came and leaned all over writer-guy, much to his very obvious annoyance, until the much larger, grumpier man who fancied her stomped off.
I thought I had better hang around in case Trouble came of it, which it did, but not in the way I expected. Drunken-supermodel woman started bewailing the fact that her oldest daughter (who turned out to be older than I thought she was) was about to make her a grandmother. Then another woman came out, who looked about thirty, and accused writer-guy of firing into drunken supermodel grandma, who turned out to be her wee sister. I am starting to think the old guys from last night who were taking the piss out of Eurovision are actually the original Saga-writers.
Drunk supermodel grandma wandered off, leaving writer guy and the second woman, who turned out to be a local teacher, to a somber-sounding conversation in Icelandic, probably about something highbrow. I took the opportunity to rescue the G-Monster from inside, and get in a round of beers for everyone. I didn’t realise until I got back with them that the conversation actually consisted of the writer threatening to smash the teacher’s face in with a large metal ashtray.
This was a bit awkward, especially since I’d just bought them both a beer, so after making sure there wasn’t actually going to be any violence between them, we took our cue and left. Not a moment too soon, because when we went back inside (which you had to do to escape the smoking area) the pub was full, fights were breaking out and the G-Monster informed me that someone had puked in the urinals.
When we reached the safety of the hotel, the G-Monster further informed me that, in his opinion, the writer had been trying to pull me the entire time. However the G-Monster was obviously suffering the effects of Snorri No.10 as well, because he thought the teacher was also trying to pull me, and just because someone tells you they’re psychic and you have a lovely aura and strokes your face and tells you you’re pretty does not mean they fancy you. Not when Snorri No.10 is involved.
In conclusion: the sagas are still going on, its just nobody’s writing them down any more. At least, not by hand.