Serving Food, Washing Clothes, and Entertaining Kids
Visitors to central Reykjavik who run out of clean clothes have few options. They can pay by the article of clothing to have their hotel do their laundry, or pay by the kilo at two wash and fold laundry/dry cleaners. Or they can do their own laundry at the multi-functional Laundromat cafe/laundry room/playground.
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While fewer and fewer Americans believe in science, Icelanders believe in elves.
Or, at least, they they won't say they don't believe in elves. And fairies. And trolls. And some people aren't afraid to talk about them with a straight face. Others are sick of talking about them to outsiders.
This week's issue of the tourist newspaper, The Grapevine, has an article by Kim Tulinus begging for a hiatus on the constant questions Icelanders recieve about "the hidden people," as they're referred to.
According to legend, they live in the crevices of rocks or under mounds of earth.
And understandably, the hidden people don't like their homes bulldozed, built on top of, or molested in any way. They will do whatever it takes to stop construction of roads through their territory. Even if it means disabling machinery or causing accidents...until the road crew quits and plans an alternate route around the fairy mound in question. This is documented.
Icelanders are great parents, but what I'm about to tell you might shock and alarm you. No need to call child protective services, however, because around here, and in Denmark, this is common practice.
BABY ON BOARD. ON THE STREET. NOBODY AROUND. COMMON SIGHT. NO WORRIES!
They leave their babies parked outside, in their prams, in the freezing cold…while they shop or dine or visit.
Sometimes the moms or dads are sitting cozily inside a warm restaurant having a meal, while their babies are on the sidewalk outside squalling like banshees. Rows of baby-filled carriages are parked outside day care centers while the older kids play inside. On front lawns. Outside grocery stores. Occupied carriages are everywhere, and often grownups are nowhere in sight.
There we were, shooting a little video on Icelandic traditional food (next post), when the lady offered me a taste of Iceland's national dish, fermented shark. Here's what happened.
Here's a good National Geographic video on how it's prepared:
There are many icelanders who love the taste of kæstur hákarl (rotten shark), including children. My palate did not. Here's how I described the taste to a friend:
Iceland is a nation of just 325,000 people, and 80,000 horses. A person's wealth is measured not by the car he drives or the size of his house, but by the number of horses he cares for.
There's very little class distinction here. The mayor of Reykjavik's kids go to to public school, along with everyone else. Presidents of banks socialize with their farmhands, and everyone just gets along. Sometimes the main streets get loud with rowdy nightclubbers on a Saturday night, but the crime rate is one of the lowest in the world.
In 2013, for the first time ever, the Reykjavik police fired on and killed a man who was shooting at them with a shotgun. Then they apologized to the man's family and underwent counseling to handle what they had done.
Imagine if the LAPD apologized to everyone they got rough with. The contrast is refreshing.
At the moment, I'm in Reykjavik, Iceland. It's the middle of January, here in the world's northernmost capitol city, and the weather is all over the place. Raging, knock-you-off-your-feet Arctic sleetstorm one day, and sunny and not-so-freezing the next.
This place is about as "foreign" as any I've visited, including Papua New Guinea, which has its fair share of exotic qualities. Iceland actually has some things in common with PNG, including pristine landscapes, pure waters, hard working, friendly people, and relative isolation.
It also has things in common with the U.S. Most people speak some English. At least, they were taught English in school. And they drive on the right side of the road. That's all I can think of offhand...which says a lot.
We were out on one of our Saturday jaunts with no particular place to go, when I spotted an intriguing feature on the map. (This is why I prefer maps to GPS, which doesn't give the big picture view of the territory to the left and right of your current trajectory.) #icelandsecret
There seemed to be a bridge or road or some sort of connection to an offshore island off Route 1 northeast of Reykjavik in a town called Grafarvogur.
Now some might argue that if there's a road, it can't be an island. But if it's a causeway that's under water at high tide, I respectfully insist that it is, at least some of the time, surrounded by water, the very definition of an island. And this distinction is essential to my assertion that we actually did what the title of this post says we did. The causeway is a rough, lava-strewn strip with a rocky beach on either side, but it was passable at low tide.
The second "island" in the title refers to the fact that Iceland is an island. There should be no quibbling about that.
At the Reykjavik flea market, Kolaportið, you can get all manner of things, from garage sale leftovers to military memorabilia to frozen eels. But in my opinion, the best deal of all is the hand-knit sweaters, lovingly created by some of Iceland's most talented crafters.
We went to buy one in one of the several stalls selling knitware, and almost found exactly what we were looking for. But the men's sweater we liked best was too small, and the neckline pattern was a little busy, and darn! We really were ready to buy.
You can get anything you want
Arna in stall E16 told us, "No problem. My mother-in-law, Magga, will knit you exactly what you want." And because most Icelanders speak excellent English, we were able to communicate, exchange emails and get confirmation that by Tuesday, our new sweater was being knitted. Two and a half days later it was ready.
Shiver me timbers, the sailing vessel WHY? is docked in Reykjavik, preparing for a dive trip to Greenland to explore the sea life beneath and on top of the polar ice. The program is called "Under the Pole."
The boat's name is Why? The crew says "why not?"
© Karla Jacobs, 2014
Waiting for a good weather window (calmer seas, fewer icebergs), the crew of Why? prepare the boat for the week's passage to southern Greenland, after passaging from France. Their plan is to hop up the West coast of Greenland, taking on paying passengers for diving, kayaking, ice-exploring adventures, and whatever nature has in store for them.
The other day at the meat counter I saw a clutch of amazing-looking eggs and had to buy the prettiest one in the bunch. It cost 459K (about $3.80) and was exactly the shade of blue/green I had chosen for my bedroom walls, with dainty swirls and spots of chocolaty brown.
It's from a seabird called Svartfugl which means "black bird", also known Guillemot, a cliff-dwelling relative of the Awk family. I brought it home and googled the bird and learned that hunters risk their lives to capture these eggs from the cliffs and bring them to market, which makes me sad that I bought one, both for the birds and the hunters who feel they must risk their lives to steal eggs to make a living.
I was told you can boil or fry or scramble these, just as you do chicken eggs and they're a great delicacy. And then I discovered that you can eat the birds themselves, if you're so inclined. Here are instructions on how to prepare a Svartflugl for cooking. It's in Icelandic, but the video speaks for itself. (not for the squeamish)