Monthly Archives: April 2012

American’s want to take over the world, so says an Icelandic man

“Americans want to take over the world,” so said an Icelander I met yesterday and again today at my favorite coffee shop, Shofan.

The Icelander made that statement and then went on to make fun of Americans by doing an Icelandic version of John Wayne. He pulled down his fishing cap to his eyes and tried to look ferocious with a smirk on his face.

He also tried to tell me that Texans are braggers and I mentioned the word obnoxious, and then had to explain that word.

Later, Cosmos, the artist you met yesterday, was also in the coffee shop and came over to say hello to me, standing near as he was on his way out of the shop.

Gergo joined the Icelander and me in the corner of the room, after I had greeted Gergo and a coffee server I hadn’t met yet. She had a perfect American English language skill and I mentioned that she sounded American. Turns out she did live in the states but is Icelandic.

Anna, you also met yesterday, came in with a group of her young friends and waved at me.

Meanwhile, back at the corner where I sat with Gergo and the Icelander, for more “education” from this highly educated gentleman about the rudeness of the Italian artist who stepped out. Well, I know now that you aren’t not supposed to stand to speak to anyone who is sitting down, that it is rude. However, when the Italian was gone, the Icelander told me he didn’t like him, due to a skirmish once outside when the Italian had to hold him back.

The Icelander speaks many languages, which may be the reason he feels no one should visit any foreign country without some knowledge of the language. Ouch!

He rolled his own cigarette and wondered why I didn’t smoke. He said he was healthier because of the tobacco he uses. He said it took a certain skill to roll your own, and I told him I could do that….no sweat (I didn’t exactly use that slang with him – but you get the idea).

So I remember how my grandpa rolled his own, and I took the paper in my hand and began to pinch the tobacco and when I did, he kept telling me not to spill it. So, I was careful and put just the right amount in the paper, rolled it up and licked one edge. I thought I did pretty good.

He said it was fixable, and that with a little bit of work he could use it. Later, I saw him shake out the tobacco and redo it in another paper. I thought the one I rolled was okay, but then, I’m American.

Summer! Dang it!

I just finished a great day, with the best bowl ‘supa a dagsins’ soup of the day, and the best  soup I have ever slurped: carrot, curry and bits of ginger. It was just what I needed after walking in the cold weather, and I was told it was ‘all you can eat’. Well, I went back three times, and stopped just before the fourth time;  I decided someone might be keeping score.

It’s the second day of summer, and very early in the morning, restaurant workers were busy putting chairs and table outdoors, because, I repeat, it is summer! I observed people sitting at outside restaurants enjoying drinks and food, all the while wearing coats, hats and scarves. Don’t let anyone tell an Icelander when it’s summer it’s too cold to sit outside. “It’s not cold to us,” a waitress said.

My day began by talking to a gentleman just in from Montana, with serious jet-lag, then I met an Italian at my favorite coffee place where Anna Asthildur gets my coffee to me with a smile. The word Ast means love in Icelandic and Hildur is an old Icelandic name, she told me.

The Italian man, Cosimo, is an artist and recent graduate of a culinary school. He arrived in Iceland, I believe he said 14 years ago, as an exchange student and stayed. He likes the country and now is fluent in the language. When he learned I was from the U.S., he remarked that he would be afraid to go to America. “Because it’s violent”, he said. Did you learn that from television? “Yes, and from movies.”

Now, here’s a travel hint for those on a budget: if you really want to see the city, get on a local bus and stay on it the whole route. I did that this afternoon and got acquainted with the bus driver, Arnie. He stopped at a coffee station, that is next to a restaurant and is a convenient stop for the drivers. He invited me in and shared his thermos of coffee with me. His daughter was an exchange student in Denver awhile ago, and he visited her.  He saw Aspen, Vail and other snowy places while there. I felt right at home talking about my old homestead.

When the bus was back to the original stop, he handed me a transfer and advised me to hop on number one. “That will take a long time and you’ll see a lot.” So on number one, the woman bus driver welcomed me and when she, too had a scheduled break, told me we had just gone through the third largest city called, Hafnarfjordur. It’s located close to an aluminum factory, and there are many new houses begin built, for those who work at the plants. The houses are built on top of lava fields. She pointed out there is a place called Lava Gardens and it consists of many large boulders of lava, most of which, are covered with moss, and trails to follow.

But in this town, you better watch out for gnomes, trolls and elves for they surely exist in the Viking area in the town.

“The houses are cheaper here because of the factory and the geothermal operation plant. There’s some pollution seen in the air at times,” she told me. Today, however, it was clear.

I had learned from another person that the product for aluminum is imported to Iceland from Brazil, and then the final process is completed in Iceland and sold to Germany and the Netherlands, with most of it kept for use in Iceland.

Most houses and buildings are covered with aluminum, and the last time I was here, my answers to that were not satisfied, so this time I kept asking until I got an answer.

Houses and buildings are covered to protect them, I was told. Something was needed to protect houses from the harsh weather. Not to mention, shall we say, volcanoes and earthquakes?  “From the early days, back in the 1800s, there wasn’t enough material to build houses entirely out of wood. My father-in-law remodeled his one hundred year old house and found sheets of banana cartons inside the walls,” a coffee tender from the same coffee place, told me.

The bus took over four hours of travel and cost only close to $3.00. And the bus drivers were good folks. So consider that if you are traveling on a dime, as I am.



First day of summer

It’s a holiday today; the first day of summer. There are two seasons, it appears: summer and winter. It’s chilly but the sun came out for most of the day. Because it’s a holiday, there was a lot of activity in the streets, beginning with a day of running. I went to the City Hall and saw people getting registered to run around the lake, and it was the same place where children’s art was on display. Children’s art is the most natural and creative. Whoever runs the child art program in Reykjavik needs to be congratulated. It was all beautiful.

A man who said he was from New Zeeland, but had an American accent, performed a show on the street that kept everyone enthralled. He first began  by coming on the street ‘stage’ in pajamas. His schtick was slightly risqué, but hilarious. He had the audience in the palm of his hand, with his jokes and his acrobatic skills.

He got two men out of the audience to hold a ladder, a man on each side. While he joked,  and while the ladder was balanced he put his body into acrobatic maneuvers, that caused gasps in the audience.

Another man  further down the street, who spoke French, played a guitar and sang French songs. The guy I saw earlier in the week who played the ‘saw’ must not have received the memo because he wasn’t anywhere today. He was reminiscent of the ‘saw player’ in Santa Cruz, who was so popular that when he died an iron statue was made and dedicated to him. You can see it on the Garden Mall.

Someone just said hello to me, and asked me how I was. I forgot and answered him in American slang, “I’m hanging in there.” Then I laughed and told him I was fine. He shook my hand and said, “Happy Summer.” It’s a great day in Iceland.



Most people are good

My headline: most people are good comes from my experience as an ex-pat and an older (Yes, I’m going to admit it) traveler, who travels on a dime.

There, that about sums up my adventure here, but wait, there’s more. Walking around the city of Reykjavik makes me realize how small the town is when I run in to people I have met. Take Gergo – the young Hungarian man. He was one of the first persons I met, and somehow we seem to end up on the same streets when out walking in the fresh Icelandic air. I saw him again today. He asked  how I was doing with the pain in my legs when I walk. Remember, he walked with me to the grocery store and back when I first arrived in Reykjavik. I couldn’t go far without having to stop and let my legs recuperate. Then, day by day, I’m getting stronger. I can walk all the way to town, through town, and back around again with NO pain.  I let the legs rest for a day, which seemed to help. Walking Rules!!!!

Then there’s the nice young fisherman from Seattle who has been in Iceland for about 3 weeks and stays in the same guesthouse as I, and we have shared the same table getting on-line time with our computers.  Just a few days ago his mother joined him from Seattle. We met each other at the Blue Lagoon, and again today in the streets of Reykjavik. His mother took  a photo of me and her son. I’m sorry not to know their names, and that’s sad, because we became friends for a few days. But seeing them together made me wish my sons were here with me.

I went to Mokko coffee shop hoping to see the gentleman-actor, Kitel, who I met one time, who seemed to know everyone who walked in the door, but he wasn’t there. Then there is a nice lady who works in the chocolate shop in the oldest house in Reykjavik that is made of timber. She’s kind and patient when I go in there and pick only one tiny piece of chocolate, and snag a free sample, as well.

Saw a sign advertising a menu with whale and puffin. Puffins are the cute, fluffy little birds who sustained Faroese people for centuries with their eggs, and of course, their meat. Eggs were (and still are, but now it’s more of a hobby), secured by men who climb up the rocks to where the Puffin’s laid their legs.

Yesterday, I sat next to a male couple at happy hour in the same coffee shop where I go nearly everyday and they waved at me today.

There is a disheveled woman who comes to the prayer singing every morning and she has begun to recognize me when she sees me. I have seen her pick through trash. She has blue eyes circled with  a life time of troubles, but manages a smile.

I’ve seen a lot of life and have experienced kindness, and then I found the City Hall, a picture of architectural genius, open to the  community.

The City Hall sits smack dab on a lake, with sculptures all around. A group of women were getting a children’s art project ready for an exhibition. This is a city hall the likes I have never seen before. 

Inside the restaurant in the city hall were two men with baby buggies taking time with their babies with their paternity leave privilege, and across at the lake was a church. Inside the church a funeral was attended to by many people, who I observed coming out of the church and standing around until the body was placed in the hearse and drove off. Life and death and everything in between.





Fathers and babies

It’s so sweet to see fathers and their babies nearly everyday. I saw a father working on his computer while a baby slept near him in a baby buggy. When the baby woke up and was a bit fussy, the father finished his work and began to leave. I couldn’t stand not to say something to him so I praised him for being a good father.

“It’s normal here in Iceland,” he said. He was on a ‘paternity leave’ which gives equality to the work-world. A mother doesn’t need to feel guilty for taking time off work to stay home, as both mother and father receive leave-time. The father gets to bond with the baby, while the mother recuperates and gets ready to get back to work.



Harpa Hall

Blue Lagoon

Ah, the Blue Lagoon: I felt I was inside a live Maxfield Parrish painting. Steam arose from the azure water, while I paddled around in comfort and amazement. The geothermal water was warm, with hotter currents circulating below and around.

Friendly people were everywhere soaking up the warmth and feeling relaxed. Wind suddenly blew so strong it made waves above the bubbling water. I lost my glasses to the wind, when I put them temporarily on a plank while I slathered my face with silica mud. The silica in boxes at key locations, is thought to make your skin soft and lovely. Icelandic Krona and dollar signs flashed through my consciousness. Glasses? I’d first need an eye exam then I’d have to purchase glasses. How’s that going to work with my traveling-on-a-dime? A gallant man found my glasses near his foot and brought them to the surface with his toe. They were toed-in!

It took a half hour or more to get to the Blue Lagoon, after everyone had been picked up from their hotels and taken to the bus station for the final ride. I met some nice folks from the States who had been in Germany at the wedding of their daughter.

Cold and damp air met us at the lagoon when we got off the bus. We walked through what seemed to be a wind tunnel, with tall lava walls forming the entrance. After taking the mandated shower with soap before putting on my swim suit, the warm blue waters beckoned me after the freezing walk to the edge of the pool.

Warm, it was warm, with hotter spots that were easy to find; just follow the people standing in a group.

The day before, I took a photo of the Harpa hall while on a walk to the harbor. Each section of glass on the facade seems to change colors due to the change of light as the day grows long. Soon, I’ll attend the opera, La Boheme.

Relaxation supreme

Like being in a live Maxfield Parrish painting



…See More

Expat observations of Iceland

Going swimming is a social event that begins with first getting naked and taking a shower with soap. Then you put on your swimsuit and go to either the pool or one of the ‘hot pots’ or the steam room. The hot pots range in temperature, but I’ve been warned not to stay in longer than 15 minutes in one neighborhood hot pot, while in another pool, I was warned by other hot potters to get out often and cool off before getting back in.

Icelanders are friendly and helpful, but an outsider must make the first move. I’ve experienced that many times, while sitting next to someone as I did this morning and finding a very friendly person. I asked a question about the slaves of Ingolfur Arnarson who was credited with being the first to settle in Reykjavik and also credited with beginning the first parliament.

According to the young woman, Arnarson took his slaves, who came from Ireland, as the story goes, and threw out two pillars off his boat as he sailed along the Icelandic coast from Norway. He told his slaves that wherever the pillars washed ashore, that is where he would settle with his family. After about three years the slaves search ended on the shore line, where Arnarson settled, and that became Reykjavik.

The history also continues  that Ingolfur’s stepbrother, Hjorleifur, who had sailed with him, settled in what became known as Hjorleifshofdi. Hjorleifur’s Irish slaves killed him.  Ingolfur hunted then down and killed them in retribution. Vestmannaeyar (Westman Islands) was named for the slaves.

I also learned that tipping in restaurants and in taxi’s is not expected in Iceland. It’s funny, however, to notice in one restaurant, a “tip” jar with a few American dollars sat idle inside.

A three story bookstore sells drinks and food, and a customer can take it to any store location, where there is seating, and free-read magazines or books without purchasing them. Also the library has several vending machines where a patron can drink coffee, tea, soft drinks and eat snacks while reading. I remember in HOlland the libraries there had entire restaurants and a patron could read a book, magazine or newspaper while munching away.

April 19 is the first day of summer. There will be celebrations to honor the important day.

For the first time today, I took it easy and stayed close to my guesthouse, venturing once in the morning to my favorite coffee house that reminds me of Santa Cruz – cozy, mix-matched furniture, uneven hardwood plank floors, a cup of coffee with a free refill, and  free to stay all day if you want.

I also walked to  the bookstore previously mentioned and purchased a rolled up thing with cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. Delicious.



Icelandic fashions and salty fish


Took my usual walk around Reykjavik after first having morning coffee in a cozy place with my new friend Gergo. Sitting by the window, it was fun to observe teenagers walking to school, the girls wearing their fashion of tights under short-shorts or skirts, coats with fur-lined hoods and boots of all kinds.

The warm woolen, hand-knitted sweater is the normal fashion statement by the majority, however.

Then there is the high fashion look that is showcasing Iceland as a new fashion center. I call it shabby chic: off-center  cuts, one sleeve with the other one open, shirts over tops and over skirts and over lacy slips, with boots up to the knee, and let’s not leave out the dripping fringe and woolen ruffles out of the mix.

On my walk, I made a reservation at the information house for the Blue Lagoon; it is a spa about forty minutes away from Reykjavik where people bath in the warm healing geothermal seawater, outside in the natural Icelandic air.

Also made a reservation to see the opera La Boheme at the new opera house. I promise a photo of that. Going to the opera reminds me when in Germany, Juliane and I went to see a German opera with subtitles in Italian. Not fluent in either language, she had printed a summary of the story in English for me before we left. It didn’t take too long until I was confused with the story  line. On a break Juliane admitted she printed out the wrong story.

So, La Boheme will be sung in Italian with Icelandic subtitles.

At the new impressive opera house I ordered lunch; herring over rye bread. When it arrived to my table, it was a surprise to see that the sauce on top of the chucks of herring was purple. It matched the chair I was sitting on. It turns out that the sauce was made of beet root. Not often do I turn back a meal, but this was so salty that if another fish had eaten it, it would have died.

To top it off, the butter for the extra bread had chunks of salt on top of it. Couldn’t eat it, and told the waitress it was just too salty. And no, I didn’t want anything else, other than a cup of coffee. When I paid the bill, the manager had given me a discount and the coffee was free.