||[May. 23rd, 2011|04:21 pm]
It just wouldn't be a weekend in Iceland without being inconvenienced by a volcano. Luckily it has only delayed my departure by a few hours; I was a whole five hours outside the flight cancellation window. I do feel a pang of wistful regret; my fallback plan was the 3-day ferry to Denmark via the Faroe Islands. Would have been fabulous. Would also have been out of contact and depleted my annual leave to commitment-canceling levels, so it's probably for the best this way.
Iceland is fabulous. Well, Reykjavik is. Honesty compels me to admit I didn't see much outside it. The city itself (okay, I only really saw downtown) is low density, cute, and expensive. By expensive I mean prices comparable to New York, although it's hard to say for sure, since the exchange rate happens to trigger a bug in my brain.
See, one ISK is equivalent to a penny less comfort margin, so the simple rule is lop off two zeros to get the price in USD. I am, however, a technical person accustomed to engineering units, and it turns out to be unbelievably hard to not work in thousands.
When I first arrived at the airport, I went straight to an ATM and attempted to withdraw the largest amount it offered, being 80,000 ISK, which I interpreted as $80 (which is a small maximum limit, but hey, financial crisis, devaluation, bodes well for shopping!). Mysteriously, the ATM refused. I tried another ATM; same story. I called my bank, figuring their fraud system was unhappy about my location, and they assured me it would work next time. It didn't; but then another ATM that I tried had a maximum withdrawal of only 20,000 ISK, which worked. $20 doesn't seem like much, but then everybody takes Visa anyway.
Some time later I realized that I'd withdrawn $200 instead, and considered it a minor blessing that my daily withdrawal limit is below $800.
Not that this realization helped, since later that day, while in a mild panic since all the shops were closing at a ridiculously early time of 6pm, when the sunlight was equivalent to bright noon anywhere else on the planet, I found some bargain priced piscine leather gear. So remarkably priced was this store that I threw extra things more or less at random into my order, being vaguely aware that there's a minimum purchase amount required to be able to reclaim the 25% VAT at the airport. Bare seconds after the credit card transaction went through it dawned on me that I'd just spent an order of magnitude more than I'd expected.
On the upside, I now have two pairs of very nice gloves.
The light here is pretty amazing - and it isn't even summer! The darkest it gets, modulo cloud cover or, you know, volcano ash, is just-past-sunset lighting, meaning a bright southern sky shading to medium blue in the north. The city seems reasonably sedate on weeknights, though certifiably crazy on weekends.
There's a high standard of pulchritude, though with amusing local touches - people do make a point of getting dressed up to go out, which for the lads means a uniform of dark suit, white shirt, thin black tie - and a captain's hat! I captured no pictures, but erupted in giggles at every new sighting, particularly when they were hunting in packs.
The apartment that I stayed in (my first airbnb experience; entirely positive) had blinds and the like to deal with the continuous daylight, and, wary after my recent jetlag horrors, I packed facemask and melatonin, and wound up having amazingly good sleep. Rather too good, in fact; I kept sleeping through brunch. Out of curiosity, and as something of a control, I skipped the melatonin last night and slept wretchedly, with both trouble falling asleep and staying there for more than a few hours. Rather like my usual sleep cycle at home, in fact. Which is why I now have a large bottle of 1mg melatonin en route from Amazon for regular use, in an attempt to conquer the modern technical sleep conundrum.
I do regret not having a good way of tracking quality of sleep, and therefore no baseline to measure prospective improvements against, but then that's why I'm heading west for the Quantified Self conference this weekend.
But back to Iceland. There was a certain amount of box-ticking, given how many classically Icelandic experiences there are to try and the limited amount of time I had. Foal may be my new favourite meat. Whale is a bit over-rated, although there was a lot of variance between preparations. At our largest single dinner occasion we gorged on 14 different types of beast, which I won't try to enumerate. Only half or so were sea-dwellers.
Aside from the eating, it turns out horses are quite fun to ride, too. Quelle surprise! The Icelandic horse is pony-sized but famous for a couple of unique gaits, including the tölt, which is dramatically more comfortable than a typical trot. Mine broke into it only for a few seconds a time (it was a little sadistic; I like to think that my dinner the following night was its close relative) but easily enough to grasp the appeal. Cute animals. I may add keeping them to my list of things to do when I move onto a ranch.
I've been musing about doing the Inca Trail on horseback with increasing enthusiasm for a while now, and this ride made me feel more confident about the whole thing, although the fact that my motorbike muscles still hurt days afterwards does have me rethinking the wisdom of spending ten days on horseback. Still, trotting and gallop achievements unlocked!
The birthday party itself was one of the more enjoyable occasions I've attended in the northern hemisphere, and the dozen or so of us that had flown in from foreign lands for the occasion have spent the time since hanging out together. It turns out that Andie makes friends with good people. The exact moment was marked, of course, by the eruption we'd arranged earlier (bringing cakes through customs and quarantine is hard). Sadly, we were off by an hour due to a timezone misunderstanding (stupid daylight savings), but it's the thought that counts.
The eruption itself was moderately anticlimactic. The ash cloud hanging across the land on Sunday was pretty impressive, but since the emergency services people shut the roads down stat, it was impossible to get to anywhere close. We couldn't even decide, from the church tower, which particular cloud feature might have been the eruption. With any luck there'll be a better view from the plane.
There was also a Blue Lagoon and some Viking ruins and stuff, but it's time to head for the gate and try our collective hand at the Rolls Royce Volcanic Ash Roulette.