May 13, 2014
The trip started out on just the right foot. As usual, I got to the airport 3 and a half hours early, but the trade off was I got to sit in the emergency exit seats with infinity legroom, and I was informed the seat next to me was going to be empty. Not a bad start to the trip.
Additionally, although Icelandair doesn’t serve in flight meals (not gonna lie, was NOT aware of that when I boarded on a totally empty stomach) but it has a lot of nice little touches. Bottles shaped like glaciers, all the stuff on board has little Icelandic phrases on it (though since some of the characters are beyond my lexicon and there is no phonetic pronunciation included, they are a little beyond me), and although it’s small I love these little touches. I’d gladly give up the crappy in flight meal for them.
My master plan has been that since I was leaving Edmonton at around 6:30 PM and landing in Reykjavik around 6:30 AM that I would stay up the entire flight and following day to beat the jet lag in one quick burst. I kept my chair fully erect so that when I started to nod off my head would bob forward and I’d wake myself up.
As such, I finished my first book of the journey “Are You Experienced” loaned to me by Melissa. It left me with the unshakable feeling that I’d just been travelling for 3 months and the flight I was on was actually heading home. Second, a nice mantra for travel “your experiences while travelling are neither good or bad, they are just experience.” Having experienced travelling before, I figured it would be wise to prepare myself for the inevitable daily peaks and valleys in mood. The mantra seemed to view everything that happens as a neutral experience, and what travelling was all about.
There was a shuttle right from the airport to my hostel that took about an hour to get there. I fought the temptation to nod off as hard as possible and arrived at my hostel. I checked in but my room wasn’t ready (reasonable at 8:00 AM) so I stashed my bad, grabbed a map, and headed out the door to explore the town.
First thing I noticed: Iceland is cold. Don’t be deceived by the weather forecasts of 3 to 8 degrees Celsius in May. Something about that arctic wind coming off the ocean front chills you right to the bone. Like it’s cooling you from the inside out like a reverse microwave. Some kind of endothermic reaction. That’s probably the wrong word, but I’m moving on anyways.
I realized a problem right away with my plan to beat the jet lag. When I’d done it in the past I’d always been with someone. Alone, this was much more of a task. I started doing some planning but staring at my laptop screen made me start to fall asleep. I decided to write a bit in my journal, and I’ve never almost nodded off mid written sentence before. In my journal are sentences where II trail off into smaller and smaller letters followed by a line dragged across the page.
So what do I do? I don’t drink coffee, so that isn’t an option. Beer would give me a boost in energy but it was only 3 PM and that would probably put me on the fast track to day drunk and passing out around 8. On my way back from withdrawing money I found a Vietnamese food shop and got a brilliant/awful idea.
I got a vegetable chicken noodle soup and loaded it up with hot pepper sauce. Like LOADED it up so much the soup changed from broth colored to thick red. That did it. Some young girls in the seat next to me were watching “Frozen” and trying to sing along. When they caught me noticing them they came over and made me try on their hairband. I hope that’s how they remember Canadians from now on.
\Now here is a story that involves me being awful with directions and how shitty Edmonton construction zones are. There is a road from my hostel that leads right to the main shopping/bar/restaurant street in Reykjavik with a name that is equally impossible to remember as other street names in the city (though since this story, I’ve taken to memorizing street names by the first three letter with only slightly disastrous results). I’m awful with directions, but there was a silver lining. In the morning before I headed down that road I noticed a construction zone set on the street that intersects this main street. So I thought ‘perfect, this is a great landmark for me to know I have to turn to get back to my hostel when heading down this road.
Now, in hindsight this was a reasonably small construction zone, but in Edmonton standards something set up on a Thursday? It was a good bet that it would still be up by Sunday when I leave. After a day of sightseeing I started heading down that road and walking … and walking … and walking … No construction zone. Now when I’m walking through a city waiting for a landmark, my brain is on screensaver mode. I’m looking at the signs, the people, the girls, the sky, the cars, the girls, the cobblestone, the shop windows that I pass through, and of course trying to pick up on words in foreign languages as people walk by. It wasn’t till the road I was on started to get smaller and head downhill that I noticed an issue. I checked my map and realized I’d overshot, so I turned around. When I got to where my turn was, the construction site was completely gone! Like, I could see where they’d been working, but other than knowing there was construction going on there in the morning, there was no way that someone could guess that is what happened there.
Then I started to notice it everywhere. Icelandic construction workers have an unreal sense of work ethic. I actually passed two guys racing each other to clear out cement. It’s hilarious, and they all look like they’re having a great time. Somehow, this ended up being the biggest piece of culture shock my first few days in Reykjavik. Construction works who love, and seem to be exceedingly efficient at their job.
You never know how it’s going to get you.
After eating the worlds hottest soup I got back to my hostel to find a guy and a girl that I was sharing a bunk with chatting. They were both super friendly at first. The guy was from Edmonton (something SUPER common here being that Icelandair only serves direct flights from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto) and a German girl. Their names escape, as do all names that enter my head. They were really nice at first, but as soon as I started getting integrated into the conversation, the guy found a subject I couldn’t contribute to (travelling through Australia) and just would not change it. I felt ejected from the conversation REALLY aggressively. Classic move, but then I instantly recognized that this guy was a) going for this girl and b) needed it bad. This guy was playing the “every joke was funny” and “every story is interesting” card, combined with backpedaling whenever he said something that disagreed with the German girls opinion. Gross.
However, being that this was the first unpaid conversation I’d had overseas so far, I told them my plans for the night (I had compiled a mental list during my wanderings of bars that I wanted to check out) and they agreed to tag along. On the way out the door, we recruited another girl from our room, and another dude in our room who all I remember about was that he didn’t drink and is gay.
We had some fairly overpriced beers at the hostel, then headed into town for some severely overpriced beers. I tipped the bartender at the hostel and we walked around with the tip for 30 seconds not knowing what to do with it. I forgot that nobody tips in Europe.
We eventually found a bar packed entirely by locals. They exclusively sold beer from a local micro brewery. The bartender had a bow-tie and a classy manor and described all the beers on tap as though they were expensive wines. I was home.
As we had more beers our tongues got looser, our voices got louder, and the stories and jokes got more perverted. It was a really good night.
I ended up in a conversation with this awesome Icelandic dude named Ragnar. This guy kicked all the ass that I would expect a viking local to. How do I know his name and now the names for the 4 people I had drinks with all night? Simple word association my friends. He described his name “Ragnarok, minus the ‘ok’” and since Ragnarok is a sword from Final Fantasy, I’ll remember his name long after I’ve forgotten how to pee on my own. He asked me if I was from Canada and when I answered in the affirmative he gushed about how much he loved Canadians. We ended up talking about all sorts of topics from Game of Thrones (of course, it’s Iceland), my theory that John Snow is actually Rhaegar Targarean and Lyanna Stark’s bastard son (which is why the mad king had her executed), he shared a story about actually meeting Kit Harrington, we talked about how Iceland is apparently 90% powered by thermal and hydro electricity (not confirmed), and ended talking about Vikings and how as stocky men it’s impossible to lose weight but also takes nothing to gain muscle.
Around 11:00 PM I had completed my goal for beating my jet lag and decided to call it a night. Since all that was left of our group was the budding couple that I’d met earlier I didn’t want to make them do the awkward “should we walk home with him” dance so I just left them at the bar. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “I’m going out for a smoke.”
Edmontonian guy: “Wait, you don’t smoke.”
Me: “DON’T TELL ME WHAT I CAN’T DO!”
Later that night I was awakened by them fooling around on the bunk above me. I’m basically Cupid.
The next day, I woke up at 5:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep so clearly my battle with jet lag was going into overtime. I decided to go check out the University of Reykjavik campus. While wandering around campus, I found a couch and decided to sit down and read till the National Museum next door opened. I woke up 2 hours later.
The next hour was a big of a struggle because I was super groggy by determined not to go to sleep again. The Icelandic National Museum had a cool exhibit on the history of Iceland’s settlers. It was cool until Christianity was introduced. I think I’ve seen enough Christian paintings and artifact to last me a lifetime.
On my way back home I stopped to book a rental car for my journey around ring road. I’d done some research and talked to Lauren who had been to Iceland before me and thought I had a decent price. While booking, one of the travel agents took out a map and I talked about where I was going and he mentioned some places to add to my itinerary. I have said this 100 times, but I absolutely LOVE talking to people that truly love traveling. It was downright romantic in there. If he was a girl, we would have ended up making out.
While touring the city, I noticed all of the kids I saw today are running around wearing costumes. I approached a group of them and asked why all the kids were wearing costumes. They answered that it was a national holiday, and inquired where my costume was. Sensing that they were messing with me, I told them Canadians are against wearing costumes outside of harvest season. We believe that if you wear costumes too often you will become the thing that you are wearing. I stole that from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When we finally got honest with each other (straight forward answers are so boring) I found out all the high school seniors in Reykjavik are graduating today.
That night, I found this amazing bar that served exclusively craft beers. I got a sample platter and just sat and chatted with the bartender. I told him I liked dark beers and IPA’s, so he gave me a stout, an IPA, and two Imperial stouts (which I drank in that order). They were all amazing.
I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here about beer, so just bear with me a moment. This Icelandic Imperial Ale is amazing. I don’t have the palette or vocabulary to describe it with any sort of proper justice, but if I had to use one word, I’d say the flavor was “advanced”. It invokes a lot of different flavors, and you can tell after the first sip that shits got some high alcohol percentage. On top of it, it just LOOKS great. The beer is very dark, and the head is tiny Guinness bubbles with a little brown in it. Definitely the best beer I’ve had here in Iceland.
The rest of the night I ended up finding out that there was a conference for an MMORPG in town called EVE online. I ended up talking to a lot of the developers about how it was designed (C for rendering, Python for level design and mechanics) and gamers about what playing it is actually like (some of them actually make livings off of playing it). I tried convincing the developers that they were the rocks stars of the night and took it sort of smugly. I gathered that they had a private party going on the night after. This part of the story is important for the next night.
The next day, I did a bit more sightseeing but had covered most of the things that I’d wanted to see in Reykjavik already. The real experience of that day was the night life.
Here is a little background about the hostel that I was staying in. Usually, your hostel bar is where people from the hostel or other travelers go to meet other travelers. What KEX is trying to do is make it accessible to the locals too, and their totally pulling it off. I’d say when it’s busy the place is about a 50/50 split of locals to travelers, which is something you don’t see … ever in my experience. I sat with some locals who were super nice and they graciously conversed in English so I could understand. One Icelandic girl at the table, Margret, was really polite in translating things so I could stay up to speed. They were all hilarious. I learned that Iceland’s April Fools is a little different. The goal is to make people walk through a doorway twice, and that is pretty much it. Margret talked about a paper once that put out an ad they had a petting zoo set up and when people arrived it was just a teddy bear inside a fenced area, but the actual joke was that people walked through the entrance. Very strange.
It also turned out that Margret was spinning for the Eve Online private party and she was going to try and get me on the list. Call it ego, but there is nothing I love more than crashing a private party.
After Margret left I went to the bar for another drink. I ended up talking to two Americans, one from Boston and one from DC who were really cool, though none of us actually exchanged names. We had a few beers and the guy from Boston (we’ll call him beardsly because he had one of the richest, fullest beards I’ve ever seen) said he had a bottle of whiskey. We were all cheaping out at the bar not buying beers and eating lots of free bread and drinking water so I think we all had the same idea about staying decently sober. It had already been a raucous 2 nights for me and I needed a break. We shared the bottle of whiskey and I went super reasonable on that. Conversation started to die down and we all headed back down to the bar and I took the opportunity to head off to the EVE party alone since I assumed Margret hadn’t allowed my any guests.
When I got there my name wasn’t actually on the list but I got in anyways. I paid for my first and last beer for the night and then ended up in a conversation with a Icelandic guy and his German girlfriend. Here is where the coincidences start to sound made up.
The guy was a digital print designer, and was the person who’d printed all the beer tickets for the event. He handed me more tickets than I could ever use and I wondered what the hell I’d done in a past life to be this lucky. The only downside to the tickets was they were supposed to once be for this crappy Icelandic beer called Gull. It’s really light, heavily carbonated, and has a sweet taste. Not my scene. However, I was able to convince the bartender to get me other types of beer instead (the Imperial Stout from the night before).
Despite the waft of bio that affronted me from time to time the private party was amazing. The first band that came on kicked ass and the second DJ that came on killed it harder than I’ve ever seen. I’m no expert on the subject, but I have to say without a doubt this was the best live DJ show ever. On top of all of that, and I hate to stereotype, but everyone there was a computer nerd, nobody was REALLY dancing, so getting right to the front of the stage was no problem. The developers started crowd surfing and they really were the rock stars of the night which was weird and amazing all at once.
I broke the laws of physics and actually ran into the beer ticket guy and his girlfriend again and we chatted more and he gave me more beer tickets. The new tickets he’d given me were for the after party, so I knew that I needed to figure out a way to get in.
I cashed in two of the tickets I had that were only good for the conference and filled my pockets with Imperial Stout. I found a group of devs and hung on the outskirts of the group and slowly integrated myself. We headed off to the private party. Here is my personal list of things to do to get into a private party:
- While walking, try to position yourself sort of in the middle of the group as it will help when they’re letting the entire group in
- Don’t try to push yourself in any conversation. Stick to the basics and even being quiet and waiting for someone to talk to you is a good idea. The last thing you want is for them to think you don’t belong there and are trying too hard to integrate
- Right as you get to the door, tell the absolute funniest joke that you can to get everyone laughing with you. This will complete the image that you actually belong and aren’t just tagging along
- When walking in, do not make eye contact with anyone. Own that you should be there. Making eye contact with the bouncer will just suggest that you’re looking for permission to enter. You don’t need it
- Don’t sit at the bar drinking beers that you took from the last party that aren’t actually served at the after party
Unfortunately, I did not follow rule number 5 and my adventure ended quite quickly. I was happy to have spent some time at the private party and was almost happy to get some sleep. It was now 4:30 AM and I had a long day ahead of me for which I was already woefully under prepared for.
Before heading home I stopped at Lebowski Bar. I know it sounds like a tourist trap but a local had told me it’s a cool bar and mostly filled with Icelanders. She said I needed to at least go and have a white Russian. Can’t argue with that.
I think I have a new mix drink of choice. Unless there is something special that they’re doing in there specific white Russian this was far and wide the best mix drink I’ve ever had. Some American dude (thick Texan accent) started laughing at me and saying how cliche was it that I was drinking a white Russian. I told him to try it and he resisted. I told his he shouldn’t be passing judgement without trying it first. He seemed to not be able to argue that and took a sip. I could see him immediately eating his words when he tasted my white Russian (that sounds dirty). Before leaving the bar, I caught him ordering one for himself at the bar at the end of the night. God damn tourists.
The next day I woke up in a blur. The German girl from the first night was descending her top bunk and greeted me as follows:
“Morning Mr Snore Monster.”
“Ugh. Was I that bad?”
“You were pretty bad.”
“What time is it?”
“What? I set my alarm for 9! I have to get my rental car by 11:00!”
Angrily. “It did go off. Many times.”
I tucked tail and slunk out of the dorm room only uttering apologies as I went. Thankfully, my rental pickup was late so I was able to enjoy some breakfast and jot down most of the nights events into my journal.
I was looking forward to 11 days on the road and in nature, though I wasn’t totally sure if I was prepared for it. I felt like in a lot of ways, Reykjavik had chewed me up and spit me out, but I’d got out of it alive and hopefully wiser for the experience. Having only a scribbled down list of sites to see on the road I was anxious to get started on the next leg of my journey.
Read – Are You Experienced
This book was a really easy read. Weirdly, what I liked and didn’t like about it was that there was no discernible tone to it. One minute, the narrator is giving a straightforward PG account of his travels, and the next he’s talking about his throbbing boner. That said, the narrator is 19 and it gives a pretty good sense of what your mind does when you travel at 19. You’re sort of frustrated by the narrator’s attitude and how he looks to this awful girl he’s traveling with for validation and happiness, and at the same time completely understand the mentality cause we’ve all been. there.
Hostel stayed in – KEX
Like I stated in my story, they are heavily invested in making the bar accessible to the locals. While there they had a food and used clothing market. It has an amazing location, and is up to the usual standard of cleanliness and comfort I’ve come to expect from a Hostel dorm. All in all, if you aren’t staying here when you come to Reykjavik, you should at least stop by for a drink.