Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Iceland/France/Italy Day 2: Exploring Reykjavik

April 30, 2011
Iceland Day 2: Exploring Reykjavik

I arrived at KEF (Keflavik) Airport in Iceland to a bit of a surprise. It's a very small airport which appears out of nothingness - the plane got just passed the clouds to a small strip of barren landscape and suddenly, we were in Iceland! My surprise arrived once I got off the plane - I had orchestrated an Inception-like staged arrival time flight plan for this entire trip for my various family members and my sister Norma was supposed to arrive in Iceland 20 min before me despite us leaving from totally different locations. Perfect timing, right? Well, I got my luggage and noticed the sign said Arrival from Seattle (me), on-time. Arrival from Toronto (Norm), expected 9:30am. Crap. Well, guess I'd have to grab a coffee and a Skyr and chill at the airport for 3 hrs and wait for Norm, not a big deal. Then I exited customs and saw the sign again, and it said, "9:30am... and CANCELLED!" Double Crap!!!

Oh traveling, why you gotta always gotta throw a couple of curve balls even at the most prepared? :) Anyhow, running on no-sleep, I lumbered over to a payphone with my pile of stuff and it looked like the Payphones had no power attached to them. Oh right... Cell phones. This is where the CDMA Verizon iPhone choice bites me, because Iceland has no CDMA connection. So my phone doesn't know it exists. Darn. Next, it looks like the airport has internet, so I figure I'll try that. I can always call Mom and Dad in Canada through Skype if I need to. I bought 1 hr of internet and figured there would be a message from Mom explaining what happened - trusty Mom... as expected there was a frantic email explaining the whole thing. Thanks Mom :)

Apparently Norm's plane left Toronto and had some buzzing engine issue like 1hr into the flight, and they had to turn the plane around and go back to Toronto?!?!? Crazy. Anyhow, Norm was safe and back in Toronto, and this info gave me the go-ahead to just head into Reykjavik without Norm. I bought a Coke Light (?!) and told someone my story and they gave me some comforting eyes which was nice.

Heading onto the FlyBus transfer bus, I started yapping with some folks on the bus about how cool and weird Iceland looked so far. As we drove away from Keflavik towards Reykjavik, the land was SO barren - no buildings, no roads, no trees, no office parks, no car dealerships... nothing. Matt had told me that landing in Reykjavik felt like landing on the moon, and that was a really fitting description. As we drove into town there were some strange apartments that looked like dorm-style homes, very unusual architecture and everything was grey, including the sky.

I got to my hostel ("Our House"), which was super warm and inviting, and dropped off my stuff. There was a kind welcome note waiting for me and I went up to my room. I met a girl named Tegan from the US in the kitchen who was super nice and suggested I should sleep and then it would be a "new day" after I woke up. I tried to sleep with no luck, half worrying about when Norm would arrive and half way-too-excited about being in Iceland. I made a quick change of plans with the tour companies and switched around our tours so that Norm wouldn't miss out on the day trips due to her late arrival. After getting that sorted, I went out to explore.

As it turns out, downtown Reykjavik is quite small! I saw lots of random cool stores, but most things were not open yet at 11:30am. Some folks at the hostel suggested the Flea Market, I went there and it was... meh. Mostly used stuff, garage sale-y, and lots of the gross/weird food/animal parts that you don't want to try. Haha. So I peace-d outta there pretty quickly and headed to the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand in Reykjavik, where Bill Clinton had gone to eat when he was in Iceland. I ordered 2 "with everything", and the tangy Remoulade and funky Pylsur mustard sauce stuff were both super good, as well as the hidden grilled onions under the hot dog. Fun!

I wandered by a place called the Laundry Cafe and it had a nice vibe to it. I got a big hot chocolate in there and then the jet lag started to hit me, hard. With some warm hot chocolate and tasty Pylsurs under my belt, I headed back to the hostel to get some much-needed sleep. I passed out almost instantly and slept from 1-6pm.

After waking up and feeling like a "new day", I wandered downstairs and met a German guy and 2 Canadian girls from UWO!! So awesome!! Exciting to find a hometown connection across the world and finally awake from the crazy amount of jetlag and travel, we chatted it up a bunch. It was great to chat.

Exploring the hostel, it had everything, including a super fancy sauna downstairs. Hitting that up for a bit really woke me up, but it was super hot in there so I had to chill out and have some water and a slow cool down afterwards. That definitely helped get rid of the jet lag though! Good times.

Alex and Riley, the girls from UWO and the dude from Germany suggested a sit-down dinner place which sounded great to me and I was psyched to try out the Icelandic fish right away. I ordered the Fish of the Day with a baked potato and some veggies and it was amazing. We had some great chats about travel and it's always fun to meet new people along the way. After a great dinner we headed to Bankastræti to find a cool bar there.

The bar had some great live music and they were playing a bunch of Canadian music which was super solid (Spin Doctors, Bryan Adams), yes!!! It didn't take long for us to get up on the floor and tear up the dance floor, London, Ontario style :) Bringing our skills to the dance floor (haha) encouraged a bunch of the local Icelandic folks to bust a move too, and in no time we had made some Icelandic friends. The music was great and super fun!!! In between dance-offs we chilled out and it was really solid to chat with some friendly and nice people on the first night of my trip... what a great start.

As I'd read in Lonely Planet, eventually the live-music venue turned into a club and we hit the dance floor and stayed for a bit longer before heading out to take part in the classic Reykjavik tradition, a hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur! Apparently people go strong until 7am or so on weekends in Reykjavik, but we were pretty done by 3ish so after the Pylsur and some Powerade, it was back to the hostel. I arrived back in my room, happy and energized from a great start to the trip and new friends, and got an email from Mom saying that Norm's flight had left as scheduled the next evening and was expected to arrive the next morning. Perfect.

"When you land in Iceland, it'll feel like you've landed on the moon" - advice from a friend. And... that's exactly true. No trees, no houses, no buildings, one road, and the most unusual landscape I've ever seen. AMAZING.
Desolate, quiet, overcast... what a cool, moody welcome to Iceland :)
Weird/awesome SmartCar I found while wandering around downtown Reykjavik
Kolaportið flea market
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the famous Reykjavik hot dog stand where Bill Clinton ate!
Canada represent
New friends from the hostel, out for dinner
Please pass the Smjör
Awesome catch of the day fish dinner and potatoes. Sooooooo good.
This was super weird, the bathroom had 2 toilets in it. Not 2 urinals (that would have been fine)... 2 straight-up, full-on toilets. Directly beside each other. I don't think there is any chance I would want to use this at the same time as someone else. :)
Alex and Riley (the Canadians!) getting ready to bust some moves on the dance floor
Viking beer
Then the live music place turned into a club
Out for hotdogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur at 3am after being out on the town, a true Reykjavik tradition

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