Reyjkavik: Museums, Penises and Puffins.

We started off the morning bright and early – well, by bright, I mean it didn’t get light until nearly 8am today, and by early, I mean we didn’t leave the house until nearly 10am!  We were heading out first to go searching for a monument… the Eve Online Monument.  Eve Online is not technically ‘huge’ in the world of MMORPGs (Did I get that right? I’m am guessing I probably didn’t and by my comment, you are probably guessing correctly that I didn’t care enough to Google it!) with roughly a million die-hard players – but it is huge in Iceland. So big that they have erected an actual physical monument to the in game plaers which is engraved with all the player names on it. We went hunting it out for a friend of ours who plays so we could take a photo of his avatar engraved on the monument… It’s not exactly easy to find – but there is an online map telling you roughly which area each name is located – and yes, we found Drakey’s avatar!  It’s something to do with spaceships and wars in space or something.  I dunno.  #computergaming #notmycupoftea After ferreting out the Eve Online Monument, I convinced yale to swing past the Sun Voyager (again) so I could see it in the morning light.  This is still such a stunning piece of art.  I love it… so evocative, you can imagine it sailing out across the fjord.  🙂   This time fewer tourists were there hogging prime spots – but there’s always one jerk.  This time a Kiwi, who stood around while his wife took his pictures and then he went wandering all around the sculpture – if it had been a car, he would have been kicking the tyres – while about 10 people are standing around shivering in the freezing cold waiting for him to fuck off out of our photographs! Urgh!We were then heading indoors for a while (thankfully!) to the National History Museum, which is quite an impressive building in its own right.

I have started doing up a full post on just the items we saw in the museum – most of them are items I have not seen published in other books and catalogues, so I have done my best to capture them (in the dodgy museum lighting conditions) and to keep their detailed descriptions accessible too.  I hope to get this done when I get on a train to Prague day after tomorrow… but we will see!  There were lots of wonderful artefacts from the dark ages and medieval periods, and the second floor contained the 17th to 21st centuries – which as per usual, I skimmed through and barely took any notes at all because, well it’s just too modern for my interests.  So here is a hint of what is to come in the full musuem post:

Around the corner from the museum is the famous Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church which I have written about previously in my past travels.  It is said to be designed with the volcanic basalt columns as an inspiration and influence.  Having seen the columns on the beaches of Iceland now – I can see it a lot more clearly and have a new appreciation for the building.  Previously, it just looked like a stark, way too modern, design to be a comforting place of worship – but now it kinda seems like it belongs here. We did a little poke around the shops here a little – I stooped to buying a t-shirt… which in my defence was only marginally more costly than a tea towel at the end of summer sales.  🙂
So, lunchtime rolls around and we find ourselves hunting for the Bæjarins Bbeztu Pylsur stand, which quite literally means in English: ‘The Best Hot Dog in Town’.  We find the little food truck exactly where is supposed to be not far from the Reykjavik harbour and to my surprise, it is surrounded by people standing around in the cold, which is about 3°C but with the wind feels about -1°, eating hot dogs!  I’m not so sure about this al fresco dining thing in this weather, but we dutifully line up for a hot dog. In August 2006, The Guardian newspaper selected Bæjarins Beztu as the Best Hot Dog Stand in Europe – big call. Since then plenty of famous people have come along and tried the now world renown, Bæjarins Beztu hotdogs.  Among them are former US President, Bill Clinton, and even cooler, James Hetfield of Metallica fame… and now borys and yale join this illustrious companie of people who have stood around eating hot dogs in sub-zero temperatures.

It was so cold, but the hot dogs were tasty enough, I guess.

Across the road from the hot dog stand is the moorings for the Icelandic Coast Guard.  This ship has been here each time I have been in Reykjavik – either that or they have three identical ships (not out of the question).  I have kept meaning to take a photo of it – it’s pretty impressive.  The Icelandic Coast Guard is primarily responsible for Iceland’s coastal defences and maritime and aeronautical search and rescue processes, but they have also been called upon to do things like bomb disposal?

So… after lunch, we made our way to the famous Icelandic Phallological Museum, aka the Reykjavik Penis Museum or the Reykjavik Dick Museum. *titter titter*.

It was founded in1997 by a now-retired teacher named, Sigurður Hjartarson.  It is now run his son Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson.  Apparently, the museum grew from what was just a private collection that started when Sigurður was given a cattle whip made from a bull’s penis when he was a kid. He then started collecting penises of Icelandic animals from sources around the country and has dicks in his collection that range from the 170 cm front tip of a blue whale penis to the 2 mm (0.08 in) baculum of a hamster, which is displayed under a magnifying glass.

The museum also houses many other phallic items and artworks.  Longtime poet and environmental activist, Danish Sculptor, Pjarne P Ejass (1945 – ) created this “Viagra Phallus” in the form of a scorn pole.  The work displays the artist’s contempt for all things that deviate from the normal course of nature, and the work is intended to convey his statement, “Stop Fiddling with Nature,”  The artist donated the work to the Icelandic Phallological Museum in the summer of 2004 and it was erected in May 2005.
yale for scale. A rather painful looking toothpick holder: Dried sperm whale penis: Preserved pilot whale penis: Various penises belonging to different dolphins and porpoises: And this magnificent specimen – is a Narwhal! Narwhal! Living in the ocean…!
(Only not so much this one anymore, he’s been lopped off and preserved in formaldehyde.) African bull elephant: An eland, a dromedary and giraffe penises: Killer whale penis:  yale for scale An artwork based on the penises of the National Icelandic Handball Team that represented Iceland at the Bejing Olympics in 2008.  😮  Freyr – Viking God of Fertility:

All up the Phallological Museum was kinda interesting – it seems to be a bit of a ‘must see’ when in Reykjavik, but only because you’re literally not able to see a collection like this anywhere else in the world.  The gift shop missed some huge opportunities though – can you imagine the dick related paraphernalia they could be flogging?  Instead, there is a handful of magnets and keychains and a few bad taste aprons and knitted elephant penis socks.

While we were leaving – some of the ladies working the reception at Dick Museum were about to have some lovely looking cinnamon scrolls for afternoon tea which smelled just divine.  They told me that they were from the food hall across the street, so naturally, we decided to go find some.  Fantastic!  Cinnamon for me, and liquorice and blueberry for yale… still warm from the oven, perfect for this sort of weather.

From here we did what was probably the first bit of real touristy shopping we have done since we arrive in Iceland.  We wandered down the main shopping street which pretty much leads from the Hallgrímskirkja church down towards the waterfront esplanade.  I got to stop in the Tuilipop shop this time, which was closed when I was here last – luckily their plush Freds are not very soft or I would have found myself buying a rather expensive and unnecessary plush toy to take home! 

Icelanders have come to have a love/hate relationship with the tourists that saved them from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.  They love the income and the jobs that are provided from the huge boost they have seen in tourism over the last decade, but they hate what it is doing to their island.  Downtown Reykjavik used to be full of useful shops for locals to go do their shopping and meet with friends, now it is full of what they derisively refer to as The Puffin Shops.  Any/all souvenir shops are known as Puffin Shops and for obvious reasons…
There is so much shit here with puffins on it – and because I have been here three times now and have yet to see a single goddamn puffin that isn’t stuffed (like the AUD$450 ones in the top left hand picture!), I flatly refuse to buy so much as a sticker with a puffin on it.  I think the puffins here are like the trolls – just some sort of myth.

After a little wander down through the town, we decided to head towards the Perlan which is a landmark building with observation decks and gallery spaces, created from some old water tanks that were high on a hill overlooking the city.  Unfortunately, the Perlan was closed from 1 Oct to 14 Oct, so we didn’t get to go in or go up.  I guess it’s that time of year – they need to do maintenance before the winter sets in properly, but don’t want to be doing it when it is going to affect too many visitors.

Then it was sadly time to head back to our AirBnB and get packing!  Oh no… time to pack to leave Iceland.  I am feeling a bit sad about going actually.  We have had almost two weeks here and seen soooo many truly beautiful places and things, but I am left feeling like there is so much more we could see and do if we had more time and way more money.  I’ve never been in a country more expensive than this place – it really makes you weigh up your travel plans – How long have I got? How much do we think we can see? Can we afford to actually eat once we get here? If we make the trip longer to see more things, can we even afford the extra night’s car hire and accommodation?!  It is just nuts. For our last night in Iceland, we thought we’d go out for one final nice, but predictably, overpriced meal.  We ended up at the Geysir Bistro near Ingólfur Square.  It was a more relaxed environment that the last two restaurants we went to and the menu looked likewise slightly more modest. But the food – still fancy AF.  We toasted our last night with some Brennavin and congratulated ourselves on having only had one shit fight in two weeks in close quarters!  😛  It’s bound to happen – travelling with people is one way to really test the friendship/relationship!  All your best and all your worst will eventually come out.  🙂 

So here’s ‘Skål..!’ to Iceland.  I have no idea if I will ever be back.  I know there is still plenty of wonders here to discover – but there’s so many places I have never been, that doubling back here again seems highly unlikely*

*I said that last time… and look what happened!  Hoping the trick works again!  😉

Iceland – Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon

Woke up bright and early at 0430 – actually come to think of it, it was not yet bright but it sure was early.  The downside of having chosen accommodation within walking distance of everything you might possibly want to see in downtown Reykjavik, is the proximity to People… and at 0430 this morning we had People arguing LOUDLY outside out BnB in aggressive sounding Icelandic that was confusingly peppered with plenty of ‘fucks this’, ‘fuck that’, and, ‘fuck you’.  Not a fun way to wake up but a bit of a risk with any inner city accommodation.  One thing is for certain, we were not going to be late getting away this morning.

Today’s schedule included ‘All The Things People Go See When They Stop Over In Reykjavik’ – ie: The Golden Circle (again).  So we made our way to Þingvellir (more commonly known by the anglicised version, Thingvellir) to see what we could see.   Þingvellir is one of Iceland’s most important historic sites/national parks known primarily as the place of the Alþing (Althing) – which was the name of the Iceland parliament from the 10thC all the way through until the 18thC. There are ruins of the Þingvellir Church and some old stone buildings, but the site is very well known due to its location – it sits in a rift valley between two separated tectonic plates, which create cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault that runs through it. It’s hard to make our the rocky chasm in these pictures as the light was so stunningly bright today.  Apparently as late as 1967 you could drive through this rocky chasm created by the fault lines, but at that time they created a pedestrian-only gravel roadway through the space.  In the early 2000’s that pedestrian walkway collapsed in one section revealing that the fissure was something like 30 metres deeper than thought.  Due to the subsidence (possibly from tectonic shifting), they decided not to fix the entire gravel walkway but to instead create an elevated boardwalk for visitors to use that would meet up with the gravel walkway in the lower areas. The entire lava fields have rock formations like this – though a great deal of it is under moss and peat in large areas. Such a gorgeous day!  Was about 6-8°C with a light breeze and beautiful blue skies.   After seeing the Alþing area, we made our way towards Gullfoss falls via the back roads around Þingvellir Lake, The lake was calm and still with mirror-like reflections visible on its surface.

From there onto Gullfoss waterfalls.  These remain simply stunning.  This is my third visit to the falls and each time they look remarkably different – different light, different time of day, few/more visitors, same thunderous sound of 140 cubic metres/second of water tumbling down the canyon… with bonus rainbows in the spray coming off the falls today.

We were drenched walking through the mist to get to the cascading part at the top of the falls.

From here, we did like tourists do and made our way to the nearby geysir fields to see the famous Geysir and Strokkur doing their thing. The entire area is a thermal wonderland with misty pools and creeks full boiling and steaming sulphurous water winding it’s way through the moss covered lava fields. Watching the pools bubble away always reminds me of Macbeth Act 1, Scene 1…After we pottered around the Geysir area for a while we retreated indoors for a wander around the gift shop for a bit.  Wondering what the Land Of The $25.00 Souvenir Tea Towel has in store for us by way of souvenirs this time…

Actually, no. Even this t-shirt was a lie.  At 3900kr it was nearly AUD$50.00, so nope; I couldn’t afford this t-shirt.  Still it is gratifying to hear American tourists wandering around exclaiming with incredulity over the prices of everything – they are so accustomed to their dollar going a long way when they travel, it is refreshing for the rest of us to watch them suffer the sticker shock that we’ve been dealing with since, well, since forever.
After the non-shopping expedition, we had a quick bite to eat and then set off towards our next stop – the not-so-secret, Secret Lagoon.

Also known as Gamla Laugin and located in the village of Fludir, the Secret Lagoon is Iceland’s oldest having been established initially in 1891. It has been kept very natural looking and it aims to be a uniquely Icelandic experience – apparently not having given way to the ‘big spa’ treatments of the Blue Lagoon hot springs (will report back on this later – personally I’m not sure I care, I’m just here for a good soak).  Anyway, touted as being the oldest and therefore most traditional hot spring experience available, we had to give it a go.

Selling children to trolls is a proper threat in Iceland – according to polls, more than half of Icelanders believe in actual elves… little invisible folk who get up to mischief, have a monarchy, hold courts, and inhabit natural places like boulders, lava fields and mountains.

This was only the beginning of the list of rules for entering the hot springs.  Rule number one for public health and safety I assume, is that all guests will have a completely naked shower before putting on their swimsuit and entering the pool.  Fine, when in Rome, I thought.  So I put all my clothes in a locker, wrapped myself nekkid in the towel provided and went around to the long line of military style communal showers to rinse off and then struggle to get my dry swimsuit on over my wet body.

There were two other ladies, Spanish is my guess from their chat, doing likewise, when no fewer than seven young American women walked right past the showers in their dry swim suits and out the door and into the hot springs without rinsing off.  (Warning: small rant coming:) Why is it that some people think rules don’t apply to them?  Yes, they are probably not used to showering naked with strangers, neither am I.  But we’ve been told the etiquette, we’re in a foreign country, so we do as expected.  The arrogance is somewhat astounding.

And not the first instance we have seen of it today – at Þingvellir this morning there was a American man with a drone who walked right past no fewer than three ‘No Drones In the National Park’ signs, and decided that this was a good place to start flying his drone – until a park official had to waste his time and come over and tell him to bring it down.  There was also two other occasions of drones overhead at the Gullfoss falls and at the Geysirs – where, yes, there are plenty more signs saying, ‘No Drones Allowed’.  On top of that we saw Americans smoking in the Geysir environment in spite of all the ‘No Smoking’ signs, all the while there are ashtrays with Europeans standing around them finishing their cigarettes before entering the area. Why do people think these things don’t apply to them.  The arrogance and thoughtlessness is just phenomenal.

This sort of inconsiderate shit when combined with the Chinese tourists’ propensity to move in large packs and then literally turn their backs on whatever they have come all this way to see to experience it only through their phones by standing around for 20 minutes taking exceedingly posed, pouty, pointing, peace-signed selfies in the attempt to get a perfect shot, really must leave people who live in these destination countries with a deep hatred of tourists.

I try to be a good tourist, leave nothing behind; take nothing away, I don’t wield a selfie stick ever, I’m quiet and respectful in sacred locations, I wait before stepping in front of someone taking a photograph, I don’t cross behind the ropes to places I am not supposed to go, I don’t hog the best photographic vantage spot for ages, I offer to take photos of other people and couples if they are struggling… I just don’t understand how most people are so self absorbed as to not realise how their movements are affecting the enjoyment of people around them.  It’s a bright yellow sign!  Don’t smoke, don’t use a drone, don’t hold loud conversations in churches, have a shower before you enter the hot spring. How difficult is it, ffs?!

Sigh… so be it.  The momentary discomfort of showering naked with strangers was quickly overcome as we slipped into the fantastically relaxing hot springs.  Amazing.  Within two minutes I could feel all the tension draining from my body, within twenty minutes I was wondering how I go about moving to a country and buying a property that has a natural thermal creek running through it so I could have a natural hot spring all of my own.  🙂  The water comes straight from an underground source at boiling hot temperatures.  You can see it bubbling away – no doubt you could cook your eggs or anything else in it quick smart. The pool’s moss covered surroundings and wispy steam rising into the air from the water gives the place an almost mystical feeling. The warm water stays at 38-40 Celsius all year in large part due to a local geysir that bubbles away all day and has a minor eruption every few minutes, which constantly floods the lagoon with fresh hot water. The afternoon sun over a nearby greenhouse. The water was glorious after our few days of transits and flights and whatnot.  It was lovely to float around in the heat after being in the cold and wind all day.  The Secret Lagoon also happily sells alcohol so I was able to float around in the hot water while enjoying an ice cold cider.  Oddly, even though there was about 80 people in the rather large pool, the place is rather quiet.  People are enjoying the relaxation of the hot springs and keeping their conversations quietly between themselves (mostly… I mean, there’s always *those* Americans in the room).  My experience hitting the showers on the way out could not have been more different had I directed it. Massive cultural differences evident between the young American women on the way in, and a bunch of young Scandinavian women on the way out.  I was in the shower, naked, washing my hair and about eight young ladies who obviously knew each other entered the long shower area – they all stripped off and into the showers without a second thought for saggy bums, pieced nipples or unshaved armpits. Unsurprisingly they were dried off and changed in half the time of some others in the space who were desperately trying to keep covered while drying themselves and dressing under falling towels and doing that special dance you do when trying to put a bra on under a shirt when your skin is still damp.  All up our visit to the hot spring was lovely (the rant in the middle not really occurring to me until I went to write this all down!) and I am looking forward to the next one in Myvatn which is in the more remote north of the island.I have no idea what these little houses are for, they’re not even knee high but they are dotted around the property.  Possibly for the elves…?

After we left the springs we made our way to the Lindartún Guesthouse for the night.  Lovely place with the most well equiped shared kitchen facility… I wish I had known the kitchen would be so well appointed – we would have been having poached salmon and vegetables for dinner instead of a throw in the oven pre-made pasta meal thing.  There is not a lot of restaurants around in these small towns, so most of the guesthouses have cooking facilities for guests – not to mention the cost of dining out every day/night would just about send you broke here! I will have to double check the internets regarding the kitchen situation before we check into our next guesthouse tomorrow night.

Iceland – Take Three.

When will I ever learn that these long-haul flights just knock you around too much to expect to get anything useful done directly after one?  We arrived in London at 0700 on Friday morning and had been debating doing ‘something’ for the day.  But by the time we arrived, neither of us having had any real sleep to speak of en route, it was, ‘Oh dear God, please please please let them have a room ready for us super early because I’m not going to make it to nightfall’.  Plans to go see anything in the city were swiftly defenestrated and instead, all we achieved yesterday was running a few local errands and having a bit of a nap.

We did manage to catch up with Stephola for a wonderful Indian dinner though, at a place called Sipson Tandoori not far from Heathrow, rather fancy and lovely food.  We stayed at the Premier Inn Heathrow Terminal 4 – and I have to say, I was quite impressed with the place.  Just an airport hotel but thoroughly clean, modern, well appointed and totally soundproofed, right near the airport.  So we didn’t have to schlepp our stuff too far when we arrived or when we left the following morning… considering it was roughly the price of what we pay for a roadside country motel on the way to or from Festival, we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was.

Next morning, I was planning on sleeping in a bit… but alas, my drugs and stupid body clock had other ideas and I was awake at 0430.  We had a quiet morning, breakfast at the hotel and squared everything away before heading back to the airport to check in with Icelandair for our flight to Reykjavik. As per usual, everything at the airport seemed to take longer than expected and next thing you know we’ve done a 3km dash to find our gate on time.

It was something like -30°C outside the plane and 96% humidity according to the little screen thingy… so we had all these tiny beautiful ice crystals forming on the window. Flying in under the clouds over the lava fields. What looks to be some old settlement just outside of Reyjavik. Leaving customs… cute. Duty free – sheep shit and ashtray flavoured!  Oh, someone please hold me back!  :/  On the drive to our accomodation, we took a slight detour to see the Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason.  It’s rare that I find a piece of civic art that I truly enjoy but this sculpture is beautiful, and so well located next to the Sæbraut Road on the harbour. It is intended to be a sort of dreamboat/ode to the sun that conveys a promise of hope, freedom, progress and undiscovered territory.  It’s beautiful and evocative and I hope to come back and take some more pictures in the different light after we do our lap of the country.

We then found our way to the Yellow Spirit House, also known as Gunnar’s Place which is a hop skip and a jump (two blocks) from the Ingolfur Square.  We checked in and made ourselves at home before heading out for a quick wander in the freezing cold – omg the wind is just biting right through my items of warmth – to find somewhere to go for dinner.

After a relatively modest breakfast at the hotel and then skipping lunch altogether, I had quite an appetite and was keen to try new things.  We ended up at the Saeta Svinid Gastropub which translates to either ‘Cutie Pig’ gastropub or ‘Cut The Pig’ Gastropub… still not entirely sure.

Tasting plates from foreground to background:
– Smoked puffin with a 64° Reykjavik Distillery cranberry liqueur sauce,
– Minke whale served on a smoky celeriac puree and malt sauce,
– Horse ‘carapaccio’ with rucola-mayo, crispy Jerusalem artichokes and parmesan.
Yes, you can get all judgy if you want – but when you go looking for local Icelandic food, these are the sorts of offerings, and as Mr K would say, “Travel is about experiencing something different and understanding other cultures.”
This is the first puffin I have seen in real life that wasn’t stuffed… even though I have been chasing them in my travels since 1995; without any luck (my timing sucks).  We spent quite a bit of time trying to decide what it tasted like, yaleman said it was like a ‘fishy chicken’, but to me, it looked like undehydrated jerky, but was sort of like soft and slightly buttery (like salmon) in texture – with smoky, meaty, and slightly gamy flavours.  Eventually, I decided it was similar to mutton bird with a smoky flavour (think, New Zealand hangi).  The minke whale was, as you might expect, somewhat tuna-like though a bit more meat-like in texture.  Like most people, I was a bit iffy about trying whale, but it was absolutely delicious – delicate flavours and just gently seared.  I am totally against mass Japanese style commercial whaling, but after seeing the whale meat at the markets in Greenland, in a place of subsistence living where traditionally they have to eat whatever they can get their hands on, my thoughts on whale are a little more complex than just, ‘fuck no’.  The horse carpaccio was also just fabulous and while beautiful prepared tasted just like horse that I’ve had in France and other places.To finish off dinner we ordered the traditional Icelandic Trio of Cream Puffs (though I am not so sure how much Icelandic ‘tradition’ there is in choux pastry); on the right was some weird chocolate coated liquorice bullet flavoured thing, in the middle was a dulce de leche caramel flavoured pile of sugar, and on the left, well that was a full-on, ‘Where’s the diabetes warning’, super sweet raspberry and cream, ‘Erk, I’m totally leaving this for yale’ pile of sickly sweet ick all severed on a Cutie Pig timber platter.  🙂

Then it was time to rug back up to brave the elements – yep, feels like Canberra here at the moment and is rather windy which doesn’t help. Swung by a supermarket to collect a few grocery staples, freaked out over the $19.00 cost of a 500gm block of cheese, and the $6.00 cost of a cup of instant noodles (yale is so totally going on a diet here, we can’t afford to eat!  😉 ) before heading back to the BnB for a well deserved slightly sulphured shower and eventually bed.

Tomorrow – Gullfoss, Stokkur, and Thingvellir Take III before heading off into the countryside.  I can’t wait!