Saturday, June 16, 2007

Iceland: Day Eight (Vík to Reykjavík)

Today was a bit of a wash. We woke up in Vík, had our breakfast, and were on the road by 10:30. Michael thought we'd make it to our destination by two. The road to Reykjavík from Vík is only 180 km, which at the 90 kph limit would take two hours. Since I drive way faster than that, I decided that we'd be in the capital by noon. There was, however, horrible "traffic" (other cars on the road beside myself and the occasional tractor), and the closer we got to Reykjavík, the more cars I had to pass, and the longer I had to wait to pass them, what with the oncoming traffic coming in a steady stream (country weekenders, I suppose). We didn't pull into town until half past noon.

It being too early to check into our new guesthouse, and without much else to do, we decided to spend the day perusing the shops whose windows we had ogled our first day in town (a Sunday, when everything was closed). I parked the car on a side street (haven't paid a meter yet on this trip) and we started walking the Laugavegur (the "high street" of our old guesthouse). I didn't see much to knock my socks off; there are a few shops that wouldn't be out of place in New York or London, but the items were New York/London prices (or worse, thanks to the exchange rate). In particular, I saw a beautiful jacket of unlined, buttery black leather, that, after a disappointing moment grappling with multiplication factors, I realized was $2,500, not $250. I also saw a great pair of Chia Mihara shoes—forest green leather with high heels and open toes, and a brown elastic band across the fronts—but they came to $350ish, and even after the promised VAT refund, that is more than I was ready to spend. I couldn't even buy the pair of adidas warm-up pants I liked (I'm sick of the three pairs of pants I brought on this trip; it's too cold for my shorts, etc.) because of the absurd price ($60ish, on sale).

We stopped at the Svarta Kaffið and I caved in to the Kr1090 soup in a bread. Today was beef and potato, and it was really very good, although the beef was ground beef, not cubes of stew meat, as I expected. . . I've never before had ground beef in a soup, and I think it's pretty trashy. The flavor and texture were otherwise good, though, and mixed with the bread bowl nicely. I ate every last crumb, while Michael nursed a Guinness and we watched a group of men clearly from England with confusion (they were drinking cappuccinos at two in the afternoon, which is just very. . . not English; additionally, they were physically. . . tender with each other, in a way that I would only consider potentially, ahem, straight, in the extremely open cities of California and Italy). After shopping a bit more, and not buying anything, we finished the strip at the 10/11, where Michael had a cappuccino-flavored Skyr (it's painfully sweet; think Frappucino yogurt), which he loved and I loathed. Then we walked back to the car and drove to our new accomodation.

Our new guesthouse, Áskot, is the very pleasant home of a very pleasant couple. It's in the older section of town, far (10-15 minute walk) from our spot at Von, but not too far from the University, the beautiful old graveyard called Hólavallagarður, and the lower section of the Laugavegur. Again, I have been given everything I've asked for, though none of it seemed to be provided (a hair dryer, free wireless internet, access to the kitchen for cooking, etc.) and this seems to be the way things are done here. We brought up our bags and Michael settled in for a nap. I decided to take a shower, but upon seeing the long, deep tub (all our guesthouses since Von have had stall showers only, and cramped ones with flooding potential at that), decided to have a proper hot bubble bath. The water, thanks to geothermal springs, I'm certain, comes out at up to a piping 50˚C (that's very very hot— too hot to touch— if you don't know), and smells strongly of sulfur. It's rich in that and other minerals, and feels thick and almost oily (in a good way), such that the bath (which was long and deep enough that I could stretch out my whole body under water, something I've never been able to do in a standard American tub) was as luxurious as the promised (and missed) hot pots at Hof's Frost and Fire could have been.

All hot and scrubbed, I read a bit of Cocteau while Michael slept, and when he got up, it was time for dinner. We have both wanted to try the Cafe Paris, whose candlelit ambiance we had observed when we first came to town, and which our Lonely Planet agreed was a choice spot. Although I was still feeling full from the soup, we went over and had dinner. A glass of Cotes du Rhone for me and a Pint of Guinness for Michael, we went a bit pricey; it's surreal that simple meals are such a splurge here. I had a steak sandwich with fries (I ordered it rare, but it seems that this is one of the many places where that doesn't mean anything and meat only comes one way: cooked, very much) and Michael had a tomato basil pizza (which came inside out, that is to say, with the cheese melted over the slices of tomato and basil, and which he therefore pronounced not so great; I didn't taste it, but I've seen more appetizing pizzas in my day.) The crowd was bland—mostly tourists and some very annoying ones at that—so we paid and split.

Without much of an idea of what to do next (not having had a nap, I wanted to hit the local Vinbuð, pick up a bottle of wine, go home and drink it, and go to sleep), we decided to go back home so that Michael could get his camera. First, though, we went for a long walk, because I wanted to track down a yoga studio (I haven't practiced since the Saturday morning of our flight, and my body is very angry with me). I had done some internet research while Michael was napping (google "yoga Reykjavík;" you'll be surprised at how little comes up), and found nothing other than a post in last month's Grapevine (the Village Voice/SF Bay Guardian/ Stranger of Reykjavík) about "ghetto yoga," a free class downtown. They gave no schedule, no phone number, and no web address. Google searches for "ghetto yoga Reykjavík" produced no further information. All I had was an address, so we walked there. Of course, when we got there, it was a five story office building, which was closed, with no listing for yoga on its directory, and no posters or signs in the window with even the word "yoga," much less a schedule. I guess I'll have to wait until Tuesday night, when I'm back home.

Michael didn't want to drink wine, having just had a beer, and Vinbuð was closed anyway, as of four o'clock. (Vinbuð is the government-owned/operated liquor dealer of Iceland, and is the only way to purchase non-beer alcohol outside of a bar or restaurant. Most gas stations in the countryside have small Vinbuðs inside. If Vinbuð is closed, you will not be buying that bottle of wine.) I still had my mini Gallo, nicked from Frost and Fire, but I lamented not having nicked one of the full sized bottles. Instead, we went home, fetched his camera, and "snuck" into the graveyard. We had passed by it our last night in town, right at midnight, and I had wanted to go in, but Michael, ever the law-abider, refused (a sign said that it closed at eight or some such nonsense, even though I had found an unlocked gate); realize that he couldn't have said no because of the spooks, since even though it was midnight, it was bright outside.) Walking away, I had warned him that girls like adventure.

It wasn't an adventure this time because it wasn't a spur of the moment discovery, and therefore wasn't as fresh and exciting as it had been that night. Perhaps because of my mood it was instead a bit melancholy. I never feel frightened in graveyards; instead, there is a compelling quiet and peace. . . the potency of supreme rest, I suppose. I like to look at the stones and see the dates; I saw one man who lived to 101. I also saw a lot of people who died young; a girl of 10, a girl of 14, a girl of 21. These make me wistful, a bit, moreso than infant deaths. The graveyards, technically speaking, are better in England, where the graves are much older and don't get much attention (here, many people who had passed in the 19th Century had stones as shiny and new as people who passed last year; it seems that with new deaths, families are renovating their plots). It began to drizzle, so we made our way home, and now Michael has gone to sleep again. I will stay up with Cocteau, and look forward to tomorrow, when we will drive North, a direction we've not yet been.

More photos from day eight.

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