[Editor’s Note: This is Dinosaur Bear’s 200th post – how crazy is that!? Who would have thought that I’d be posting about moving to Iceland for the 200th post of this blog! Life is indeed odd with its twists and turns. For a post that celebrates Dinosaur Bear’s history of “stuff and things” as well as its longtime relationship with the Nordic countries, click here.]
Last time I engaged in a tongue-in-cheek exposé of the bar exam, this time around I’m back to the chronological adventure of my life. When we last met I had started my voyage to Iceland and I had just arrived at O’Hare in Chicago. So that’s a fitting place to pick right back up. Despite hearing some horror stories we made it through international security at O’Hare much quicker than expected, which was nice because we were running behind schedule. I think these particular TSA agents might have been the biggest assholes I’ve encountered within the TSA, which is saying something, but we made it through with plenty of time. After that it was just getting settled in and waiting on our plane (we were flying Icelandair).
Eventually our plane made it in and we got boarded just a little behind schedule. What was nice about the layout of our plane is that it was 2-3-2 rather than the 2-4-2 (or 3-5-3) of the other international flights I’ve been on. So SB and I were able to secure a “2” for ourselves – and despite having 4 fat suitcases we were just backpack travelers on the plane itself, so despite the smaller-than-Murka’ overhead bins that European airlines have we had plenty of room for ourselves.
We had an overnight flight, which is common for a lot of international flights where you are going forward in time.
It was a pretty uneventful flight. Icelandair doesn’t provide much in the way of amenities, but we knew that in advance. As is normal I slept like crap, but I do think I at least slept for like 1 hour or something, which is more than I’ve been able to say in the past. As we got to closer to Iceland it was cloudy (this was not a surprise) but once we got through the cloud cover we got our first glimpse of our new home!
Once landed we began a.. let’s call it “eventful” stay at the Keflavík International Airport. First, one of our suitcases got one of the front pockets ripped off it. Fortunately I’ve learned to anticipate that the airline will destroy your luggage, so I pack them accordingly. So we had to go over to the desk and deal with that (and we are now down a suitcase). Oddly enough the suitcase that got damaged was the replacement for another suitcase that had gotten damaged.
From there we proceeded through customs, which was the bit of good news for the day, as customs was uh.. non-existent. You legitimately just walk down a hallway with green lights and that’s it. You have to opt-in to customs via pressing a red button. We did not press the button.
Things went south again after that, as Avis didn’t have our rental car that we’d uh, you know, reserved in advance. We ended up waiting like 2 hours for it, only to learn that the incompetent morons at the service counter were giving cars out to people out of order. So there were people who had been there for over 3 hours waiting on a car, only to have their car given away to someone who just showed up. It was a shit show. However, thanks to an justifiably aggressive SB we finally got our car (which had a huge dent in the roof). Sadly we forgot to name our car in all the craziness of the day! However, the silver lining of the delay was that we got to have some coffee and we were long overdue for coffee.
After that we finally made it out of the airport and we on our way to Reykjavik!
The sun even sort of came out for us, but then it started raining (a pattern which has continued to this day). The drive up from Keflavík to Reykjavík is about 50km [I just used metric, u mad my fellow amerifats?] and takes you through a massive-ass lava field (as well as near the famous Blue Lagoon), so it didn’t take us long to get into some very Icelandic landscapes.
Eventually we made our way into Reykjavík and found our way to the University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands). There we got bounced around a bit as we tried to figure out where the heck we were supposed to go to get our apartment keys, but we figured it out. Once we made it to our apartment one of the first things we noticed was that we had a big construction site right across the street from us. I wasn’t sure about that at first, but it turns out that the construction site has provided us with a lot of entertainment and hasn’t really bothered us. In fact I might make a post just about the construction site at some point in the future.
Also, if it wasn’t obvious – we didn’t have anything other than what was in our suitcases. So we basically had nothing insofar as apartment items go. However, we ended up getting really lucky when we did some exploration of our building. We quickly found a table, a chair, a smaller table, a floor table, and stool. We cabbaged onto all of them really quickly. [We later ended up finding a bathroom rack, another small table, some drawers, a colander, and patio chairs – I might be the only recent HLS grad who is now dumpster diving.]
We didn’t really know what we’d end up using any of that stuff for at that time, but it felt like we should take it. For reference this is what our bedroom looked like at the time – yep, no bed.
So in addition to all the other craziness (plus 1 hour of sleep) we had to go out into the world to find some stuff so we could, you know, actually live in our apartment. Fortunately SB had the foresight to keep our rental car for two days (yay SB!). So the very first place we went was none other than mah’ fukin’ IKEA.
Now, if you are an ameritard like me, you probably have no concept of just how FREAKING HUGE the IKEAs are over here. HOLY SHIT. A Super Walmart is like a bodega compared to the IKEA here. IKEA is literally a city of a housewares. Need a day-care for your kids while you shop? Check. Want to grab lunch while you shop? Check. Want to grab a beer before you decide what kind of toilet you want to install? IKEA has you covered. They also have little bitty bathrooms inside the larger bathrooms.
Actually the rooms-within-rooms seems to be a thing for bathrooms here. For instance this is one of the bathrooms at the school.
I could probably write a whole post about the bathrooms, but that would be kind of weird.
So, after eating lunch at IKEA (which was really good) we entered the gawd-dayum labyrinth of the store and eventually stumbled across ENTIRE HOUSES.
My mind was blown. There’s like.. houses, and houses within houses, and warehouses, and magical cart elevators. It’s a land of mystery and wonder and it’s also haunted by the souls of long-dead wallets.
After picking up as much as our car could hold (literally) we went and got some food to stick in the cracks since we didn’t have any of that either. The first place we went grocery shopping was a place called Víðir, though the next day we went to Nettó, before finally settling on Bónus – mostly because it’s the closest to us and cheap, but actually because their mascot is a pig.
Anyways, back to that first day, when we got home we realized that the people who live below us also have a dinosaur!
In our current apartment we have people below us, above us, and on both sides of us. I was not enthused about that to say the least. However, like seemingly all buildings in Iceland, our building is made almost entirely of concrete and steel. So the noise isn’t too bad – except on weekends, holy f*cking God the parties – but I’ll bitch about that at some point in the future, I promise.
One of the big things we got at IKEA that first day was a “bed.” I say “bed” because it was really just a mattress pad (which cost about what a mattress would in the U.S.) – but it was a nice mattress pad. So we were able to get a decent night’s sleep that first night after all! We were worried that we were going to end up sleeping on the damn concrete, but fortunately we avoided that. When we left Boston we had to sleep on our hardwood floor that last night, and that sucked.
The next day we woke up way later than planned, mostly because of jet lag – but also because of sheer exhaustion. The good news was that we still had our car until something like 16:00 and we were dropping it off at the domestic airport (which is like.. right next to us) as opposed to the international airport. So despite being behind schedule we made our way back to IKEA-opolis for more food and also more stuff. New acquisitions included more padding for the “bed” and also a desk chair for me, which Tristen insisted on putting together himself.
That is to say, Tristen sat in the box and gave orders.
It was that same day (I think) that Pigsten formally took control of the construction site. Like I said, we’ve been quite involved with the construction site.
After we parted ways with our car we had to switch over to on-foot mode. One thing we’ve realized about Iceland is that despite being “European” it’s a very car-centric country. We were not expecting that in Reykjavík, but it’s what we got. If it wasn’t obvious we can’t afford a car. In fact two of the Icelanders that SB got put in contact with told us that not having a car was “definitely committing to a certain way of life” in Iceland – and I have to say I agree with them. It’s definitely more difficult here than it was in Boston, which is odd. I was honestly expecting Copenhagen-tier public transit, but I think it was being a stupood ferner’ in my expectations.
Anyways, sans car you have your feet and you have the (comparatively expensive) buses (Strætó). We opted for our feetses – in fact as of my typing this I’ve yet to actually use Strætó, though SB has. The plus side to being a pedestrian is that you get a better sense of your surroundings during your exploration – and explore we did! We started with our new campus, which isn’t really that big or that spectacular, but is still worth exploring.
We then started plotting where we would be going for groceries, since you know, starving is bad. This led us to a nearby park and pond area, known as Tjörnin, which is gorgeous and very European.
The first day we cut across the middle, but we realized very quickly that the wind (o gawd the wind) was pretty extreme on that route. We also later found that we were going out of our way, so now we cross around the edges which is still windy as hell but a little more on the sixth-layer of hell side, rather than the seventh.
We made our way to Bónus which, as mentioned, has become our chief grocery store. Pig is a pretty big fan of Bónus, one can only wonder why.
Another interesting thing about Bónus is that it’s in a part of Reykjavík which has a ton of embassies (including the U.S.), so there’s lots of stuff like Mr. German Bear.
Another area that our explorations took us to during those first few days was Laugavegur, a street in downtown Reykjavík which has just about everything under the sun (except apparently beer huggies, much to my dismay). Laugavegur is also home to a ton of tourist stuff, including loads of shops decked to the brim with Puffins!
It’s an interesting and generally expensive street. It’s not someplace we’re likely to frequent, though I did end up getting my rain-jacket (a 110% must have) used in a thrift shop on Laugavegur after I realized that new jackets were like $500-600 here.
Those first few days were very busy. Not only as we scrambled to get settled into our apartment, but also as we scrambled to figure out things like Icelandic Social Security Numbers (kennitala), bank accounts, school accounts, how to pay rent, how to get internet, and so on and so forth. I’ll spare you all the details because the TL;DR is that all of that was a massive freaking headache that ended up taking over a month to get settled. Also, you really can’t do anything resident-oriented until you have your kennitala, so that was fun. So the first bit we were here was a bit of a blur as it seemed like we would wake up and then before we knew it the sun was going down.
And no, that wasn’t because we didn’t have much daylight. In fact at that time we were still rocking quite a bit of sunlight! Now – not so much (or sunshine in general, not much of that either).
However, one cool thing that we were able to participate in shortly after we arrived was the Reykjavík Culture Night. This culture festival is actually much more than a “night” – I’d say weekend is more accurate, and it’s also huge. Like, they essentially shut down the entire city center (and various other areas) for a massive festival that features all sorts of events, the vast majority of which are totally free!
Now, while SB and I did get to take in a lot of Icelandic culture, we started off by doing the most American thing possible – ignoring all that and going straight to the U.S. Embassy. Yes, the U.S. Embassy was holding it’s own free event for the public, which involved such things as country music (adeptly performed by an Icelandic cover band), Coca Cola, Fanta, Coffee, and.. Krispy Kreme donuts.
Literal mountains of donuts – God Bless America.
They also had some airlines there and you could enter contests to win a trip to the U.S. – SB and I did not enter for obvious reasons. It was also kind of funny, those Krispy Kremes went like wildfire and if it’s anything we Murkans’ know well it’s reckless natural resource mismanagement to the point of yearly record-breaking wildfires! Donuts are apparently the language of life. I find myself agreeing.
While I’d be lying if I said we really didn’t go for the free donuts, neither of us had actually been in an embassy before. We figured it might be a good idea to know where this one was anyways, so that was sort of our side excuse for going. Pigsten decided to come along for the adventure and ended up finding a garden/rock garden in the “backyard” of the embassy, which he really enjoyed as it seemed a lot like “dinosaur times.”
After we were done at the embassy SB led us to a flee-market which had advertised free waffles (because why settle for donuts when you can have donuts and waffles). It turned out that the flee-market wasn’t really much of a market (it was bitties) but they did deliver on the free waffles. It was here that we discovered that 1) Icelandic waffles are awesome and 2) Rhubarb jam on waffles is awesome.
We enjoyed our waffles in the shadow of the German Embassy, which is interestingly enough attached to the United Kingdom’s Embassy (I wonder how Brexit went down in that office).
After that we took off in search of more cultural events. This was the first time we just took to the streets and kind of wandered around aimlessly, which I’ve found is one of the best ways to discover a city.
We even encountered a few trolls on our adventures!
Eventually we found ourselves on Skólavörðustígur (such a nice simple street name) which leads up to one of Reykjavík’s more prominent attractions, Hallgrímskirkja.
Hallgrímskirkja, translated as “Church of Hallgrímur” is pretty awesome.
Even more awesome is that during the culture festival the Icelandic choir was doing free shows, complete with the accompaniment of the MASSIVE organ which is 15 meters (49 ft) tall and weighs 25 metric tons (no shit).
SB and I stayed for a bit and got to hear the choir, the organ, and then the organ + choir. We couldn’t the vast majority of the lyrics of course, though by the end we were picking out a few words and we were able to follow along in our hymn books.
After a bit we left the tranquility of the church and ventured of to slight more… violent.. past-times (much to Tristen’s pleasure).
Yes, sometime over the past day or so a viking village had sprung up near Tjörnin and it just so happened that we were there to see it. They had a few little stands set up where you could buy handmade stuff (which we quickly realized was way out of our price range) but even if you didn’t want to spend money you could always play with the swords and shields. Pigsten obliged.
We knew that there was going to be some sort of conflict – or at least that is what our really bad attempt at translating the festival’s program had told us. Turns out we were right. After we had spent some time in the village some viking warriors started gathering in the field right next to it.
Now, everything they were saying was in Icelandic – so we had no idea what was actually being said. However, the general plot was fairly easy to follow. There was some sort of dispute between two clans, and then a woman and her guard (?) showed up and things went to shit fast. Shortly after she arrived the talking stopped and then everyone started killing each other.
Just an ordinary day in 930 Iceland.
Eventually one side was victorious.
…and then they proceeded to kill the woman with an axe. Still not sure whose side she was actually on, but based on the fact that they took their time when executing her I’m guessing not the victors.
However, in a bit of twist (complete with some comedic effect that you needn’t know Icelandic to follow) the two final warriors betrayed each other and one of them killed the other. Of course everyone being dead was kind of boring, so he invoked a chant to Odin (that the audience got to participate in) to revive everyone. So then everyone came back to life, only to slaughter each other again. It was pretty funny.
Then at the end after their closing bows all the actors charged at the audience which generated a few funny results (SB might have ran away 😛 ).
I don’t think Tristen slept that night he was so jived up.
After the festival we started transitioning into “normal life” mode, which meant trying to figure out a bunch of stuff for the quickly approaching semester, as well as more mundane day-to-day life stuff, like how to recycle.
Look at how easy these instructions are!
Recycling isn’t single-stream here, which was a bit of a pain for SB and I as we had been hugely spoiled by our three years in Cambridge.
I don’t know if it was the stress of trying to do simple things like open a bank account or learn where the heck you were supposed to return your bottles for the deposit (too far away, turns out) but one day we made a semi-spontaneous decision to hop on one of the very last Puffin tours of the year. While Puffins are more common elsewhere in Iceland (from late April until mid August) there are still a few Puffin islands out in Reykjavík’s harbor (Kollafjörður). Normally the Puffins would have been gone by the time we went on the tour, but some of them had apparently stayed a little later this year (they go out to sea from mid August until Spring, like literally they live out at sea). So we took advantage of the tardy Puffins and booked a last-minute tour. This was also our first time talking to the Old Harbor area in Reykjavík (a lot of tours depart from here).
Since it was very late in the season we got take one of the smaller boats as our group was quite small, maybe 10 people in total.
The nice thing about the smaller boat is that you can get closer to the Puffin islands, not only because of the draft but also because there is less noise and the Puffins aren’t as likely to fly away. There are two principal islands (Akurey and Lundey) that the Puffins in this area live on, and which one you go to is entirely dependent on the Puffins themselves as well as the ocean. For our trip we went to Akurey, which was actually the one I was hoping for. One the way out we got some awesome views of the surrounding area.
Before too long the Puffin kingdom was in sight.
Eventually we made our way right up to it and lo’ and behold, Puffins! 😀 😀 😀
However then something downright shitty happened. We found out – right there on the boat with Puffins in sight – that our zoom camera lens was broken. Yep. That was pretty freakin’ awesome. So we didn’t really get any good photos of the Puffins because we couldn’t zoom in on them, and Puffins are TINY. Actually I’d recommend going and reading this post so you can learn more about the most awesome birds in the universe.
So about the best I can offer is this.
Yes there are Puffins in that photo, and no they are not the first birds you see – those are seagulls. However, look closely and you will discover the awesome mini-fatness of the Puffins.
The only clear photo we got of a Puffin really wasn’t that clear, however it was a Puffin in flight and it had me and SB cracking up.
Yep that fat little blob in the corner is a Puffin. Interesting fact, Puffins flap their wings like CRAZY when they fly, probably because they are so awkward and fat. Also when they walk around with their stubby little legs they look like German soldiers.
The boat made its way around the whole Puffin island, so we got to see them doing different things: chillin’, flapping their wings, flying, diving, and floating. There weren’t a ton of them left (during the high season there are thousands spread around the harbor) but there were enough to satisfy me greatly.
Though Puffins generally despise living near humans, these particular islands really aren’t that far off from civilization – here you can see that Reykjavík is only about 3.1km in the distance.
After we’d made a complete revolution of the island we started making our way back to the harbor.
When we came into the harbor we got to pass a bunch of boats and ships of various sizes, Valentino enjoyed that almost almost as much as he enjoyed the Puffins.
And by enjoy I mean “eat,” as he ate one despite our best attempts to stop him. He is a Polar Bear after all I suppose.
Upon reentry we also got nice view of Harpa, which is Reykjavík’s famous concert hall and conference center. It’s also apparently a major tourist attraction but we haven’t been there yet. There is a conference coming up (or probably that already happened as of this getting posted) that SB and I might go to that is going to be in Harpa though.
The harbor (both in-port and further out) had a ton of jellyfish, some of them were huge! We got a pretty good picture of one who was chillaxin’ near the docks when we got off the boat.
After our exciting (but chilly!) Puffin adventure we decided to go get a snack and some coffee at a nearby cafe. I tried coffee with a lime in it, which sounded weird but turned out to be really yummy. Valentino was also a fan.
From there we headed to a different Bónus in the Grandi harbor area, which we soon found out was way too far away from our apartment to carry a bunch of heavy groceries, a mistake which we haven’t made since.
That evening, or somewhere around in there, was when Tristen decided that he liked to “bop” us with his “bopper” stick, which in actuality was the cardboard tube from the center of the rolled-up rug we had bought at IKEA.
Sadly the “bopper” has since been broken, but we got a lot of “bopping” out of it before it “bopped” itself.
Aside from the chronic bopping our apartment life has mostly assumed a fairly normal flow. The nice thing about that is that it gives us a chance to start planning some of our future adventures. One of the biggest reasons we came here was to do some exploring (
arguably definitely even more so than school itself) so naturally we already have plans to get outside of the city. To help us visualize our potential Icelandic adventures SB even picked up an old-fashioned “Uppdráttr Íslands” or Icelandic map.
Right now it and a fishy clock are the only thing we’ve put up on our walls.
We’ve named all the fish after the Boys and plants.
The fact that the walls are concrete doesn’t make hanging things very easy and the little wooden strips they put up to hang things from are too high to be very useful.
We really don’t have a lot of “stuff” in general right now. A lot of that is intentional, but some of it is just because things are so expensive here. Case in point: 1 roll of duct-tape will run you about $19. Lest you think we should just order stuff online, well, heh that isn’t really an option and even where it is you then get to pay a ridiculous amount in custom fees (usually about 50% of what you paid) in addition to shipping. However, one little “hack” is to order stuff from China. Iceland and China have a free trade agreement (the first such agreement between China and a European country). This removes the fees from anything you order from China so long as it comes directly from China. We’ve capitalized on this by ordering several things from China on Ebay. I mean the drawback is that they will arrive sometime between 2 weeks and 2 months later (or never, as in the case of one item), but if you aren’t in a hurry you can literally get things for 1/8 or 1/10th the price of what they cost to buy domestically.
One downside beyond the shipping speed is the fact that you have to go to the Post Office (Íslandspóstur) to get your packages. The delivery system is.. odd here. Basically there is no de facto “home delivery” for packages – you need to pay extra for that. Also, if you get a package they leave you a slip – entirely in Icelandic – which tells you how to get said package. The first time we got a package was a bit of an adventure but we’ve got it figured out now. They also don’t operate on weekends, but that’s not surprising really as a lot of stuff has limited hours here on weekends.
The good news is that our closest Post Office isn’t that far – about a 20 minute walk. It’s also in a cool area of town. For instance the route goes along the western edge of Tjörnin – seen here on a much more typical day weather-wise.
It’s just around the corner from Austurvöllur, a public square which itself sits right out in front of Alþingi (Iceland’s parliament).
Then just south of that is Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (Reykjavík’s City Hall) which sits at the northern end of Tjörnin.
So all in all at least it’s a scenic walk, though the scenery doesn’t do a whole lot for you when the wind is blowing you around and it’s pouring rain. Yes I do believe the rain here will have to get its own post, or at least an extensive mention, at some point – it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before and I’ve lived in some windy-ass places.
The good news about the wind, the rain, and the cold is that we have an awesome heating system that we can ACTUALLY CONTROL. We had essentially zero control over our heating in Cambridge which meant that sometimes it was roasting, but more often than not it was freaking cold. We have no A/C here, but you’d be pretty dumb to not realize why we don’t need it. Our heating is boss though. We’ve also found plenty of treats to keep us fat, such as some (surprisingly affordable) ice cream Pig found for us at Bónus.
We’ve also found our new favorite soda, which is Appelsín (and its Tappelsín variant) – an orange soda that is way better than normal orange soda.
It’s proven to be quite popular in the Taco household, probably too popular. That said, not everything has been a hit. For instance, licorice ice cream turned out to be a less exciting than it sounded.
It looked like I was eating black clay, and honestly I may well have been. Still glad I tried it though. SB’s far more normal and less exciting ice cream can be seen in the background.
In fact we’ve been trying loads of new stuff, which is half the fun of living in a new place! Our diet has MASSIVELY shifted from what it once was, largely due to simple availability of things, but also because of massive price differences. For example, chicken is worth its weight in gold, but eggs are affordable. Hamburger is expensive as shit, but fish is more affordable. Stuff like that. Hotdogs are also really big here and since they are cheap I’ve eaten more hotdogs since August than I had in the previous 5 years. The good news about that is their hotdogs are delicious and actually made of meat. All of our cereal has changed too, and while SB has gravitated towards her muesli, the Boys are big fans of “Alpha Bites.”
Tristen because of the word “alpha” (i.e. manlies) and Valentino because they have a bear as their mascot (and as the box!). Pig and Pigsten I think like them for the actual eating. SB and I like them because they came with a bunch of magnets which we were able to put on our (small) refrigerator and make a story with!
SB and I like telling stories almost as much as we like collecting magnets – so that was a win-win situation (plus we got food).
Anyways, I think I’ve covered a good bit of what getting to Iceland was like as well as what living here has at least started like. If you noticed I left out pretty much everything about actually going to school and what that’s like (hint: very different), but I’ll make another post which covers some more day-to-day stuff at some point in the future. There’s also been quite a few things that have happened since this “intro” period was over, some of it frustrating, some of it exciting.
The next post in this six-post-blast I’ve been writing will focus on one of those exciting bits, which just so happens to be SB and I’s first trip outside of the city and into the Icelandic countryside!
Until next time,