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Iceland Fire: A Week With No Night: Part Two

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Before I left, I raved about how excited I was to attend Elf School.

Álfaskólinn, 2nd floor.

Even though it seemed to be office space in a mixed-use industrial/commercial park, it also seemed as it Magnús lived there. The place was piled high with books and troll figures and gnome statues. A small reception desk remained unmanned, and I called out until Magnús showed himself. He looked to be out of a fairy lore himself, a giant of a man, tall and round, with a white beard and a bright red shirt.

With regrets, he informed me that since I appeared to be only attendee, he would not be holding elf school that day. If I could wait until Tuesday when a big group was scheduled to come through? But no, I would be back in the states by Tuesday.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about missing elf school. I was in a fair amount of pain due to a minor operation I had just undergone at the hospital (more on that later), so was a bit nervous about trying to make it through elf school without passing out. He did give me the school’s curriculum for free, and promised to send me an electronic copy of the new edition when it comes out. So at least I got another rare folklore book to add to my collection.

I’ve got a couple of random pictures I’d like to go through. First, viking hats. They were everywhere.

On a backpack…

…on a troll.

However, in spite of our long searching, we never once found a viking hat that would fit Ryuk. I guess we’ll have to make one.

Next, weird art. Ha, I’ll bet you thought art class was over.

In a coffee shop in Reykjavik.
In the restaurant near Geysir.

And then, just because I love signs so much, here’s some product packaging:

Bonus Sexa! Já!

Speaking of sex…

So let’s talk about puffin, shall we? Yes, puffin is on the menu.

What’s a puffin, you might ask? This little guy is a puffin:

“Pwease don’t eat me…”

Don’t let his sad eyes fool you. Before you judge me, remember, puffins themselves are ferocious carnivores.

“I’m gonna eat ALL the fishies! OM NOM NOM!”

They do not weep over the tiny adorable fish they consume. It’s the circle of life, and someday, something else is likely to eat me, no matter how cute I am.

Unless you’re a vegetarian, you’ve likely eaten one of these recently:

Original image from Crack Two.
Warning: Do not view before dinner. Or breakfast.

Anyway, it was either the puffin, or the whale. I couldn’t quite come to terms with eating a whale. Plus I wasn’t that hungry.

The puffin was served in courses. The appetizer was smoked puffin, which was like salmon, only softer, more purple, and OMG IT WAS SO GOOD. Puffin, I love you.

The main course tasted totally different… a bit like mild liver. I happen to love liver, so it all worked out.

So the bars in Iceland, on the weekend, are open all the time. That’s because in Iceland, time has no meaning. They also let people carry their beer bottles from bar to bar, and I even saw a guy take his glass from one establishment. He had the courtesy to look slightly guilty as he did so.

One thing we quickly learned is that if it’s late-night, say 10pm, and you’re hungry, YOU WILL NOT FIND FOOD IN REYKJAVIK. They’ve never heard of bar food, and if you walk the streets looking for a restaurant still serving food, they will look at you funny. We did discover, thanks to some friends of friends we met up with, that after 11 or so, the food trucks show up in this one part of town, and then it’s waffles and kebabs till sunrise. Except, the sun doesn’t rise. We’ve been over that.

Viking Kebab!
Bacon Kebab!
Picture taken at 12:50am. Still sunny.
Location: The “Luna Bar” aka the Mánabar
The smoking room at some other bar. Taken at 3:16am

A few bars of note. Boston was on the second floor, darkly lit, with gold baroque wallpaper and tiny chandeliers. The music ran the range of electronic tunes with that particular Icelandic filter we came to love via the car radio. The DJ was a woman, one of my first realizations that Iceland is subtlety less sexist than the states. It’s these little things that told me Icelanders actually think women are just as capable as men.

Boston, right next door to Dillon.

Then there’s the place we called the Luna Bar, even though I think its real name was Mánabar. The inside was space-themed.

Lookit! It’s my bar!

Another bar of note is the Lebowski Bar, named after the movie. I don’t know the story of how this place got made. Perhaps it’s the wacky sweater the Dude wears throughout the film, which, while not traditional, does distantly resemble a lopapeysa.

The Dude abides.
Yes, this is a White Russian menu.

I might have been up for more partying if not for a bit of a medical issue that appeared just days before our flight, that I was unable to resolve before leaving. I got on the plane, hoping it would improve, but it didn’t, so I got to experience first hand what it’s like to seek medical treatment while travelling. If you’re curious about my experience, I’ve hidden it behind this TMI tag. Click to read. I try not to be too squicky or go into too much detail…

TMI: click to expand

Briefly, I got a Bartholin’s cyst. I had one before, many years ago, and it went away with a minor surgery. Unlike that one, this one was terribly painful. My local doctor wasn’t able to do much for it with such short notice. So off I went. It added a considerable amount of discomfort and stress to the trip.

After it continued to get worse, I looked up a local clinic. Iceland has socialized medicine, but unlike France and the UK, they change cash to non-Icelandic people. Strangely, it was cash up front, and 6200ISK (roughly $51), and they told me they wouldn’t change any extra unless they had to run tests. Wow.

I got seen within an hour. That was me showing up, saying I needed treatment, setting an appointment, and coming back. We were able to walk around the neighborhood in that hour, got coffee from a great little place called Stoffon.

The doctor himself called me from the waiting room. He was no-nonsense. They all were. I told him my problem, he looked at the computer for awhile, then went and grabbed another doctor for advice. They led me to her office, wherein they had me disrobe while they just stood there, and then she made a small incision to drain the cyst. With no anesthetic. Honestly, with how much it had been hurting, I was mentally prepped for it, and just wanted relief. When that didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped, she called the gynecologist for advice. Everything they talked about, they did so in earshot. Thankfully it was all in Icelandic. (The doctors had this odd expression… They both kept taking a sharp inhalation of breath, like we do when we’re shocked. It was a bit disconcerting but I calmed myself down by thinking it couldn’t be all that bad, it must mean something else. And yeah, for some reason, doctors in Iceland do that when they mean “Yes” or “Ahh..” or “I see.”)

The doctor told me the gynecologist at the hospital could put in a Word Catheter, the same kind of surgery I’d had years ago that fixed it right up. I was willing to agree to anything at this point. I just wanted to enjoy the rest of my trip. They had me in at the hospital right after lunch. I say in the waiting room about 30 minutes, then they had me on a table, and out again, in less than 15 minutes. Again, no bedside manner, no private room for undressing, no attempt to hide the gory details from me other than the language barrier. At least I got a local anesthetic that time.

Now you can see why I was sort of relieved to miss elf school. It was scheduled to start just one hour later. If it hadn’t been for my strong desire to go rest, I would have tried to talk him into not canceling.

Overall, they seem to have done a good job. I have no worries that I’m healing up just fine. I appreciated their openness and honesty, and the immediate treatment, though the whole process was rough around the edges. Since my insurance sucks, it probably came out cheaper than I would have paid here… just under $400 for the whole thing.

Now let’s leave the city for a little Icelandic nature.

The famous Blue Lagoon is near the airport, about a half hour southwest of Reykjavik. We got there a little late to pay the tourist-mine prices to soak in the water. It was really hard to tell what time it was, since the sun was still just as bright (gray, overcast) at 10pm as it was at 10am.

Please take a moment to memorize this color.

You can see the water of the blue lagoon, even the part they don’t let you swim in, from the highway. In the grey, volcanic rock bleak landscape, the color just pops in a way it can’t in the photos. It’s a bright baby blue, the color of the bantha milk that Luke drank on Tatooine. It’s a robin’s egg blue that goes on and on, in vast pools surrounded by black basalt. White minerals coat the rocks beneath the surface, and the air smells of sulfur. In the distance, plumes of steam rise from one of Iceland’s many geothermal plants.

Panorama. Feel free to zoom.

That’s about all I have to say about it. I can’t vouch for paying to go in. There are natural hot springs all over the place, and naturally-heated public pools. I read that it’s cheaper and better to choose another hot springs.

The path leading to the Blue Lagoon.

We took a day to drive a bit north and inland, to Þingvellir national park and the surrounding attractions. Our main goals were to see Geysir and Gullfoss, but what we found at Þingvellir was even more amazing. History, from 894AD. You can read more about it on Wikipedia of course, but Þingvellir is another name for the Althing, basically Iceland’s folkmoot or “thing”. A “thing” or a “moot” was a gathering of tribes wherein peace was guaranteed and political matters were decided. It’s where our modern terms “thing” and “tithing” come from, as well as the roots of western democracy.

Given my previous light research into dark ages political systems for researching my novels, I was super-delighted by this surprise. If I’d been feeling up to it, I would have run to all the monuments and historical markers all over the valley. As it was I hobbled about the best I could and still managed to see alot. Have some pics:

The Althing took place in that valley. The bluff we’re standing on is made of basalt, and a large natural crevice leads down. Here’s the start of the crevice’s humble beginnings, and the path:

At the bottom is another crevice, parallel to this one.

And then of course I have to take a picture of the only sign carved into the rock. I have no idea what it means, but that curly-cue “c” symbol looks really familiar.

So let’s talk about cairns. The first thing I noticed driving to Reykjavik from the airport, is that out in the middle of the vast lava-flow rock covered in struggling moss, were rock piles. Most were only three or four feet tall. Others were more impressive, maybe forming low walls as if they could have once been huts. It was a common feature of the landscape. I speculated (rightly) that they were markers of some kind. Specifically, they were landmarks that once denoted roads and paths that no longer exist. They are hundreds of years old.

So imagine our surprise when we pulled over to a viewpoint, and found a whole field full of them:

My guess is this started out as one cairn, and as people stopped along their way to Þingvellir, they just added more. Some are very artistic. If I’d not been impaired, I would have made one of my own.

The Geysir area was just like a mini-Yellowstone, although, if you think of it, Yellowstone is more like a mini-Iceland. The Great Geysir itself is the first ever recorded geyser. It goes years between eruptions now, but there were several other geysers nearby, including the very active Strokkur, which went off and random intervals of 2 to 6 minutes. Roland got some great video of it.

The sign wordlessly says “Don’t throw coins in here, you jerk!”
Some jerk had thrown two coins in.

The water behind me is boiling hot, just like how Radiskull likes it.

Now for Gullfoss! Which is a giant waterfall. There’s a larger waterfall to the northeast, Dettifoss, where Prometheus was filmed. It would have been a day or two drive. We opted for this tiny little thing:

See those dots on top of the rainbow? Those are people.

So, it’s kind of a big deal.

On our way home to Reykjavik, we took the scenic route.. I mean, the other scenic route.. hell, they’re all scenic routes, and we discovered Skálholt, a really old church, built in 1056AD. Well, it was old, and then it burnt down, and then they rebuilt it. Anyway, the site was once the largest religious and cultural center of Iceland until all the fires and earthquakes forced them to move to Reykjavik.

Before entering, we veered to the right, and the foundations of the old monastery buildings.

This area was roped off, but just a little further away, very much to my delight and sense of mystery, was an underground passageway which was not roped off. It was lit and welcoming. So I followed it.

At the end was a tiny basement museum sporting sarcophagus lids, decorated in art and Latin, dating across 700 years, the newest being from the 18th century. We followed a narrow winding staircase to the cathedral above.

Perhaps it was because of the ancientness of the site, or perhaps hundreds of years of worshipers, or maybe it was the candles and the organ music, or the atmosphere of having entered via the basement, but in the cathedral I was struck with a sense of power that coursed through me like lightning. I’ve had few experiences like this in my life, but it’s been a very long time, but I wasn’t expecting it. I almost cried.

I couldn’t speak until we left the building.

Add caption

We were in Iceland for four days. The area within the red circle is how much we saw. We could see the Reykholt glacier from a distance, and we almost made it to Hella (right near Selfoss) before we rode right outta there.

Back at the airport, coffee in hand, all ready to depart. I would definitely return to Iceland. Perhaps next time, we might travel around the Ring Road, aka the Golden Circle, staying in B&Bs we pass along the way. Or perhaps more partying in Reykjavik, or going to see the Northern Lights. I still crave learning the language

One parting sign just before we went through security, I knew just enough Icelandic to recognize the word “coffee”.

It says, “Prohibited from placing coffee cups in the window.” And I was so sure “gluggann” had something to do with how fast you should drink your kaffi.

Luna Lindsey (link: is an indie author of speculative fiction. Her blog covers many topics, including books, writing, feminism, humor, geek culture, political philosophy, weird photos, and random musings.


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