Monday, June 17, 2013

On the Norse Road

Actually, technically, I have been in the air rather than on a road.  Even with paying lots of attention to flight times and layovers, it is a long haul to Greenland.  Yes, Greenland.  I have taken the leap and am visiting the areas where the Norse in my novel lived.  Since getting in touch with my Norwegian relatives through the Alt for Norge experience, I felt I had to go visit them, and, if I was that close to Greenland......  Really, it was a matter of believing in my writing, believing that this novel has merit and deserves the extra attention (and $$) to make it better. 
So, here I am.  In Reykjavik, Iceland right now - heading to Greenland tomorrow.  My 18 year old son, Silas has come with me.  Probably the last big trip with a parent before he heads off on his own.  Its nice to have company and I love traveling with him.  Jim has stayed behind with job, house and dog (Thanks!!!!) - he is saving his travel time for a place that has sun. 
And today, I do not blame him.  We have seen one little glimpse of sun through some clouds and then it got socked in.  Cold wind and spitting rain.  Feels a bit like November in Portland.
We arrived early and the guest house was closed, so we wandered looking for COFFEE.  The trip had been 13 hours - including layovers and, though we sort of slept, I don't think there was much REM sleep involved and we were both very tired - not up to wandering with backpacks. 
But everything was closed - even at 9 am.  Seems today is the Icelandic National Holiday - sort of 4th of July and there were lots of closed signs in windows.  We just wanted coffee.,,,  Everyone we asked said that it would be a big day.. later.  We checked out the huge modern cathedral at the top of the town and they said they were making coffee for themselves and we could come back in twenty minutes!  But we couldn't wait and wandered.  Reykjavik - at least the old town - is small with cement homes packed tightly and winding alleylike roads that crisscoss at diagonals with unpronounceable names like Ingolfsstreati and Sjafnargata.  We headed down towards the water.
Finally we found a place that looked like it had just opened.  A strange mixture of bookstore, coffee shop/cafe.  I think there was a religious slant as many of the books were about God, though there were about 10 Icelandic-English Dictionaries.  I also saw copies of Barnebiblia - which I think means Children's Bible.   But they had coffee.  Not great coffee, but coffee, and breakfast - mainly salmon and egg concoctions that were more expensive than I was hoping for - even though I had been warned.  We had already bought some beer at the airport -duty/tax free store in anticipation of high prices.  Coffee was about $3 and breakfast about $10.  I was sort of whining when Silas pointed out that the price included tax and there is No Tipping in Iceland.  I am still going to have to be a price hawk. 
After we ate, I left Silas with the bags, reading the news on my mini travel computer -  there seems to be free Wi-Fi everywhere.  Since our phones do not work here (Verizon) I headed back to the guest house, hoping someone would be up.  After a bit of getting lost and checking the map, I found it again and was welcomed by the manager.  Yes, we could come in early - drop our bags, the room is almost ready.  I smiled and thought of a bed.
But, coming back with Silas, we found the kitchen full of men and bags - a group of Swedes heading up north to kayak.  They had distracted our hostess with questions of where to get food and last minute supplies, the room was not yet ready.  So Silas and I dropped our bags and headed out to wander again.  Without bags it was easier to enjoy the town and, finally, there were people on the streets and stores were opening.  Lots of tourists!  Lots of stores and restaurants for tourists.  I really had not realized how much of a tourist town Reykjavik is.  For some reason a National Capital has different connotations in my mind.  Everywhere there were brochures and ads for the wonderful tours to the great places around Iceland. Whalewatching, kayaking, salmon fishing, see the volcano and waterfall.  All for $100s. I am tempted by a rental agency that rents minivans, though we are not going to be in town long enough.  I know that most of the population lives here or in the surrounding suburbs.  I wonder how many of them get out into the scenic wild Iceland? 
Still looked like mainly tourists in the streets.  We headed back to our room.  But not before we found a second hand store - actually looked like more of a Goodwill bins/ garage sale with women pulling things out of bags.  There we found a stack of blankets old Icelandic woolen blankets that were in great shape - after seeing the new ones in stores for $100s  we couldn't resist getting some for $12 each.  We were cold.
The room is basic - simple Scandinavian twin beds - shared bath down the hall.  We collapse and sleep for hours.  Waking, we have no idea what time it is.  The day is still overcast, but it could be anytime.  Our bodies have lost their clocks.  It is 5pm!  We go out, wondering what sort of celebration there will be for the National holiday.  There are a few more people in the street but not many - did we miss it?  We walk down to the waterfront, where are the people?  There is a path along the water and there are a few folks walking and biking, but not many.  Then we hear music and head towards a makeshift stage.  The music is loud and really awful.  Discordant rock with a small crowd - more young people than we have seen.  Silas comments that teenagers are the same around the world - awkward and rebellious and cliquish. I realize I have not paid enough attention to teens while traveling. We head away and look for a restaurant.  One of the strange details that I read was that the largest immigrant populations to Iceland are Polish and Thai.  So, there are Thai restaurants- our comfort food.  It is wonderful. 
We are still tired.  A bed, a beer and a book seem great right now.  I'm not feeling like taking full advantage of Reykjavik.  But the place is not what I call hopping.  Maybe its the weather - the wind is cutting harder and its just not good birthday weather. Its almost midnight as I am writing this and the light is a cool blue - it could be a stormy afternoon in Portland.  I'm sure there are some warm bars full of Icelanders, but I'm going to get some more sleep.

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