Iceland, September 24 - October 6 2006

I had a few too many vacation days in hand, and the closer the Yuletide season looms the more hectic things get in the office, so I decided I was taking the last week of September and the first week of October. The only thing I needed was a destination, because happy and all as I'd be to spend a fortnight sitting on my sofa watching movies, I've not travelled significantly (aside from business jaunts) for quite some time.

A voice whispered in my head, "Iceland".

I ignored it, and checked out the offers on the USIT website that encompassed the approximate timeframe and price range I was interested in. A trip to Peru including a visit to Machu Picchu looked particularly interesting, but USIT helpfully don't do online booking. I took myself to their office one Saturday afternoon, only to find they were too busy to serve me. Seriously. They'd closed their ticket queue, and the guy sitting behind where the ticket machine should be pretty much waved me away, muttering something about how it could be a half-hour before any positions were open, and went back to his book. Fine. Don't take my money, then.


Went home, fired up, and took the cheapest available flight/hotel package for Reykjavik that they listed.

"Now what?", I asked the mystery voice. No response. I emailed someone I knew had been to Iceland for a few ideas, and he replied with some interesting suggestions. I googled a bit, checked up the official tourist websites, and eventually figured that if the worst came to the worst I'd just spend two weeks sitting on the hotel sofa watching movies.

Frequently Offered Opinions

Everyone said, "Iceland? Ooh, that's expensive!" EVERYONE. Even the girl on the check-in desk at the airport.
Her: "Where's Keflavik?"
Me: "Iceland"
Her: "Ooh, that's expensive!"
I was ready to deck the next person who offered the opinion, but there were no further takers until I was actually in Iceland, at which point I figured they were allowed say it because they were experiencing it first-hand, as was I.

Of course, you have to get through Dublin Airport first. There you will find signs advertising eircom WiFi zones, which are pay-for, and Internet kiosks, also pay-for. And should you wish to buy books, beverages, munchies, etc., you will find yourself saying, "Dublin Airport? Ooh, that's expensive!".

From here down is a mishmash of notes I took, diary-like entries I actually wrote out in longhand, and random things I remembered - some well after they'd happened.

23:19 Sunday, Heathrow Central Bus Station

I should really have paid a little more attention when booking, of course. The route to Iceland was DUB/LHR, LGW/KEF. Although LHR and LGW are technically both in London, it takes an hour and change to get from one to the other in ideal conditions. Plus, I was taking the last DUB/LHR flight on Sunday and the first LGW/KEF flight on Monday, necessitating an overnight somewhere along the way. NOTE TO SELF: PAY MORE ATTENTION. Mind, I didn't actually leave it until arriving in LHR to discover this; I'd taken the time out to be horrified by it the day before I left. The main reason for me taking travel notes at 23:19 in Heathrow Central Bus Station was to comment on the fact that apparently giving an airport-bound bus route the number 747 is a common theme. Stop it now, it's not funny.

01:10 Monday, Gatwick Airport

My outbound travel route doesn't seem quite so insane now. I'm still a bit miffed at the overnight layover, but the LHR/LGW thing isn't quite the heartbreak I thought it'd be thanks to the National Express bus service. Mind you, their pricing scheme is a bit silly: the economy and non-economy fares cost the same (£18) and the return fare saves you all of 50p over buying two singles.

03:50 Monday, Gatwick Airport

Another airport with pay-for wireless. What is wrong with these people? I am making a note just now to remark that after spending the last hour or so shutting down somewhat, the lounging area seems to be lighting up again. 4am seems to be an odd time to start up.

04:14 Monday, Gatwick Airport

I have no hope of sleeping, and I can't concentrate on reading, so in a fit of hubris I decided to poke at some reverse-engineering stuff I'd been playing with. Of course, it's a bit tricky given that I haven't touched the code in a while, and I'm running pretty much entirely on three shots of espresso and no sleep since 11:30 Sunday morning.

06:42 Monday, Gatwick Airport

I am so fried that I just now bought a tuna melt. I can't stand tuna. Even the smell of it makes me feel ill.

Some time between 07:30 and 09:30 Monday, Icelandic Airspace

Flying in over Iceland is pretty astonishing. It looks like moon rock, complete with craters. They could've faked the moon landings here, and saved all that sound-stage effort in Hollywood. Saw what I presume was a glacier but could as easily have been a large snowy cap on a non-mountain - the country's pretty flat. (This turns out to be completely wrong. The country has a maximum elevation of around 7,000 feet, a good deal higher than the highest point in Ireland. See previous note about being fried. Also, it turns out they did in fact train astronauts for the moon landings around here.)

11:13 Monday, Loftleidir Hotel, Reykjavik

Arrived and unpacked. I'm not much impressed with my alleged four-star hotel; I'd hate to see their idea of a one-star. The minibar is empty, the stationery kit comes with a pencil (and a stubby one at that) instead of a pen, there are no bathrobes, the toilet roll is the cheap scratchy sort you get in bulk discount, there are no toiletries beyond two pumps (one over the sink, one in the shower stall) dispensing "hair and shower gel", the shower is a bit wimpy, the sink tap is leaking, the coffee station doesn't come with any milk substitute (creamer is not milk substitute), and so on. I actually wrote up a longer list of what I didn't like and the few things I did, so I'll add that in later. To be fair, I'm in the scum-class room; however, the hotel is right beside the domestic airport, and most of the top-notch rooms appear to face directly onto said airport. So while I'm not soaking in a full-length champagne-filled bathtub, I'm also not listening to Cessnas, Pipers, and the occasional jet-propelled aircraft zooming by almost constantly.

The view, however, is stunning.

I went out walking only to discover it's too warm to wear anything over my shirt, and it's not even a heavy shirt, either. The weather was gorgeous: clear skies, sunshine, running to about 14°C. I found myself a nearby convenience store where I picked up some toiletries and postcards, and headed back to the hotel room to change into something more suited to the heat.

The sign on the elevator reads, "Do not use elevator in case of fire". Icelandic Janglish!

Typically, the camera which has done nothing but sit connected via USB cable to a computer for the last month announced that its batteries were too weak to be of use. Fortunately I'd brought a charger, but unfortunately that meant no photos on my first foray into the town proper. I'd plugged it all in before I'd gone to the shop, and checked on it when I came back. It was at this point that I discovered that the switch with the red stripe nearest the hotel room door is in fact a killswitch for the entire room, so by turning it off I'd turned off everything including the charger. Yay.

Undaunted, I wandered back into town and found myself on Laugavegur, which is Icelandic for "you should see this place on a Friday night". It is basically the main shopping street by day, and the main eating/drinking/partying street by weeknight, and pretty much an open-air drunk parade on Friday and Saturday nights. Feeling a little peckish, I looked for somewhere to dine, and encountered my first little bit of culture-clash: the Icelandic are not very good at indicating that their premises are open. Part of this is the dim interior lighting in so many places, and part of it is that they keep the doors closed pretty much all the time. I couldn't quite get the hang of this; eventually I just resorted to trying doors if I really wanted to check the place out, and otherwise making note of which places were open when.

My eventual chosen place of lunch was Kofi Tómasar Frænda, or Uncle Tom's Cabin. The menu said "KOFFIN" on the front, which despite my impression was not a direction on how to react to the smoky atmosphere. After only a year and a half of the Irish smoking ban being in effect, I was completely taken aback at what would have been a common scene in Ireland prior to said ban; I don't know how we managed to put up with it the way it was, to be honest. Uncle Tom's served me up a nice BLT and an honest-to-goodness FLASK of coffee, which I worked my way through while perusing my shiny new Lonely Planet guide to Iceland. The other patrons were mostly engaged in smoking, coffee-shop chatter, and using laptops which appeared to be plugged into power sockets in the ceiling. Nice spot, even if you'd really need to carry a small fan with you to see where you were going; the semi-basement nature of the place didn't help the visibility any, either.

The coffee and BLT came to about €8.50, which didn't exactly cause me a heart attack. Maybe this means Dublin is getting expensive.

A suave moment: gently tilting my coffee cup to drain it, and dribbling the coffee down my chin onto the white parts, and only the white parts, of my t-shirt. I hear the girls go crazy for that sort of thing. MEH.

Eventually I took my coffee-stained self back to the hotel where the entire lack-of-sleep business caught up with me at around 16:00. Yes, I managed to stay in the same timezone and still get jetlag. To be fair, there is in fact a one-hour shift since Iceland doesn't have any truck with this daylight savings nonsense. I slept through the construction work outside (what is this, Lanzarote?) in brief dozes until around 7pm which roughly coincided with sunset. Feeling vaguely refreshed, I decided to sample the local nightlife.

By "sample", of course, I mean "full-body immersion". I wandered around looking for a likely spot, but ran into the aforementioned problem of determining if places were actually open, coupled with the fact that it was early enough on Monday evening that very few people were around. In the end, I rather reluctantly settled for an Irish bar called The Dubliner. Perched myself at the bar, ordered a pint of Guinness, and sat there sipping it quietly. Just like home, really.

As I was working on the second pint, someone in the corner hailed me. "Hey, are you Irish?" The guy then proceeded to talk to me across the bar about the music playing over the sound system (Rory Gallagher) before asking me if I'd heard the new Dylan album. "No", I said, "I haven't". So he got the barmaid to put it on, and I marvelled (loudly) at the fact that here was Bob Dylan doing what sounded like classic 50's rock'n'roll. Much laughter from the other end of the conversation; the guy proceeded to tell me that he'd downloaded the lyrics for the song and it ran to something like three pages. Eventually he invited me to come and join the gang around the corner, who turned out to be (more or less) the resident barflies. Steve, my "host" was from Wicklow; there was a Scottish girl there, possibly called Julie; she was with a Frenchman named Manuel, and there was a bunch of Icelandic guys whose names were either not given or too non-English for me to remember (I ran into the latter a fair amount, as it happens). Later we were joined by Ingvar and Kele, whose name I have no doubt spelled incorrectly, and Ingo who told me his "real" name and when I said, "I'm sorry?" he said, "never mind, call me Ingo". Later still John and Lee turned up. And there was some well-dressed older Icelandic guy who, when I asked what he did, told me he was a retired bodyguard. Mentioned a few famous names, and had that sort of quiet understated air about him that meant I didn't think he was kidding me.

At this point I'd secured a free pint and was deep in chat with various people, and the music was somewhat louder, and then it became evident that Ingo was in fact the live entertainment for the evening. He set up a guitar and a PA and proceeded to play and sing to the assembled throng which had collected in the couple of hours since I'd arrived. The response was a bit mixed; some songs got enthusiastic applause, some just, well, didn't. At some point Ingvar insisted I dance with Kele because she wanted to dance and he hated dancing, so next thing I know I'm spinning around on the floor with a girl on my arm. Whee!

Figuring I may as well chance my luck, I asked Ingo if I could play a song at some point. He agreed, and after playing a couple more himself introduced me as having been flown in specially at great expense. I took the guitar, said I was just filler while Ingo was having a smoke, and launched into Wonderwall.


I wish I'd had this sort of response when I played the open mic a few weeks back. Everyone at the table beside where I was playing jumped to their feet and rushed out to the dancing area. Which, in turn, encouraged me to give it loads. Probably my best rendition of that song ever. At the end, I handed the guitar back to Ingo amid thundering applause and strolled back to the gang with a face-splitting grin. John complimented me on my playing rhythm, which I thought was an odd thing to remark on, but I thanked him nonetheless. Chat continued until the wee hours, by which point John and Lee, chefs both, had told me I should call to their respective workplaces for food, Kele had dragged me out for another spin around the bar, and somehow I was the last guy to leave the premises. I meandered back to the hotel with a big grin on my face.

16:51 Tuesday, Loftleidir Hotel

I've just offloaded my camera from a trip whale-watching and also a trip to the top of the big church (Hallgrimskirkja) that dominates the Reykjavik skyline. I should probably have taken more pics from the latter, given that I payed €3.50 for the privilege of taking an elevator to the 8th floor (no idea what the six between ground and the tower are for) where the view was indeed spectacular. Much to my surprise I did get some whale photos, too, although minke whales aren't particularly photogenic because they don't normally do the photogenic whale stuff - no flukes rising out of the water, no leaps, no playing with the boat. Strictly a business whale, I guess.

The laptop tried to freak me out by not powering on when I plugged it in, then claiming I didn't have a battery when I eventually powered it up. The battery seems to be back in order now, although the BIOS jumped from reporting its design capacity as 67000mWh to 43000mWh, so maybe something broke, or maybe it's just Compaq's insanely crappy ACPI again.

Later on Tuesday, or more likely early Wednesday, back at the Hotel again

I dined at Apotek, where "Mr. Lee" (as one of the waitresses kept calling him) cooked up two starters and a desert around the main course I'd ordered, at no charge to me - I just payed for the main course and the beer. Blag blag blag. They were playing MC Solaar on the sound system at one point, too, which was cool. Lee talked to me at the bar for a bit and came out to chat with me when I was done eating. He's originally a Geordie, but has had to tone down the accent somewhat so that, as he says, Icelandic folk can understand what he's saying. The net result is that he actually sounds almost like a Russian speaking English. The food was divine; one of the starters was built around slices of kangaroo, and the other around scallops. The desert was scattered with fresh fruit and despite my general picky-eater status I cleaned each plate that was put in front of me. Oh, the main course was essentially an Indian chicken dish, but I don't mean to detract from it by describing it thus - like the rest of the food, it was positively divine. If you go to Reykjavik, you have to visit Apotek.

Afterward I headed down to the Dubliner again, where nothing much happened until a slight blonde girl sat down near Ingo's "stage" and began reading. Ingo asked her to move as he was setting up, so she headed to the side of the bar opposite "barfly corner". One of our intrepid locals decided he was going to bring her over to our side for, you know, entirely philantrophic reasons like not leaving someone sit on their own in a bar reading. Well, sharks, drop of blood in water, feeding frenzy, etc. The only two guys not hitting on the poor girl were Mr. Lee, who's firmly attached, and me. My excuse was that well, she was nice and all, but I couldn't seem to muster interest beyond being someone else to chat to - I guess she wasn't my type or something.

Ingvar and Kele turned up shortly afterward, and Ingvar and Lee both decided that I should, in fact, hit on the poor American (for she was from Atlanta), to which end Ingvar whispered various suggestions in my ear and attempted to manouevre us both into a face-to-face conversation so I could work on his advice. For the rest of the night, I made idle chit-chat with her, while the rest of the crew got progressively less subtle in their hitting-on as they got progressively more drunk. Every so often one of them would divert her away to their side of the bar (on one occasion by actually picking her up), upon which Ingvar would offer more advice to me (or take other action; at one point he got the bouncer to distract whichever one of the guys he felt was interfering while he got me back into the conversation), and while this was going on I'd go back to talking to with Lee or John or whoever and observe the antics with more than a little bemusement - Icelanders are so forward about this sort of thing even when sober that it's a spectacle to watch.

I seem to recall at some stage that she and I were discussing dancing (why, I have no idea) which culminated in her attempting to teach me a two-step waltz. To non-waltz music. In a crowded bar. Yes, that was about as successful as you'd imagine.

So we get to closing time, and it's me, Lee, the girl, and two drunken locals, and they say they're going to a party, and she agrees to go along because she's looking for a few more drinks, and they head for the door. Lee's kinda looking at me askance, so I tell him that I'm not actually interested in this girl, and while doing so I'm interrupted said girl returning to physically drag me out of the bar, insisting that I'm the only one who's not been totally weird and she's not leaving without me.

If I had, in fact, been interested this is the point at which I would insert an evil laugh.

Outside, two drunken locals were indeed being weird. No, they didn't have a party, they were basically hoping that one of them could take Atlanta girl home. They then started talking in Icelandic, which neither I nor Atlanta could follow, so I suggested we head away before things got ugly, which she agreed to.

This, you understand, would require a further evil laugh.

True to my word, though, I walked the girl to the end of the street, flagged down a taxi, got a hug for my troubles, sent her on her way, and giggled my way back to the hotel. It's not often I can steal a girl out from under an entire bar without trying, and doing it just to run interference for the girl made it so much funnier. For me, anyway. Remains to be seen how my drinking "buddies" take it...

Wednesday, Reykjavik

Went on a big wander today. Up the hill behind the hotel is The Pearl, a cluster of five giant storage tanks which hold hot water for the entire town. I seem to recall reading somewhere that about 75% of the houses in Reykjavik get (free?) geothermal central heating, and I guess this must be where they keep the unused hot water. The view from on top of the tanks is pretty spectacular, and there's both a café and a pricey restaurant on top should you feel peckish. There's also a Viking Saga museum downstairs, but I didn't feel sufficiently enthused to shell out for that. And bizarrely there was a CD/DVD/Playstation Game vendor selling their wares downstairs. I have no idea what that was about; it's hardly a commercial centre or anything.

Out front there's an oddball statue that looks like some sort of tribute to air guitarists, bassists, drummers and, um. Saxophonists? Trumpeters? What is that fourth figure doing? There's no plaque to explain what this might be about, so I wandered on down to the artificial geyser.

Yes, the country that has the original Geysir, the one from which all others take the name, and where there are a ton of the natural ones to look at, has gone to the trouble of engineering an artificial geyser to add to the collection. Disappointingly, I stood next to it for 45 minutes during which it failed to do anything other than bubble and steam slightly. Pfft.

Also on the same hill are some World War II-era bunkers, but again there's nothing around to tell you what they were for. They command a fairly limited view of what's now the domestic airport, and they seem quite small, so unless there was a much larger complex (and indeed there are indications that there may have been) they seem a bit useless.

Walking back to the hotel through the woods I was amused to discover "natural" exercise aids along the path: two inclined benches for doing sit-ups (complete with instructive diagram), and some parallel bars. I guess the idea is that you can do your circuit training entirely in the woods. Me, I just took some photos and kept going.

15:15 Wednesday, Loftleider

I just found a brand new book abandoned on a public bench with no owner in sight. The receipt inside indicated that it'd been bought in Kringlan, a big shopping mall on the east side of Reykjavik which I coincidentally wandered around after this morning's more healthy open air.

Later Wednesday/Thursday, Loftleider

Made a third trip to The Dubliner, but it was much quieter tonight. For some reason I was being given a 20% discount on the beer, and I'm not sure if it had anything to do with Hega behind the bar recognising me or what. Needless to say, at least one of the gang jumped to the wrong conclusion about my departing with Atlanta girl, and no amount of denial would convince him otherwise. John turned up a bit later, and I took his advice not to get stuck in the same bar for my entire holiday by departing the scene.

...for another café/bar, this one called Prikið. This is a lovely little two-storey place that has a bar and some tables downstairs and more tables upstairs, and great music. There was a DJ down at the end of the bar spinning records, but to be honest he wasn't doing much more than putting on one after another (no scratching or mixing) so it may as well have been a CD player or, (as I've seen in a few places) iTunes. I sat at the counter between two groups of people; the ones on my right were discussing the English monarchy and the value of same, and I felt obliged to stick my oar in (politely) and was introduced to Daniel, Marinella, and a free pint. Whee!

Both worked for a financial firm and were on a business trip; Daniel was English, and Marinella was American but with Filipino parent(s). Conversation went all over; I seem to recall at some point Marinella attempting to demonstrate the correct way to make the Jerry Springer "uh-uh sister" gesture, to much giggling from myself and Daniel. Eventually, though, they had to split, what with the need to work the following day and all. I figured I'd hang on in the bar for a few more.

So then the guys on my right turned around and asked me where I was from. "Ireland" "Really? You don't sound Irish. You sound.. Canadian." I'm sure my Canadian friends would beg to differ, but that's neither here nor there. Kristofer and his friend (whose name may have been Kuni, and if it was I've no idea how I should be spelling that) were drinking Irish coffees and insisted on buying me a beer. You're seeing a pattern here, aren't you? He also mentioned he worked at Dillon, a bar down the street, and I should stop in there some night when he's working and check the place out. Then he asked if I'd tried brennivín (aka "Black Death"), and I indicated that I hadn't, so he got Anna (the barmaid) to serve me up a free shot. Whoop. It's, erm, well, it's potato schnapps, and it's STRONG. I went back to sipping my beer while discreetly clinging to the bar for support. Kristo told me he'd be singing in Prikið on Friday and suggested I come see him. So that's what I'll be doing for at least part of Friday, I guess.

Random recollection: Kristo talking to Anna at some point, and I caught the phrases, "Ronan Keating" and "Ronan Christopher". Turns out he was telling her, approximately, "You've heard of Ronan Keating from Ireland, this is Ronan Christopher from Ireland" - when he'd told me his name I told him my middle name was Christopher and I think he maybe picked it up as my surname.

Eventually I figured it was time to go, or the bar closed, or both - I don't have any notes on this, to be honest - and then it was another hike back to the hotel.

Late Thursday, Loftleider

I took in a tour today. This is completely unlike me, since I tend to get settled in a place very quickly and find myself only wanting to do things I'd do when I'm settled elsewhere, viz. watch movies, read books, and hang out in bars. But I figured I should at least try and be a tourist, so I showed up at the hotel tours desk at about 11:00 and asked what tours were available at short notice. Of the available selection I figured I'd take the afternoon Golden Circle tour, which meant skipping Þingvellir but I figured I could catch that on some other tour.

The tour consisted of the bus driver, the tour guide, me, and Mustafa from some random part of the Middle East. Given that I had occasional difficulty following the guide's idiosyncratic English, I'm sure Mustafa must've had a wonderfully puzzling tour. We drove east from Reykjavik through some fairly open countryside, with the guide occasionally pointing things out - some obvious ("a lot of construction is happening in Reykjavik") and some not so, like when she pointed out a geothermal powerplant, and also a mountain used in the skiing season which is, right now, completely devoid of snow.

There was also a pair of wrecked cars up on a roadside pedestal. This is part of the government's road safety campaign; there was another one on the roadside near the airport, with a caption on it suggesting that you drive safely in Iceland. That one was only slightly banged up. These were write-offs, and probably contributors to the 20 road fatalities Iceland has had so far this year. Mind you, the Icelandic drivers I saw on the main road near the hotel were universally nuts, motoring along with a phone glued to their ear and generally being hazardous, so I think 20 fatalities is surprisingly low.

Our first stop was a water-filled volcanic crater. There wasn't much to see, to be honest, and there was a LOT of wind, so we didn't stay long. Took a few photos, tried walking around the crater and almost got blown off it, decided that discretion is indeed the better part of valour and headed back to the bus.

The second stop was the Geysir complex. The Icelandic countryside is littered with evidence that Earth is very hot underground. They have their lava flows, their hot springs, and their geysers. Geysir itself, the namesake of all geysers (and no, I don't know who's responsible for the spelling discrepancy) is actually dormant right now, and has been for the last six years. It apparently requires some volcanic activity to make it work again, although in the past the locals have effectively cheated by boring holes at appropriate points in the crater and so forth. Can't say I'd like the job of digging out a channel in a crater for the express purpose of making it shoot out superheated steam with little-to-no warning, but I guess someone did. Anyway, all there was to see of Geysir was a steaming hole in the ground.

Fortunately for the Icelandic tourist industry, it's part of a complex of hot springs, mud pots (that's a hot spring filled with mud instead of water) and other geysers, one of which is active. This one is called Strokkur. I probably read what that meant in the nearby audio-visual center, but I've not noted it down. I walked up the pathway towards Strokkur, and suddenly heard a whistle and looked up to see a camera crew waving me to one side. Apparently some Germans were making a movie or a documentary or something and had decided that they needed to film some one of their number walking up the pathway towards Strokkur, and I happened to get in the line of sight. I hope they kept the shot, dammit. How else will I launch my movie career?

Anyway. We all stand around this hole in the ground (well, at a safe distance from it) and wait. I've got my digicam set to film-clip mode, and we wait. And wait a bit more. And suddenly there's a huge bubble in the hole, which explodes upwards and there's a massive column of steam and water, and then... it's gone. All told, it takes a maximum of ten or fifteen seconds, and then you're back to waiting for the next eruption. So basically your best view of a geyser appears to be the one on the postcards, with a whole bunch of people dwarfed by the exploding geyser all frozen in time so you can't tell it's a very brief event. It was a little bit disappointing, to be honest.

Technology continued to fail me: I took a video clip of Strokkur blowing, but I missed the initial bubble, so I deleted it and went to take another clip only for the camera to suddenly claim the batteries were low. And when it says the batteries are low, that's all it'll do - you can't coax it into working a little longer, you can't switch off the LCD to save power, you just have to change the batteries. By the time I got down to the shop and back up again it was almost time to go, but at least Strokkur obliged with another eruption which I caught a single still shot of, and as mentioned above that's the best view of it. So it wasn't a total loss.

The rest of the Geysir complex is essentially a tourist trap: there's a hotel, a minimart, a tourist shop, an audio-visual center, and a very cramped museum-like area. The audio-visual center was intriguing in that it was almost completely dark except for the displays, and there was precious little explanation of some of the installations. In particular there was a sort of raised wooden bridge surrounded by plastic sheets with lighting, sound and vibration which I think was supposed to be something like "this is what it would be like if you fell into a mud pot" but in the absence of any signs it could equally well have been a construction area that had been abandoned in favour of lunch. There was also an "earthquake simulator" which was a metal plate that vibrated in time with a seismograph displayed on a nearby screen, reproducing an actual 5.1 earthquake from a few years back. Well, the ground vibrations from it, at least. On the way out - a dark, groping stagger up an unlit flight of stairs - I was faintly amused to note that the landing on the staircase was a perspex sheet covering fake lava lit from underneath to look like the real thing. Really, though, I can't say I'd recommend the A/V stuff - it came free with my tour, but I'd have felt cheated if I'd payed for it separately.

So after an hour at Geysir we got on the bus again and headed to Gullfoss. Geysir is the postcard geyser in Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja is the postcard church, and Gullfoss is the postcard waterfall. It's about a 30-metre drop split into two steps, and it kicks up a huge amount of spray as the lower, bigger step deposits tons of water straight into the wall of the channel the waterfall spans, and that channel is apparently made of some pretty tough rock. I will happily concede that it was pretty, and also that the wind was insanely strong. I took quite a few photos, then ran up a flight of steps to take a shot from a higher angle, and had trouble holding the camera steady on account of the gusts. From the higher vantage point, one of Iceland's glaciers was visible way off in the distance, so I snapped that as well.

And then we headed back towards Reyjavik. On the way, the guide said that since there was only two of us we'd make a surprise stop, which I was hoping would turn out to be Þingvellir (even just for a look) but it was another waterfall - scenic and pretty, mind - with what I'm assuming was a salmon weir up one side. Just after we arrived, a busload of Japanese tourists turned up with more cameras than a camera shop. Oddly stereotypical. We headed back to our bus and back to Reykjavik.

After scaring up some dinner I headed down to check out Dillon to see if I could find either of the guys I'd met at Prikið. Kristo was there but was with a larger group and I wasn't going to crash, so I found myself a corner table and indulged in some peoplewatching. There was a girl at another table with a widescreen iBook who appeared to be waiting fruitlessly for someone (anyone?) to show up on Instant Messenger, and later on a guy came in and started working on what looked from its layout to be a script for a play or a movie. Interesting place.

At some point around probably the third beer the (rather eyecatching) barmaid and a guy sitting near the bar simultaneously asked me where I was from, and when I answered I was once again told that I didn't sound Irish. I sat down with the guy and his friend, who turned out to be Swedish guys - Pitir and Torbjorn - who worked in Iceland painting road markings. I spent the rest of the evening basically talking ISO-standard bar crap with these guys. At some point, Torbjorn bought me something evil that tasted like cough syrup; he told me the name of it, but it went in one ear and out my liver. I'm sure I'll encounter it again.

17:09 Friday, Loftleider

I spent the afternoon slumming it around town. Screw this tourism lark, I'm here to Not Work, and that's what I did, all day. I stopped into a rather nice café/restaurant called Vegemot that had free wireless Internet to go with my coffee and chicken panini, so I caught up on some emails. After that I had a look at Kaffibarrin which is supposed to be totally hip and cool and what not, and I wasn't much impressed, but then again town was a bit dead on Friday afternoon because everyone's saving themselves for Friday night. Or they're working.

I picked up some more postcards and got stamps, but failed to notice that the counter girl had accidentally stiffed me on the US stamps, charging me for two but only giving me one. So I stopped into the same convenience store I'd hit on the first day to pick up an extra stamp, and the counter guy having ascertained my nationality asked me what I thought of "[our] beloved prime minister" who right about this time was having to answer some awkward questions about a personal loan. Since I've been blithely ignoring the news (which, aside from anything I'd have picked up off the net, was limited to Sky, CNN, and occasionally BBC News on TV) I hadn't a clue as to what was going on, although I'd heard he was going to make a public statement on TV to explain what the story was. Frankly, I couldn't care less. Store guy looked a little nonplussed at my lack of current affairs knowledge, which is something that my Lonely Planet guidebook mentioned in passing - Icelanders are apparently notorious for being right up to date on EVERYTHING. Serves me right.

I spent some time at the hotel tooling around with the laptop, which continues to exhibit random behaviour concerning the state of the battery, e.g. whether it is present, charging, discharging, what it should do when it's plugged in, etc. Quite disconcerting when your laptop is plugged in, but insists on both discharging the battery and shutting down immediately as soon as the battery is empty despite the presence of a mains connection. I also dragged all the music off my MP3 player so I could play music out loud in the hotel room rather than having to listen to headphones. The TV here is about 4 music channels in the morning (they gradually get replaced with regular programming as the day goes on, and they're all run by the same company) playing maybe a dozen songs in heavy rotation, and there's only so much of Pink or The Automatic that I can watch before it becomes more preferable to stare at an empty screen.

Friday Night

The Icelandic call it "runtur". I'm sure there's a nice, polite translation, but really it means "Send my liver home NOW, and I'm bequeathing all my goods to my best friend unless I should somehow miraculously survive this ordeal". During the week, you'll meet the occasional hard-drinking person who'll spend the entire night in the pub (remember, they stay open until 1am every night). On Friday and Saturday, you meet the people who've been saving up all that alcohol tolerance for the weekend. And they've been working hard with the intention of cutting loose at the weekend. It is a truly awesome experience, and I'd say unforgettable except for the fact that that much alcohol inevitably leads to microamnesia. If you go wholeheartedly into this, take notes, or bring teetotal friends to fill you in on the missing bits.

Me, I figured I'd head down to Prikið to catch Kristo singing, and then see what panned out from there. As I sat at a table next to the door, two locals approached me and asked if the other chairs at the table were free, and I indicated that they were, and that's how I met Kristjan and Erla.

Iceland's small. Not only did they both know Kristo personally (later I found out that Kristo and Kristjan pretty much grew up together in a small town outside Reykjavik) but they also knew the two Swedish guys I was drinking with in Dillon. This amused me no end.

At the appointed time someone got up and started playing guitar and singing - not very well, to be honest - and Erla figured she'd seen Kristo and his guitarist Frank legging it out the door; she said they play there every Friday, and probably had gotten fed up with it and hooked someone else to take their slot. Since he wasn't very entertaining, they suggested we head to another bar. And so we did. Oh dear, I appear to be runturing.

We went to Sirkus, which is a sort of hippie/goth/art/weirdo/nonconfirmist hang-out; good music, jam-packed bar, and Kristjan is introducing me to various people as "my friend Ronan from Ireland" which I thought was cool of him. We got talking to an American couple next to us, Bill and Lee. Bill seemed a little disturbed by the venue; he said he'd gone to use the toilet and opened the door to discover two guys shooting up in there. I pointed out that they could hardly do it in the middle of the bar, which he sort of seemed to take on board. I think I possibly got a free beer here, but I also probably bought a round, so it balances out. Kristjan and Erla had to work in a bar across the street at 11, so we said we'd catch up with them and they made their farewells. Bill, Lee and I continued to chat and drink until we were done with the current beers, then wandered out ourselves to find the next bar.

They weren't kidding when they said across the street. You could probably throw your glass from the door of Sirkus and hit Angelo, our destination. We headed in there to discover a very slick, stylish, and completely empty bar. But hey, beer. And a free shot of that evil cough-syrup stuff again. After that, it all gets a little blurry, to be honest. I do know that Bill and Lee headed out while I stayed at Angelo talking to Kristjan and Erla and another beer, and then I decided I'd head out and find somewhere with a bit more life (apparently unaware that this was a commodity I was running out of myself). My few recollections after that are having the traditional Icelandic runtur food - hot dogs - at two separate locations, the counter girl at the second being visibly taken aback at my "no mustard, no ketchup" request, and looking at my watch at some point after 3am. The rest of it, well, see "microamnesia".

Saturday, Loftleider

I have a hangover, unsurprisingly enough. What is surprising is that it's more the tired and sore hangover as opposed to the thumping headache and nausea hangover. My guidebook says, "while deliberate violence is not really a problem, accidental injury at the hands of drunken revellers is a possibility". I wonder if that includes "liver damage brought on by gratis shots of something strong and unidentified"?

I took some time to read through my guidebook for more tourist things to do when I felt up to a bit of walking. I had a hard time getting enthused about going to a museum of any sort - in fact, I had already passed on the Saga Museum up the hill at Perlan. Coupled with the fact that I was walking everywhere, it seemed futile getting one of the magical tourist day passes, which give you stuff like unlimited bus use and entry to some museums, a swimming complex, and the zoo. By my normal standards, doing two actual tours in my first week was spectacular going. In the end I opted for a quiet afternoon with the intention to hit town again for my second shot at runtur.

On my way to find food I figured I'd investigate the other Irish bar - The Celtic Cross - but since it was only 9pm I had a single pint as the bar's sole customer so I've no idea what the place is like when it gets going. Things caught up with me around ten as I was having some food in Red Chilli (John the Chef's place of work); all of a sudden I just felt tired and unable to deal with another night on the town. So I had a text-message conversation with a friend back home and she set me to rights in about 20 minutes. Yay!

I figured I'd start where I left off, or at least where I remembered leaving off, which was Angelo, and lo and behold Kristjan and Erla were on the bar again. The place was a bit empty, though, so I had a pint of lager and a can of the local Red Bull equivalent (something called Burn) while chatting to my new friends. Kristjan told me he'd met me on the street after I'd left Angelo and we'd gone to another bar together for a few more beers. Of course, he could be winding me up, since I couldn't recall either way. The last time I lost an entire bar was in Morecambe in 2004, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility, but on the other hand I know Kristjan wound me up with a few other stories, so. After I'd done with the beer I figured I'd go down to Dillon to see what was happening there, since Angelo was still pretty empty.

Dillon was heaving. I squeezed my way up to the bar just as someone was leaving and managed to score myself a barstool, and was sitting there for no longer than it took to order a beer before the guy next to me struck up a conversation. Really, though, I was just soaking up the atmosphere, so the chat with Gunnar was pretty lightweight. About the only thing I can recall is that he was supposed to be there on a blind date and had apparently been stood up, but he seemed to be taking it quite well, helped somewhat I'm sure by the bevy of beauties who arrived at the bar next to him about an hour later. While I was talking to Gunnar, some guy came up behind me, ordered a shot, put his arm around my head to drink the shot, then dropped the empty into my half-finished pint. Gunnar explained this to the barman and I got a full pint as a replacement. I seem to recall encountering Kristo again, but whether as barstaff or patron I have no idea. And then at some point Pitir appears at the end of the bar, roars, "Ronan!" and sends me down a shot of the cough-syrup drink which I have by now identified as something called Opal. About 40 minutes later Torbjorn appeared at the end of the bar and sent over another shot of Opal. Urp. At this point it was about 2am and I was bequeathing, as previously suggested, all my worldly goods to the same friend back in Dublin who'd perked me up. Sort of a posthumous "thank you".

But I was not done yet!

I went back to Angelo, which by now had transformed into something resembling a populated bar, and there was a DJ. Kristjan and Erla were a little surprised that I was still standing, and so provided more alcohol in an attempt to fix that. The DJ was working off a huge MP3 list so he had pretty much everything we asked him for, and there was dancing. Oh, yes, there was dancing. There was pogoing, and there was breakdancing, and there was generic sort of "who let the white guy on the dance floor" movement. And drinks. And more dancing. And at about 5am, I figured I'd better quit while I was still capable of upright motion, and staggered back to my hotel. If you saw some guy wandering along Snorrbraut at about 5:15 singing along to Mr Brightside at the top of his voice (thank you MP3 player) then that was most likely me.

An aside - how I identified Opal: while sitting at the bar in Red Chilli waiting for my steak sandwich to appear, I noticed a rotating cabinet full of bottles. It was only missing a large flashing red sign saying "Danger, Will Robinson!" As I watched it rotate, I saw a bottle of brennivín, then a bottle of jaegermeister, and then... wait! that's it! that's the bottle the Swedish guys' shot came from! And I remembered how they'd told me it was called Opal, after the precious stone, and there was a similar, lighter drink called Topaz (also in the rotating cabinet). We'll call it one of those memories triggered by a recurring event, or something.

Sunday, My Warm And Cosy Hotel Bed

Woke up to a text message from my friend asking if I was dead yet, because she'd sold all my stuff on ebay and changed the locks on my house. The dangers of bequeathing things while drunk, eh? I did not, however, have a hangover; I did have a sore ankle, and I couldn't fully straighten my right arm due to some bruising at the joint. You know that bit above where I mentioned breakdancing? Well, I can't really do "The Spider" any more. Especially not at 4am. After many drinks. Oh no. I cannot. Let this be a lesson to me, etc. The rest of the day was pretty much a write-off as I alternately slept and read; I strolled into town in the afternoon to see if I could find the legendary flea market, but all I could find was some construction work where it was supposed to be so I surmised it had been temporarily shut down. Of course, I could've asked someone, except I'm a guy and that'd be like stopping to ask for directions. Just Not Done.

Monday Afternoon, Vegemot

I'd vaguely planned on going on another tour today, but ultimately couldn't muster the enthusiasm for it and resorted to hiking around a bit instead. Eventually I went back to Vegemot for more food and free internet. The connection was a bit flaky today, possibly due to where I was sitting. At some point three guys came in and took up station at the counter looking for all the world like they were modelling the clothes they wore. Their stances looked posed, the clothes were perfect, and the guys were well built and good-looking enough to be models. Then again, you see a lot of that around Iceland, so it was probably just three guys hanging out. Not a good place to go if you're low on self-esteem, I guess.

I met up with Kristjan and Erla at Prikið; I was downstairs having a coffee, and they came down and insisted I join them upstairs. Erla was getting Kristjan to set up an account for himself on myspace, so we sat at an upstairs table with laptops open, occasionally chatting to each other and occasionally just battering away at the keyboard. I guess at least we weren't IM'ing each other instead of chatting...

Kristjan filled me in on some of the bits I'd forgotten from Saturday night: he says I was really going for it on the dancefloor at Angelo, so much so that he couldn't keep up despite the fact that he'd been on the dry all night on account of working. Also he said that the owner was buying us drinks at some point. Heh. Nice blag, Ronan.

Later on in the evening, having dropped my laptop back to the hotel, I took in a bite to eat at Brennslan, another on the list of "must-see" places in the guidebook. Didn't see anything special about it, other than the guy who got up from his table and spent a few minutes applying hairspray and arranging his hair with the help of one of the many mirrors in the upstairs section...

After that, I revisited Dillon - which, I think, would definitely be my local if I lived in Reykjavik - and once again met up with Kristo. I took up my usual perch at the bar and spent the evening peoplewatching again. At some point, a drunk guy came in and the barman spent about ten to fifteen minutes trying to talk him out of the bar. He had to practically lead the guy to the door and even then the drunk was still making a sufficiently convincing argument - or the barman was bored enough - that they stood there for another five minutes. Elsewhere in the bar there was an honest-to-god COWBOY; full-on cowboy outfit, boots and hat included. I half-expected him to be drinking either from an unmarked whiskey bottle at his table, or sarsaparilla. But no, he was on lager like pretty much everyone else. One of the other regulars here, actually, is a guy who looks a lot like Sam Neill - particularly the big bushy moustache he has - who sits down at the end of the bar and says nothing for the entire night. I'm not even sure if he opens his mouth to order drinks. He's been there every night I've been there, so I guess the staff know his poison at this point.

Tuesday morning, Loftleider

Just booked myself a one-hour horse-riding jaunt. I may as well tick off a few more of the "been there, done that" boxes while I have time, although I'm still not inclined to shell out €150 to spend a few hours in a 4x4 bus to get to one of the glaciers.

Tuesday afternoon, Loftleider

The horse-riding was a lot of fun. The horses are small enough to be mistaken for ponies, so I guess now I have to stop asking people to get me a pony when they're going to the shop, overseas, etc. Our pre-flight training consisted of: put on helmet, boots, and waterproofs; climb on horse (that was mildly amusing); hold reins; get told how to slow/stop and turn the horse. My horse was dragged away from some of its companions in order to get me aboard, but as soon as the instructor walked off to help someone else mount the horse decided it was going back to its friends and no amount of timid twitching of the reins on my part changed that. So I sat there waiting for our jaunt to start.

We had an hour to walk around the lava fields on some rough paths. One of our guides came back along the line asking each of us where we were from; she positively gushed enthusiasm when I said I was from Ireland. Apparently she spent a long weekend in Dublin three years ago and has been planning on heading back there ever since. Her description of the country sounded a lot like Iceland to me: pretty countryside, friendly people, a lot of drinking.

At some point they encouraged us to spur the horses into a trot:

"give him a kick"
*I twitch my feet somewhat*
"he hardly felt that, it was just like you were tickling him"
*I try again with a little more gusto*
"No, you need to raise your legs up more" *she demonstrates*
*kick* *WOAAAAH!*

My thoughts, in some sort of order, went like this:

See, while they'd told us all about steering and braking, they'd not mentioned anything about how to hold on correctly when you're bouncing several inches off the saddle at every pace. Thankfully, the trotting stopped before I fell off. Both times. Despite that, I did quite enjoy the hour, although any longer and I think I'd've stopped having fun.

Mind you, my back's a bit sore.

Tuesday night, Loftleider

There was some odd graffiti around town last night; a lot of random crap about marijuana and alcohol without any apparent coherent message - one piece was stating the medicinal benefits of weed, another was saying that marijuana abuse was as bad as alcohol abuse. Most of it was actually painted over by the time I walked into downtown in search of food. They work fast in this town!

I had a traditional Icelandic... lasagne for dinner. At least, I assume the fact that it was overcooked and served with both coleslaw and toast made it traditional. The same place was also selling soup in a bread bowl, i.e. a large hollowed-out loaf of bread. But I'm not really a soup person, so I skipped that. Food here in general is a bit odd; there's a lot of american-style fast food, but few enough of the major chains that provide that sort of thing - I've seen a sign for a Burger King, and heard there's a McDonalds somewhere over the other side of town, but most of the fast food is provided by what look to be sole traders. Hot dogs are hugely popular, as is pizza by the slice, and most places will serve you a ham and cheese toastie, often with salad and/or fries on the side. The only fish I've had so far was the scallop starter at Apotek, mainly because I've generally found that fish doesn't make a great soaker if you're planning on having a few beers afterwards. It's kinda funny, though, given that one third of the country's population works in the fishing industry.

I took in the Dubliner and Dillon again tonight. I ran into John at the former and Kristo at the latter; John said that the Dubliner was a very easy pub to get stuck in, but of course I was getting stuck in Dillon or Prikið as alternatives so it didn't really change my outlook much. Kristo was somewhat preoccupied with arranging stuff for moving house and left about an hour after I'd arrived. Everywhere seemed far quieter than last week, perhaps because of the film festival, or maybe last week was some sort of terrific end-of-month blowout. Or maybe it's that today it finally rained a little, albeit only a little drizzle, but it seems maybe it's enough to put people off strolling around quite so much.

Wednesday morning, Loftleider

It still looks kinda damp out, but not anything you'd call real rain. There appears to be a little snow on the top of one of the nearby mountains, too, which is the first I've seen since I've got here if you don't count the glacier. I've resolved to visit a bathing hot spring before I leave here, or I'll never hear the end of it back home. "You went all the way to Iceland and didn't sit in geologically-heated water? Go back there this instant and do it!" Pointing out that the hotel shower is also geothermally heated water probably doesn't count. The thing is, I'm not wholly convinced that I want to pay €35-40 to sit in a pond for a few hours. There's supposed to be a public geothermal beach nearby, so I might just try that instead.

Wednesday afternoon, Loftleider

The local geothermal beach is... closed. Yay. I went back up to Perlan for a coffee and had to wait at the food counter for several minutes before anyone showed up - I could probably have snagged a free coffee for myself if I'd really wanted to. I also wandered back down by the WWII bunkers but still couldn't quite figure out what they were supposed to be in aid of. Something to research, I guess.

I also spent a good ten minutes trying to take pictures to illustrate an Icelandic joke:

Q. What do you do if you're lost in an Icelandic forest?
A. Stand up so that people can see you.
The trees are all young growth, see? So they're small. I heard that joke three times in one day.

Wednesday night, Loftleider

On my way into town I stopped to take a picture of a field full of geese, and a few of the rather beautiful sunset. For the latter you really need to go there and see it in person; it's truly awesome. A bit too cold to be romantic, mind you, unless you can watch it from inside a nicely heated room.

I tried both "the best hot-dog in Iceland" and the Hereford Steakhouse this evening. The hot-dog stand has a picture of Bill Clinton tucking into one of their offerings, and the guy in front of me used a credit card to pay for a hot-dog and coke (total value less than €5). They love plastic here, and would probably all die without it. The steakhouse was pretty good; the most interesting feature of the place was that the steak-cooking area fronts onto the dining area, so you can go watch your cow being broiled if you're so inclined. Oh, and a glass of house red is served in what can best be described as a large fishbowl on a stem (that's your wineglass, and it's HUGE) accompanied by a miniature carafe of the vino. Niiice.

I wound up the evening in Dillon, again. Pitir and Torbjorn were perched at the bar, and thus more free drinks arrived in front of me; Edith, the eyecatching barmaid from last week, was serving, chatting, and occasionally indulging our musical whims by cueing stuff up on the house iTunes box; and Kristo stopped by briefly as well. And we were visited by the Worst. Drunk. Ever.

I don't mean he was the most drunk I've ever seen someone; I mean he was particularly bad at being a drunk. The thing about being a drunk, especially about being a broke drunk, is that you need to befriend people in order to cajole beer out of them. Our hero felt it was sufficient to tell us that he liked beer, and therefore we should buy it for him. BZZZT. Wrong. Pitir, deciding to mess with the guy's head, told him I was "Ronan Keating from Greenland", which I played along with. At some point he tried to steal various things from in front of Pitir and me - my beer, Pitir's smokes - and then started hassling other people in the bar, so Edith asked him to leave. It looked like he wasn't going to so she started phoning the cops, at which point I suspect a tiny clue made its way through the guy's drunken fuzz and he left us. For the rest of the night Pitir, Edith and I once again engaged in standard nonsense bar chat - you can solve the world's problems if you just hire some bar patrons and staff to do it for you - and somewhere along the line a shot of Opal appeared in front of me, origin unknown. I didn't see Pitir buying it, but that doesn't mean he didn't.

Edith also wanted to know what I'd seen in Iceland; I said I'd been to Gullfoss and Geysir but had missed out on Þingvellir, at which point Pitir and Edith had something of a disagreement over whether it was worth seeing or not. Apparently Iceland's nobel prize-winning author used live up there, and as far as Pitir was concerned his house was the only thing worth seeing (and the Mk III Jaguar parked out front). Edith was more inclined to argue the historical importance of the place. I just let 'em at it and continued my beer.

As we were about to fall out of the bar at closing, I stopped to listen to the music, turned back to Edith and said, "that's Jeff Buckley". She smiled and replied, "Yeah, I put that on for you."


I may have missed something there. Oh well, life goes on.

Thursday morning, Loftleider

You know how they say that red wine is a devil for hangovers on account of the tannins? Yeah. Of course, it could have been the smoky bar, the pints, the shot of Opal, but I chose to blame the red wine. I'd decided I was going to do the hot springs lark today, but the hangover made me have second thoughts. Eventually I decided, screw it, I'm going, it'll probably clear my head, and I signed up for the 11:00 bus.

Thursday afternoon, Loftleider

The Blue Lagoon is basically a tame geysir surrounded by what I'm assuming is part natural, part sculpted pool. Temperature varies from comfortably warm to OOOH HOT if you venture close to the geysir, plus there seem to be thermals running through it in places. The water looks dubious, to say the least: cloudy blue with white "highlights" at the edges, and it's a bit salty so you really don't want to get any in your mouth (of which more anon). Still, I soaked for an hour there, mostly minding my own business and occasionally people-watching.

Like much of the rest of the Iceland I've seen, the place is partly under construction. I'm getting the impression that the entire tourist off season for 2006/2007 is being used to rebuild everything in time for the next crop of summer arrivals next year.

On the bus back I was bemused by the fact that I could recognise Reykjavik from several miles out, having spotted both Hallgrimskirkja and Perlan as we approached from the south. I am becoming a local.

Thursday night, Loftleider

On the way into town I tried taking a few night shots with the digicam. Predictably I got one and a half out of five, mainly on account of not being able to get both an angle clear of nearby street lights and something to rest the camera on. Still, I managed to get a reasonable view of the twilight sky over one of the bigger roads, and a sort-of recognisable shot of Hallgrimskirkja lit up for the night. Then the batteries gave up, so I'm back to relying on the rechargeables to hold enough charge for next day or so.

I also picked up a copy of Kristo's band's CD. Maybe I can get him to sign it tomorrow when he plays at Prikið.

I checked out Café Paris for dinner, and found the staff to be mostly inattentive and the place was a little too high on the "relentlessly hip" scale. I figured it wasn't somewhere I'd hang out for drinks, so I bailed out in favour of my new local, Dillon, where I met up with Kristjan, Erla, and a schoolfriend of Kristjan's. Erla is flying to Florida tomorrow so they bailed out before 11, but not before Kristjan had bought me a scary flambé shot called "Crazy Bastard" consisting of Baileys and... Absinthe. I don't know if it's the real stuff here, and I didn't see any purple elephants on the way home, but it was certainly a kicker of a shot. Kristjan was also trying to persuade me to basically party all night tomorrow and go straight from partying to plane. The parts of that plan that concern me are

Still, we shall see.

There were three Irish guys down at one end of the bar for a while, one of whom had a distinctive Nor'n Ir'n accent. At some point Kristjan said there were more Irish in the bar than Icelandic, so I asked him what all these Icelanders were doing in an Irish bar anyway. Much giggling.

After Kristjan left, I hung around a bit longer and someone else joined me for a brief chat. Iceland's like that. As with several of the people I've met, he told me his name, which was a mouthful, and then said, "people call me Ruiz". Seems like the Icelandic are so accomodating towards non-Icelandic-speakers that they'll even make their own names easier!

Oh yeah. About that water that you don't want to get in your mouth. When I told Kristjan I'd been to Blue Lagoon, he laughed a bit and said that Icelanders basically go there to screw around. So there's probably a lot more in the water than just random minerals... I'd kinda suspected as much, anyway. Look, you're in a big warm steamy bath with your significant other, and it's covered in steam clouds so visibility is pretty short-range PLUS the water's nearly opaque so you can't see into it, and the pool is huge with lots of discreet corners and crannies. So, you know, it's like the classic detective stuff: motive, means and opportunity.

Friday morning, Loftleider

My last day, practically speaking, since I have to catch the 08:00 bus from BSI tomorrow and it takes about 20 minutes to walk there from the hotel. There's no transfer bus at that hour and I could probably take a taxi, but I'm sure a 20 minute walk won't kill me even if it's runtur night again. It's another gorgeous day outside; clear skies, blazing sunshine, and an odd-looking blanket of cloud sitting on the mountains. It's really been beautiful while I've been here, with the exception of a little drizzle, and even that wasn't enough to put me off.

It seems the influx of Irish extends beyond the three guys I saw in Dillon; I sat down to breakfast only to find myself surrounded by Paddy accents. Maybe they've decided that since I'm flying out tomorrow they need to train up a whole fleet of folk to replace me because I'm Just That Good. Or maybe it's just a package tour.

Friday night (ok, 2am Saturday), Loftleider

My farewell runtur was a quiet enough affair; I met up with Kristjan and Kristo in Dillon, where Kristjan was in a really pissed off mood as he'd just found out he was scheduled to work at 7am on Saturday. Kristo left first as he had to go set up down at Prikið so Kristjan and I chatted over the remains of our drinks and then followed him down. I neglected to bring the CD with me, so no signature. D'oh. Kristjan didn't stay too long, concerned that he'd have to be working early, so I sat at a table behind the "stage" for a bit. At some point I got up to refresh my beer and came back to discover someone had apparently missed my jacket sitting on the seat and decided the table was empty. I shrugged and moved to the corner of the bar, which is my usual hang-out spot in any given pub anyway, and stayed there for the rest of the music.

Frank and Kristo played a bunch of mainly American Rock (in which category I am blithely including Pink Floyd and Radiohead) and did so far better than they let on - Kristo afterward insisting it was their worst gig ever, which, if it's true, means I really missed something by not seeing them last Friday. He also gave me his email address and told me to keep in touch, and let him know if I was coming back again.

As usual, I got talking to people at the bar; first, a local guy with his Norwegian girlfriend, wherein I got to dig up my miniscule Norwegian vocabulary (limited to "a beer, please" "thank you", and "how's it going?"). She commented that my accent was weird. Well, yes. I learnt Norwegian from a .WAV file in a hotel several years ago, so. The next character was French, so the French vocab was dragged out, dusted off, and beaten up a little; and then some guy sat next to me, dressed in a black suit/white shirt/black tie outfit, and basically started laying the Jehovah's Witness/Mormon/whatever line on me. "you should read the bible" "I have. Didn't much like it." "what about the new testament?" "read it, nope, didn't much like it either." I don't mind religion, I just don't like people pushing it on me, especially in bars. I finished up my drink and abandoned the evangelist in favour of a quieter pint at Dillon. Of course, by "quieter" I mean "one where if the guy next to me starts evangelising, I won't be able to hear him". Someone at Dillon greeted me and asked me how I was doing; I didn't recognise him, but answered in kind, assuming I'd met him on the previous runtur nights. Same thing happened in Prikið actually. I love this town, and I'm going to have to visit it again.

7:50 Saturday, BSI

I'm sitting on the bus, waiting for it to leave. It's another beautiful morning, no sign of last night's clouds or north wind. Clear skies didn't make it any easier to drag my bag from the hotel to the BSI terminal, mind you. The shop guy at the station sold me a 220Kr coke for 215 on account of the change I had in my hand - "a little discount" he said, and looked pleasantly surprised at my "takk fyrir". It sums up a lot of what I like about the place: decent people all around.

The checkout clerk at the hotel seemed less with it than I was, which didn't make checkout any fun. I think I've been double-charged for the hotel, which I'm sure is going to be a world of hurt to sort out, but right now I really don't care. My extras on the bill ran to less than I expected, mainly just restaurant charges plus the €4 they charge for the privilege of having your breakfast in your room instead of with the hoi polloi downstairs.

almost noon Saturday, Keflavik

The flight is delayed. Two hours. That basically cuts my LGW/LHR window down to the time it takes to get from one to the other. I don't think I'm going to make the LHR/DUB flight at this rate. Bah. At least there's free wireless internet in the airport, and they did give us free sandwiches and drinks to keep us from rioting.

17:30 Saturday, Heathrow

Wouldn't you know it. Coming through customs at Gatwick and I get stopped by customs. Just a few questions, no unpacking or rubber gloves, but enough to delay me by precious minutes that I don't have. Gah. I had a scare at Keflavik, too: I looked at the departures list and saw my flight marked as "DEPARTED" despite the fact that it hadn't gone through the intervening boarding and last call stages, and walked to the gate muttering, "no, no, no, no, no" to myself the whole way. Turns out they meant "ready for boarding" or something. Phew. Anyway, I got to Gatwick, got my bags, got customised, got the bus, got to LHR, and tried to go through electronic checkin at the BA desk. "unable to determine status of flight". Oh frick. It's a codeshare-with-Aer-Lingus flight, so I tried the Aer Lingus electronic checkin, which told me the flight was closing and that I should go to the "Closing Flights" desk. Where the hell is that? By the time I'd discovered that it was, in fact, the Aer Lingus ticket desk, I'd reached and breached whatever threshold they had for allowing more passengers, even though it was 40 minutes to flight departure. Gah, AGAIN. So they put me on the next available flight at no extra charge (not sure why that was; they said it'd cost me 25 quid, keyed me into the computer, and the computer displayed something that indicated that I wasn't to be charged) and I'm now faced with pottering around LHR until the 20:10 flight.

22:00 Saturday, HOME

I'm home. Yay. I'm going to ditch these bags, put on some laundry, and go to the pub. Iceland: I'LL BE BACK.