Bjork Town – Iceland

Bjork Town

It was the church that really made me gasp. Up until that point I had never imagined that Icelanders would worship in such a place. I imagined them worshipping rusty bottle-tops or shallow bowels of sour milk, not on bended knee, praising a civilised God, in the confectionary-box cum architectural monstrosity which graced downtown Reykjavik.

Not as Nice as Chile
Not as Nice as Chile
Reykjavik, it has to be said, doesn’t appeal to me. There is something deeply sinister about its abandoned streets and comely looking bars and cafes that are always empty. If you stand, on a normal working day, in the centre of Iceland’s main commercial street, it’s quiet enough to hear a pin drop. It’s easy to imagine that everything is going on behind closed doors around you – inexplicable and out of sight. The streets, deserted as a jet-lagged dream, seem oppressive and the timbered buildings seem to crowd down and menace. You can easily imagine that the minute you leave this strange and unsettling land, the whole place will heave a collective sigh of relief and resume life where it left off. It is as if the land resents human presence. Especially mine.

It’s not just the creepy buildings and the fact that the population seems to be whimpering around behind your back, having fun, that menaces the casual visitor, but the almost tabloid-drugged sleepiness and lack of sound that really disturbs. One morning, haunted by the way my footsteps seemed to fade supernaturally into the morning, and concerned that I was vanishing into my own subconscious, I raised my voice and tried to produce an echo. The sound died unnaturally as soon as it left my lips and the faint echo produced sounded like finely chopped liver hitting a concrete wall. It left me deeply troubled and scurrying back to my hotel.

Another Great View
Another Great View
I tried immensely to have fun but the country seemed to strip away my will to enjoy myself and left me emotionally denuded. After arriving in exceptionally high spirits, it took just a few hours for me to sink down to a level of glumness uncharacteristic of my personality but wholly typical of the native population. If I had stayed a week the only thing that would have stopped me ending my life would have been the absurdly prohibitive expense of anything vaguely alcoholic. Five dollars for a watery beer isn’t a joke – it’s an infringement of my human rights.

One afternoon, after exhausting the joys of watching the traffic-lights change colour and polishing my shoes (something I hadn’t done in living memory) I dropped into the local tourist agency to ask for advice. What, I wondered, could I do to have fun in Iceland? Clearly this was a somewhat difficult question for the terminally miserable girl whose role in life was evidently to offer poor tourists ways of ending the agony and whom had probably never smiled in her life, let alone had a good time. I imagined that she could have advised me on seven different, yet wholly painful ways of killing myself, but struggled in finding something fun for me to do.

Iceland Airport View
Iceland Airport View
Against her better judgements, and after pointing out the merits of the bus to the airport, she ran through some of the local attractions. There was the infamous Blue Lagoon, which she said was over-priced and overrun with fat Germans in tiny swim suits (I did warm to her a bit at this stage); a trip to the local power station (I had done one of those type of trips in Vietnam and still have periodic flashbacks), a horse riding trip on what she assured me were wild and untamed horses that at best would leave me with minor concussion (I was tempted, I have to admit – being dazed seemed like a vast improvement) or a snow bike tour, that was cancelled due to lack of interest, as was the Northern Lights (though to be honest I think these were cancelled due to rain and not lack of interest.) I seriously considered going to the airport and pleading with someone to fly me away.

Ok, I thought, if there is nothing to do I might as well try and learn some Icelandic. I had read that as a written language it was virtually unchanged in a thousand years (which was about the last time anyone cracked a joke in Reykjavik) and was rich and poetic. I had also read that one day a year, everyone in Parliament has to speak in rhyme. I thought it would be fun to have a few expressions up my sleeve for the next time I met Icelanders somewhere on my travels (later I realised that should I ever meet Icelanders on my travels I would probably want to inflict great harm on them and their pets and not amuse them with my witty repartee at all) so I went to the next tourist office and asked the slightly less scary troll there for some help.

Can I Go Home Now?
Can I Go Home Now?
‘Can you teach me some Icelandic expressions please?’

She looked blankly at me, scratched her ample backside and frowned. Clearly she was just taking a break from sitting under bridges and scaring small children.

‘You know nothing flash, just a few basic expressions.’

She looked at me like I was a small puppy that had just urinated on the new plasma television that had taken ten years to save up and buy.

‘This is not a language school. This is tourist information’

‘Great, and don’t you think tourists should at least make the effort?’

‘No. Now if you don’t have anything sensible to ask, please leave.’

I tried not to giggle: I was finally having fun.

‘Or perhaps I can interest you in a Blue Lagoon tour?’

‘No thanks, I saw the movie once, wasn’t my kind of thing. But tell me, how many words do you guys have for snow?’

I imagined that with about seventy percent of this silly little island being covered in snow, and virtually inhabitable, they would at least have four dozen words for snow. I thought it would be nice to stride about the countryside, or what passed for countryside on this volcanic cowpat of a land, and be able to identify, in Icelandic, the various types of snow: this is white snow good for making snowmen; powdery snow good snow for rolling around naked in and hard-packed snow good for driving on.

‘We have just one,’ she snarled, ‘we say snow. Now please leave.’

I returned to my outrageously over-priced hotel and spent the next few days counting the Bjorks listed in the phone book and dreaming of being elsewhere.

A few days later, thankfully, I was.

About the Author

Philip Blazdell has been travelling for the last fifteen years and would like to stop now, thank you very much. His travels began when he followed a girl in nice purple pyjamas to Istanbul and got into all kinds of trouble with her parents. Despite marriage proposals in Las Vegas, arrests in Germany, and lust in the dust in more than one third-world shit hole, he has never looked back. Well, not that much really.

Philip currently divides his time between his home in Middle England, SFO International Airport and some grotty little town in the Netherlands that is best not spoken about in polite company. He constantly worries about using the word ‘awesome’ too much whilst in the USA and dreams of a day when he can go a whole day without resorting to Diet Coke. His greatest ambition is to raise his son to be a much better person than himself and to see Liverpool string a run of wins together. At least one of those, he believes, is possible. He can be contacted, when not bouncing around the world at 32,000 ft: nihon_news at yahoo dot com and his own personal homepage,, is updated daily.