Never an Idle Moment – Iceland

Despite a cumulative seven days in Reykjavik over the course of two separate visits, I failed to indulge in two of my main objectives in Iceland. I am sorry to say that I could not find anyone to prepare and serve me the Icelandic delicacy of puffin (yes, puffin) for a reasonable price and I could not gain entrance to the Icelandic Phallological Museum due to a communications breakdown with the curator who, at the time, was only opening the museum for appointment visits. However, in between my exhaustive research on Reykjavik’s legendary nightlife and whether or not the Icelandic women are, ahem, sexually liberated, I was able to squeeze in two visits to the world famous Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal pool/health spa/gnarly photo opportunity 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik. If you’ve missed out on the Iceland tourism promotional blitzkrieg that has ensued in the past five years, you might not know that pretty much everything in the country runs on the steam power produced from the numerous underground lava pools and semi-dormant volcanoes. One of the benefits of sitting on top of all that natural steam is that sometimes an opening forms under a body of water, the steam rushes through and subsequently makes that body of water hotter than cheese curd lard. Needless to say, you have to be careful where you step when you are wading around in the Blue Lagoon. There are several unpleasant hot spots that can sneak up on you suddenly and inflict serious injury on a guy or, as one Englishman so eloquently put it, “Aiiiiigg! I almost cooked me M&Ms!!!”

In addition to being really, really hot, the lava based goo that coats the bottom of the Blue Lagoon boasts “a unique combination of natural minerals, blue green algae and white silica mud” that can purportedly rejuvenate and revitalize your skin and provide numerous other intangible benefits. The Blue Lagoon advertising team has parlayed these elements into a Disney-esque theme park. While the geothermal pool is far and away the main attraction, the Blue Lagoon also offers spa services, massages, UVA+B light skin therapy treatment programs, a conference center that boasts a “fine dining” experience with fresh Icelandic ingredients and a gift shop that features bath, face and skin products manufactured from the Blue Lagoon mud.

If you visit the lagoon during the day time – which takes exquisite timing during the scant three hours of daylight that they have at the height of winter – you get the added treat of the jaw-dropping view from the edge of the pool. There are paths and viewing platforms provided all around the Blue Lagoon for people to admire the endless lava fields that stretch into the horizon in every direction, giving one the feeling of having just crawled out of one’s Mars rover. Turn around and your field of view is filled with the steam belching, blue crater that is the Blue Lagoon.

As a result of their minimal need for fossil fuels, the air pollution in Reykjavik is pretty much non-existent, apart from the immediate vicinity of the night club zone where the internationally familiar stench of tinkle is ever-present. In addition to this literal breath of fresh air, like most of Scandinavia, every surface in Reykjavik is squeaky clean. Dropping your 6:00AM, post-club hotdog on the ground isn’t nearly as fatal in Reykjavik as say, New York City where even at the best of times, anything that touches the ground is a total loss, including money. While this advanced level of sanitation may be a germophobe’s wet dream, one has to remember that this characteristic is simply the direct result of the unfortunate amount of moisture (rain, sleet, snow and oh yeah, ice) that Iceland has to deal with for three quarters of the year, making it a tremendous setting for three months in the summer and a wet, dark, depressing bummer-trip for the rest of the year.

Despite the aforementioned puffin failure, my Icelandic gastronomic experience was far from pickled. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food that Iceland’s restaurants offered. Having been to Norway numerous times and being naïve enough to repeatedly try such ordinarily worry-free culinary adventures as “Chinese,” “French,” and “pizza” with zero success, I was convinced that Scandinavians couldn’t or possibly didn’t want to recreate these dishes the way they were meant to be served. Which is why when I was served actual “Italian” food in Reykjavik and it tasted really “good,” I was so thrilled that I yelped with “glee” and did a little happy dance that cleared a 10 foot circle around me.

Now, the real reason I was in Iceland. Babes. Tall, blond, curvy babes. And if you believe what you read, which you should if you are reading this, the rumors are true. There is very little subtlety in the motives of the average Icelandic woman when she is attracted to you. Especially at 1:00 AM on a Friday night on the street in front of my hotel.

The Icelanders party like screaming Canadian spring breakers in Cancun every goddamn weekend. Right about the time that people in most U.S. cites are usually being shooed home the Icelanders are just getting warmed up. If you show up at any night club in Reykjavik before 1:00 AM, you better be able to entertain yourself, because you will be sitting there alone with one bartender and a bored bouncer who is likely to curtly ask you, “Why are you here so early?” After 1:00 AM however, watch the hell out! Icelanders pile into the bars and clubs by the bus, taxi, and car-load, already ripped to the tits.

Alcohol is taxed like Boston tea in most of Scandinavia and in Iceland the drinks get more expensive as the night wears on, hence a couple rounds of drinks after 1:00 AM could almost make your car payment. Accordingly, there are two main approaches to a night on the town in Iceland. Either you buy one ridiculously over-priced drink and slowly milk it for the entire evening or you can employ the more popular practice of getting royally stewed at home, which is only slightly less fantastically expensive, before heading out and staggering around all night on the fumes from that bender. I had learned these drinking tips during my first stay in Iceland, so I came prepared with two bottles of duty-free vodka which I dipped into at about 11:00. A few cocktails later, I sauntered out the front door of my hotel, with yet another drink in my hand and was almost immediately knocked down by two women. After a couple slurred words, they hooked my arms and lead me to the their favorite club. At this point I was mentally reviewing the rumors about the Icelandic women and I was unsure of what to expect, but my curiosity quickly wilted away after we sat down at our table. The blonder of the two immediately grabbed my hand and with a beautiful shit-eating grin on her face placed it firmly in her crotch and then crossed her legs for good measure. The night just got more depraved from there. If you’d like to hear about it, buy the book.

The basic Icelandic night-out schedule goes as follows:

9:30PM: Get ready.
10:00PM: Begin consuming anywhere from three to 12 cocktails.
12:30AM: Get on the bus.
1:00AM: Arrive at the club.
1:05AM Find the recipient of your affection.
1:06AM – 3:00AM Dance like idiots in between performing minor, public sex acts over in the corner.
3:02AM Take a whiz. If you’re feeling generous, buy a couple $15 cocktails for you and your partner.
4:30AM Start thinking about leaving.
5:17AM: Find your jacket.
5:30AM: Go to the hotdog wagon in the main square and stand in line behind 1,342 other drunks to get your requisite post-club hotdog with the works.
6:15AM: Find a taxi. Decide where you’re going to spend the night.
6:45AM: #### (Sorry this part has been edited down for content, length and because my parents are probably going to read it.)

If you rouse from your drunken slumber early enough the next morning you will see Reykjavik’s main drag in a rare state of complete filth. Cigarette butts, food, clothes and the stunning spot where it appears several dozen contestants competed in the World Glass Breaking Championships. Otherwise life in Reykjavik has returned to normal for six more days until they kick out the jams all over again.

The isolation of Iceland has given the populace a special bond, like they are all part of a huge, but exclusive club. They have their own language, their own unlimited power source, their own government (the oldest in all of Europe) and they have a weird, quiet, pride as a result. Too quiet. In fact sometimes you have to pull teeth just to get them to cough up a complete answer about anything. The Icelanders working in the service industry are not prone to volunteering information or even good vibes for that matter. This makes for very stunted customer service skills that you should be prepared for. If you walk up to the desk guy at your hotel and greet him with a smile and a friendly “hello,” you are likely to only receive a blank stare and silence in response. He’s not being rude, he just doesn’t feel compelled to return the sentiment and apparently this is perfectly normal behavior. Information is given out dutifully, if sparingly.

I learned the hard way that you need to ask about every, little detail when you are questioning an Icelander or you will end up muttering to yourself like I did on a surprise 45 minute bus ride in the opposite direction of where I needed to go. After waiting an eternity in the pouring rain, I was so thrilled to see the bus that I became momentarily lax in my usual interrogation of Icelanders when seeking information. When I asked the bus driver, if he was going downtown, he quietly replied that he was. Relieved, I slogged onto the bus and blissfully collapsed into a seat. The bliss cloud quickly evaporated however when instead of turning toward the city, the bus driver swung around to head out to locations unknown. After a brief wait to give him the benefit of the doubt, hoping that he was simply taking a bizarre shortcut, I clamored to the front and said, “I thought you said you were going downtown?” to which he replied, “I am going downtown.” I was more than a little beside myself as I made my way back to my seat while he pulled onto a busy thoroughfare heading even further out of town. It finally occurred to me that I had forgotten to ask him when he was going to go downtown. Of course he was going downtown! But since I failed to ask when he was going downtown, he didn’t feel obliged to add the part “… after I take you on a lengthy tour of the southern suburbs.” So, technically it was my fault for not asking a complete question.

These gripes aside, I really enjoy Iceland. It’s lively, unique, unspoiled and a friendly country (customer service industry people excluded, of course). And if you time your visit for the height of the summer solstice, you will get the added bizarre sensation of nearly 24 hours of sunlight every day, which will scramble your body-clock into a giddy, discombobulated mess. Combine all of its offerings and you could conceivably spend a three day weekend in Iceland without a minute of sleep and never have an idle moment.