Monday, May 12, 2008

The End of Wednesday, Finally

As Wednesday continued, I thought it would be helpful for me to note the current exchange rate. I parked Rebecca's Mac Book on the windowsill of our apartment, increasing our odds of catching Te & Kaffi's precarious wi-fi, and typed the numbers into Google's handy currency conversion formula (example: "1500 ISK into USD"--I love this little game). I wrote up columns of amounts that should be familiar (based on the denominations of US$ and ISK bills) or from which we could form quick calculations.

US$ into ISK
ISK into US$
1 - - 74.42
50 - - 0.67
10 - - 744.18
100 - - 1.34
20 - - 1,488.39
500 - - 6.72
50 - - 3,720.98
1,000 - - 13.44
100 - - 7,441.99
2,000 - - 26.87
200 - - 14,883.99
5,000 - - 67.19

For instance, a bus ticket (incl. transfer) would cost 500 ISK, or less than seven bucks. An espresso macchiato usually ran us about 250 ISK, just less than $3.50, and a beer in any bar was almost $10 (700 ISK). I made a copy of my little chart for Rebecca, which she stuck in the window of her wallet and referred to habitually. It might have been cleverer to just memorize the math, but this helped us out when our minds were on other things. 500 kronur came in bill and coin form, the latter being perhaps more popular when receiving change from grocery stores and such, though they saw about equal usage as opposed to the popular American one dollar bill and the obscure, multifarious one dollar coins.

We went to Vegamot--that is, we left our apartment, turned left and walked in front of the book store, then took an immediate left down the short street called Vegamotastig and right into the bar/restaurant Vegamot. It looked like a hip little club, though it was about empty when we went in for lunch. One corpulent man sat outside to enjoy his cigar, and Rebecca and I wondered whether Reyjkavik had recently been endowed with such the "no smoking" ban as Minneapolis bars and restaurants have seen. Certainly, we expected the bars to be dense with second-hand smoke but honestly we can hardly recall encountering it at all, even outdoors. Rebecca had a green tea and felt they used way too many tea leaves in their French press; I had the Vegamot signature burger (what is it with Europeans and cucumbers?), despite the sound of the bar's name to American ears it is not a vegetarian joint. We checked out the posters that advertised the late-night talent, Rebecca will remember the unusual DJ names ("Gorilla Funk"). Through the window she pointed to a strange traffic sign; when we finished our lunch we went out to decipher it. Its meaning turned out to be quite clear: it simply meant that this was a parking lot for our apartment only, all others would be towed. The confusion came from--and many pubs and bistros throughout the city employed these--the icon of a car being towed away under the name of the establishment itself. At initial glance this would seem to encourage pedestrian traffic and warn everyone else away. Not so.

The day lost its sunniness and became overcast with pale grey clouds, and a chilling wind swept in from the Atlantic. Stupidly, I somehow managed to neglect to pack a hat and gloves, despite my diligent inventory list. I knew that Iceland was further north than Canada's Yukon. I knew that it's an island in the middle of an ocean. In spite of all that knowledge I still forgot to grab a simple hat and gloves, so we hit the tourist shops. There are two popular outdoor clothing stores in Reykjavik: 66° North and Cintamani, the latter of which even offers travel packages. Their clothing is perfectly functional, at least on par with our REI or North Face, but kinda pricey. It was actually cheaper for me to buy "genuine Icelandic wool" hat and gloves at a gift shop, Thorvaldsen's Basar, for under $70. The proprietress filled out a customs form (VAT) for me to turn in when I would leave the country. I thought the hat was very neat and looked for excuses to wear it throughout the remainder of my trip, despite no other person at all anywhere wearing any kind of headgear, no matter the weather. Tough lot, they. The wool gloves did a surprisingly good job of cutting the wind, too, so I actually did feel very warm and toasty while walking around town. Despite her appropriate gear, Rebecca absolutely did not enjoy the Atlantic gales. We walked around a little bit more, I took more pictures of graffiti everywhere, she noted how we tended to meet the headwind no matter which direction we walked in, and we ended up at Segafredo for coffee. No matter what else, we were glad the coffee was good and priced at pretty much what we'd pay at home. At some point, according to this receipt in my notebook, I also picked up a shot glass at Islandia Bankastaeti for 275 kronur. I've been collecting shot glasses from the various States I've visited in the last couple years, and had to pick one up from this country. I'm sadly reminded of the time I visited a friend in Los Angeles who introduced me to a friend of hers. His first question to me, upon learning that I'm from Minnesota, was, "What do you collect?" His premise was that everyone in Minnesota collects something; at the time, actually, I was collecting comic books but didn't think that counted as a specifically Minnesotan thing to do, but he rolled his eyes and nodded, as if this were the inevitable answer.

More parades of the kids in costume. My notes list the costumes as: Waldo (from Where's Waldo), Cats in the Hat, Pink Panthers, pink and green Care Bears, grey wolves, brown some-kind-of-animal, and the chefs with the fat asses. Still wondering what the hell all that was about.

Rebecca turned in for the evening but I went out to get in some of the night life--this is hilarious because I went out around 10pm. The sun was still up. If anything, people may have been in their homes, drinking from the bottles they got from the liquor store, in preparation to go out after 11:30 PM and fill the clubs. More on that later. I walked around, getting more pictures of graffiti, and entered the Celtic Cross. There was a beer tent in its parking lot, I assumed that was private. I entered the bar, modeled after an English pub, and found it empty. All the chairs in place, TVs on, music playing, but not a soul seated at a table, not a soul having a drink. The bartender sat behind the bar with a laptop, and he ignored me as I stood at the bar for a couple minutes, waiting to be served. I didn't ask nearly enough questions in this city, and I didn't ask the bartender what it took to get served. I just left and walked down the street to Cultura.

The Lonely Planet guide book lauds Cultura as an international hotbed of activity, a happenin' place where cultures meet and music opens the gateway to imagination. My experience was somewhat different than that: I ordered a Leffe, a light yellow translucent beer, and sat at a small round table covered in mosaic tile. No one around me spoke English. Two women complained bitterly about a common topic, I inferred from their head-nodding, and a woman behind me communicated frenetically via text messaging. An older man and younger woman by the door murmured darkly about something for five minutes before leaving. I sipped my beer and wrote out postcards--my logic was that if I sent them out on the first day, they might reach their destinations shortly after I returned to the US. When the helpful, young, dark-haired Icelandic woman at the Information Center sold me the postcards, she asked if I wanted postage and helped me differenciate between "Europe" and "other" postal rates, and threw in a strip of Air Mail stickers besides. So I had a tidy little correspondence kit to work with in Cultura, listening not to a Russian DJ but a quiet jukebox located somewhere behind the scraggly young alcoholic with long stringy hair.

I toddled back to the apartment and found Rebecca quite asleep. I noticed that I had been feeling paranoid and unwilling to explore the foreign city by myself, even though I desperately wanted to get out and see the night life. I had assumed Iceland was a much safer country than my homeland, I certainly hadn't heard any horror stories about crime of any sort, but I was still... There was enough of America in Iceland to make me concerned. The graffiti looked American, the hoodlums had cribbed notes from American gangsta rap, though it was more giggle-inducing than fear-inducing to see a couple clean, blonde Icelandic teens bump fists and recite, "West Side, know what I mean?" Still... what an import: graffiti. The mural artists were amazing, but the tagging was as pointless as it is here, even moreso. Here, there's a chance some meth addict actually has a gun and will use it in defense of his "territory;" there, it's just funny-looking markings with which to deface someone else's property and nothing to back it up. Ugliness for ugliness' sake. I suppose I should have been happy that the ugliness stopped at visual pollution and didn't run to social disease, like here.

I went to close the window to the apartment, to cut down the rabble from the street, but found it was already closed: the revelers were simply that loud. Fortunately, beer and jet lag put me to sleep very quickly.

More later...


Anonymous said...

Oi, what's wrong with cucumbers on burgers?

Christian said...

Coming from the land of hamburgers, it's wrong. Cucumbers go on salads. While many traditional salad ingredients also appear on hamburgers (lettuce, tomato, onions), others do not successfully make the transition (bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers).

More than that, Europeans own a proclivity to slip cucumber slices just about anywhere they wanna.

"Was the Almaden a bit dry to you tonight?"
"Yes, I did think it a bit. I'll toss in a couple slices of our irregularly shaped cucumbers, that ought to nose it up."

Anonymous said...

Irregularly shaped? I was not aware cucumbers had any other shape than the one I am used to seeing...

Christian said...

The cucumbers I'm used to in the States are large and have smooth sides. The cukes that were sliced up for my burger were somewhat smaller in diameter and had wrinkly edges like the bark of a tree.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh. Those are gherkins (young, pickled cucumber). I hate those. I don't know why they put those things in burgers.