30 November 2005

Ég flýg til Akureyrar á morgun

Aren’t you amazed by my newly acquired Icelandic talent?

Tomorrow I will be going on my first Ice-business trip to our office in Akureyri. It’s a 45-minute plane ride away to the Great City of the North, where I will meet all the guys I have been writing emails to for the past two and a half months. It’s a town that inspires fierce loyalty among its inhabitants, and the people living in Reykjavík that are from there were full of stories of places I had to see and experience. Although I am staying overnight, I am not sure there will be much time to try out the ski mountain or climb the other Favorite Mountain that all schoolchildren from Akureyri have had to climb.

Ship Sighting: Atlas is still in the shipyard after three weeks, and I am not sure what they are working on there. They finished the hull paintjob and redid the lettering of the name, but it’s still there. Another ship, Vestmannaey, came and went last week for its own touch up, the first time I have seen two boats of that size in the yard together. It’s always exciting to stop at the light by Hamborgara Búllan and see a new set of radar and antennae rising above the building- it reminds me of the seafaring history of this country on a daily basis. I hear that when the harbor development plans begin, the harbor will lose most of the gritty working character. I am sure it will be an improvement of sorts, but I will be sad to not see fish unloading and boat scraping as part of my regular routine.

28 November 2005

The meat table

Saturday was my company Jólahlaðborð, which technically translates as “Christmas buffet” but I discovered it really means “50 kinds of meat”. It was at Perlan, Reykjavík’s answer to the Top of the Hub with panoramic views of the whole city in all directions. Reykjavík is so short that it doesn't need to be 52 floors high, so we were able to see all the way to Keflavík, and if there had been towns any further away we could have seen those too. This place even does it one better than the Hub with a rotating component, which moved just fast enough to be illness-inducing if you tried to look at one spot for very long (or maybe it was all that meat).

The menu was divided into appetizer meat and main course meat choices, and I tried to sample some of everything. Here’s some of the more unusual appetizers I tried:

Smoked puffin: strange color, tastes like fish with the texture of chicken.
Reindeer pate: another strange color, but tasted like juniper berries. Quite good.
Thinly sliced beef tongue: this one was thrown down on the table in a challenge from co-worker P, who said he’d grown up on the stuff but his mother made it better. It wasn’t much of a flavor, but the texture was creepy.
Smoked goose: kind of like a less flavorful version of proscuitto.
Herring in spicy sauce: Not something I plan to have in the fridge on a daily basis, but I’d eat it again.
Caviar: my first time having caviar that wasn’t on sushi. This time it was with the blini, the minced onion, and the sour cream. Tasty enough but I’m not sure what the big hype is all about.

On to the main meat course:

Deer steak: I think this is what it was... at any rate, quite good and tender.
Reindeer meatballs: very rich, again with the juniper flavor, and bathed in mushroom sauce. Tasty but only edible in small amounts.
Hamborgarhryggur: this is pretty much your standard Christmas ham with a dressed-up name. Worth eating lots and lots.
Hangkjöt: smokier than the Krónan variety, but a known flavor by now.

The extras for the meal were also good, like the laufabrauð, a Christmas tradition that tastes like a good fried tortilla. There was also a whole table of extra things to sprinkle and dribble on other food, like toasted onions (I LOVE these), marinated fruit, pecans in syrup, jam, and tandoori sauce. There was also tandoori chicken, which I guess was for the people that got sick of all that other meat and needed chicken too.

Tthere were also some well-cooked vegetable selections, mostly in the cabbage/carrot/potato theme, and a few things called “salad” which meant mayonnaise on something (apples or seafood). There were plenty of other fish and meat options if you felt something was missing from the first list, like both graflax and smoked salmon, two other flavors of herring, turkey cooked two ways, duck paté, and some other kind of slicing meat. If you still had space at the end of all this meat-eating, there was an equally layered table of desserts, with ice cream, bonbons, tarts, cakes, pudding, and an enormous bowl of whipped cream. Made me glad I had intentionally worn something formfitting so I couldn’t overeat. One guy had consumed so much he was swaying drunkenly by the end of the meal.

Ship sighting: Was down at the Eimskip docks on Friday, where I got to see Brúarfoss loading up, and the machines that pick up entire shipping crates (able to contain two large vehicles plus) and wheel them around the docks suspended 15 feet in the air. It’s nerve-wracking to watch one of those sway by over the car, even if it was empty.

24 November 2005


That is the word for "Thanksgiving Day Parade". I love it so much I had to post it. You're on your own pronouncing it though.

22 November 2005

Stylist to the Stars

I was starting to go all hippy-style shaggy last week so I decided it was time to book an appointment with my favorite stylist, Steinunn. As always, a big part of the haircut is hearing the Latest, and this time was no exception. She told me she had been very busy lately styling for the Christmas issue of Nýtt Líf, Iceland's answer to Vogue. They have a woman of the year issue at the end of the year, and one of the people she styled for it was the former president of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. Up next on Thursday is the Herra Ísland (Mr. Iceland) competition coming this Thursday. You can inspect the contestants and choose your favorite here.

Later, as I was flipping through the pages of British Elle and drinking a cup of their excellent cappuccino, Steinunn pointed to a full-page photo of a willowy brunette (isn't everyone in fashion magazines willowy?) and mentioned that the model was Icelandic. Of course she'd done her hair too. No wonder I've been getting such great haircuts here. She's had lots of practice apparently.

Ship Sighting: On Saturday night we were all out until 4 am showing my bro the Icelandic nightlife, so when we got home it was just the right time to see the oil tanker Oktavius coming in to the tanker dock. This dock is on the outer edge of the harbor and closest to where I live so I could actually see a lot of the docking manoevers.

18 November 2005

Broðir minn

My youngest brother arrived this morning from the States. He's my first family member to visit, actually the first person that has come to visit me (not J) in Iceland. We are going to do the old Golden Circle tomorrow and hopefully see something through the forecast rain. It's pretty exciting to have family here and I can't wait to open the suitcase he brought that's loaded with Christmas gifts and other cheer from my parents. Things from the Old Land take on mythical specialness when they have to come so far to be with you.

Ship Sighting. The paint job on Atlas looks like it's done today. The name has been repainted and it was on the scheduled-to-depart list this morning. Right now I am at home, and I can see the Morraborg on the horizon. It's scheduled to arrive at Grundartangi, the port at the aluminum smelter in Hvalfjörður at 3:30, so I guess it is making good time.

16 November 2005

bright lights.... big city?

not so here, but we have had spooooky effects from the moonlight these past few days. The moon is at the peak of the cycle, and last night the glow off the sea was very lustre-of-midday-to-objects-below. I could see Akrafjall glowing across the bay with a dusting of fresh snow, and even the horizon line was visible in the distance, dotted with boat lights. I also was thinking of when I first came to Iceland last year and saw bright glowing lights on the horizon, I marvelled at the hugeness of Reykjavík since it seemed able to throw light that far into the atmosphere. Then I realized it was the northern lights.

The descending darkness lately has forced me to appreciate light in all the wan variations we get here, from the leaping green and purple of the northern lights to the pale wash of noontime sunshine. When the workday starts hours before the light has touched the sky, sunrise is more exciting than a coffee break. The windows on my side of the office offer a great view of the northern sky, and on the other side I can watch the light illuminate the mountains. This morning the sky was peach and turquoise, and on the other side the glow from the sunrise turned the distant mountains into white pastel sketches on a teal background. I remember loving sunrise in my old place in Boston when I awoke, but instead of these huge horizontal expanses of color it was little peeks of it above the buildings and between the trees. This uninterrupted wash of intricate color is sometimes too much for me to handle.

Ship Sighting: I've been keeping an eye on a ship called Atlas that's been getting painted over the past week. It's not in Skipaskrá (no Icelandic ID number- where is it from?), but I saw it last month in the outer reaches of gamlahöfn. I remember it because the hull was shaggy with peeeling paint so I'm glad to see it is getting a makeover. In other ship news, J and I went to the Eimskip offices to get the paperwork for my load o' stuff. While we were down there I saw lots of crate moving and Reykjafoss blazing with lights in the midst of unloading. Soon I will have my loom, and a way to process all this sky-beauty in scarf form!

14 November 2005

Is your pool experience lacking a certain something?

Well fear no more, literature has come to Laugardalslaug. In much the same fashion as the previously reported bus improvements, the pool has added smásögur (literally "small sagas" or short stories) to the heitir pottar and nuddpottur. The stories are all in Icelandic so my current grasp of the language only got as far as the beginning of one that was describing something about the largest company in mid-town. Not enough comprehension to really get thrilled about it, but I love the idea of stories while you soak. The series is all written on plastic laminated cards, strung together on carabiners and tied to the railings with plastic strings. It's part of the marketing for unglist, the youth art festival. I'm not sure what the youth art-Reykjavik pool connection is, but if it brings us books in the pool, I am all for it.

Ship sighting: This morning I saw the lights of Arina Arctica coming in at 7 am. It was due at 8 so I guess it made good time. This ship is registered in Denmark, and if you're needing to know if the load line certificate is current and whether it's up to date on propeller shaft arrangement oil lubricant, you can check it out here. You were curious about those things, weren't you?

11 November 2005

my ship has come in

The ship carrying my loom and other treats from the Boston life has arrived today. I haven't seen this stuff since April 26, when Ed & Ed took it away. Now I'll be able to do something with the awesome wool from the Faroe Islands I was given as a housewarming present.

Of course, it's going to be several days before I actually see the stuff, but it's still comforting to know that it's in The Land finally.

Ship Sighting:Skógafoss brought my goods here so it is my ship for today. Note that this is the photo referenced in the comment on my April posting linked above, and also happens to be the ship that brought J his whole house and car. I'm going to develop a soft spot for this ship. I already liked the waterfall it is named after.

10 November 2005

alone in the stones

I have not forgotten The Blog, readers! I have been sick these past few days so my inspiration to write has been minimal. However, it has been a noteworthy week in that it is my first time in Iceland without J around, and it's been an interesting new experience. I am coming to terms with the Land as a place I moved, not just a place I moved to be with him.

I am still in between feeling like it's totally bizarre to be here and feeling kind of comfortable. This morning I took the bus to work, and through the mud-spattered, rain-misted windows, the drive to Kópavogur took on some kind of universal appearance. The neon lights filtered dimly through the windows and the smattering of people on the bus seemed as mixed (although much sparser) than anything one would encounter in any other city anywhere in the world. Busses all have the same kinds of hissing door sounds, and the engines hum in a similar fashion, wherever you are.

Still, I am constantly being reminded of the otherworldiness of this place- I started another round of Icelandic classes last week, and nothing cements the strangeness of my new life more than wandering in the Icelandic darkness trying to find a classroom with a group consisting of someone from Poland, a Canadian, a Guatemalan, and a guy from Nepal. Who would have thought such an odd crowd of people would find themeselves in Iceland together? It's one of the best things about taking classes here. Although most of the people moved here to be with a loved one, they come from all over the world to carve out their little world in this rocky place.

Ship sighting: Haven't been going to work the usual way (or much lately) so all I can report is Engey RE1 departed yesterday. I saw her moving out strangely slowly (no real visible wake, odd in the outer harbor) yesterday afternoon. Also, although this is primarly a ship spotting commentary, I had to mention a rare plane spotting moment I had on Sunday. I was on my way downtown and a huge plane flew right over me on the way to the Innanlandsflugstöð (city airport). This airport normally handles small planes to Akureyri, turboprops and the odd jet or two, so it was pretty incredible to see a 757 flying over so close I could read all the information on the side. There's not much on Blue Line Holidays on the net but I am guessing it's some secret Icelandair dóttirfélag. Anyone know more info?

03 November 2005

It's all in the little things

There are a few things here that make life simpler that I can’t believe haven’t caught on in the States. For those gentle readers that live here already, maybe this will make you realize what marvels surround you.

The bathroom is probably my favorite room o’tricks. First of all, drain IN the floor. How brilliant is that? No standing puddles of water near the shower, and cleaning the floor means dishroom-style water sloshing is the best way to do it. Next, how about those pre-set temperature shower faucets? You set the temperature you like your shower to be with one knob, then just turn the water on and off with the other knob. None of those scary (but awakening) cold blasts in the morning, or leaping out as the water turns scorching hot. The only problem is if you live with someone who doesn’t like the same temperature. You’re on your own for that one.

I also marvel at the efficient heating systems. Maybe this isn’t possible without the massive volume of water roaring through the pipes of Reykjavík, but the heating systems here never clang, bang, or urinate on the floors. Maybe it’s the brilliant Danfoss engineering. You crank those babies up and they really get the job done. I think it’s a large part of why the upcoming descending darkness and windy weather doesn’t frighten me as much as it might. It’s a rare house that isn’t cozy and warm here. Oh, and jólin koma. That’s always good for some cheer.

On to the roads... Granted they seem extremely fond of tearing the roads up here (we have had to drive to work a different way for about 2 weeks while the holes the depth of a man get filled in) but they also get the job done once they do. I am not sure how they do it, but paving does not seem to be restricted to only the hottest, mirage-on-the-road days I am used to experiencing in New England. Maybe the volcanic rock in the pavement makes it easier? Don’t know. Also, how about the traffic lights that go from red to yellow before green? This one might not be so great in the States, but here where most cars are standards, it works well.

Appliances are another incredible category of delights. The washing machines may take two hours but they heat all their own water for precisely-targeted temperatures, and our current one comes with a dizzying array of spin-speed selections, prewashing, and delicate cycles for different types of fabrics. I think I mentioned our dryer already but it also is a marvel of condensing technology. No external hose, no overbaking your clothes- this machine senses when your clothes are dry and stops on its own after extracting the water into an easy-to-empty bottle. These dryers are pretty standard here too. When we went to buy appliances, more than half the available models were this type.

The only problem with all these wonders is the cost. I am intentionally not converting them into dollars in my head because this stuff doesn’t come cheap. My logic is that I don’t have to pay in dollars so I don’t need to know anyway!

Ship sighting: Yesterday there were some foreign, and large fishing ships (one called Polaris- couldn’t find a country so no photo) tied up in the prime spots. Some of the regular residents of the inner harbor were tied up outside breakwater, like the coast guard ship. I guess it’s like sleeping on the couch so the guests can have the bed when guests come stay. Everyone was back to normal today, and the log shows a pretty light day today with only 4 ships coming or going. One of them is this bad boy, whose photo is so nice I had to mention it. The website of its home harbor is pretty neat too, with good eductional ship-sighting information on the difference between the profile of a containership and a roll on-roll off. These are some SERIOUS freight boats!

01 November 2005

Brilliant banking

Yesterday I was fully introduced to the brilliance of the Icelandic banking system. The online stuff here is so much more integrated than anything I’ve ever seen in the States. Since everything here operates by kennitala (the all-important number) your bills are automatically linked to your bank account with it. Even if someone messes up the address, if they have your kennitala correct, you will see it on your banking website when you log in. From there it’s a two-second procedure to actually pay the thing. Your salary is also deposited straight in there, with your payslip appearing as an e-document should you wish to see how everything is broken down. Need to pay someone back for any reason? That’s also a cinch if you know their kennitala and their bank account number. Type those in, put the amount you want to send and a comment if you like, and it’s done. The system even remembers the last 10 people you transferred to. They also receive the money instantly.

If you do actually want to interface with a person, that is also far superior to the American system, with helpful, efficient staff right down the hill from where we work. I keep thinking of the hoo-ra banks in the States are making of how easy it is to pay your bills online. They don’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’ when it comes to that- I continued to pay several of my bills with actual paper checks after trying to set some of them up and discovering that I had to go through strange-o online brokering and had to send checks as verification of my bank account number. Given the ease and efficiency of the systems here, I find it particularly ironic that this summer J was unable to make a purchase on Hotwire with his Icelandic credit card. When he complained to the customer service, they said they couldn’t verify the security and quality of the Icelandic network. How little they know.

Ship sighting: A busy day ahead here. Although I won’t be able to see most of them arriving and departing, I learned a little about two of the cargo ships leaving this evening, one called Flinterzijl and the other called Onego Runner. Both are owned by Dutch companies operating in Rotterdam, which I guess does a lot of business with Iceland, since I know I’ve seen the Onego Runner on the list before (and here I thought it was all Eimskip/Samskip all the time). The websites of these companies are a great place to learn the different terms for cargo ship classifications, like apparently the Runner is a Multipurpose Singledecker/Tweendecker with MacGregor folding type hatch covers. There are also ice classifications, as can be seen in the Flinterzijl write-up. I guess the Finnish-Swedish 1A class is good for the northern seas. I have no idea when this information will come in handy, but I figure sometime I’ll run into some sea captain and I can impress him with all my cargo ship lingo.