September 16, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: Ensiferum – In My Sword I Trust
What you have to understand about Icelandair is they maintain their planes at a cozy 115 degrees Farenheit in reverence of the old gods, so demonstrating that our modern faith is powerless against them.
A red eye flight is just a loud, shitty hotel in the sky. I slept the whole five and a half hours in my seat. There’s no leg room on Icelandair, which is strange considering how tall the average Icelander is, so I curled my legs around my neck like a Cirque de Soleil mutant and slept in a sweaty, agonized yogi pretzel until we touched down in the Viking capital of the world.
Every ATM at the airport rejected my debit card, scolding me in Icelandic. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I would never find out. Ladygirl covered our bus fare and we rode into the city proper. She had never been out of the greatest country in the world before, and was suitably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
“You know, I don’t even feel that bad!” she said, marveling at the grim foggy mountain ranges that served as Winterfell’s backdrop. “I thought it’d be a lot worse, only getting a few hours sleep on the plane.”
“Yeah, me too,” I lied. My legs were still on fire from trying to crumple them into a shape that would fit in the plane-shaped oven. To win them a few extra inches, I had to sacrifice my cervical vertebrae, rotating my head around a full 180 degrees like that heroin baby in Trainspotting.
The bus dropped us at the station, where Ladygirl was outraged to learn that many bus stations in Yurp attempt to charge you to use the bathroom.
“I don’t have to go that bad,” she said scornfully.
“And never will,” I assured her. “First time it happened to me was in Barcelona. Little do these Yurpeans realize we’re from Philly.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, you know what they say in Philly,” I said. “Somebody’s gotta shit in the street.”
“Nobody says that but you.”
“And yet, I’ve never shat in the street. Figure that one out.”
We walked out into the sudden, explosive rainstorm that turned out to be a defining characteristic of Iceland.
Reykjavik doesn’t have weather as much as randomly generated dynamic events, like a videogame rushed to release. In our first day, the temperature fluctuated forty degrees with no bearing on time of day. It would go from cloudless to pouring rain; on one occasion, it did both at the same time. I don’t know how.
We trudged uphill through the gale, turned the corner, and discovered Reykjavik’s functional north star, the Hallgrimskirkja.
The preposterous height of the Hallgrimskirkja allows it to be seen from any point in Reykjavik, as well as from some neighboring towns. That wasn’t hyperbole. It’s visible for miles.
Properly oriented, we made our way to Reykjavik Roasters. Drip coffee is rejected in much of Yurp in favor of fetishized espresso, which tastes like embittered butt, so I tend to order whatever I don’t recognize and hope for the best.
I sipped at my coffee and gazed out the window at the beautiful scenic overlook of a vape shop that sold Snapple. I haven’t seen a real Snapple sign in fifteen years.
But, for that matter, I hadn’t heard a Chuck Norris joke in ten years. We’ll get into that later. Suffice it to say, cultural drift in the ‘vik is appropriately, thematically glacial.
I felt my central nervous system blooming like a Discovery documentary time lapse of coral. I drank the space coffee and stared out the window until this rolled up, at which point I decided it was time to go.
No cat mjolk for me, thanks. Up the road, back toward the gargantuan church, there was a restaurant called Cafe Loki, advertising authentic Icelandic food alongside a painting of Hodr killing Baldur while Loki looks on, crouched like Gollum and giggling. I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of it, but I will in the next few days.
Cafe Loki was really pushing the fermented shark. It’s on the agenda, but I didn’t want to press my luck for breakfast. Ladygirl and I split a plate of smoked lamb flatbread and an entree called “Thor’s Plate”.
Sheep’s head jelly is about as good as it sounds. An acquired taste, I’m sure.
Mashed fish is so much better than it sounds! It’s like egg salad with a vague fish taste. Not tuna, either. Good fish taste. I wasn’t floored by the bean salad, but the mashed turnips were phenomenal, too. They’re great as mashing things.
We thanked Loki and backtracked to the Hallgrimskirkja, pausing to admire the viking statue in the courtyard.
“Fitspo,” Ladygirl said.
“Who do you think it is?” I asked.
“I’m going to guess Leif Erikson?” she said.
“See, that’s my guess, too,” I said. “But I only know the one Viking.”
“Could be Erik the Red,” she said. “I only know him because he’s Leif Erikson’s dad.”
I realized the hotel behind us was called Hotel Leiffur Eiriksson. We investigated the statue. Guess what?
“I guess I know a couple other vikings,” I said. “Ragnar. Floki. Arvid. It’s just, they’re not real, and probably not gonna get a statue in the epicenter of Reykjavik.”
While we were poking around inside the church, the organist made his way to the hidden seat and began practicing.
Back out into the streets of Reykjavik we went. Ladygirl pivoted suddenly toward the sea and said, “I wanna go look at the water.”
It was uncertain going at first, but I reasoned that since it was an island, any direction would technically get us to the water.
The wind picked up and it started to rain again, but we were past that now. There was too much caffeine in my system to feel anything ever again. I jittered along the bank until I discovered the Sun Voyager sculpture, which every “Top Ten Must See Reykjavik” list had been pushing on me for weeks.
A troop of middle-aged Eastern European men wordlessly pushed a cell phone into Ladygirl’s hands, then posed for a picture in front of the… statue? In front of the art.
When we next wandered in range of free wi-fi, at a sketchy but salvatic fish and chips shop called “Reykjavik Street Food”, we received a signal from our contact, a former classmate of Ladygirl’s from the frozen north (stateside) named, for the purposes of this story, Braxton.
“He says he borrowed his boss’s car and he’s coming to pick us up!” Ladygirl told me. “Where should I tell him to meet us?”
“The corner of UHHHH Ingólfsstræti and Hverfisgata.”
She stared at me for a moment.
“I’m gonna tell him ‘Reykjavik Street Food’.”
We stepped outside to wait for him, and it immediately began to monsoon.