General impressions of Reykjavik:
- More Like NIceland: Everyone I met in Reykjavik was cordial. Not quite friendly and outgoing, the way you’d get in the American South, but civil and helpful. Mix a laidback eagerness to please with the inherent stoicism that comes from any cold-weather climate, and you get an Icelander. I stumbled stepping off a curb and a complete stranger asked, “You okay?” The cute blonde at the coffee shop rattled off a list of suggestions when I asked for a good place to go dancing. One in three cars I saw on the street had all its doors unlocked. And everyone speaks English.
- Weather: Every day, you’d get 45 to 90 minutes worth of blizzard. Then the sun would come out. Then it would rain – sometimes light spitting, sometimes a steady downpour. Then overcast. Then sun. Then, perhaps, more snow. You get odd little patterns like these when you live between the North Atlantic and the world’s quota of glaciers.
- Food. Pricey. Everything on Iceland other than fish, lamb, hot water and light beer needs to be imported. Since I didn’t fly three thousand miles to experience Reykjavik’s notion of a cheeseburger, I ate seafood for most meals. Lunch on Saturday was fish and chips, and the fish had that sinus-filling freshness that suggested they’d been in the sea the other day. Saturday dinner: plokkfiskur at a restaurant called Boston – a fish “stew” that’s served like a plate of mashed potatoes.
I asked the waitress at Cafe Paris what the fish of the day was for lunch on Sunday. She looked up for a moment, searching for words in her head. “Hot dog,” she replied, in the heaviest accent I heard that weekend.
“No, sorry – the fish of the day.”
She nodded, turning to double-check on the chalkboard at the front of the restaurant. I followed her gaze. “Had-dock” was, indeed, the fish of the day.
- Actual Hot Dog: Apparently, hot dogs (or pylsur) are a big deal in Iceland. I saw the longest line that I saw for any establishment – including the nightclubs I visited on Saturday – outside a one-man hot dog stand on the Reykjavik harbor. In the snow. The hot dogs taste pretty good, but the toppings make the difference. Icelanders order their pylsi with a creamy remoulade. You wouldn’t think a hot dog lacked for something sweet but it really ties the package together.
- Beer: If you want to drink the local brew, know these three brands: Viking (like Budweiser, but with flavor instead of water); Gull (a bit hoppy for my taste but still solid) and Thule (which I didn’t try). These are all golden-colored lagers with hearty taste. You can also find Guinness on tap nearly everywhere.
In Apotek, a stringy-haired elf of a man snatched a scarf off a girl and taunted her with it as she tried to grab it back. She called the bouncer, who remonstrated with the guy until finally tossing him out. The miscreant dragged his weight, clinging to a railing in the end to keep from being thrown outside.
This didn’t kill my mood, though. I danced until 4:00 AM, hopping on a bench with a bunch of strangers to lord my gangly might over the crowd. This being Europe, I recognized almost none of the songs. That never hurt me, though.Clubs: As with other cities in Europe, the nightclub scene in Reykjavik doesn’t really start until midnight, and doesn’t really start until 2:00 AM or so. I ended up killing a lot of hours in coffeeshops until the night scene picked up. Though you have your choice of fine dancing establishments, I bounced between Cafe Paris and Apotek from midnight onward.