Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A Day Late and a Dollar Short #1

These forthcoming entries under the title ‘A Day Late and a Dollar Short’ were originally written as brief journal entries detailing my first five or six visits to Iceland. The first of these date back to 2009 and then there is one every year after that until I decided to stop commuting here every year from my base in Belfast in Northern Ireland and just settle down where I really wanted to be. I am going to read through them again as I haven’t read many of them for some time now and make a few alterations based on my observations about the differences between visiting here as a tourist and actually living here as a permanent resident. Hopefully all this will go some way to explaining how it was that I ended up here which, if I’m not mistaken, was the whole point behind this blog in the first place.

Coming as I do from New Zealand I guess I’ve always had a thing for small, remote islands. They always seem to be inhabited by the most interesting people. My first visit to Iceland was in June 2009. My 40th birthday, a treat. It was a place that I’d always wanted to go but had always found the cost prohibitive. Their recent banking meltdown in 2008 had reduced the value of the króna to a point where it was now affordable. Since then of course it has rapidly become one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth with possibly over a million visitors expected in 2015. This is a pretty rapid increase in visitor numbers and considering that the population here is only just over 300,000 people, it’s a lot of visitors.

Of course being my first trip to Iceland I did all the touristy things: walks along the seashore, a trip to the local swimming baths with their communal showers and naked locals, lobster pizza and fish stew in a city centre café, a day out to the Geyser area and Gullfoss, a lazy afternoon at the Blue Lagoon, catfish and cod for dinner, and of course those greatest of Icelandic delicacies; hotdogs. I think they played their part in convincing me to move to Reykjavík, you could indeed eat them for the rest of your life.

I heard an American describe Reykjavík as a town full of Christmas houses, not far from the truth. For a city that has virtually no wood involved in any of its construction it does look rather Christmassy with its heavily slanted roofs and corrugated iron walls. I’ve also heard it described as clean and well organized which is also true. Two very good qualities in my opinion. If that American guy thought it looked Christmassy in the middle of June he should have seen it at Christmas time. It’s very impressive. In order to brighten up the place during the months and months of long dark nights everyone really goes to town with the Christmas lights. Every window in town is lit up and a good few trees as well just for good measure.

In the same way that the island has been formed by the coming together of the European and American tectonic plates there seems to be a cultural convergence as well between everything European and all things Americans. Lots of American cars, bikes and vans imported during the long American presence through the Cold War and beyond give the place a look not dissimilar to an American TV show some Saturday evenings in summer when loads of people cruise the middle of town in their cars in much the same way that the kids did in ‘American Graffiti’.

Yet despite these pointers to American television the place is definitely European. Geography does a great deal to define nations and their history and I guess it’s been that way for Iceland too stuck out here in the middle of the North Atlantic removed from continental Europe but not really that close to North America either. The mixture of the two is rather likeable. A wonderful combination of tradition and modern ways that gives the city a cute feel but with every modern convenience you could possibly think of at your disposal.

(To be continued)

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