Jæja, ég flutti til Íslands. It really happened. I moved to Iceland!
I have been here for 10 days (well, I had been when I started writing this; now it’s been more like 12 days) and I apologize for not writing sooner, but the weather was fantastic last week so I felt obligated to be out and about and not sitting in front of a computer. Plus, life has been busy even though classes have yet to start. I’ll try to recap the highlights of the last 10 days, but a lot has happened, so I may need to split the account into multiple entries. But of course we should start with…
There isn’t much to say about this, really. I stuffed two huge suitcases and a third smaller one to the 50-lb limit and you’d never even know from looking at my room at home that I’d taken anything. Packing was not a terribly fun task for several reasons, including 1) I suck at it; 2) it is very difficult to pack bulky winter clothes well; and 3) I have been dealing with a thyroid infection, had to have a biopsy a few days before I left, and was feeling generally icky. I made several last-minute shopping trips, but somehow I got everything together.
On Sunday morning (the 17th), I had to say goodbye to my kitty:
I was laughing here but it was really quite terribly sad to say goodbye to kitty since she is 17 and the best kitty in the world 😦
Anyway, I went to Old Town Battle Grounds for breakfast and coffee with my parents and sister. Mmm Stumptown. I miss it already. My parents drove me up to Sea-Tac and we parted ways. I got though security quickly and spent a couple hours wandering around the airport, buying a few gifts, eating overpriced food, and wondering about the adventures of the people all around me.
The flight was very smooth and went fairly quickly. I am not at all good at sleeping on planes, but I rested a bit and watched some good ol’ American sitcoms. Before I knew it, we were flying over Greenland, and that soon gave way to the barren lava field wasteland of the Keflavík peninsula.
I went through passport control and they didn’t even ask why I was here, just stamped my passport and sent me on my way. It was almost a bit of a letdown. After collecting my 150 plus pounds of stuff, I met Ásta Sól outside in the brisk Icelandic morning air, which felt wonderful after the stuffy plane air.
I bought an inaugural cup of bananasplitti skyr, then we were off to Reykjavík and my new home on Grettisgata. It was more difficult to adjust to the time change than when I was here two years ago, I am sure because it is later in the summer and there is no energizing perpetual daylight. Also, with the Snorri Program, we had a very busy schedule from day one, so there was really no choice but to adapt immediately.
mánudagur / monday
After a long nap, I walked around the city a bit and caffeinated at Kaffitár. I honestly don’t remember what else I did that day, except enjoy a lovely dinner with Ásta Sól’s family and sleep.
Since this day is pretty boring to read about, here are some pretty pictures of Reykjavík dressed up in sunshine:
þriðjudagur / tuesday
On Tuesday, I made my way over to the Fulbright office (a couple blocks away, on Laugavegur above Bónus) and met the director and advisor. The director had a 4-week-old puppy and a not-entirely-hairless sphinx cat in her office, and apparently has written a children’s book about her former sphinx.
Then I walked down to Lækjartorg to meet up with Carina and Sigrún. Sigrún is a frænka of my Seattle friend David, and Carina is her German friend who has lived in Iceland for many years. We met in Seattle last year. Carina and Sigrún were on an epic road trip across the States and were spending a couple days in Seattle and visiting David.
I arrived at Lækjartorg early, so I sat on a bench and read for a few minutes. Sigrún came up to me with her mother and said, “Julie?” I confirmed that it was me and she said she had pointed me out to her mom from across the square and her mom said, “Are you sure that’s her? She looks so Icelandic!” I am not sure I believe that, but I guess I will take it!
Carina arrived and we decided to go to Café Babalú, a colorful (literally) little spot on Skólavörðustígur. Everything seems quite overpriced (but everything here is expensive) and the coffee is just okay, but the súkkulaðikaka (chocolate cake)… mmm. It is like a beautiful, overpriced, unhealthy little slice of heaven. The three of us chatted for quite a while and I eavesdropped a bit on the conversations around us. The café attracts so many tourists that there are probably at least 7 languages being spoken in there at any given time. It is also not a great place to practice your Icelandic with the staff, as I discovered the next day; they seem to employ quite a few expats who do not speak Icelandic.
miðvikudagur / wednesday
My number one to-do item on Wednesday was to go to Útlendingastofnun (the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration) to have my photo taken so I can receive my dvalarleyfi (residence permit). I looked up the directions and set out for what should have been a 15-minute walk. I may have gotten a bit turned around and taken twice that long to arrive; I will never tell. Speaking of things I will not admit, I will never admit that when I got there and pulled on the door and it didn’t open, I turned around and walked outside and had to give myself a pep talk and ask myself if I had tried pushing on the door, and then felt very sheepish and had to give myself another pep talk to convince myself to go back and try pushing the door open.
I pushed the door and it opened. The place was suspiciously empty and I soon discovered why; the immigrant-photographing machine was broken, so that was that. The employee told me to call the next day and find out if it had been fixed before actually going there. After all that drama, my plans were thwarted. Oh well. Þetta reddast.
I went back to Café Babalú to have lunch and (theoretically) get some writing done. I got up the courage to speak to the staff in Icelandic (“Hvað er súpa dagsins?”) and was answered with, “It’s tomato soup.” Apparently I chose one of the non-Icelandic-speaking employees to ask. But there was an Icelandic guy working as well and he overheard, so he humored me and finished the transaction with me in Icelandic. Thanks, dude at Café Babalú. I appreciate that.
fimmtudagur / thursday
On Thursday morning, I walked a block up the street to Reykjavík Roasters to meet Elliott for kaffi. Elliott received the joint Fulbright-Árni Magnússon grant last year, so he kindly agreed to meet up with me and give me some information on the BA program and the placement test. Elliott is from Texas and has been interested in Iceland for years. He helped me feel a bit more confident about the placement test, I think, and simultaneously more nervous and more excited about the program itself as he explained that we would be reading novels and writing reports all in Icelandic the first semester.
By the way, I am about 95% certain that I spotted Borko in a corner of the coffee shop.
I held Elliott hostage for a solid two hours, then meandered back down the street and spent a bit of time sitting in the garden, moving my chair to follow the little sliver of sunlight and trying to study. While I was out, Kimberly, my fellow Snorri and the Canadian recipient of the Árni Magnússon grant, stopped by with her cousin Bjarni. Bjarni asked me why Americans make fun of Canadians. Why not, Bjarni? They make it so easy with their ketchup chips and their “eh’s” and their politeness. (I actually made up a more diplomatic answer than that, I promise.)
For dinner, Ásta Sól took me to a little place just down the street for a “hamborgaratilboð” (“hamburger special”). Yes, people at home who have never seen me eat beef, you read that correctly: I ate a hamburger. When in Rome. Or rather, when in Reykjavík.
Sofar, so very very good
After dinner, I walked over to the university campus. David, a dear friend from Seattle, had “introduced” me over Facebook to his friend Leana, who has lived in Reykjavík with her Icelandic other half for over a year now and is studying Icelandic as a Second Language at the university. She is involved with something called Sofar Sounds, which puts on small, intimate concerts with locations announced the day of the show. Who is performing? Well, it could be anyone; the lineup is not announced, so it’s a surprise when you arrive. Leana sent me a message soon after I arrived in Iceland and told me there was room on the guest list for an upcoming show and she could add my name if I was interested. I am not a terribly outgoing person, and the thought of being in a room full of strangers listening to mystery musicians who could have turned out to be awful did not sound 100% appealing… but I said yes, because I need to push myself to get out and try new things. I did not regret that decision.
I received an email that day with directions for finding the location: one of the new dorms at the University of Iceland. It was so exclusive and clandestine. I finally found what I thought was the correct hall, but I wasn’t sure – until I turned around and saw Svavar Knútur walking toward me, guitar and ukulele in tow. Svavar is a friend of Ásta Sól’s and an incredibly talented singer-songwriter who performed for our Snorri group two years ago. I was so happy to know that I had found the right place and that he was performing that I think I freaked him out a bit. I think I actually said something like, “You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are and now I know I’m in the right place!” Awkward.
Anyway, I followed him into the dorm and up to the second floor communal kitchen and was swept up into a magical evening. I finally got to meet Leana in person. There was free ice cream, courtesy of Ísgerðin, a soft-serve ice cream place in 107 Reykjavík run by an American-Icelandic couple. The American half used to be an investment banker in New York and met his Icelandic other half on a ski trip. The American gave up his fast-paced NYC lifestyle and moved here to be with his love and now they make ice cream together. Sounds like a heartwarming film, doesn’t it? Anyway, I enjoyed a little dish of pistasíu ís and eavesdropped on an English-language conversation while I waited for the show to begin. I ended up inviting myself to join the aforementioned conversation, which was a good decision since I then met Daniela, a German exchange student, and Harry, an English sound engineer currently working in Sigur Rós’ studio in Mosfellsbær.
(Overheard outside my window, while writing this at 1:20 AM:
Person the first: “…that’s because Denmark used to rule Iceland.”
Person the second, in a shocked tone, “What?!?”)
Part of the fun of the evening was that aside from Svavar, I had no idea what to expect from the performers. Their names were all written on posters in the kitchen, but I had never hear of the other three bands: Þausk, Del Water Gap, and Una Stef. And because there was no “backstage” area, the performers were all just sitting in the audience with the rest of us, so you never quite knew who was going to stand up and walk to the front to play next.
The first band was Þausk, a trio of Icelanders whose songs featured catchy bass lines and husky vocals (see: “Suave Shaker“). Second was Holden, one-third of the American band Del Water Gap. He played several earnest, Ryan Adams-esque tunes on his guitar and endearingly mispronounced several Icelandic words.
Third was Una Stef, a young Icelandic powerhouse usually backed by a brassy band. She said she felt rather uncomfortable playing an acoustic set, but the stripped-down accompaniment (just an acoustic guitar and bass, a djembe, and a couple backup singers) allowed her marvelous voice to shine. The highlight of the set was a cover of the Destiny’s Child classic “Survivor.” No, really; trust me, it was fantastic. She made all of us feel pretty unaccomplished when she said that she wrote most of the songs on her album when she was thirteen.
Last up was everyone’s favorite (well, mine, anyway) Icelandic troubadour, Svavar Knútur. Svavar finished up the night with his trademark blend of dark but sweetly sung lyrics and hilariously inappropriate humor. I appreciated that Svavar sang a couple of his Icelandic-language songs because, as he said, he loves his language and he loves singing in it.
After the show, I hung out for quite a while, chatted with Daniela and the Sofar team a bit, got a tour of Daniela’s room and her hilariously tiny balcony (for smoking, presumably, although as she is not a smoker I suggested she might consider decorating it seasonally), and then had a lovely little chat with Leana as we walked home in the late evening (early morning, actually) darkness.
Part of the Sofar philosophy is to enjoy the show in the moment, so they do not allow photography or filming at their shows. As such, I have no photos of the evening to share with you, but I hope you can tell from my words alone that it was a magical experience.
föstudagur / friday
On Friday, I met up with my new friend Daniela and we went to the Laundromat Café for lunch (expensive and touristy, but a huge amount of tasty food, plus they have a color-organized bookshelf and an actual laundromat), then ventured to the penis museum, more properly known as the Icelandic Phallological Museum. (I am sure everyone reading this is now more determined than ever to come visit me. You may even have stopped reading this blog because you are busy looking up flights.) Anyway, as you can imagine, the museum is overpriced, gimmicky, and hilarious. What is especially hilarious is how people sort of act like it is just another respectable museum and walk around speaking in hushed, almost reverent tones – punctuated, of course, by frequent giggles.
I was hoping the gift shop would sell the documentary The Final Member, which I have been wanting to see for quite some time. It follows two men, one Icelandic and one American, who are both determined to donate the first human specimen to the museum. Alas, the documentary was nowhere to be found, although there was information about both men on display.
There was also a penis phone:
Jæja… that seems like a pretty good place to pause for now. I will be back soon to recap the rest of my first 10 days in Iceland.