Wednesday 25 August 2010

Visiting Vikings

I found myself surrounded by four stunningly beautiful blond Icelandic girls dancing in the throes of musical ecstasy. And before you say “OK Dave, what happened when you woke up?” I can tell you with my hand on my heart that I wasn’t dreaming. I will reveal all later in the post.

As you may have guessed from a few minor clues in my tweets and the previous blog post, I whisked Mrs PM away on a weekend to Reykjavik as a present for her fortieth birthday.

Mrs PM has always wanted to visit Iceland and, as is typical of her, she had to pick the year that a volcano erupted leading to the closure of most of European airspace for almost a week.

Eyjafjallajökull, bored sitting there twiddling it’s rocks, suddenly decided that it had had enough and proceeded to blow its top and announce its presence not only to Iceland, but also to the entire world.

“Look at me! I am Eyjafjallajökull! You may not be able to say my name but here I am anyway – and I’m bloody livid.”

I watched the news thinking: isn’t that just typical? In my last post I hinted about a phenomenon called the “Lisa effect” (Lisa is Mrs PM’s name for those who didn’t read the post). My beloved is scatterbrained (by her own admission) and bad luck and trouble do sometimes have a tendency to follow her around. I will expand on this phenomenon in future posts but for now, dear reader, just take my word for it.

Thankfully, the volcano must have calmed down a little because we were able to go on holiday in May and also our trip to see the land that spawned the volcano became reality on Friday last week.

When it came to packing, I foolishly decided that Reykjavik in the summer would be just a little cooler than Manchester in August. The BBC weather forecast confirmed my thoughts indicating temperatures of 14 degrees during the day for the duration of the trip. I packed a couple of T-shirts, a couple of shirts and a thin leather jacket. Mrs PM packed her autumn/winter coat.

We arrived late on Friday afternoon and it soon became clear that Iceland was expensive. We caught a bus to the centre of Reykjavik at the cool cost of 4500 Icelandic Krona (ISK) which translates to around £30 for a return trip. A taxi would have cost 8000 ISK or £50 each way.

We were keen to get out and see as much of the city as quickly as possible. Having dumped our bag we made our way to the city centre, approximately twenty minutes walk from the hotel and explored to get our bearings.

The temperature was a little cool I thought and I felt the cold wind biting through my thin leather jacket and shirt. I began to regret not bringing a warmer jacket.
We explored the city for a little while, hopping into a bar when the temperature became just a little too chilly. I bought two pints of Icelandic beer and handed over 1600 ISK: beer was £5 a pint which is roughly twice the price of beer in the UK.

We found a nice little restaurant called Caruso where we enjoyed a lovely meal followed by a visit to one or two bars before retiring for the night. Ominously, Mrs PM said “We have a big day tomorrow; we need a good night’s sleep.”
On Saturday morning at 9am, I peered out of the hotel window and saw a totally blue sky with sunshine to match. I assumed that the temperature would match and dressed in a T-shirt and thin jacket. I was partly right; the temperature was definitely warmer and we enjoyed a stroll around the city centre again watching insane people finishing off a marathon.

Saturday was a big day in Reykjavik. Not only was there a marathon, it was also the Reykjavik Culture festival. The crowds were out in force, applauding lots of very brave athletes as they finished their massive run around the streets of the city. I’ve flippantly referred to them as “insane” but they all put me to shame. There were all sorts of people: old people, young people, fat people, thin people, tall people, short people and some weird people.

We saw one guy with half of his leg missing who had run the marathon with prosthesis, which is a massive achievement. I was in awe of the guy.
At lunchtime, we returned to our hotel to catch a bus to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Mrs PM had told me that visitors enjoy bathing in warm waters that are rich in minerals and that they cake themselves in mud before washing it all off.

My weird imagination ran amok. I envisaged myself covered from head to foot in dirty brown mud, looking more “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” than a human being. I had told Mrs PM in no uncertain terms that there was absolutely no way I was going anywhere near to any mud at all. I was totally wrong on so many counts.

Before entering the water, it was mandatory to have a shower to adhere to the strict hygiene requirements. And just in case I had any doubts about how to take a shower, a diagram of a man indicated exactly where I had to pay particular attention, including my nether regions, if you get my meaning.

Suitably washed and clean, I wandered down to the water and heard Mrs PM calling me from in the water. The outside temperature was now quite nippy and I gingerly stepped in expecting it to be slightly warm. In fact, at an average of 40 degrees, it was a bit of a shock to the system. I gasped as I plunged in; it was like climbing into a very warm bath. The water was milky and opaque and very pleasant. Mrs PM and I drifted around in the water, encountering the occasional hot spot where the temperature rose a couple of degrees. Sulphurous steam billowed across certain parts of the pool with a slightly offensive odour.

Mrs PM led me to some buckets and asked if I wanted to put some mud on my face. To my surprise, the mud was in fact white and called silica mud and others were smearing it on their face and shoulders. Mrs PM scooped up a handful from a bucket and covered here face in it. I thought, what the hell, and did the same. After around ten minutes, the mud had hardened. I laughed at Mrs PM’s appearance without realising that I looked the same – a berk with a white mud mask.

“Fancy a sauna?” asked Mrs PM.

I had never had a sauna so I followed her into a steam filled room. It was bloody hot I can tell you. An older guy walked in and sat down. Trying to make conversation I said “Hot isn’t it?”

“No shit, Sherlock,” he replied. He didn’t really. “No – this is mild?” were his true words.

Mild? Crikey – I was melting. After ten minutes I had had enough and plunged back into the relatively cooler white waters of the spa.
Before we left, we enjoyed a cold beer while still in the water. It was a wonderful contrast and very relaxing.

The one annoying thing that marred our trip was the loss of our camera. Mrs PM wanted to photos of us in mud masks, which I must admit would have been funny to post here. But the camera had gone missing while we were getting changed (we’re not sure who had it at the time). It was a sad ending to a truly wonderful experience.

Back in Reykjavik, Mrs PM had plans. When I look back on the events of Saturday night, I can’t help but think that Mrs PM was trying to prove that she was still able to party at the age of forty. She warned me that she wanted to fully enjoy a night out in one of the party capitals of the world. I, on the other hand, recalled a similar night out in Hong Kong a couple of years ago (you can read about it here). The memory of how I felt the next day dictated how we would approach this particular evening; have a rest, eat and go out later.

It sort of worked. The Reykjavik Cultural Festival put paid to that. Curious about the event, we left earlier than planned and headed for the centre of town down the lively shopping street called Laugavegur. Hundreds of people were making their way down the street, some drinking beer from cans and bottles, including a very well dressed lady. The street had been closed to traffic and the atmosphere was energetic, with people smiling and laughing and clearly under the influence of alcohol. Within the space of about a hundred yards we saw three separate musical acts performing in the street; a dance band, an Indie band and finally, at the rear of a rock bar called Dillons, a strange band led by a large gentleman playing a trombone. It was an excuse for the first beer of the night, so I persuaded Mrs PM to watch this last band, citing my own ability to play the trombone as an excuse.

The beer was nice but the cold weather made it uncomfortable. The wind at this point was very strong, turning Laugavegur into a freezing wind tunnel. Wearing just a shirt and a thin leather jacket, the wind tore away any thermal protection that I had and I shivered in the cold. The locals were all wearing woolly hats, thick gloves, scarves and winter coats; I must have looked like a complete idiot to these people.

After Dillons, we ate in a crowded restaurant and attacked the night again. Determined to stay out as late as possible, Mrs PM led me to an Irish bar, called The Celtic Cross. As I was being served a massive explosion erupted outside, signaling the firework display that would end the evening (it was midnight at this point). Thankfully from the window, I was able to see most of the display in the warmth of the pub. Mrs PM on the other hand joined the throngs outside; it was far too cold for me.

A drunken Icelander raised his beer to me and shouted something in his mother tongue. I didn’t have a beer at this point so I just raised an empty hand. He staggered over to me and said something else, staring at me as if I had wobbled into the bar from another planet. It was quite clear that I was a tourist so he raised his hand. I understood – I gave him a high five and he rewarded me with a cheer before leaving the bar.

The firework display was spectacular – one of the best I have seen. Mrs PM returned to the bar and we managed to get a seat, which was just as well because suddenly the place filled up with revellers. I have never seen a bar fill so quickly with people.

We visited a couple of other places and the music playing was bizarre, songs that I hadn’t heard for decades like (Si Si) Je Suis Un Rockstar by Bill Wyman and Live is Life by Opus. We heard the latter song twice in different bars – it must be a big favourite in Iceland because people began to sing – sadly including Mrs PM.

One bar we went to, called Kofi Tómasar Frænda (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) was a café by day, a bar by evening and then a night club – the smallest club I have ever seen. As we watched, the tables were gradually taken away leaving a big space for dancing.

The next bar was actually a night club and as we approached I had a sick feeling inside. Yes – Mrs PM wanted “a boogie” which meant that the place would be playing the worst music in the world. The place was called B5 and eventually we got in. It was packed to the rafters with young Icelanders. I started to feel old.

As I sipped my beer and grimaced internally at the dreadful dance music, Mrs PM excused herself to go to the toilet, leaving me standing there on my own. It gave me the opportunity to people watch – and I enjoyed it immensely. The average age of the place was, I reckoned, between 25 and 30. Mrs PM and I probably raised the upper range to 30 to be fair. The women were a young guy’s dream; tall, nubile with blonde hair cascading over their shoulders and wearing extremely sexy outfits.

Now before you chastise me for being a dirty old man, let me say in my defence that I am a man and I can’t help it. I watched them, fascinated by their youth and good looks. They responded by showing how oblivious they were to my existence.

Mrs PM took an age to go to the toilet, which was hardly surprising given the number of people in the place. More people were coming in and something had to give. Before I knew it, I was being squeezed into a tiny corner by the crowd and, in particular, the four very attractive women I mentioned at the start of the post. They gradually became aware of my presence but continued to dance around me as if I were a statue. Perhaps they thought I was an old uncle or something like that.

When Mrs PM fought her way back through the crowd, she approached and saw me surrounded by these lovely ladies. She managed to get to me and laughed.

“You look like you were enjoying yourself,” she said. Before I could answer, she added, “And you looked terrified.”

To be honest, I was a little wary because of the closeness of these strangers but I certainly enjoyed my minor flirt with youth.

We left soon after and entered possibly the most crowded pub in the world. It was called “The English Pub” and we were probably the only English people in there. It was so crowded that it took me a full ten minutes to fight my way to the toilet while Mrs PM fought her way to the bar. An impatient woman behind Mrs PM was so frustrated at her lack of progress that she reached over Mrs PM’s shoulders and hauled people out of the way, propelling Mrs PM straight to the bar. I made it back from the toilet just in time to see Mrs PM knock over my pint of ale – an act that made me wince, given the prices here - and, of course I had to fight my way BACK to the bar. Before we left this overcrowded drinking pit, I managed to attract the attention of an Icelander who promptly gave me a huge hug. Shame it was a bloke.

By now it was almost three o’clock in the morning and my tired old bones were urging me to go to bed. Mrs PM had other ideas and dragged me to Reykjavik’s most popular night club – a place called Nasa. Thankfully, the entrance fee was a whopping 2500 ISK (roughly £15) and common sense prevailed.

We had one for the road at a final bar and wandered back through the crowds to our hotel. People were drunk and boisterous and still queuing up to get into the numerous bars and clubs. What surprised me most was the lack of police. In Manchester on a Saturday night, the police are out in force to maintain order amongst the drunken rabble. In Reykjavik, there wasn’t even a hint of trouble. On the contrary, people were laughing and dancing (probably to keep warm).

Remembering my experience in Hong Kong, I drank approximately two gallons of water before retiring for the night.

I awoke the next day feeling slightly hung over but we managed to get out and spend our last day exploring the city for one final time.

The final evening was spent in a traditional Icelandic restaurant where I tried something new for the first time; mink whale. It tasted like steak.

We’re back in one piece now and despite the rain in Manchester, at least I am warm.

I would recommend Reykjavik to you, dear reader, with no hesitation whatsoever. However, here are a few words of advice based on things I learned from the trip:

(1) Take your wallet – you will need it and you will need to keep feeding it.

(2) Don’t go out to paint the town red until midnight at the earliest.

(3) Make sure that you dress for winter. The days are fine but the wind at night will slice you in two.

(4) Never ever tell your missus that the waitress in the café is absolutely gorgeous – unless you don’t mind being walloped in public (I have to say she was stunning – long blonde hair, very pretty and well worth the pain).

(5) I should really stop going to night clubs full of gorgeous blonde women. I’m not 25 any more - I am simply a discotheque wreck. Mind you – it was very nice.

Next time I will take earplugs to protect me from the dreadful music.


Pandora Behr said...

I'm ever so envious - one place I've always wanted to go. Glad you had a great time.

Kath Lockett said...

As I read this, I kept thinking, 'Why doesn't Wavy Davy just BUY himself a warmer jacket?' but then realised you'd probably have to sell your car to do so.

Sounds like an incredible place though and thanks for allowing me to 'travel' there through your entertaining eyes.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pandora,

It's only a short hop from England (two hours) so it's not beyond the realms of possibility on your forthcoming trip.

Be wary if you are on a budget though.




Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

My car's a wreck so I'd probably only have been able to buy a woolly hat.

Next time I shall be more prepared.




River said...

I only ever think about places like Iceland when I'm melting here in our Aussie summers.
It does sound like a lovely holiday though, even with only your thin jacket.

Scars Beneath The Skin said...

Entertaining read, as ever Dave!


Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

I've experienced Aussie heat and I melted too. I prefer being slightly cold because you can add layers to warm yourself up ... if you aren't stupid enough to leave them in Manchester that is.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks - I will now turn my attention to dredging my memory for Amsterdam memories for you - if I can dig deep enough that is.




Scars Beneath The Skin said...

Why don't you whisk Lisa off for an Amsterdam jaunt, then you could blog about it and it might give me some inspiration for my crime thriller.


Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Andy,

We went to Amsterdam a few years ago - but I will refresh my memory if you treat me! I'm sure Lisa will help.




Scars Beneath The Skin said...

Sounds like a good idea! How many orange juices will it take to refresh yours and Lisa's Amsterdam memories?


A Blog In The Rough said...

Dearest PM -

Sounds like you had a cool time. :) Now I'll have to put this on my "to visit list." I'll have to get Mark to take me there, and you can help out by reporting more about the lovely blonds.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Lynette,

Quite literally "cool" I can tell you.


I would recommend it definitely. And I think you and Mark would love it.