On Arrivals

Well, hello there. You’ve just caught me sitting in front of a kitchen window in downtown Reykjavik, listening to the bells of Hallgrímskirka (which I can also see from the window), appreciating the lovely pink light on the bright green tin roofs as the sun slowly sets (it’s past 8:30 PM and still pretty darn bright), and listening to a last few rain drops from the recent shower dripping from the balcony above. Observe:

Idyllic, yes? Agreed. In this moment, this is just perfect. Mark’s reading in a wicker chair by another window, we’re both drinking glasses of ‘Don Simon’ Chardonnay (thanks to a timely Vínbúðin run yesterday–that’s the state-run beer/liquor/wine store, basically Iceland’s answer to the Package Store), and we’ve just finished a meal of what he’s termed ‘pizza pasta’: ‘gnocci’ (that’s what the package said, but it’s actually just pasta shells), red and yellow peppers (Iceland grown!),  (canned) mushrooms (sveppum, for the vocab-inclined), (cannned) diced tomatoes (although we had some very good cherry tomatoes the other day which were also grown in Iceland), and pizza toppur (pre-shredded mozzarella cheese). It’s cosy, to say the least.

Would that it were all cheesey, starchy meals and wonderful views, but alas, moving to a new country is like, really hard, so the last few days have actually been pretty taxing, although hugely informative and not without their high points. What follows–over the course of a few posts–is a general run-down of our first four days living in Iceland.

(Day One) Sunday, August 27: Getting There

We woke in Brooklyn at our friends’ place (thanks, friends!), slept somewhere between Halifax and Greenland, and woke up (less than five hours later) in Keflavik, Iceland. Having somehow managed to get a not insignificant portion of all of our worldly belongings into four large suitcases, one small (polka-dotted) suitcase, one giant box, and a smattering of smaller carry-ons, we piled into a ginormous SUV (thanks, Mom!), and made our way through Brooklyn to JFK. Taking a quick moment to wave goodbye to our borough, we realized that we had only just at that moment really figured out that we were leaving New York. Which is probably all for the best.

Icelandair has a really generous luggage policy (two checked bags free, two carry-ons free, and one personal item! each!), so we were pretty sure that our extra baggage charges would be minimal, and, thanks to a dime store bathroom scale with dolphins on it that we bought entirely for the purpose of weighing suitcases three days before we left, we were pretty sure that we had pulled out much of the extra weight we had (read: books) and sent it to our mothers via USPS prior to take-off. Alas, we were a bit over weight on many of our bags, but all good karma, happy vibes, luck and benevolence to Stephanie, the Airline Service Person/Flight Attendant/Supernatural Being in Disguise, who patiently and generously helped us redistribute suitcase weight, stretch checked baggage limits, and even give us an extra bag to carry some hiking boots that were pushing one suitcase over the weight limit.

Relived of our burdens–or most of them–we stopped at one of two restaurants in the terminal in front of Icelandair flights: Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill (this Sammy). Our last meal in New York was nachos and beer. And there was much rejoicing. (yay…)

Now, in case I haven’t told you this before: Icelandair is a pretty splendid airline, everyone. It’s like a mini-Icelandic tourist information center and flying cheerleading squad, winging its comfortable way toward a country which if you didn’t love before, you will certainly love by the time your flight ends. You get on board and there’s Icelandic music playing (and hip, current Icelandic music, too–hand-picked, they tell you, by a cool looking Icelandic DJ). The seat backs all have little factoids about Iceland on the headrest covers (sponsored by local outdoor-wear company 66° North), the seat-back TVs feature Icelandic TV shows, tourist documentaries, and movies, and the flight attendants all wear jaunty little retro hats over very classy buns. (Apparently, the flight attendants also have a choir?) All very enjoyable.

So, after settling in for the ride with our free mini bottles of Icelandic Glacial H2O, Mark and I turn to the movie selection and find Contraband, an action-packed thrill ride in which Mark Wahlberg, a reformed but impressively competent smuggler (really: someone actually remarks at one point–I think Giovanni Ribisi– that he is”what I call a good smuggler!”) who has to do one last job in order to save his family (Kate Beckinsale! I’m so happy you’re here!). You may not know that this completely serviceable and decently paced genre film was directed by one Balthasar Kormákur, the Icelandic director behind Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Reykjavik 101, and Jar City, but we did, and it all felt very appropriate to be watching while on our way.

We arrived at Keflavik at roughly 6 AM. It’s a small airport, but it is an international one, so it could potentially have been a bit of an ordeal to get through customs. collect our bags, etc. It wasn’t. It took maybe 2 minutes to have our visas/paperwork checked at customs (big sigh), and then 15 to round up the suitcases. Compare that with the 55 minutes it took for me to get one suitcase back from Jet Blue recently, and well, thank you, Iceland. Next we were off to pick up a rental car–no reservation (no time!)–at one of the four rental places in the airport. First one had “not a single car.” Second one, same. Third, still waiting for all rentals to be returned. Worried. Fourth and last place? Success! Hats off to that guy, too. No sooner had we loaded the very spacious Kia station wagon with a tractor diesel engine than we were driving straight off into the direct sunshine of a crisp Icelandic morning, watching the lava fields roll by while we hummed along to the lite FM selections that Iceland seems to prefer. It is simply not a trip to Iceland without copious amounts of Elton John, Al Green (if you’re lucky), and Duran Duran.

We arrived at our temporary home on Grettisgata by 8:30 AM, were quickly and quietly shuttled into our second floor room by our very nice host, and shortly after took a very long nap. The day’s only activities after that were our first trip to the Bonus grocery store to pick up a few days’ provisions, discover that we’d missed the closing of the Vínbúðin by minutes, and make our first dinner in our new home: fiskibollur (fish balls) and roasted potatoes in brown sauce, and an all Iceland-grown salad.

And that was our first day, all. Góða nótt!

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