Wednesday, 29 October 2008


I didn't hear about Iceland Airwaves until about a year ago. It is a music festival. I wasn't even planning on going. But here I am, in Iceland, with a wristband, standing in line with a mix of Icelanders and foreigners and sometimes getting in to venues and sometimes not and pushing my way to a place where I can actually see and being embarrassed to get out my camera but doing it any way.

The Bands
I actually got my ticket (there's only a wristband for sale, which lets you into all the venues; there are no single ticket sales, poo poo) only because I saw For a Minor Reflection listed on the bill. WHO? You ask. They're due to play with Sigur Rós (whose music, I must admit, I'm only partially partial to) on their UK tour in November. I had heard their music while in a cafe on my third day here in Iceland, and I ended up paying more attention to the stereo than to the conversations because of FAMR. Post-rock is awesome. Anyway, I had so many chances to see FAMR but I had missed them all and I thought I would be doing my laboratory for class during their last show. I panicked, but instead I didn't and it was good because I got to see them at 12 Tónar, a great little CD shop. And because this Portuguese band called Mau didn't show up, I have another chance to see them!
Anyway, during the night, when I was trying to get into a venue called NASA, I looked behind me and the band members were right there. I thought I was just seeing things but seriously they introduced themselves to another guy standing in line as themselves.
As a "journalist" and business card collector I know I can't be shy, but when it comes to people I admire...not even celebrities or people who are famous or anything, I can be really shy.
So to introduce myself and shake their hands was a pretty big thing for me. That was cool, but they were pretty drunk I must admit. It's funny because they're playing so many gigs yet they had to stand in line with everyone else. I loved that.

Anyway, on to other bands. People really really loved this band called Miracle Fortress from Montreal. I was about to buy their CD but gawked at the price and thought, "I probably could get it for cheaper in Canada."

Who else? Biffy Clyro from the UK was good, We Made God, Æla,...most of these bands I probably will never hear again, but whatever. Therese Aune from Norway was a good solo act, and also Ólafur Arnalds with his accompanying string section.

Final Fantasy came and I was really proud of Canada because he was getting really good reviews.

The Philosophy
I don't believe in going to concerts and festivals to get drunk and make a fool of oneself. I believe in listening to the music, sometimes dancing if it's appropriate, sometimes moshing if also appropriate, mostly nodding the head. Maybe one beer is fine if you enjoy that kind of thing, but people getting wasted in crowded venues is not my kind of fun. LISTEN TO THE MUSIC!

I'm sorry that this was such a fragmented entry. It was a good experience for me, not the greatest festival ever, but still okay as a distraction.

For a Minor Reflection

Final Fantasy!

Ane Brun. She performed that evening and sold CDs at a bookstore. I was having dinner then. I searched all over town the next day looking for her CD but it was all sold out!


The ridiculously pink wristband. Yes, my camera is very bad at closeups.

A singer from Æla, meaning 'to puke'. Yes, he's wearing underwear...a diaper. Apparently he always does this every time he performs this song. Except this time he went out the door and down the street.

Therese Aune

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

I am Bored and Do Not Like My Name and Should be Doing Work

Here are some comments about the name Jennifer from a forum about names.

Here are some key guides to pronouncing names if you ever plan on going to Scandinavian Europe.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Icelandic Hospitality

Only 2 months ago I was still vegetarian (except I did eat a Tim Horton's chicken burger and others over the summer) and in first year of university I had joined the Animal Rights Group on campus. Then I came here and all my beliefs were shot to hell. I had horse within the first week of my coming here, and lamb. I still haven't had shark yet, but I've been told that's pretty disgusting. Another delicacy they have here is ram's testicles. Yum.

Well, last week I went to try sheep's head. It is offered frozen in grocery stores, but we went to the main bus terminal cafeteria where they advertise it. Reason told me that it's more of a 'waste' to throw out the head than to eat it for 1400 Kr (with a side of salad, coffee, mashed potatoes and mashed turnips, no less). I thought they would serve it to us after deep-frying it, without the eye or the teeth bones or the nasal cavity fluids. They did none of that. The only difference between the one we were served and a live one was that the brains were out and it was cooked. O, the person I shared my portion with, chose a blackened head for some odd reason which made it even more disgusting. It reminded me of the ground covered in volcanic ash that I see every day. I ate a little bit, covered it in lots of ketchup, poked at the skin a bit with my knife. The worst thing was the smell. They could've at least covered it up with some seasonings but it was just plain skin, bone, flesh, cartilage, and whatever else sheep's head is made of. O and L had an eye-eating competition (fear factor Icelandic style). Bleh. I left shortly after.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Living Life Through an Anglophone Lens

I was picking out Nordic movies with a roommate of mine the other day at the library. She is Slovakian, is ethnically Hungarian, is fluent in German, is studying Swedish and Icelandic, and understands more French and Spanish than me. So here I am finding all these great movies but having to put them down just because they have no subtitles in English. She asked, "Why aren't you taking those?" and I thought it would be an obvious answer to her, that I won't be able to watch it if the subtitles weren't English. To her, there would be no impediment. Until then I hadn't realized that I used English as a crutch to access other cultures. Knowing a language fluently is having a key to some other world.

Up until a few years ago I refrained from reading anything but English literature because I didn't want to read translated books - I thought it would skewer the whole purpose of reading a novel. Of course, I gave up and read Italo Calvino via William Weaver and got more and more into world literature.
But the fundamental question remains: is it better to have read a book and lost most of what is happening than to have never read it at all? The English language can only do so much.

I regret that I will never be able to access so many cultures because of my lack of skills in that language. It's great that so many things are translated into English, but I will always feel I'm living in a pseudo-world where everything is slightly off, or has been fitted to fit in with the limitations of English.

A Sentinel of the Morning

My room faces a grassy slope, which is surrounded by trees. Behind those trees is a walkway that everybody takes to get to classes. For people's first classes of the day, it is still dark, but the walkway is illuminated by lights. So I see groups of people coming in bus-loads and traffic light-loads. They look like robbers, thieves, with their dark shapes and bended backs (because of knapsacks and the wind). I feel like I am in a Samurai movie and I am the only one up at this time of night, watching from my window, guarding a whole city.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

I Give Up

I'm really busy these days so I think it's better if I just post some pictures with captions of under them to describe the rest of my Westfjords trip.

It's inevitable that some people will say I have put no pictures of people. But hey. To each their own.

Just imagine yourself in the car. It is all green rolling hills until you turn a bend and see these looming fjords in the distance, one after another.

Finally, made it to Ísafjörður! But we only stayed there for about 5 minutes before moving on. I'd like to spend a day or week there.


An emergency shelter. Inside there were a lot of supplies and stuff. Canada should have these; it'd be especially useful for the winter.

You must remember that all this while we are heading southwest. This is a reconstruction of the first Icelandic prime minister's house.
Pretty waterfalls!
A wrecked ship on the beach. Notice the dying light.

The westernmost part of Europe (politcally).

And finally, the northern lights. Technically, I could see them anytime I want in Canada but I'm always in the city.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


We arrived at a Hostelling International hostel in Reykjanes (smoky peninsula). As we were driving up to the building, J exclaimed, "The place we're staying at used to be a school." and I thought, "Oh, cool." We stopped in the parking lot of an imposing building and went inside. No one was there to greet us so we wandered around the foyer until X rang the doorbell. A man came out and said rates were bla and bla and such. L, I think it was L, asked, "Who else is staying here?" and the man answered, "You." I thought, "Cool, we have the whole place to ourselves. It's such a huge building." We got shown our rooms and the kitchen downstairs. I went by myself to put away the food and as I was coming up I took an extra flight of stairs and came onto this hallway full of pictures of graduating classes of students. That was the first sign of something being odd and spooky. I quickly went back down and dismissed it from my head. I had dinner, then as I was going back upstairs again something reminded me of The Shining, but also The Simpsons where Mr. Burns said, "That's odd. The blood usually stops on the second floor," so instead of being freaked out I laughed to myself. Then I went upstairs (my room was on the first floor) into a game room/living room where Lj and O were. All the books and games were old. Then O said to Lj, pointing at a photograph or painting of a priest on the wall in the middle of the room, "Doesn't this priest look strange? His hand is missing." I swallowed my fears and went back down. We went to the swimming pool for the night and as I was walking with L to the pool he said, "This place is haunted." Oh, great. A then also informed me that this place was haunted, her having been informed by O. She said, "If I see a ghost I'm going to go to the manager and complain." The story was getting more elaborate, like how people who had stayed would commit suicide, even though the ghosts were purportedly 'friendly'. And that in Icelandic culture, ghosts are solid and that Icelanders wrestle with them. And the fact that the next day would be a full moon. I'm writing this now, on the 13 of October, but how I wish we had gone on the Friday of a year where it lands on the 13th. That would've creeped me out.

Anyway, YF started to swim (he had never swam before he came to Iceland) and A was like, "Don't drown!" someone else was like, "The first victim is usually in the pool."

There was a completely dark steam bath, sort of like a shed, and the door creaked when you opened it. I didn't go in because it looked like you would never be able to come out again. J later said that with the drops of water continuously falling on you, it seemed to be a spooky place.
And the showers were scary too...
When we got out of the pool, we met in the foyer. By this time A was getting more and more freaked out (and of course other people had fun at making her more and more creeped out) and I was also creeped out too but my rationalities kicked in, and I was making jokes to steady my mind. We lounged in the foyer and devised plans to escape. People mentioned movies like The Shining, Hostel, Saw. We looked in the guestbook. One of the entries said, "Peculiar place. Reminds me of The Shining. Unique." Umm, no. Spooky.

In my mind, I knew it was irrational. But then it was the perfect setting for a horror story. A group of tourists. The middle of nowhere. No other guests. A huge, abandoned school. A creepy caretaker. Let the games begin.

I joined the others in a walk to the beach. The goal was to see the Northern Lights but they weren't that strong that night. Semi-tripping over rocks and grass and sheep, I managed to get to the sea. There was plenty of white coral and we labelled it popcorn-rocks. We took some pictures and headed back. By this time I had forgotten almost all about the spookiness.
Then we went upstairs and turned on the TV in the living room. Then time for bed.

Here are some pictures. I almost don't want to post these. I don't even know why I took them.

The kitchen/former classroom.

The scary living room.

A view of the outside.

The hallway with all the portraits.

Just for you to get a sense of where we the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

First Day of Westfjords

Our first day, we left Reykjavík at 9:30. Of course I woke up at 7. I had lots of time to pack and clean my room, then I just sat around for an hour wondering when the car would come. By the way, as I'm writing this, I'm getting up at 7:30/8:00 now, and I think it's due to the darkness! This is sweet stuff, since in the peak of summer in Ottawa I would get up at 5:20 due to the sun.

We took the ring road west and to the 5.7 km bridge under Hvalfjörður to cross to west Iceland. We stopped at Borganes en route to stock up on groceries, then stopped again at Borgarfjörður. There was a really cool hiking place, sort of like a mini-caldera. Inside was a huge crater.

After passing many landscapes, including snow, we stopped at a waterfall.

At first I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, after going to Skaftafell, any other waterfall would just be a disappointment. Then I saw these two cute dogs come running up to the car begging for food. I had to get out. I sorely miss my dog Hershey at home and there are more cats than dogs in Reykjavík. In fact, all the dogs I've seen in the city are just those puny toy dogs. These followed us up the waterfall and one of them started drinking from it. I wanted to capture the cuteness of it with my camera but he stopped drinking before that could happen.

By this time we were almost at Drangajökull, the glacier in the northwest, but it was getting late.
We quickly headed back down south as the sky light dimmed, down to Reykjanes where our hostel waited.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Ring Road, and Highway 61

Unlike other countries, there are not many options for which road to take. So you cannot take into consideration how much time you have or the weather conditions. Traffic conditions are easy. Once we reached the Westfjords, I think we saw a maximum of 15 cars along the whole way.
The Ring Road is the road that travels all around Iceland. But to reach the fjords, we had to go onto highway 61.

There is a song by a Canadian artist that I downloaded many years ago. It's called "The Long Road to Ísafjorður by Sabola, an electronica artist. Back then, I thought the land was some fantasy place Sabola had made up. Many years passed and I forgot all about the artist and the song. It wasn't until this summer, when I had a shuffle list playing on my computer, that I saw the name. I had been reading lots of guidebooks by then and had recalled seeing the name somewhere. I decided that I must must must go to the Westfjords. It's a long way because although it's only ~325 kilometres from Reykjavík, it takes about 5-6 hours to get there. This is where perimeter versus distance factors in. The roads, as you can see in the map I provided, zigzag all along the perimeter of the northwest coast.

By the way, Ísafjorður is by far the largest settlement in the Westfjords with a population of about 3,000.


Amazing. Amazing amazing amazing. I'm so glad I got to go to the Westfjords; I love Reykjavík but I really needed this break. It was for two days. Most of it was spent in the car.
For the next few days I will be posting events my trip. This is better than one go because I will get tired of writing and not write as much detail as I should.

Here is a teaser pic:

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Random Pictures

I've been putting off uploading these pictures because I thought they were mundane until I realized today that it actually isn't for people who are not actually in Iceland. They range in date from my first day in the country until today.

Another view of the pond. I posted a picture of the same thing in my first entry.

School grounds.

The natural and environmental sciences building to the left, the Nordic House to the right.

People eating dinner. Já. Oh, did I mention that the stoves and electrical outlets can quit working at any time?

My room.

The main building. The campus from another angle. I think it's tilted to the side a bit.

Me, downtown.

My dormitory - outside. I live on the other side, actually.

Language Lesson

Now for something more fun...languages!
As some of you may or may not know, I am taking Icelandic language courses along with other courses that are directly related to my program back in Ottawa.
As few of you may know, I am very bad at learning languages even if I am very motivated.

Here I list some difficulties with my Icelandic. In phonetic and phonology classes I would always try pronouncing these in class and then laugh and be glad that English didn't have these, but now this is the real thing!:
  • it's hard to pronounce the trilled [r] and also they have many different types of [l]'s: a voiced and voiceless [l] and then a voice and voiceless velar [l]
  • in general the approximants/liquids are hard.
  • phonologically, there are no voiced stops. the contrast is between aspirated and unaspirated stops.
  • there is a fricative velar, which sounds like [g] except that you never fully close or release. it's the first language where i've encountered that and it's very exciting!
  • they have voiceless nasal stops. they are a bit weird and come at the end so it's a bit difficult
  • there are a lot of consonant clusters that I'm not used to, like þvo. Try saying (thvo) without adding any extra sound between th and v!
With diphthongs and monophthongs together, the language has 13 vowels. That's a lot.

Of course you came here to read this entry and I'm just blabbering on about linguistic stuff. You're thinking, "I want to know some phrases!"
Well, here you go:

Hello - goðan daginn
Goodbye - bless
See you - sjáumst
I like learning Iceland - Mér finnst gaman að læra íslensku

And so on and so forth.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Iceland is Going Down!

Glitnir and Landsbannki banks have been acquired by the government. Discussions ensue. I wouldn't be so nervous if people would stop talking about it. Then again, it's more exciting than talking about the weather. What sucks is that Icelandic food is so dependent on imports that all we will be able to afford to eat are probably domestic tomatoes, mushrooms (sveppir), bananas and chocolate bars. People in my residence have been going to Bonús and actually stalking up on canned products like they do in the movies! This one person bought 14 cans of beans, while another one bought 12 cans of tuna. Hmm. Maybe I should go too, before the prices go over the roof.
Of course I´ve been completely ignorant of economics until now so take what I´m saying with a can of tuna.

On to a completely different topic. I just can't get over how small this city is. Wherever or whenever I walk, I am bound to meet someone I know along the way. No one is a stranger, everybody is somehow connected to everybody else, and not in the sense of six degrees of separation either. More like one or two degrees. So even if I go out alone for a walk (or to Bonús 30 minutes away) I'm never really alone because I will always stop and chat to somebody on the way. Or if you go into any building, say a café, someone you know will be sitting there. I find that's what makes living in Reykjavík so unique - the big city amenities with the village feel.

Friday, 3 October 2008

It's Going to be a Long Winter

I do love harsh environments and cold climates. Hence my moving from Toronto to Ottawa, and then from there to Iceland. Winter has come down upon us people living in Iceland on October 2. In Canada, I used to judge the harshness of the season depending on how cold it was at Halloween. Now, it's before Thanksgiving and this has happened. Last night I had to pull out my winter jacket. I was holding out because it's sort of a last resort jacket. Oh well. A student from North Dakota says that this could happen where he's from, but I've never had this in the southern latitudes of Ontario. The wind and sun is quickly melting the snow away already.

Here is some proof of the sudden change in weather:

In the afternoon. Beautiful, sunny, not that cold, no sign of impending snow.

In the morning. Obviously not the same place as above. But hopefully you get the picture.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

I Can't Sleep At Night!

*Disclaimer: You know how I am. I can complain a lot. This message below is sort of a whiny complaint.*

After a hard day of being almost blown to pieces by the wind and hours of school, I finally lie down to sleep. I fall asleep right away, but then I start to think-dream. In my dreams the króna, the currency of Iceland, keeps on falling and falling while the Canadian Dollar remains relatively stable. I wake up to realize that this is not a dream and every couple of hours I cannot help but keep on waking up to this nightmare. This has been happening for the past couple of days (the not being able to sleep, not the downfall--that has been happening for weeks).

One of the first things on my mind when I got here was to transfer most of what I saved for this year to Króna land. Almost right after I did that, the exchange rate began to fall, fall, fall. When I got here it was 100 Kr=0.78 dollars. Now it is at about 100 Kr=1.02 dollars. Of course I am no financial analyst and I did not have the foresight (in fact I was thinking of transferring ALL the money in my bank account at once until my father questioned the procedure). Even before I came here I was advised to just used debit/credit cards (with either a 2.5% fee or a $5 charge each time).

It's not like I need the money - I prepared for a bad exchange rate - but some people are on scholarship, some people are working making a lot compared to Canada's low low wages, some people are doing both. Some people are using their credit cards. I just feel like I'm getting ripped off every single time I make a transaction. I deserve better bang for my buck.


There I got that off my back. Enough of that. In other news, a group of us wanted to go explore the Westfjords this weekend but we heard it's snowing there already and that some of the roads may be impassable. That means I may have to wait until at least April or May to go. And from October onwards, the bus companies are now closed until May. I can physically feel life beginning to shut down day by day - the dying light, the dropping temperatures (yesterday it was 3 degrees), the unavailable service. I came to Iceland to travel around the country but now I'm stuck in Reykjavík! I must find a way to get out somehow.