Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I don't know why more people don't know about Iceland. Maybe because it's cold and people like to vacation in warm areas. All the better for those who go there, even the tourist areas are not overrun with tourists. In a word, it's supper awesome and one of the most unique places I've been. I plan on saying a lot of bad things about everywhere I go, but Iceland may get off easy. They have active volcanoes, bays full of icebergs, glaciers, waterfalls, lava fields, viking horses, hot springs, geysers, tectonic plate rifts, wale watching (and eating), fishing, diving, hiking, glacier skiing, river rafting and more. Here's some bits and pieces roughly following our trip.

Click-it or Ticket.
We all love the California campaign that warns us about the stat's real reason for having a police force. Iceland is great, but you do still have to wear seat belts. The surprise is that you also have to wear seat belts when on a bus. They have a lot of common sense laws like this. It's as if they listen to the complaints we make about our laws and make the appropriate adjustments to theirs. Here are some examples.
  1. You can't purchase handguns or automatic/semi-automatic weapons in Iceland. They have the 3rd lowest murder rate in the world and haven't had a murder since 2007. (or at least they haven't found any bodies, amazing what a little lava will do.
  2. You can't wear a ski mask while protesting (or any other form of face covering). If there were any Muslims in Iceland they would be very upset.
  3. You can't give your kid an embarrassing name. If the name is not already in the list of names used in Iceland it has to be approved by a government panel.
  4. You can't have something on sale for longer than 6 weeks. If you do then it is said that the sale price has become the normal price so you are not allowed to advertise it as on sale any more. Mattress and rug shops in the US would definitely be against this law.
Not all laws make sense though. It is illegal to own a lizard, snake or turtle because in the early nineties someone had a turtle and died of salmonella poisoning. It was illegal until 2002 to box or own any boxing paraphernalia. Amateur boxing is now allowed but professional boxing is still illegal. I don't think we are missing out on any great boxers from this country of 319,000 pasty crackers. Placing the Iceland flag on underwear or on any product not made in Iceland is also illegal. Using my hidden camera I found several scofflaws in souvenir shops though, and I bet many of the souvenirs I didn't bother to look at are made overseas as well.
These were in a shop in a town of 300 people and all the clothes in the show were made right in the same building. Apparently the people of that town can sew because there were about 20 sewing stations in the back. Unfortunately no one taught them how to spell, or they just wanted to point out that their country is an island. White nights We arrived during the time when Iceland experiences white nights. On clear days the sun is visible all night. Luckily there are few clear days in Iceland. Even when it is cloudy it is lighter out than it should be. Here's some night shots I took on a cloudy night.
Leif Ericson statue at Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik, Born in Iceland and believed to be the first European to land in North America.
You can see it can get dark when it is very cloudy.  

Fuck the Vikings
On our first day there we walked into a small bar on Reykjavik's main street just as a large man was stumbling out with drool coming from his mouth and blood dripping from his nose and mustache. The bar was more like a tiny cafeteria inside with no music and one small TV. There were a couple tables with folding chairs around them, a white tile floor and a small bar in the corner. As I looked around I thought maybe this wasn't the best place for us to be, but Val didn't seem to concerned so I ordered 2 beers and as we turned to sit down a large drunk man walked right up to us and just stared at me. "Shit, he must have sent the last guy packing". I brushed by him and sat down without incident though. Now he sat down at the next table and I was really thinking he might keep approaching us till something happened. We started talking with a guy at the table on our other side and everything seemed to be fine though. I asked him what happened to the guy who had walked out and he said the guy was a cook on a ship and only came into dock every couple months, so he drank a lot when he was in town. No further explanation though.
    Then absolutely nothing happened. We started chatting with everyone and found that when one patron at the bar would say "Fuck the Vikings" several others would repeat it 'fuck the vikings, fuck the vikings'. Apparently Iceland likes to promote it's Viking heritage, and it definitely has one, but the majority of the people there are not descendents of Vikings but instead of English and Irish slaves brought over by the Vikings. They said Vikings would stop by in England or Ireland and pick up a bunch of slaves. There would be 1 Viking for every 10 slaves and every person in Iceland has traced their genealogy back to their relatives that originally came there, so they know who the Vikings are and who the slaves are. So many Icelanders don't seem to happy with the constant reference to their Viking heritage. I guess we were in a slave bar, the Viking bars are much nicer.  

Red, Yellow, Green
Not every post will be so long, here's a nice short one. Stop lights in Iceland turn yellow before turning green so you have time to get ready and start moving.  

If it aint broken, break it
Apparently it is very popular in Iceland to smash bottles when done drinking from them. On large party nights (Friday and Saturday) hordes of people will go drinking downtown and when they are done many of them will smash the bottles they are carrying on the ground. Young people, old people, everyone. They treat it like popping packing bubbles. When a whole bottle was spotted by one middle aged woman she rushed over and smashed it. They must have great clean up crews though because there is very little glass on the ground during the day. Possibly related to this I was finishing my beer as the bar was closing one night and the 'bouncer' poured it in a cup for me and sent us out on the streets.  

The Blue Lagoon
If you are going to Europe and can book a stop over for a good 4 hours in Iceland you can get a buss to the blue lagoon. It's only about 1/2 hour from the airport and even has places you can store you luggage. A couple things about the Lagoon.
  1. Many hot springs have a strong sulfur smell, but there is no such smell as the Lagoon.
  2. It is not overcrowded. It's big for a hot spring but isn't an expansive area. We got there early so I thought it would fill up as the day went on like a Los Angeles beach on Cinco de Mayo. But people came and went throughout the day and it always seemed fairly private.
  3. They have a swim up bar but for some reason you don't get that creepy 'these guys have been in here all day drinking' feeling that you get in Vegas.
  4. The lagoon naturally creates a silica mud that is good for the skin. People rub it on their faces and walking around looking like zombies. Do not rub the mud from the bottom of the Lagoon (under your feet) on your face or anywhere else. I had originally thought the naturally occurring mud I felt under my feet must be the magic silica mud. I picked up a small handful of the mud and was presented with a gray mass of half mud half hair. Yep the bottom of the Lagoon is one giant shower drain that apparently never gets cleaned. I frickin loved the Blue Lagoon but they could use a guy with a rake cleaning up the bottom occasionally. Or if they just warned you not to pick anything up off the bottom, what you don't know can't hurt you. In their defense most of the Lagoon has a semi hard calcite bottom, it's only toward the back that the mud seems to gather. The actual silica mud can be found in bins beside the lagoon and is pure white not grey.
All in all this is the number one must go place in Iceland.
Notice the blue wrist band Val is wearing. This is a magic wrist band that locks and unlocks your locker as well as giving you access in and out of the place. You swipe your wrist band near a sensor and your locker just pops open. Very Cool.  

If we fell like going to bed we will go to bed.
We talked to a couple other travelers while at the blue Lagoon, one returning to Canada from London (Andrew) and one from the Netherlands (Nico). We were going to London next so hanging out with someone who just came from there was great.

Val with Nico and Andrew at the Blue Lagoon.

The next day Andrew returned flew home and we hung out with Nico. Now when you fly into Iceland it is a good idea to purchase two bottles of alcohol at the duty free shop. Alcohol can only be sold in government stores and is very expensive. We had a bottle of vodka we had picked up at the duty free and invited Nico over to our apartment for a drink. Nico and I started drinking and talking shit and the next thing I knew we were spanking the bottle like ketchup for the last drop. That was the last thing I remember though. Next I woke up on the floor, in the dark, lying in my open suitcase. Apparently after Nico had left and we went to bed I had rolled out of bed and ended up in my suitcase. Val said she woke up in the middle of the night to find me not there, but then heard me snoring and looked over the bed to find me snoring away lying in my suitcase. She woke me and said to get into bed and apparently the conversation went like this.

(Val)"Would you like to get into bed?"
(Sky)"We will go to bed when we feel like it"
(Val)"Are you using the royal WE now?".
(Sky)"Yes we are".

Then she went back to sleep leaving me to sleep it off in the suitcase. Later that night I woke up in the suitcase drunk as hell and wondering how I had ended up there and crawled back into bed. The next day we were going on a tour bus to see some waterfalls and stuff. Val woke me up in the morning rushing me to get ready for the tour. I was as ill as I can ever remember being and neither of us thought I was going to be ready in time. Val suggested I make myself vomit to feel better, which apparently people do. I had never done this but was in such bad shape I felt it just may work. I don't know how you guys do it. Making yourself vomit is not easy for me. I have know a couple people who when they say they drank so much they vomited at the end of the night, they mean they made themselves vomit. There are a lot of ways to measure how much drink one can handle.
  • There's the college standard of how much can you drink and still function. This is very subjective and everyone always thinks they are the champ because once you are out of control you are too drunk to know it and like Barry Badrinath in Beerfest you think your the man.
  • Then there's the Indiana Jones. This is where you sit at a table and exchange shots till one of you falls over. Much more definitive I call this the Russian roulette of drinking. It's great in the movies but like everything else in Indiana Jones movies in real life both people end up dying of alcohol poisoning.
  • The classic real life competition is the who vomits first. Or if not in head to head competition it's just if you vomit you lost and everyone who didn't vomit won. A good distinction to make here is between the equal volume competition and the can you handle you alcohol at a party. The latter is a combination of can you control your alcohol intake and can you handle your booze, not scientific as the head to head but more socially acceptable. I happen to be very good at this competition because I have a very high vomit tolerance and have just recently pulled my first forfeit due to vomit.
  • For normal people there's the can you function the next day. If you can get up and go to work and no one would know you drank the night before then your good.
  • There's the Disney. This is the PG version of the Vomit, you lose if you get the hiccups.
  • There's the dead man walking. If you black out at some point in the night you lose. This one is progressive (like the slot machine not the political ideology), but takes some measure of honesty and can only be measured after the fact so it is rarely if ever used. By progressive I mean it's like getting a concussion. Basically they say excessive drinking damages your brain and like a concussion every time you black out from drinking it is easier for you to black out the next time. The focus on problem drinking seems to be mostly on binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row for men or four or more drinks in a row for women) which like the body mass index makes everyone except Mormons and track stars guilty and thus gets ignored. I think if they started focusing on the effects of blacking out they might get the freaked the fuck out reaction they are looking for.
  • Finally there's the Royal Rumble, also known as the Picasso, the Friday, or the Chris Tucker in some circles. The winner here is the last one standing, the one who doesn't get knocked the fuck out, the one who doesn't wake up with no eyebrows and a dick drawn on their cheek.
I think falling asleep in your suitcase is an automatic loss in any of these but having looked them over I actually qualified for a loss in each category all in one night. I guess you could call that shooting the moon. Let me know any additional ways you know of for measuring how well someone can handle their drink.  

I'm a little behind on this blog so Val and I are in London now and while having a pint we read through a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards the other night. Being in England it was English Trivial Pursuit and there were a lot of questions about Rugby, Soccer and Cricket. A card would have 5 questions about Christmas and half of them would be about athletes with the last name Christmas. One card was all on Iceland though and we aced every question on that one. To help with your Iceland trivia knowledge I offer the following. Every Geyser in the world gets it's name from the Great Geyser in Iceland. The word Geyser (spelled Geysir in Iceland) has it roots in the Old Norse word geysa which means to gush or rush forth. Bonus trivia the word Volcano comes from Vulcano, a volcanic mountain off the coast of Italy.
This is a lesser geyser. The Great Geysir is now less impressive than it used to be and was inactive for a period of time. Apparently geysers can be effected by earthquakes messing with the underground geology. After the great geyser started slowing down around 1900 people found you could make it more active by throwing rocks or pouring soap into it. They believe this eventually caused it to stop entirely until an earthquake in 2000 got it going again but at a less impressive size, proving both that size does matter and throwing rocks at things can make them better (for a short time).
Nico got caught down wind from the geyser and got a little shower.

 Act natural here comes the po-po.
I saw only 4 cops our whole stay in Iceland. Two walked through the first dodgy bar Val and I visited and one of the patrons mentioned that you never see cops on the beet like that. The last 2 I saw in a cell phone store checking out phone accessories. I also noticed with these two that they don't carry guns. Later we whipped around Iceland in a rented car as fast as we could and didn't see a cop the whole time. Also just like NY and every other sensible culture people jaywalk everywhere here. See Los Angeles even with a country wide economy collapse they don't see the need to screw their citizens at every street corner. Maybe if we spent less time hunting jaywalkers and more hunting criminals we to would have 1 murder every couple years. What a place.  

Why doesn't this taste like chicken?
We shelled out for a fancy dinner one night and treated ourselves to puffin and whale. Yep, neither of us can join PETA now. Puffin is a very popular bird in Iceland and can be seen on may postcards. Strange thing is it's a red meat and tastes a bit like liver or very gamey lamb. The whale was a bit surprising because you are expecting a piece of fish and get reminded that whale is a mammal and has red meat. The Whale also tasted a bit like liver. I'm a big liver hater but it was only a bit livery so I sucked it up and had my exotic meat experience.  

Paper or plastic?
You pay extra for bags when shopping and they only have plastic. You are also expected to bag your own groceries. So when they ask if you would like a bag just know it's going to cost you a good 50 krona.  

Answer to ancient philosophical dilemma?
Eating at restaurants here may have solved at least half of the age old tipping question. Tipping is not mandatory or expected here and it is obvious in the service, there is none. Only in the most expensive restaurant we visited did someone ever ask if we would like another drink or refill our water. It appears tipping being customary vastly improves service. Sometimes we couldn't even find someone to ask for another drink, or desert, or the bill. And this was all in the downtown area of their largest city (over 60% of the population of the whole country lives in Reykjavik). I don't know for sure which came first. Maybe they used to tip here but service was so bad that it went out of fashion. Or maybe they have never tipped so service continues to get worse and worse.
    I say it half solves the tipping argument because I'm still not convinced tipping needs to be as socially mandatory as we make it in the states. I'm not quite of the Mr Pink "I don't tip" school on this but I think some people tip big, some tip small and some don't tip at all. By the way that's the title of Dr. Suess' next book. I don't think the diner should be shamed for leaving a small or no tip when they get bad service, I think the waiter should be shamed. My right wing friends will like this. One problem though is the government has it's hands in the pot here. They take 8% in taxes from the waiter regardless of whether you tip or not. Back of and let the free market work you fat cats. Stop worrying about the middle aged mothers not reporting their tips for taxes and try focusing on your golfing buddies that are stashing billions in offshore accounts. As Newt Gingrich recently said "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering." Just because his quote was convenient here don't think I'm starting to like him or something.  

To pray or not to pray
Iceland is a very religious country, but no one goes to church. You will see churches in every town but they only go on special occasions and I'm told their basic attitude toward religion is that they don't really believe but it's still convenient to have around.

Previously I brought up a system for ranking cities. Now that we have gone to more than 1 other city I think I'm going to have to make some changes. I can't really rank all cities against each other, but I can rank them all against LA. So maybe the game is rigged but LA loses to Reykjavik as well. Basically Iceland is what you would get if you combined northern California (Hopland up) with Oregon and added some really cool geography. Also they may not be murderers but they are all breaking the law regularly. Long live Iceland.

Iceland has no military, they have never needed one. Can you imagine what you can do as a country without allocating a large portion of your budget to the military. The US military budget for 2010 was $680 Billion. In 2007 just before their economy collapsed Iceland's GNP was just over $12 Billion. Oh, also all of Iceland's power is generated by geothermal power plants and there is very little crime. So all the government really has to spend on is roads and public projects, but when we rented a car we found there is very little traffic on the roads.

To see all the photos go to and find Nomad Camera Iceland. I'm not sure why but this blog will not let me post active links any more.

The beginning has a lot of photo of a small parade we ran into downtown. It appears the minority communities were having a pro immigration parade. Yep, even Iceland has immigration issues. One local told us they allowed many eastern Europeans to come there to work the menial jobs back when the economy was good and now that it has tanked and there are no jobs these people still won't leave. He said the locals won't do these jobs any more though because they have gotten used to less strenuous work and don't see it as an option. Sound familiar.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Starting in New York

We are in Iceland for our second day now, but I want to talk about New York first.

We spent 3 days in New York and I learned a lot about NY in that time.
  1. We stayed a couple blocks from central park and I was surprised to find out how narrow the halls and alleys are in NY.  I guess with all the people crammed into a small space there is no room for extra space.  The elevator in our hotel was so small only Valerie and I fit and the cleaning lady had to wait till the next trip.
  2. There are cops everywhere but they don't mess with people like our wonderful LAPD does.  They seem to have a your going about your business and as long as your not hurting anyone we will leave you alone.  Everyone jaywalks in NY, it's a way of life, and no one gets even a second look from the cops.  You even see cars making turns through crosswalks while people are in them, and no ticket.  Everything moves like a bee hive of activity.  Way to go NY, now lets get in line Los Angeles.
  3. Some thoughts on Phantom of the Opera.  All the posters I saw including their program show the phantom's mask as a full face mask covering both eyes (but not the mouth.  I guess it just looks better than the half mask the phantom actually wears.  I would like to see the sequel sometime soon, when are they coming out with "the return of the phantom".  Seriously at the end they are hunting him down and he just disappears never to be seen again.  And how about a prequel?  They make a reference to his history but it seems there is a whole opera there as well.
  4. I noticed that when New Yorkers step up to the urinal they practically crawl inside.  I couldn't help but notice several times that the whole row of guys were all mounting the urinal in an attempt to hide their junk from any stray glances.  Apparently I went all that way to get a look at their junk but they had been tipped off and were ready.

 We had a good time and I can see why people love that city, the transportation is great, the food is good, and central park is awesome.  Every large city should have a park like that, once again you suck Los Angeles.  I've decided there should be a survey of people traveling for whether they like their home city or the city they are visiting more.  Your city would be judged by a combination of the rating people from there and the rating people visiting there gave it.  I give LA a 6 and NY a 9.

Photos and Comments....

We found the hulk, he's in NY and his weakness appears to be blue plastic tarps.

It was nice to see the flag on every subway car in NY. I'm only used to seeing it on politicians and missiles.

The US post doesn't need to use a photo of the Las Vegas statue of liberty for their stamps any more, they can use my photo if they want.

Make sure you pay your bill at the Slaughtered Lamb pub or you'll end up like this guy. Everything about this pub is good. Good services, good prices, they serve food, good music and it's not too loud to have a conversation.

Things are small in the big apple. The hotel elevator was so small only Val and I could fit.

...And the closet in our room had a large bolt on it for some reason.

The wealthy near central park don't want you honking.

For all the photos go to and see the "Nomad Camera NY event"