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"East best, home West"  


Having resisted Iceland for many years, and due to the suicidal virtual summer in Belgium this year, I decided it was time to reconsider and visit this place that looked like a Lord of the rings setting, but with taller inhabitants. I had nothing to lose. I was going to get frost bites either way, and I felt the moment had come to visit the only country of the civilized world where people are listed in the telephone book with their surnames! Time was going to be short, but I thought that drinking the right quantities of caffeine and taking advantage of the 24h "satanic sunshine" in June I could make this trip -and the certain pneumonia I was going to get- worth while.

And so it was that, after just three hours, I landed in Reykjavik, at around midnight and not exactly broad daylight, but still being able to find the right car in the airport parking, in the middle of a barren landscape where the only light was my pocket lamp.

From the moment you get off the air plane, you realise this is not your average tourist destination. And this strange experience starts already at the airport. Having recuperated my luggage, I somehow sleepwalked to what I thought was the exit, following the other passengers (the pilot included), only to realize I was in the airport supermarket! It was Friday evening and everybody was preparing for the famous “runtur”, the weekend bar-outing, buying cheap alcohol at the airport before leaving happy with their six-packs for the rest of the night...

Next morning was not much different from the evening before. Soon the sun got out (meaning: the clouds dispersed), and I realized what many Icelanders told me during this trip: the name of the island is wrong. It is cold, but not icy cold. Indeed, it was colder in Belgium than in Reykjavik. The world upside down, I thought. And in a certain sense, it was. Nothing was as I knew it in Iceland. Beginning with the nature. Icelandic landscapes are unique in their beauty. You may prefer a sunny climate, but the nature is so powerful that you realize why Icelanders even nowadays believe so strongly in spirits and ghosts. You drive for endless miles and all you see is the perfect volcanic landscape, decorated with fuming some-things (when you get closer you realize they are thermal stations or thermal baths) or geysirs (an Icelandic word), glaciers and fumaroles, dead whales and light houses, and some crazy cyclists driving against the wind and all odds.

Driving in the Icelandic landscapes (the closest thing I can think of are the Yorkshire moors, although not volcanic) almost without destination is probably the fondest memory of this trip. The GPS, hardly necessary, was lost itself in the magnitude of the scenery, most of the time just giving me the direction I was driving into. The island is HUGE and there is absolutely no way of seeing it more or less comprehensively in less that two weeks. The weather changes constantly, and the vast majority of the territory is forbidden to cars. Although there is nowadays a road going vaguely around the island, we are talking about thousands of kilometres. Which frankly I would do with much pleasure, just driving, looking and listening to Sigur Ros, the Icelandish music group par excellence, that fits uniquely to this nature.

Reykjavik was a very nice surprise. I was keen to look for common points with Athens, given the recent financial crisis that recently sent bankrupt both countries to the IMF, albeit for different reasons. I found disappointing (for us) that there is absolutely no common point... Everything works, everything is clean, you don't meet unhappy people or see many sad faces, beggars. Despite the fact that this is a very small country (with a population roughly the same as my Athens suburb!), I remain in awe in the way they seem to be handling with their crisis. Having sent to prison some of the culprits and negotiating their accession to the EU, the only place you can feel that something has happened are the T-shirt shops, where one my favourite shirts says: “We may not have cash, but we have ash” referring to the Eyjafjallajökull (try pronouncing it!) volcano eruption that immobilized most of the planet due to its volcanic ash (Another one simply says “Ash happens”).

Reykjavik is a small but wide city. Extremely modern and efficient, it is full of amazing shops that may take much of your time for shopping. Fashion is knowingly different. Just think of the way Björk dresses. Huge amount of shops -for such a small city- selling extravagant shoes, for example. Or clothes, presents. Where else can you buy a bag made of whale- (or other fish-) skin? As for the food, this is the paradise for fish eaters. You can of course taste whale, mink, oysters or crab, lobster, but my favourite was simply cod. Portuguese are the only ones that can -maybe- cook it better. And the restaurants themselves are mostly elegant, post modern and cosy. Not extremely expensive. In other words, what remains to be seen for your Saturday outing is a taste of the runtur. The bar tour, or should I say, the pub crawl.

It all starts at home, around 22.00, among friends, with a prepub party. The idea is to fill your veins with enough alcohol to get merry and go out uninhibited and not completely out of cash (alcohol in the bars and restaurants is expensive). And then, if you can still stand on your feet, have a ball until next morning, getting very, very drunk, and falling dead after a greasy hot dog on a gutter or the tarmac, whichever the nearest. Which is why it is probably more worth seeing the beginning of the runtur around midnight, when people behave more or less normally, and not its' end, when lighting a match in the wrong place may cause an alcohol explosion and almost everyone seems to go berserk: actually a Nordic word, meaning behaving in a frenzied and violent manner, as the Berserker warriors did (meaning “bearing bear coats”)... Anyhow, I was once again amazed by the number of things HAPPENING in the capital, as compared for example with Brussels, where the equivalent of the runtur happens in roughly 2 square kilometres. Hordes of extremely pretty girls and tough-looking boys queueing to pass the face-control of bars that make you wonder, where have all the older people gone. Although this is a country with one of the higher life expectancies in the world, the weekend evenings remain very, very young. Too bad for me...

I could keep on trying to describe these few days, but unfortunately I think that not even my pictures can transfer the beauty of the reality of the island. Only the eye can appreciate certain things, end even the best camera is insufficient sometimes when it comes to such a barren, unique landscape. I hope my pics can offer a glimpse of the beauty of this grand island!


Slideshows: In Reykjavik , On the road

Films: The geysir, the Djupalon beach, Near the dead whale


Icelandic road sign meaning: "We'd love to tow your car"




Woman running away from her husband the day of her marriage




Tourist considering harakiri due to bad weather




When I asked these sheep the way to my destination, they answered firmly that they will not tell




Icelanders drinking Gatorade



Icelanders start smoking very young