Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Blogger Has Landed

Pylsur með öllu (Hot dogs with everything—the guide books call Reykjavik “Hot-Dog Utopia”)

Well, here I am! And with all the stores closed for the weekend and an internet connection in my apartment, this post will be the result of my free time! I flew out of DC on Thursday, landed at JFK in New York to switch airlines, then took the red-eye to Reykjavik, landing around 5:30 a.m. local time on the 29th (that’s 1:30 DC time for anyone who’s counting). So the roughly five-hour flight resulted in effectively 12 hours of transit. Who ever said time travel doesn’t exist? But this is boring stuff: let’s get on to Reykjavik!

The drive from the airport (in Keflavik, about 45 minutes away) was a stark introduction to Iceland. Reykjanes Peninsula (actually, “nes” means “peninsula” so that’s a redundant phrase) is almost uninhabited, consisting of extinct volcanoes and cold lava fields. I wish I'd had my camera out. The only thing that grows is moss, which at this point in the year is still green. It was like a moonscape, but starkly beautiful and fascinating. I also saw five Icelandic ponies (you can imagine how excited that made me) and all of two trees, until we crested a hill and entered Reykjavik—and then there were trees everywhere. So that statement in my first post is accurate only outside of city limits.

I’m staying in a three-person apartment close to the Anglican cathedral and shopping district, but the other two people haven’t moved in yet (one is coming late and the other isn’t coming at all—hence we’re advertising for someone else to take the room), and in fact, the three people who are here now haven’t fully moved out themselves. One of the guys is helping show me around because he was in the same program last year as I’m going to be in this year. The other two just have boxes lying around, and I can’t fully get settled in because I don’t know yet what furniture they’ll be taking when they actually do leave—including the bed! But I’m glad to have a place, and it’s close enough to everything that I’ve had a chance to explore…

We’ve had two days of remarkably good weather—50 degrees and sunny (though the wind is constant, strong, and cold), and my camera batteries finally charged up, so I went for a walk today and took photos! You can see the bay north of town from practically everywhere. This picture of the bay was taken about four blocks away from my apartment!

The architecture is a strange mix of old-fashioned (but not actually old) and hip; it looks like the city had a big spike in prosperity right around the seventies and did all their building then. But there are still corrugated tin houses, especially close to the water. Some of you didn’t believe me!

The Icelanders aren’t known for their piety (perhaps because they converted to Christianity by vote because they thought the world might end in 1000AD?), and the fact that they have a statue of the explorer Leif Eiriksson in front of the cathedral (Hallgrimskirkja, unfortunately under scaffolding now) attests to their indifferent religiosity—or perhaps the apotheosis of their cultural heroes.

But I found the Catholic church, and it’s quite pretty.

I’ll see it from the inside tomorrow, and hopefully I’ll make it there for the Mass in English. I don’t think my Icelandic is up for “Peace be with you” yet. In fact, when I ordered a hot dog this afternoon (you’ve got to taste the local specialties, especially when they’re cheap and don’t contain creepy things like putrefied shark), I think the dialogue went something like this:

Me: “Pylsa, please?”
Guy at the counter: “Með öllu?”
Me: “Ja” (which is not actually Icelandic at all, but he got the point. I actually didn’t want it “with everything” but didn’t know enough Icelandic to ask him to leave off the onions and mayo.)
Guy at the counter: “Two-fifty kronur.”
Me: “Takk.”

The Icelanders are very accommodating. The hot dog was not as exciting as one might expect (would you expect a hot dog to be exciting?), but it might have been because of the onions and mayo. And I had a nice little cultural exchange in the bargain, so it wasn’t a waste. I’ll write more when there’s more to write!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

E.T.A. One Week

Hér er litill gróður og mikið grjót. (Here there is little greenery and a lot of rocks—a sentence they teach you in the online Icelandic language course.)

I don’t know yet from first-hand experience whether this sentence is accurate, but it seems like as good a start as any for a blog that’s beginning as I leave Virginia and head toward Reykjavík. I fly out on August 27th and arrive the next day in Kaflavík Airport to begin my year abroad at the University of Iceland.

It’s been an absolutely wonderful summer despite the red-tape mambo that I’ve been dancing for the past three months trying to get my papers in order. Iceland must be a very desirable place to be if they guard their borders so zealously; that’s all I’ll say on that subject. I look forward to my trip with some trepidation, as always, but with a great deal of excitement too. How often do you get to spend 9 months in a foreign country and get a masters degree out of it to boot?

Who knows when I’ll be able to post again, but I hope more or less to catalog at least the big things. Classes for the Medieval Icelandic Studies program begin the last day of August, so by then perhaps I’ll have something worth reporting. Check back and I’ll post pictures when I can!