Photo diary: Iceland, day 1

June 2, 2012

After the redeye flight lands at Keflavik Airport, you take the Flybus into Reykjavik. One of my first stops was the bank to exchange money. It’s not strictly necessary — you can spend your whole time in Iceland without handling cash, but I like seeing different currencies, and Iceland’s is pretty cool. Check out the unusual graphics, not to mention the huge denominations, reminiscent of Italian lira. 1000 kroner is about $8.

Around the corner from the bank, we stumbled upon this institution no one had mentioned in the Reykjavik promotional material.

It turned out to be, yes, the penis museum. Not sexy at all — just a lot of specimens in jars, like this whale penis.

And objects like this lamp, whose shade is formed from a bull scrotum. The whole thing is an elaborate, tastefully done deadpan joke.

After a delicious lunch at a Turkish restaurant, it made sense to rent bikes and spend the afternoon burning off our jet lag by cycling around Reykjavik.

We checked out Laugurdalur, the large sports center where Andy would be spending most of the week competing in an aquatics championship. The adjacent botanical garden features several outdoor sculptures, including this striking “Washerwoman” by Asmundur Sveinsson, a tribute to the nearby Old Wash House where the city’s laundry used to be done.

When I arrive in a new city, I like to “walk the perimeter” to get the lay of the land. And in addition to locating the major Sights to See, I like to see how regular people live their everyday lives. So yes, there’s the famous “High Church” that becomes the navigational beacon on the Reykjavik skyline. But then there are the suburban-style dwellings, many of them poured concrete, a la Vieques and other weather-battered island settlements.

The graffiti and street art also provide some sense of cross-cultural referents.

After a lot of walking and bicycling, it made the most sense to observe the daily local custom of soaking in a “hot pot.” The public pool nearest where we’re staying had hot tubs of two temperatures on the roof. Public baths being a crucial aspect of Icelandic culture, it is imperative to shower beforehand. The protocol demands showering without swimsuits, and the signage makes very clear which parts they want to wash thoroughly.

It’s a great way to end the day. We managed to keep ourselves going until about 10:00. This time of year, there’s no point in waiting until it gets dark. It literally never gets dark. Here’s the sky at 10 pm. Even in “the middle of the night,” at 2:30 am, it’s light enough to read.


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