Reykjavík had a soothing effect on the soul, the city a meditative riposte to the palaver inherent to many a capital. It was a ‘Pleasantville’ setting in which everything appeared in sync, harmonious, and dare I say it, normal. One got the impression that vexing incidents seldom occur there, and when they do the locals sort it out – cleaning up its banks after the financial crisis being one example.
This was a welcome sight. I’d heard the rumours and ‘conducted’ the research on Iceland’s inflated booze prices. Is it because of tariffs or taxes, or a form of social engineering? Whatever the explanation, this wee store was compulsory. I stock up on ethanol and fags, and hop on the coach to Reykjavík, snoozing at the back to a Sigur Rós mix because, well, I seem to be a cliché.
I arrive at BSI bus terminal, the sky black, the rain heavy. I don’t mind it, and the stroll to Reykjavík Downtown Hostel, passing the shore of Tjörnin Lake, with its calm waters and swan inhabitants, is almost cinematic, as if my pithy entrance into the city is indeed personalised. I don’t see a single person on this walk, only in the centre spotting a few figures making their way home from the closing pubs. I wander the streets some more, exploring the enclaves and with my eye out for the peculiar. I see only urban desert.
Reykjavík Downtown Hostel.
It didn’t feel like a hostel. What I mean here is that it wasn’t dirty, noisy, or cheap. Wi-Fi, showers, cooking facilities – all were fine. Prime location, too.
It’s true what they all say – even your most basic goods here cost a fucking fortune. One must grit one’s teeth and get on with it, … or bring as much canned foods as possible. I don’t believe there’s an import limit on the volume of tuna or kidney beans making their way into hold luggage.
Vinbudin, a.k.a. the elixir of life. If one demands a cheeky bottle of spirits then this is your palace, conveyer belts galore splurging out an incessant volume of sparkling moonshine. It’s not exactly the Toys ‘R’ Us of ethanol, but it’s a useful additive to your standard Reykjavik night out, for which hip flasks are a frequent leitmotif.
I practised the ol’ habit of tearing into the spirits prior to any nightly excursions. By the time we reached the pubs I was operating in the upper echelons of intoxication. Nothing bad happened, though. I pissed in a bush between establishments, but that was the ghastly extent of my naughty behaviour.
Something I ate from a supermarket corrupted my insides. I think it may have been the Lumpfish Caviar and cottage cheese combo I mixed together for lunch. It seemed like a radical idea at the time but regrets were soon swarming. I’ve seldom been on so many toilet adventures. On the Thursday I spent 10 minutes slumped back on a park bench coping with the aftermath of a grenade explosion in my stomach. I shall refrain from further details but that Thursday was a slog.
This truly idiosyncratic structure towers atop the city as its main landmark, and can be glimpsed from all around. I didn’t venture to the top for I had an aforementioned grenade in my stomach. I did, however, crawl around on the ground outside. In these situations, you get a lot of bemused expressions from folk hoisting selfie sticks because you’re taking snaps ‘Old Skool’. I’m used to it.
It’s commonplace. It’s impressive, more elegant than tacky. I’m not sure what this is all about, but I find it strangely erotic. There’s nothing quite like being presented with a David Lynch-esque mural whilst on a random dawdle.
Farewell, Iceland. I’ll be back next year ….