Irregular sleep patterns and late-night shopping

I woke up in the late afternoon, still wrestling with jetlag, and went out again immediately. Now that I had the bike assembled I wanted to look around. Also, there was no food in the hotel except for a breakfast buffet that was very spartan and only for the desperate.

My first stop was an expensive Thai restaurant just a few blocks away from the cafe I visited last night. The prices were absurd – averaging 17 dollars per dish – but it was the only Thai food for at least 30 miles in any direction.

I brought my laptop to catch up on work messages. There were ten tables in the restaurant, and about half of them were occupied:

  • A couple talking in Icelandic in the corner.
  • A couple talking in Mandarin in the other corner.
  • Two UK English speakers, smiling and talking with a lot more animation than the Icelandic couple.
  • Four French speakers, talking loudly, all in their forties or fifties.

The French group nattered over the menus, then asked the waiter “what is a curry?” and what the differences were between each kind. They debated with each other in French for quite a while before ordering, then they changed their order three times, calling the waiter back. I hope they left an enormous tip — but I doubt it.

Also, why would you go on a vacation to Iceland and then go to a Thai restaurant, if you didn’t know what a curry was?

The portions were huge which helped to justify the cost, and I had plenty of leftovers. I packed them up and went riding casually around. There were some little bits of equipment I needed to look around for but I figured it was pointless until I got to Reykjavik. Perhaps I could visit a market and buy some snacks?

I conjured up a market on my phone, and rode in that direction.

Fluffy Icelandic cat! SO FLUFFY! I'm pretty sure it's a wizard in animal form.

Interesting coastal Icelandic style. Sunken first floor that doubles as the foundation, corrugated steel walls protected with paint, steep roof to reject snow, plenty of rain gutters to cut down on ice. A lot like houses I've seen in the Pacific Northwest except far less wood involved here. ... Because, where you gonna get it??

The market was a 24-hour joint very much like a 7-11 back home. There was no soda fountain, but there was a nice little collection of candy bars and other chocolatey snacks. I went plundering through the aisles, gathering up at least one of every weird-looking thing I found. The ones that looked especially appetizing I got two of — one for me, one for my nephews to fight over. I still needed to mail my bicycle boxes back home and I could easily throw some snacks into the package as well.

Dark chocolate rice cakes: Awesome!

This is my favorite of the various crazy Icelandic candy bars I've tried. I dunno who this Prince Polo is, but I like his style.

I heard this rumor that my nephews like chocolate... Let's see if I can help them out...

I made a purchase and then sat on a bench just inside the shop, looking out at the parking lot. There I saw another customer arrive, and do something with his car that people back home in Oakland would never do.

He got out, leaving his keys in the car with the engine running and the doors unlocked, and went into the supermarket to shop. He did not appear to be in a hurry. I was confused for a moment, then remembered that for most of the year this country is bitterly cold, and by leaving his engine running he was preventing it from freezing to the point where it might not start again.

Of course, in Oakland, this behavior is an invitation for grand theft auto. You take your keys, you lock your car, you make sure nothing expensive is visible. You peel the faceplate off your radio and set your car alarm if you have one.

Funny how you can get used to stuff like this, either way.

“I wonder if vehicles in Iceland even have car alarms?” I thought. Ten minutes later I got a nasty surprise when I heard a car alarm going off just down the street, and run for a long while before shutting off. “Okay, that’s one question answered,” I muttered to myself.

A police car pulled up. Two cops emerged and went into the store. Unlike the other customers, they shut off their engine — but they didn’t roll up their windows. They completed their shopping and one of them went back out to the car while the other one went over to the eating area where I was seated and banged a frozen burrito into the microwave, then spent an entire minute struggling with the really badly designed controls on the front of the thing. He couldn’t get it to start, and I was tempted to reach over and just smack the side of it like a badly-tuned television, sharing in his frustration. But I didn’t know how he would take it.

Instead I went back and bought a few more candy bars, plus some carrots, a bell pepper, and some milk – being careful not to accidentally buy the cultured milk with the fruit mixed in, which dominated the dairy section with six different kinds – and sat back down to answer some questions I was getting from friends about my trip.

Question:
So, are the Icelandic ladies pretty?
Answer:
I haven’t yet seen a single one that isn’t appallingly attractive. It’s as much their temperament as their shape.

Icelanders don’t seem to smile or laugh much when talking to each other.  They are very buttoned-down and it my be my tin American ear deceiving me but they also seem slightly passive-aggressive in normal chit-chat. But when they realize I am an American they seem to open up a bit more, both the men and the women but especially the women, who smile and make jokes and seem to enjoy the fact that I am smiling back. The majority of them speak excellent English, and some of them barely even have an accent.

That said, the accent itself is interesting, and the sound of the native language even more so. For example, I’m at a store right now, and I just stood in line to buy groceries, and when I got to the cashier – a pretty girl aged about 18 I think – I deliberately said nothing so she would speak to me in Icelandic.  It was just brief things like “hello there”, “is this everything?”, and “your total is 1210 kroner”, but since she was speaking casually and not enunciating for a foreigner, to my untrained ear it came out of her mouth as a series of weird melodic chirping noises and trills.

It was fascinating from a linguistic perspective because I could concentrate entirely on the sound without language comprehension obscuring it. But also, I’m a little ashamed to admit, her voice was electrifying. I felt a rude compulsion to just stand there and tell her “Say more stuff!! Read the phone book; I don’t care! This is music!”

And that, of course, makes me think of Björk.

Question:
Have you ever lost any of your stuff on a bike tour?
Answer:
Not yet, but it’ll happen I’m sure. Ride long enough and stuff goes missing.

I can lose any one thing and compensate pretty well, with the exception of certain bike parts that would stop my tour cold. Also there are places I’ll go where losing two or three things at once could seriously jeopardize my life. Like going through the highlands, and cracking my front rim and losing my jacket and my sweater at the same time.

Even then, in Iceland that would not be terrible, because I could wrap myself in my unzipped sleeping bag and walk to a place with cell signal and call for rescue, then hunker down in the tent. Lots of gear means multiple solutions to problems.

As ever, just like my daily commute to work, the real threat is cars.

Question:
How cold is it up there?
Answer:
During the “day” it’s basically a winter day in Santa Cruz, with slightly more wind depending on where you are. Not terrible at all. At “night” it gets colder, but almost never a bitter cold.

Any other season but the summer and it would be a different story of course.

Question:
Can you see the northern lights?
Answer:
Sadly, no. The northern lights are a winter-time thing, with some overlap with spring and fall. At first I wanted to come up here in early May, and try to catch the tail end of them, but it would have been very unpleasantly cold for a bike tourist at that time. Plus my own schedule didn’t work out anyway.

I haven’t seen the lights myself but my boss at work has, and he told me the story. It was an arduous trip to the northern edge of Canada, and he says it was absolutely worth it, and one of the most amazing things he’s seen in his life. We compared our stories of solar eclipse viewing, and he agreed it was like that, only more impressive. Now it’s on my list for sure.

With a pile of snacks packed away, I got back on the bike and meandered up the hillside to the hotel.

Lots of construction going on around here. Lots of hotels coming up around the airport. Tourism is exploding.

Tomorrow would be a busy day, since it was the last day I could get the bike boxes mailed out.

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