Iceland 2021 Page 3

Finding the consulate

Today I woke up with a mission. I knew there was an official immigration building in the capital area, and I wanted to find it and scope it out. The chances of getting anything done without a long-in-advance appointment were almost none, but I felt like physically locating the place was important.

The building is called The Directorate Of Immigration, and it’s at Dalvegur 18, 201 Kópavogur, Iceland. Most of the time they’re open for just five hours a day, from 9:00am to 2:00pm, on weekdays.

But first, breakfast! I marched my bags down to the basement and snuck my bike out through the back door, then picked a bakery at random and scored me a cheese croissant, which I ate while wandering around.

Snacks for the snacking.

Even more snacks, waiting nearby in case you snack the first snacks and still want snacks.

Nice to see that delightful cathedral again, the Hallgrimskirkja. I didn’t think I’d be seeing it a second time in my life. This time I poked around inside.

Personally I think the place could do with some stained glass, but I'm a tasteless American.

Saint Whatshisfacesson.

Very stylish!

I’ve never been a religious person, and I have some complaints about Christianity in particular, so I always feel a bit like an invader when I visit a place like this, as though other people might be able to see my lack of devotion just by reading my expression or posture.

This particular cathedral is also very open and illuminated, which makes me feel a bit vulnerable. Still quite marvelous, of course. But I wonder, how does this reflect on Icelanders? Do they enjoy the stark illumination because they feel relatively little shame or guilt? Does the confession booth get much use? (Actually, I didn’t even see one.) I know they certainly worry a lot, but that’s not the same thing…

Another recumbent tourist? AWESOME.

Back on the street, one block down, I spotted another recumbent! No sign of the rider, though. I wanted to leave a little note, like “Hey nice bike!” but I didn’t have any paper, and besides it would have just creeped them out.

I set out for The Directorate of Immigration on a meandering path, snapping photos and listening to a podcast.

Dude! I played that game as a kid!
Is that kid smoking?
It's bicycle-themed. Therefore I love it.
Dancers and jazz musicians!
Church of Filadelfia??
A sign I can get behind!
This is how the bouncy labyrinth got to Iceland. And it probably made the journey in the hold of that ferry boat on the East coast.

I did eventually find the directorate.

This is what the Directorate of Immigration looks like. They don't make it easy to find.

As I expected, it was appointment-only, but the signs posted outside were informative.

It turns out you can go through the entire visa application process by mail, and you only need to send one package, assuming it has all the correct paperwork inside. You can drop that package off directly at a government office, and there are several to choose from around Iceland. For example, there’s one on the East coast, just over the mountain from Seydisfjordur, called the Sýslumaðurinn á Austurlandi.

With this knowledge in hand, I decided I was going to prepare a visa extension application and submit it on the East coast, after crossing the country. That would give me the maximum time, since the extension can only be granted for the interval of time starting immediately after the application is sent.

From there I rode halfway back to Reykjavík and chomped lunch at a Vietnamese place. It wasn’t great, but it was great for Iceland. I debugged code on the laptop and read up on visa requirements. Then I rode to a nearby copy shop and confirmed they could print stuff from a USB stick. That would be important for putting the application together, which I wanted to do before leaving the capital area. I knew what Iceland was like and I didn’t want to have my plans derailed two months later because I couldn’t find a working printer anywhere for 100 miles.

I rode the rest of the way back to the AirBnB and then detoured to a fancy cafe around the corner.  Their power sockets didn’t work, but I had a decent chunk of battery time.  I attempted to fix an API error for work but made little progress. At the table to my left, three teenage girls were blathering in Icelandic, which sounded like cheerful gibberish to me with English phrases thrown in like, “Yo what the fuck?” and “Aaaanyway”. I had to suppress a grin once or twice.

Later on, at the table to my right, I listened to four girls with American accents, messing with sketchbooks and talking about how cool it is to be staying in Iceland, compared to being “back in the ‘States”.  “There’s just something about this place,” one of them said, a bit breathlessly. “I can’t even define it, but I really like what it is.”

I wanted to turn in my seat and say:  “That thing you sense but don’t know how to describe? That’s what we folks from Oakland would call ‘white privilege’.  You are deeply submerged in it here, at the intersection of Christianity and shipping lanes, far from malaria, racial tension, parasites, and war. Enjoy the fact that – like me – you fit in here without question, despite not knowing a word of the native language.”

It would not have been a helpful thing to say, I know. Not the right context…

I rode back to the house and stowed the bike without trouble, by going through the back door.  I’m learning fast! Straight to my room, and I set up my folding chair, and kept writing code until my work conference.

I also gathered my visa notes together into a useful summary. (As follows.)

So you want to stay longer in Iceland?

I get it. It’s a neat country. Also, if you get a visa extension for Iceland, you can travel all around the Schengen area with it.

It’s possible to apply for an extension without entering Iceland, by going through a consulate where you live. For example, back in my home near San Francisco, the Icelandic government has outsourced all their visa procedures to a company called VFS Global (on behalf of the Royal Norwegian Consulate General in New York.)

If you look online for “reviews” of that place, they are uniformly horrible. Calling them on the phone is a nightmare, and their website is glitchy. If you choose to deal with them you will be stepping directly into a bureaucratic swamp. That means you need to have everything perfectly prepared in advance, know their own rules better than they do, and never, ever be late for an appointment or a deadline by even a few seconds. Hooray!

I didn’t really want to put myself through that, especially knowing that the process could be derailed or delayed randomly, so I went looking for an alternate approach. I’m a US citizen, so your own needs may vary, but perhaps you’ll find this information useful.

Here is the Icelandic government’s official visa extension page, in English.

I didn’t plan to live permanently in Iceland, but I did have a job I could work remotely, so the best I could do was a “Long-term remote work” visa. That would extend my standard 90-day Schengen time, by tacking another 90 days onto the end of it.

It’s possible to travel around the rest of the Schengen area with this visa, but there’s a catch: You can only do that for a maximum of 90 days. So the idea is, the “remote work” visa gives you up to 90 additional days to stay exclusively in Iceland, during which your Schengen time isn’t depleted.

So if you want, you could spend all 180 days in Iceland, or you could spend 90 days in Iceland followed by 90 days somewhere else — France for example. But what you can’t do, is spend 89 days in Iceland followed by 91 days in France. That’s 1 day over the Schengen limit.

Since my plan was to cross Iceland by bike, which would take something like two months, getting this extension was still worthwhile for me.

Here are the conditions you need to meet:

  1. You need to be making at least $8090 a month. That’s pretty steep. It’s like 160k a year before taxes. (Official exchange rate: ) That knocks almost everyone out of the running immediately.
  2. You need to have a passport size photo (35mm x 45mm) of yourself taken and printed.
    • Thankfully there are a few conveniently located places where you can get exactly this. There’s one in Egilsstaðir, in the shopping center, next to the Arion banki. You can walk in and walk out a few hours later with three passport-worthy photos.
  3. Applications need to be printed out on physical paper. In this day and age!
  4. You need to include paper photocopies of all the pages of your passport.
  5. You need to include a document confirming that you’re able to support yourself financially during your stay in Iceland.
    • I included a printout of my recent savings statement, showing how much money I had socked away.
    • I also asked my employer to sign a letter declaring that I was employed by them and had permission to work remotely, which I printed out.
  6. You need to purchase health insurance that covers your stay.
  7. You need to pay the application fee of 12.200 ISK (about 100 bucks.) This is done by wiring money directly to the consulate via a branch of their home bank, and then including proof of that payment with the application.
    • Their home bank is called Íslandsbanki.
    • There are multiple branches in Iceland. There’s one near the East coast, in the same town as the District Commissioner of East Iceland.
    • The applicant’s name and date of birth must be included in the subject line of the wire transfer.
    • Once it’s done they will give you a receipt that you can include with your application.
  8. Applications have to be submitted at the Directorate Of Immigration, which is just outside of Reykjavík.

Since the extension can only run for 90 days post-application, you should submit your paperwork as late as possible during your stay, but not so late that the two week evaluation period causes you to overstay your current visa.

The paperwork is out of my hands now.

A word about printing:

Your best bet to get this done at a “print shop”, like this one near the capital city. Don’t rely on finding one in some small town while you’re out and about.

Your income justification letter:

Here’s a template based on the letter I used. Add your company letterhead and address around it, to make it more official.

It’s good manners to ask your employer and then provide them with a pre-made template all ready for their signature, so it’s as easy for them as possible.

September 12, 2021

Directorate of Immigration,

Dalvegur 18, Kópavogur, Iceland

Re: Remote Work No Objection Letter

Dear Sir/Madam

This letter is in reference to ———-, who has been working at ——-, in ———– since October 2nd, 2017. Currently, he receives a salary of ———- per year.

As President and CIO of ——–, I am writing this letter to confirm that ——— has permission to work remotely while traveling through Iceland this year.

——— is paid enough to qualify for the remote work visa extension, and has additional funds set aside.  Accompanying this letter you will find documents that support this.

If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me via phone or email detailed here.



President / CIO at ———-

(email address)

The results:

In my case, I submitted my paperwork on September 13th at the government office in Egilsstaðir. I got an email from exactly two weeks later on the 27th, asking me when I could come in to their office to obtain my visa.

This was a pretty decent turnaround time for a government office. Unfortunately I had already boarded the ferry boat that would take me out of Iceland, and had no way of returning to the country to appear in person at the office in Reykjavík. I replied to the email asking if there was some way to transmit the paperwork to me electronically, but they did not respond.

So, does it work? Yes, I suppose so. Didn’t do me any good, unfortunately. Without any proof that I could stay longer in the Schengen area than the usual 90 days, I just stuck to my previous plan and flew home in October.

Graveyard antics

Today was one of those “this is what it’s all about” touring days, even though I had to put in six hours of work.

Actually it started on a strange note. I woke up to weird animal sounds, coming in through the screened window of my room. The window was over a central plaza, and as I scooted around in the bed I thought “This is a very urban place to be hearing animals. Actually… What kind of animals are these? There are no coyotes in Iceland. What else would be large enough?”

Eventually I realized I was hearing words, mixed in with the gibberish sounds, echoing around the walls of the plaza. What the heck? … And then the sound resolved to two middle-aged people having sex, in a room somewhere else high up with the windows open. It was a mixture of grunting and words, but I could only parse some of the words – which were all curse words in English – because the rest was in Icelandic and sounded like the babbling of a semi-human animal.

“That is hilarious,” I thought. “Also, dang, Icelanders are surprisingly kinky. I thought this was a more conservative realm, but perhaps I’m using a definition that doesn’t fit…”

I laughed for a while, then debated whether to make them aware they were being overheard. It would certainly embarrass them, but it would also be quite funny to the other people who could hear them too. I couldn’t be the only one. I wanted to lean out the window and shout, “THAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT, LAD! PUT YOUR BACK INTO IT! GET ‘ER WHERE SHE WANTS TO GO!”

But I changed my mind, and decided to roll out and start the day instead of spoiling theirs.

Some company's representation of how the city plumbing looks. I think it's pretty cool!

I’d done plenty of riding around the capital city before, and even with all my wanderlust I am a creature of habit, so I ended up going to the same coffee shop as yesterday. In fact I went there for almost an entire week, to work and write or just get a nice coffee to start the day.

This map is how I know I’m in a good place:

And this became one of my go-to meals. Swiss mocha, fresh bread, and a kind of tuna salad to spread on it. This got me through a lot of meetings and a lot of lines of code.

Tasty coffee shop fare.

Nice decorations here too. Not too loud, but still a bit playful.

This guy is everywhere.

After working into the afternoon, I shut the laptop and rode the bike over to a hardware store, where I purchased some velcro straps to do a minor bike repair. Then I took off, taking streets randomly for a while.

How tall does a building need to get before Vikings stop trying to raid it?

I wonder how many times that viking has tried to kill that spider...

Strangely, this statue has no explanatory plaque saying who is being depicted. Perhaps it's just J. Random Vikingson.

I found myself out on a spit of land bearing an art installation, known as Þúfa:

The word means “tussock” in Icelandic, but it can also mean “small mountain” or “hummock.” At the top of the mound is a shed used for drying fish.

There was plenty of other stuff to photograph around the marina as well:

If this isn't a company logo, it should be.

I dont know what this is supposed to represent, with the duck and all, but it sure looks tragic on the side of a half-demolished building.

What does this local art mean?

I went to a fish and chips shop I’d spotted earlier.  Ate fish and chips and did some code review, then got some soup to go. I also found a chocolatier, and made a memo to check it out the next day.

Around 5:30pm it started to rain lightly, so I put on my raincoat and waterproof socks and kept right on biking.

Two hours later, most of the way around the peninsula of Reykjavik, I blundered across the city cemetery.

The gate was open, so I walked in and started taking pictures.

My first glimpse of the shadowy graveyard cat.

Just around midnight I looked up from the camera and saw a black cat picking its way between the gravestones.

The classic Halloween cat pose!
Lookin' spooky!
Why not take a nap on a grave?
Perhaps the ghost of a mouse will wander by. Or perhaps a mouse that will soon be a ghost.
Posing for me on a grave.
Flash photography: Cats don't like it.

It walked right up to me as though it was keeping an appointment. I imagined it saying, “Hello, I’ve been stationed at this cemetery to complete the spooky picture for you tourists. Sorry I’m late. Where are we sitting?”

I pet it and sang it the “graveyard cat song”, making it up as I went:

Graveyard cat.
Grave Yaard  Cat!
Spooky at midnight, how about that!

Bein’ all fuzzy,
Pokin’ at the graves,
Lookin’ for a mouse to chomp today.

Cat cat, cat cat
Catcat cat!

Graveyard graveyard
Graveyard cat!

Does this picture just scream "Halloween" or what??

The cat sat down nearby, so I took the lid off my fish soup and set it next to the cat, and it licked the lid clean while I drank from the cup. A nice little shared meal.

I praised it for being spooky and photogenic, and did a round of language practice on my phone, and sent several people back home some cat photos.  It watched me patiently while I made weird human noises at it, blinked for a bit, then got up and wandered away.

I learned a while ago that the instinct to hunt is not tied very strongly to the desire for food in cats. That is, they’ll hunt for the heck of it even when they’re not hungry. That makes perfect sense because if cats only tried to hunt when they were hungry, they’d starve before they got good enough to catch anything.

It also explains why a cat who’s recently been fed will still pounce on a small creature and maul it. I assumed my cat friend was heading out to find some cemetery mice and ruin their evening.

20 minutes later while I was on the other side of the cemetery the cat walked up again, and jumped onto a gravestone and posed for me.  I give it a small piece of fish which it licked and then abandoned.

I tell ya: I don’t know where else in the world you would be able to get lighting this weird without some very expensive hardware and a few long extension cords.

The cathedral is visible from almost anywhere in the city. You can navigate by it.

Such wonderful textures in a cemetery.

I don’t fully understand my own contrarian nature sometimes. I really feel relaxed and comfortable when I’m sitting around in a place full of old bones and stone markers, commemorating death. If it’s midnight and I’m alone, all the better.

I didn’t used to be like this. When I was a kid I was scared very easily. I also had a stubborn desire to not be controlled, even by my own fear, so I’d go outside at night into the forest and stand there, letting myself freak out, then letting the fear ebb down to a flicker, then taking a few more steps until it flared up again, and so on. It got to the point where I was actively wishing for a ghost or demon to materialize before me, because the fact of it would open up a whole new universe of possibilities, and upend all kinds of things I’d learned about science and nature, which would be terribly exciting.

But it never happened, even once, and it still hasn’t happened, even with plenty of opportunity. Instead the practice of standing around in cemeteries and calming myself has conditioned me to relax in these places, perhaps too much, and I start thinking deep thoughts about nature and spirituality.

Also I think those cartoons about Halloween and “grim grinning ghosts” and the association of scares with candy may have contributed.

So deliciously spooky.
The "candles" are all LED-driven these days.

Eventually I left the cemetery, and went riding quietly around the city as the misty rain coated everything.

All creatures that weren’t asleep were hunkered down.

In the cold winter months Icelanders get an extra energy boost by chewing on infants. Fact!

Not a tribute to the diversity movement, but to Bilröst. It's a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Earth and Asgard.

But let's just say it's a tribute to the diversity movement anyway.

It was way after midnight when I finally returned the bike to the basement of the AirBnB, and walked upstairs to my room. It had been a fine day.

Where does my brain go at night?

The singer Bjork is eating the roses off the bushes of a house nearby.  It’s just something she likes to do.  I decide they must be tasty and I should try one.  I turn the bike around in the street to go back to the rose bushes but I see my ex girlfriend, walking about 30 feet away from Bjork.

“She’s out here too?” I think.  “Uh oh.  The two of them are bound to get to know each other, and then she’ll will find out that I scheduled a date with Bjork for Sunday.  I think I’m still in a relationship with her. Wait, am I? What’s my situation? Didn’t we break up like, half a year ago?”

I turn the bike back around, knowing that if I get close to either of them they’ll just walk away from me. They want private time.  So, am I seeing other people, or dating again, or am I still with my ex?  I can’t remember.  We need to talk.

I wake up in an unfamiliar bedroom.  I think it’s the house I share with my ex.  I hear kitchen sounds in the distance.  “Well, that’s probably her.  I better get this over with.”  I roll out of bed and pick up my pants, which I have trouble putting on because there’s something jammed in one of the legs.  I reach in and extract my phone.

She walks into the room.  “Okay, here we go,” I think.  But instead of seeming worried like I am, she’s relaxed.  She’s also wearing no clothing except for underwear.

“Follow me,” she says urgently, and walks into a different room.  There’s another bed here.  She dives onto it, then reaches into a bedside drawer and pulls out a condom in a clear plastic wrapper, and flicks it onto the covers.

She wiggles around until she’s partly under the sheets.  I know what I’m supposed to be doing but I’m not feeling into it. Something is still wrong between us. I’m also skeptical of the condom: It looks too colorful, like something you’d find in a bowl at a saucy adult party. “What time of month is it?” I ask her pointedly. Things are already dysfunctional, and having a child on the way might pull us together into a commitment neither of us feels good about. She’s looking at me expectantly, as if to say, “What’s your problem?”

Some friends and relatives of hers wander into the room, carrying groceries and food.  They’re about to throw a Thanksgiving celebration.  She climbs off me immediately.  We can’t have an intimate conversation with all this family around.  Am I the only one who thinks we need a discussion? I get off the bed and walk out of the room.

Night falls instantly.  I’m wandering around the gritty courtyard of a large beat-up hotel.  The walls are charcoal colored, like either a deliberately spooky paint job, or just a phenomenal amount of decay.  People are emerging from the doors and windows of the hotel and wandering around in small groups.  There is a party-like atmosphere.  I look down and see several coins in the dirt, and pick them up.  One is a very thick coin with dull round edges, as big as a silver dollar.  I turn it over in my hand and notice that it is stamped with a year far into the future, somewhere in the next millennium.

Impressed with the coin, I begin waving it around and singing an improvised song, in the style of They Might Be Giants:

Hey look!  It’s:
Who knows what you can spend it on
When all of civilization’s gone?
How valuable is this techno-coin?
Come on everyone, let’s join
The search for
Check it out, it’s

-My brain, 4:30am

Music erupts around me.  Some of the people wandering around turn into band members playing instruments, and when one of them starts a wicked guitar solo, I go running down the street, then jump up onto a wall, then run along it and jump onto a roof.  The music fades in the distance.

“Dammit, now what do I do?” I think.

I wake up.

Exploring And Working In Reykjavík

This was definitely a work-cation, and I took advantage of that mobility to explore. But I also needed consistency to stay “in the zone”, which meant working at my new favorite cafe most of the time.

I did visit the one I liked from two years ago, just to get that odd twitch of nostalgia that comes from walking back into a place that I’d etched into my memory only because I never thought I’d see it again.

Back in the cafe from two years ago!

It was a lot less crowded than two years ago, which made sense because of the pandemic. For the first time I sat on the bottom floor, within easy view of my bike, and had a chance to do some people-watching. The people watched me as well — or at least they watched Valoria the recumbent.

Strangers love the bike!

I wrote code without headphones for a while, and the conversation from the next table drifted in. It was a man and a woman clearly having some kind of mandatory socialization meeting for their jobs.  They were both contractors for an international company and the man was newly stationed in Iceland, and still finding his feet.

They were digging down trying to find anything to talk about that wasn’t the usual “Where have you gone; what was it like; where are you going next; blah blah blah”.  I felt sorry for them both.

After a while I wanted to lean over and suggest other topics, just to cheer them up. “Hey, there are 20 things right here on the coffee shop walls that are fun to talk about!  Look at the cover story on the New Yorker sitting right next to you.  Look at that Icelandic woman with the tattoo of Betty Paige getting shot full of arrows on her arm.  Talk about the logistics of sourcing Peruvian coffee out of Iceland in a pandemic…”

They eventually defaulted down to complaining about Donald Trump. Always a lively choice… And a strong reminder for me just then, that where you are on the planet doesn’t matter half so much as where your headspace is.

When tourism shut down last year it was like turning off a money faucet for almost the entire country. Many things have re-opened, but some did not weather the drought. For example the kitschy, vaguely insulting store I saw two years ago on the main street, called “I DON’T SPEAK ICELANDIC”, which was previously full of souvenirs pitched at the more wealthy and less discerning tourists, was now a dusty, empty glass box.

The city didn’t feel any less inviting for it though, and the weather was nice. But I’d only booked this much time in Reykjavík because I wanted to get work done, and potentially see the Directorate of Immigration. I wasn’t interested in the bar scene and didn’t want to do the shuttle-based excursions.

What I did want, was fish:

Fish and chips out of a wagon? You bet I'll try it!

Oh yes, the fish! THE FISH!!

Now this is the good stuff.

Pretty sure this is the best fish and chips you can get in the city.

I also had time for local cats, of course. There were plenty.

Hahaa now this human is my property!
Local cat rubs are the best!
Another local cat!
Do I spy a local cat?

Writing code for hours is often taxing to the brain, and leaves me in a state where I want to ride my bike or take a nap afterward, even when I’m in a city with live music, friendly people, and museums full of curious exhibits. I really should have checked out more indoor things, but I mostly explored via bicycle seat and took photos.

Kids and tipsy adults hopped along this all day long.

A sweeping view of the cathedral.


It’s been a real trip sitting in different places and observing the tourists, which outnumber Icelanders here in the Reykjavik downtown by 3 to 1.  Makes me wish I could understand Icelandic, because the English conversations are really repetitive.


Crocs, lattes and Instagram ahoy?


Yeah, lots of crocs and lattes. But worse.


Dongs, bongs, and songs?


It’s bongs, crocs, heels, American Express, unnecessary taxis, shiny pants, shouting, bongs, vapes, and inadequate layers.


So, just getting through the day.


In style!


Always Be Vaping.


Yes; that’s an ironclad rule here, if you’re a tourist.

Here by Tómas Guðmundsson's statue you can listen to Hjalti Rögnvaldsson perform the poems "Hótel jörð" and "Við Vatnsmýri" from the book Fagra veröld, published in Reykjavík in 1933.

Hangin' with the poet Tómas Guðmundsson.

I guarantee this is not the most profitable shop in the city.
This should be in every workplace.
Puddles! I must ride through them.
The Lebowski is still there despite COVID-19.
Houses by the lake. Charming!
Are you enthusiastic about fish? We here in Iceland are very enthusiastic about fish.
This is where you can sit and gaze quixotically out to sea, then go for a short walk and eat a burger.
I dig this vehicle.
Bringing my bike back after a nice day of riding.
This ad was everywhere.

That cheeky Nordic sense of humor??

The economy has slowed for the nordic tchotchke business, but it’s still going!

Sending snax back to the nephews.

Like last time, I mailed a pile of weird candy to the nephews back home. I did not include a middle finger sculpture.

Care for a ginger beer?

This translate app is a miracle of software engineering and also hilarious.

Glass bottles don’t ship well, otherwise I would have included this funky drink. The translation app made the usual amusing hash out of it.

My “coffee, work, and explore” routine continued in the city for another week, and the most traveling I did was switching to a different AirBnB. Every now and then I would spot a cycle tourist, or an advertisement, or a map printed on a wall, and remember that I had an adventure to continue.

Ancient map used as wallpaper in a fish restaurant.

Ancient map spotted on a restaurant wall.

Soon! Soon I will head into the hills.

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