Sunday, October 26, 2008

The crowning Perl and a big wax fish

It’s hard to believe that two months have passed since we were in Iceland! I’ve been lax in my post-travel updates so I’m going to try and do that this week. Just to mix it up I’m going to hop around a little chronologically so bear with me! (Credit for the IKEA & wax fish photos goes to M & D!) Come along as we travel back in time to the land of fire and ice…

Tooling around Reykjavík
After a week of non-stop travelling and sight-seeing we were kind of worn out so we decided to tool around the city and do whatever struck our fancy. And what better way than to visit the IKEA outlet?! Believe it or not this small island nation whose entire population hovers around 320,000 has a gigantic two-level store that would be the envy of… well, frankly London (pop. 350,000)!

My goal was to get an Icelandic IKEA catalogue as a souvenir. We had a quick lunch of the ubiquitous Swedish meatballs with gravy & mashed potatoes and then launched into our cross-cultural shopping expedition. Mark drolly speculated whether the product names would all be English and perhaps the Scandinavian names we were used to seeing at IKEA were just a big joke being played on North Americans!

I noticed that the kitchen appliances were consistently smaller sizes than what we’re used to (no Costco I guess!), shower stalls (instead of tub/showers) and dual-flush toilets were in every bathroom model, and there was a big emphasis on space-saving items and furniture. I ended up buying a lovely set of sheer curtains that were dirt cheap on sale and at the check-out scored my coveted catalogue!

Our next stop was the Perlan, a beautiful but interestingly utilitarian building set on a hilltop overlooking the city airport where we had flown from at the beginning of our trip. Perlan gets its name from the reflective glass dome that crowns the ring of five gigantic water tanks which hold geothermally-heated water used in the city of Reykjavík. The hilltop site features walking/cycling paths and hundreds of trees planted in ongoing efforts to restore forests to Iceland. Outside the main entrance is an exuberant jazz quartet sculpture and I couldn’t resist dancing to their beat!

Inside, the central atrium is lit from all sides by glass walls between the tanks – bizarrely there were several large palm trees huddling in a corner looking very lost and out of place. The atrium is used for receptions of all sorts, there was an art exhibit on display when we visited. We strolled around the wide observation deck that encircles the glass dome at the top of the building where the entire city spread out below us framed by stunning views of distant mountains and fjords.

Downstairs, we visited the Saga Museum which has been created inside one of the de-commissioned water tanks. Told through a series of dioramas populated by startlingly life-like mannequins, we learned about the very bloody and colourful history of the island from when it was first settled. We had a great chat about the building with the museum attendant who had visited Canada.

Tired from our busy day we decided to head home and came upon a couple of evil little hooligans throwing rocks at the birds on Lake Tjörnin near our apartment! The initial effect of my loud angry “NO – STOP!” lasted for less than a minute until they realized that I was just a silly tourist who wouldn’t give them a good verbal thrashing in Icelandic. (I did briefly entertain the idea of throwing stones at them to see how they liked the sensation.)

Our evening ended with yet another delicious meal at a nearby restaurant that had been recommended by several people. It’s housed in a rabbit-warren series of second-floor rooms in an older apartment building. At first glance it feels like you’ve arrived at a great-aunt’s home stuffed with 19th century antiques and crocheted doilies. To add another element of other-worldliness, the maitre’d was from Montreal! After chatting in French we were seated in one of the four dining rooms – ours featured a large fish carved of wax and mounted on the wall… weird.

There was nothing weird about the food though! I splurged and ordered the scampi. Expecting the usual four or five, I was flabbergasted when presented with a heap of nine large beautifully grilled tails and salad! (Yes, I did eat them all - along with wine and chocolate ganache with crème fraiche & fresh Icelandic blueberries for dessert.)

Stay tuned for a few more updates... coming soon to a computer near you!

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