World By Shotglass

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010


World By  Shotglass
Chapter 1:
Location: Europe
Capital: Reykjavik
Language: Icelandic
Population: 320,000
Total Area: 103,000  km2
Currency: The Icelandic Króna
Curious alcohol fact: All liquor stores are state monopoly
Annual average liquor consumption per capita: 7.1 liters
The most popular drink: Brennivin ("Black death")

The Country:
 Iceland got  its name because of a Norwegian Viking who climbed to the top of the mountain and saw a large icecap.  He got pissed off that the weather and land is not conducive to farming and renamed ‘Snowland’ into ‘Iceland’.  Both of these names don’t fit the country at all.  It should rather called ‘Rainbowland’ for multicolor lava, black sand beaches, brown volcanic mountains, grey geysers, blue lagoons, white ice caps, and colorless waterfalls.  The capital, Reykjavik (‘Smokey Bay’), is very cosmopolitan with shops to spend a GDP of a small country on outfits only Bjork would wear.  Yet, it also feels incredibly small and rustic with only ~100,000 residents.

    The People:      
 Icelandic people are amazing, they are friendly and warm and even when they could be rightfully nasty, they are still nice.  To fill the Icelandic cultural gap, I went to see an Argentine tango show at a club with a promising name ‘NASA’.  It was a disaster possibly only comparable with a stoned Russian rock band.  Yet, Icelandic people were clearly thrilled to be called ‘crazy’ by a band leader and happily raised their arms when asked if this was their first time to a tango show.  Perhaps, this childish sense of amusement with the world is contributing to their longevity as life expectancy is Iceland is one of the highest in the world.


What to do:  

For such a developed European country, some things just don’t make sense – all liquor stores are government owned which does not stop anyone from drinking, just makes it more expensive.  Yet, the nightlife is similar to New York’s trendy lounges and clubs with the only difference that people don’t really settle at one bar but prefer to move all the time from one place to the next.  I tried to pick places where you could actually hear some conversation and met a crazy Scottish soccer fan who seemed to have jumped off the ‘Eurotrip’ movie soccer bus.  I walked away from there a few hundred dollars lighter but with a well worn but clean soccer t-shirt. 

There is something to be said about Jewish wisdom.  As a large poster at the Jewish Community center pronounces “It is every parent’s responsibility to teach a child how to swim”.   The world is mostly covered by water and land, so the two most useful sports are swimming and running.  Icelandic people agree with me and the Jewish proverb.  Their free time is spent in the geothermal pools with water temperature ranging from +20 C to +42 C.  It was lovely to soak my body after an invigorating hike and watch the sun that never sets in the summer.  Walking through the public shower before getting there, however, was much less so.  I could not help thinking that Icelandic public shower area would make a great commercial for Gillette razors.


Outside of ridiculous gas prices of $8 per gallon, driving in Iceland is a sheer pleasure: no traffic, no clear road signs but interesting road marking of 4X4 ONLY, and going from a one line in each direction to one line in both directions through a wood bridge.  By driving down the ring road, 4 hours in each direction from Reykjavik, I have experienced a +19 C on the Reykjanes peninsula, walked on a Myrdalsjokull glacier at +2 C, saw a regularly exploding Stokkur geyser and played on the Atlantic black sand beach by Vik’s sea stacks.  Almost unintentionally we drove to the top of a glacier to witness 50 or so Russians coming on Super Jeeps and Nissan Patrols to participate in an ice tubing competition by sliding down the mountain on rubber tubs. 

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