07.24.08: while visions of bolludagsvöndur danced in her head

a fellow ladymag editor is going to be out for the next couple of weeks; when i wished her a happy vacation, she said that she was going to paris (hooray!) but felt like it would be the last trip she and her husband took until they were forty, thanks to the worthless dollar (bah!). oh, i hear that: i told her about how joe and i were in a similar position with our trip to iceland (we're their age and have the same budget). of course, our trip isn't actually on the books yet: i've talked about it as a distant future, pie-in-the-sky thing for several years (since '02, according to the 'champ archives) and as a "when i've saved enough money by quitting smoking" thing for the last year, but nothing has actually been puzzled out...which is getting ridiculous. our '08-'09 rent increase aces out the butt money i would have socked away (cheers, new management company!), iceland is always expensive (like, switzerland-expensive), and we're not getting any younger. as bill o'reilly would say, fuck it. we'll do it live! we're not leaving tomorrow or anything, but i plunked down my $22.99 for a lonely planet iceland* yesterday, and this trip will happen in 2009 (and get planned ASAP, so i have a sexy trip to anticipate) if it kills me. i'm announcing it to the internets, so it must be so!**


cold weather is a friend of mine (and iceland's practically-'round-the-clock summer sun makes me think of insomnia, from That One Summer Robin Williams Played a Bunch of So-So Villains), so part of me thinks that we should try to save money by going toward the end of the off season. according to icelandair, that's march, when flights from new york city to reykjavik jump from $302 each way (on 3/16) to $850 each way (on 3/17). i have no idea (yet) why monday to tuesday is such a key flop there: the closest holiday appears to be "beer day" in reykjavik on the first of the month (to celebrate the end of icelandic prohibition), which...god, iceland is adorable. the bad news is that we're not big sportspeople and wouldn't make much of the snow, at least in the skiing-and-snowboarding sense (i could be convinced to snowshoe): the good news is that november to mid-march is the best season for viewing the northern lights, so i could run around in the middle of the night and pretend to be lyra from the golden compass.

then again, high seasons are high seasons for a reason: iceland's green hills are supposed to be jaw-dropping. i've also read that some of the smaller, more far-flung villages (read: most of what's outside of reykjavik) are only accessible via public transport in the warmer months. if we do manage to get to iceland more than once in our lives, that second visit probably won't happen for a very long time - so we have to see everything we need to see this time. which brings me to august and the flight of the pufflings. according to national geographic,
Iceland is home to one of the world's largest colonies of puffins, and every August millions of newborn puffins leave their burrows in the cliffs of Heimaey—the main island in the Westmann Islands chain off the south coast of Iceland—to fly off over the north Atlantic. They leave at night, using the moon to navigate. But the streetlights of Heimaey seem to throw off some of the young birds' flight plans.

When that happens, it's time for the children of Heimaey to launch the Puffin Patrol—basically a search and rescue operation for the befuddled birds, which, instead of flying out to sea, fly into town where they crash-land and end up on the streets.

"They don't survive if they stay in the town; cats and dogs eat them, or they just die. It's really good to save them," said Einar Karason, a young Icelandic boy.

Each night during the month of August, moms and dads lead troops of kids through town looking for stranded pufflings. They use flashlights to search the ground near buildings and streetlights.

When a bird is spotted, children rush to scoop it up and bring it in off the "mean streets" of Heimaey for the night.
the next day, the kids chuck the pufflings back into the air like footballs, which apparently gives them time to get their bearings and ride an updraft into the sky (or at least splash-land in the ocean instead of in a town square). it sounds adorable, and i might need to see it (especially if i can't be in iceland for bun day before lent, when icelandic children beat their parents with cream puffs).

i'm new to this research, internets, and would be grateful for your land-of-bjork-visiting guidance, if you have any (or want to make something up). know anyone who's been to iceland? when would you go, and what would you want to do there? planning any overseas jaunts of your own?

*damn, even the guidebooks are getting crazy expensive; also, damn, i could have saved like $7 by not seizing the day and ordering by mail instead.

**hey, it worked for smoking. i have great faith in kidchamp announcements.


tom said...

In the "making stuff up" column, I would note that a while back, in Madison, the Wisconsin Film Festival (yes, such a thing exists) had a series of Icelandic films. I only got to go to one of these ("the Quebecois series was stronger," he said with an unwarranted air of filmfest snootytude).

"Reykjavik 101" impressed me as being a view of young people in town as being funky people. I could tell you nothing of the plot -- it was five or six years ago. But maybe worth a rent if you find yourself in the (er) Scandanavian section of your local video store. (Or maybe the KAMERA line of products from the Red Hook Ikea of infamy might carry it.)

But, other than vague knowledge of summit meetings and the end-stage madness of Bobby Fischer? I got nuthin.

In other wanderlust news: I have found that my eleven hours in London back during Ye Olde Wedding Trip was not enough. This idea had been mulling in my head long enough. Hence, last night, I bought my tickets for a trip to London in late November. First honest-to-God, non-family-related vacation since March of last year -- I'm due, I suppose. And I figured that it would be down-time for them, and the flight price was rather reasonable (going through Toronto saved about $100). Hopefully the locals will roll out a soggy carpet for me.

Eric said...

you could look into flying to London and then going to iceland. a return journey from London to iceland would run you £200 in April

Eric said...

also, july 09 is like $400 each way

lauren said...

tom, the cultural research portion of project iceland will certainly have a film component (there's going to be a bunch of saga-reading,* too, which i really should be doing anyway). thanks for the rec, and i'm so glad to hear you're going back to london (and taking a well-earned break)! we've had the UK itch lately as well; were it not for this trip, we'd be planning a return to oxford (and surroundings). that's...the trip after the trip after next, i think.

though you may have a point, eric: i know the icelandic jetblue (forget what the discount airline's actually called) flies from stanstead, which could be an option. bargain fares to london from nyc pop up a lot more frequently than nyc-reykjavik ones do. there is risk that london would swallow us for a few days in there, but i like that kind of risk.

*my lonely planet claims that iceland has a 100% literacy rate. nice work, guys!

Meg said...

Also! No need for the depressing "last trip till we're 40" talk! That's what you say right before you have kids, and I suspect the cats will hardly notice your absence. At least, you won't have to pay to ship them to summer camp (right?)

tom said...

Bad news, though. I just hit up Hotwire, and they have no listings for Reykjavik. Too bad: I got a four-star central London (Bloomsbury) hotel for (excuse me) $120 a night. That's freaking insane. A trip to said Hilton's website had same room on offer for about $270 during the same stretch.

Yes, it is a very American Hilton, but come the hell on. The not-knowing-the-hotel bit was a bit frightening, yes. But I am totally crushing on Hotwire right now.

lauren said...

@tom: i think steals are going to be hard to come by, but i've been encouraged by some of what i've seen: tripadvisor's #1 pick, apartment k, isn't cheap ($195/night) but sounds a lot like the awesome little apartment we had for our wedding/honeymoon at the old black horse in oxford (and a bit like hotel tomo in san francisco). what with me being unable to eat fermented shark (and, well, all other meats), it might not be a bad idea to stay somewhere self-catering. tripadvisor's #2 pick, hotel bjork ($181/night), appeals for obvious reasons (it's not actually bjork-related, but i still want a shower cap).

@meg: our cats get angry when i try to shower without letting them sit in the bathroom with me, and the little one needs intravenous fluids every other day (could be every day, soon): believe you me, i would LOVE to be able to send them to camp while we're gone!

as for the depressing 40 talk, yeah, well. we average one good trip every 5 years or so (the honeymoon in '06, then...well, studying in the UK in '99), so we might get one more in before then (it's joe's call, so...japan in '12?). fortunes, they...are strumpets?

anonymous said...

And good eats abound:

1) Svið - 'Burned' Sheep-heads

It looks similar like what most people would associate with devil-worship. A sheep's head that's been burned to remove the wool, cut in two in order to remove the brain and boiled. It's either eaten fresh or pressed into a specially made sheep-head jam called Svidasulta. Despite the rather gruesome appearance, many tourists said it actually tasted quite good.

Even though they look quite serene and peaceful, some people can't stand the thought of eating a burned head. Many people eat only the lower jaw and the tongue to avoid 'eye contact.'

2) Kæstur Hákarl - Rotten Shark

This is without a doubt the most pungent and dubious thing at the table. Tastes like a combination of dodgy fish and strong French cheese with a hint of ammonia. Some even said it tasted like urine. If you ever come across and are offered some, it is wise to take the darkest piece you see (the lighter the colour, the stronger the taste).

The greenlandic shark itself is poisonous when fresh due to their waste are stored inside their body and as such their flesh has a high content of uric acid, but may be consumed after being processed. The shark is cut into big strips and buried in sand for about six months. So letting it fester slowly under a cold beach will drain away all those nasty fluids.

It has a particular ammonia smell, not too dissimilar from many cleaning products. Served cold in little pieces, be careful not to eat too much as it can result in diarrhoea.

Note - do not attempt to prepare rotted shark at home! If you do it wrong or don't leave it in the ground for long enough, it's quite likely that you will die in agony from eating it, as it is full of neurotoxins and ammonia, which are filtered out using the process described above.

3) Slátur - Haggis

Sounds like 'slaughter' for a reason. Sheep innards tied up in sheep's stomach and cooked. Similar to the Scottish haggis, only this comes in two varieties. The black named Blóðmör, which is made from blood, and the white name Lifrarpylsa, which is made from livers. Sometimes the slátur has been pickled with milk. Others might even put raisins in it, and you may spot an old person putting sugar on it before eating it, but this is not recommended.

4) Selshreifar - Sour Seal Flippers

The flippers of those adorable animals, made sour in milk and salted. They taste sour, salty and slimy. These are rare, except at some family feasts where the participants have hunted the seals themselves. Quite revolting.

5) Lundabaggi - Sheep’s fat

This is a tough one to explain - it is made from secondary meats, like colons and other such stuff, rolled up, boiled, pickled (made sour in mysa, more commonly known as whey), sliced and held together with string. Very fatty, it may be a good idea to cut away the fat before eating, as sour fat usually tastes bad, but it won't leave you with much meat on your plate.

6) Súrsaðir Hrútspungar - The cured scrota of rams, including testicles

Ram's testicles, pickled in whey, put in gelatin, pressed either into a cake with garlic, as a jam, or as a kind of pâté that tastes sour and spongy, with a texture reminiscent of pressed cod roe. Not bad if you don't think about it too much, especially in pâté form'.

7) Hvalrengi - Sour Whale-fat

Made sour with milk. Tastes like sour papier mâché, and probably not very healthy either. Fresh whale blubber is stringy and tough, but apparently pickling it makes it soft and more easily digestible.

8) Kæst skata - Rotted Stingray

Made in the same way as the shark, but not as pungent and offensive to the nose as the rotted shark. It has a strong smell of ammonia about it. Sometimes it is mashed, then it is called skotustappa. Usually eaten as a main course, with potatoes.

lauren said...

@Anon: i recall anthony bourdain choking down a bunch of that stuff (when he took no reservations to iceland) and looking absolutely miserable. he looked like that for most of his trip, really, which sort of fed my need to go: traditionally, things that make AB sad make me happy, and vice versa. i'll be trying to make joe the token omnivore eat weird stuff: there's hope for haggis, at the very least, as his dad loves it (and he likes blood sausage). i will NOT encourage him to eat smoked puffin, though.

jacob said...

anthony bourdain is a self-important ass. much better is andrew zimmern's "bizarre foods" show on the travel channel. he actually appears to respect the people he dines with and the food he eats. we just caught his show on northern vietnamese food, which drove me to look up vacation tours on the 'nets.

babyjo said...

i remember reading an interview of AB in some food mag and his one unbreakable food law was to never put wasabe in soy sauce. where do i put it, then? is this a well known thing? have i been offending sushi chefs in LA for years now? wtf?

Eric said...


There's also a few that fly from the continent. If london does swallow you up, you have a place to stay while you're here

lauren said...

@jo: i don't know what bourdain's particular beef is, but the larger issue with wasabi seems to be that americans just overuse it and kill the flavor of their sushi. analogous to salting the hell out of your food without tasting it, maybe? i'm all for respecting a chef's feelings, but underseasoned food is underseasoned food, and i'm the one paying for it. places that can't handle respectful tinkering are not the sort of places i frequent.

@jacob: agreed, i vastly prefer bizarre foods. on self-important assery, from bourdain's kitchen confidential:

Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. Oh, I'll accommodate them, I'll rummage around for something to feed them. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant (aubergine) and zucchini (courgette) suits my food cost fine.

what a douche (douche).