Saturday, May 29, 2010

Eurovision Update: Please DON'T vote for Bosnia

Please please please DON'T vote for Bosnia...he reminds me of Nickelback. Thanks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Iceland's milkshake brings all the boys to the yard...

...and they're like "it's better than yours...já takk"

The boys, in this case, are Viggo Mortensen (já sæll!) and Stephen Fry, two exceptionally awesome lads in my book (for different reasons, obviously). Yeah, so they're involved in this little project called Inspired by Iceland, a collaborative campaign by Iceland's tourism industry to let people know that Reykjavik is not Pompeii. You see, people have been scared of coming to Iceland, and I think it has less to do with volcanoes and more to do with the prospect of being forced to spend extra time in crappy airports. Speaking of airports, Iceland's international airport is actually rather pleasant and recently got an award for not being crappy.

So, let's talk about Viggo. Have you seen Eastern Promises yet? If not, put the laptop down (NOW) and go watch it. There is one particular scene at a bathhouse and...never mind. Let's just say Viggo's in fighting shape. Yes sir. 

Let's hear what the man has to say:

Viggo Mortensen is inspired by Iceland from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Explosive new video!

Yet another awesome video to come out of the recent Eyjafjallajökull eruption: This one is a bit long, but you MUST have the sound on so you can hear the explosions. That is the absolute highlight of this video. Oh, and watch for the random guy in the video who always seems to be hiking too close to the crater--the crater that's exploding and spewing out big chunks of rock and molten lava. (At least he's wearing a helmet, right?) From what I can tell, this video was created by a German specialty-travel company that organizes treks to volcanic areas across the globeLebe gefährlich!



And now, for your time-wasting pleasure, I present to you some nerdy (and somewhat useful) volcano-related links:
 
NERDY STUFF

Web cams of Eyjafjallajokull: http://eldgos.mila.is/


Ash cloud advisory (UK) for aviation (ash flow direction maps): http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/aviation/vaac/vaacuk_vag.html

Vedur.is (Icelandic Weather Service) updates on volcanic activity: http://en.vedur.is/earthquakes-and-volcanism/articles/nr/1884

Earthquakes in the past 48 hours (near Eyjafjallajökull): http://en.vedur.is/earthquakes-and-volcanism/earthquakes/myrdalsjokull/


University of Iceland – Institute of Earth Sciences “Understanding Volcanoes”: http://www2.norvol.hi.is/page/ies_understanding_volcanoes

USGS (US Geological Survey) – Volcano Hazards Program: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/publications/2010/iceland.php

FOR TRAVELERS

Updates from Icelandic Civil Protection and Emergency Management: http://www.almannavarnir.is/displayer.asp?cat_id=413

Iceland Tourism Board Website – updates on eruptions and tourist safety: http://www.visiticeland.com/DiscoverIceland/WhatsOn/View/neweruptioninsouthiceland


Iceland Express – flight status updates: http://www.icelandexpress.com/volcano/

Visit Reykjavik website (in case you’re ‘stuck’): http://www.visitreykjavik.is/desktopdefault.aspx

ICE-SAR (Iceland Search & Rescue): http://www.icesar.com/

Safe Travel (service of ICE-SAR) – useful emergency info for everyone: http://safetravel.is/index.php

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sea Change

As Iceland Review has been reporting recently, Iceland is raining babies these days and nearly every woman of reproductive age in Iceland (that's a mighty wide range as people start young here) has got a bun in the oven, a baby in a stroller, or is just being hounded by her in-laws to hurry up and get ólétt.

This "wall of children" used to cover the remains of a burned-down bar on the corner of Lækjargata and Ausurstræti in downtown Reykjavik. It left no doubt in the mind that Icelanders are mad about babies.

By the way, Iceland has a lot of terms for "pregnant", and it's funny how the literal translations can all be perceived as borderline offensive to a woman whose tummy is too big to see her feet:
óléttur:  "un-light"
ófrískur: "un-fit"
fullur: "full" (sort of like an eating-too-much fullness)
þungaður: sort of like "thick" or "heavy"
hlaðinn: "loaded"
efnisríkur: "content rich"

Well, with descriptions like that, who wouldn't want to be með barn undir belti (with child under the belt)?

The answer? The Icelanders of 1,000 years ago.

Yeah, they weren't so keen on having too many kids filling up the longhouse using up scarce resources. I was doing some topical research on Iceland's adoption of Christianity in 1000 A.D. for a side project (don't ask) when I stumbled upon this in Wikipedia (I know, I know, it's not a "real" scholarly source):
"Once the church was firmly in control in Iceland, horsemeat, infanticide, and pagan rituals practiced in private were banned.... [and about the infanticide] ...infanticide used to be widespread around the world, and the practice of exposing "surplus" children was an established part of old Icelandic culture. It was strongly believed that there was a limit to the number of people the island could support and that rearing too many children would bring disaster for all; see carrying capacity."
Since Iceland currently numbers around 320,000 inhabitants for an island the size of a small US state, I would say they haven't quite hit carrying capacity yet (but I'm not even going to get into carbon footprint, food/water stability or other global overpopulation issues here) thus, unless some catastrophe strikes or continued economic pressures cause the government to significantly roll back its generous social services, then we'll be seeing high birthrates coming out of Iceland for quite some time. (It is already the highest of Europe.)

Although I sometimes suspect that Icelanders haven't evolved much (gastronomically or personality-wise) since the days of the Vikings, I guess some things have changed quite a bit. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drowning in ash? NO. Drowning in photos? YES.

Photos! photos! More photos! Are you sick of that volcano yet? As you can see, clearly I am not.

Yes, as irritating as that naughty ash cloud is for the people stranded at European airports, it certainly is a lovely sight for us island-dwellers. And by the way, if you had plans to visit Iceland this summer, don't wimp out and cancel your trip. It's really not necessary. Seriously. Contrary to what your local news sources may be telling you, we're not all covered in ash here. Far from it. Especially Reykjavik, which is at least 150 km to the west (2 hours by car). And contrary to what the Icelandic president told the BBC, Katla is NOT erupting and is NOT currently showing any signs of an imminent eruption. Oh, and Hekla is also NOT exploding.

So there. We are fine. Thanks for asking. Let's move on to some lovely photos now, shall we?


1. My second Eyjafjallajökull roadtrip:
The first trip to the volcano involved me, two friends, a Yaris, fabulous sunglasses, a frightfully cold day, and unfortunate roadblocks at Hvolsvöllur. This time it was me, my handsome boyfriend, fabulous sunglasses (again), lopapeysa sweaters (requirement for Icelandic countryside trips), awesome West Coast gangsta rap from the 90s (for ironic contrast), and one loaded V-Dub. And no roadblocks! Thus, we could drive past the clear skies and relative normalcy of Hvolsvöllur and into the eerie, ashy landscapes near Skogar.

First, we stopped and snapped some pics at Fljótshlíð, a scenic farming district in south Iceland that has gained popularity in recent months for its volcanic vistas (also location of the best webcam for live video). We then briefly visited the Country Hotel Anna in Moldnúpur--at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull--for a brisk, partial hike up the ash-laden mountainside followed by a well-deserved hot cocoa at the hotel restaurant. Yes, you read that right -- we walked up the same mountainside that's currently spewing ash right and left. "Why", you ask? Because we can. Finally, we made a short stop to Seljavellir (near the historic Seljavallalaug pool), where we donned our dust masks for a few otherworldly photo ops. Check out my Picasa album if you enjoy mediocre amateur photographs:
Fun with ash clouds!

2. "Úr iðrum jarðar" photography exhibition:
This photo exhibition at Reykjavik's Gallerí Fold features the recent volcanic activity at Eyjafjallajökull and Fimmvörðuháls. Over 50 magnificent photographs by 23 photographers are displayed until September, including two very talented friends of mine. Fellow expat and talented photographer Julia Staples snapped some AMAZING shots of Eyjafjallajökull for the Reykjavik Grapevine when it first started to dump ash over South Iceland. Another friend, Icelandic photographer Brjánn Baldursson, captured a particularly stunning shot of the 'lava falls' at the first "tourist" eruption, which you can check out on Brjánn's Flickr site.

And since this exhibit is focused on the volcanic activity, I thought it was very clever that the gallery offered the guests of the opening day some hraun and gos (hraun means lava, but is also the name of a very crunchy chocolate wafer candy, and gos means gas technically but that's also the name for soda beverages like Coke.) There was also a bucket full of fresh volcanic ash, which visitors could scoop into snack bags and take home as a souvenir. Rosalega snilld!


 
3. I hear ashy water is good for the skin.
This Icelandic photographer took some seriously cool shots of the old Seljavallalaug swimming pool at Seljavellir, an area that has been hard-hit by the ash fall. This gentleman's photos are surreal, but with a touch of humor. Seljavallalaug is Iceland's oldest swimming pool and is often featured in Icelandic advertisements due to its secluded location in a picturesque valley.

4. Time-lapse video going viral on the Interwebs:

Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull - May 1st and 2nd, 2010 from Sean Stiegemeier on Vimeo.

I think it must be mandatory for people who create homemade videos of the Icelandic wilderness to use a Sigur Rós song in the background.

5. Boston Globe -- mind-blowing images:
My photos look like a f**king joke next to these images compiled by the Boston Globe. This has been around for at least a month, so if you're one of the 50 or so people in the world who hasn't seen this yet, then get on it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

But...I'm a lady!

I friggin' love the ladies' bathroom at the English Pub in downtown Reykjavik. (I may or may not be slightly drunk as I write this post...)

The ladies' room at the English Pub is awesome. I should know since I spent a considerable amount of time there tonight. In fact, every time I went down there, I couldn't help myself from snickering. And let me tell you -- it's hard to do your business when you're giggling. Damn you, happy hour drinks!

I felt like this "lady" whenever I entered through the semi-decadent, pseudo-Victorian ladies' room door:



Several times this evening, I had to stop myself from saying aloud in a fake-British accent, "But I'm a lady!". No matter how old I get, I never seem to get over the fact that I can't actually fake a convincing British accent. Not that it stops me from trying...and laughing at my own failed attempts. British accents always seem like a great idea after a few pints...

By the way, I ALWAYS judge a bar by the quality of its bathrooms. The English Pub passes the test (at least before midnight) just by the fact that the bathroom door makes me think of a Little Britain character. That is a total WIN in my book!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eyjafjallajökull: Just One of Many


Fun factoids -- courtesy of www.vedur.is, Iceland's chief meteorology website:


List of recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland

Eruptions in Iceland in since 1902

2010 Eyjafjallajökull
2004 Grímsvötn
2000 Hekla
1998 Grímsvötn
1996 Gjálp
1991 Hekla
1984 Krafla
1983 Grímsvötn
1981 Krafla 2 eruptions
1981 Hekla
1980 Hekla
1980 Krafla 3 eruptions
1977 Krafla 2 eruptions
1975 Krafla
1973 subaquatic eruption 5 km south of Landeyjar coast
1973 Heimaey
1970 Hekla
1963-1967 Surtsey
1961 Askja
1947 Hekla
1938 Grímsvötn
1934 Grímsvötn
1933 Grímsvötn
1929 Askja
1927 Askja
1926 northeast of Eldey
1924 Askja
1923 Askja
1922 Askja 2 eruptions
1922 Grímsvötn
1921 Askja
1918 Katla
1913 Austan Heklu
1910 Þórðarhyrna
1903 Þórðarhyrna
1902 Grímsvötn

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On why a sane person doesn't buy a laptop in Iceland if they can help it...

I have a very simple contingency plan in the [very tragic] event that my laptop dies:
(1) Go to
Icelandair's website (because I have no alternatives)
(2) Book airfare to US
(3) Buy laptop at very competitive price

(4) Grab a few other supplies that are in short supply on The Rock
(4) Spend the remaining time enjoying the company of friends and/or family. This step usually involves a lot of eating, drinking, and embarrassing photos

(5) Return to Iceland, and stock up on booze in the duty-free shop by the baggage claim

It's very simple. It's a win-win situation: get new computer, spend time with good people. Not to mention that I get to re-discover the joys of Mexican food, margaritas, cheese curds, microbrewery beers, inexpensive red wine, Chinese takeout, Whole Foods market, Target, etc.



Most importantly, it makes good economic sense for me as an expat.


Consider this:


HP Pavillion DV6-1325
specifications: Pentium Dual Core T4300 (2.1 GHz), 4GB DDR3 RAM (8GB max), hard disk SATA 500GB 5400 rpm, a Radeon Mobility HD4530 512MB GDDR3 dedicated and up ‘to 2.3 GB Turbo Cache, a screen 15.6”WXGA HD Bright View LED Backlight with a resolution of 1366 × 768, a webcam with microphone, a Light-Scribe DVD burner, card reader 5 in 1, a keypad, 2 – Altec-Lansing speakers and interfaces Wi-Fi b / g, HDMI, Firewire, ExpressCard54, VGA, Infrared, Headphones (x2) Microphone, Gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 (x4 combo with 1 e-SATA).
 
Cost in France: less than 600 euros (roughly $800 or so)
Cost in Iceland: 189.995 ISK (that's gonna set you back nearly $1,500)
Cost for very similar model (HP Pavillion DV6-2170us) in US: $800

Imported products in Iceland are subject to a whopping 24.5% VAT, which is already figured into the price and thus explains the incredible markup. Not the mention that there are few competitors to force prices down for consumers. 

So why not just take the price difference ($1,500-$800 = $700) to invest it into something enjoyable, like a vacation to see loved ones perhaps. The price difference is even more remarkable if you're buying an Apple MacBook Pro (339.995 ISK - $1,700 = roughly $940) Meanwhile, the cost of the airfare back to the states is usually in the $800-$1000 range. So it's almost a wash. Plus, by purchasing airfare from an Icelandic airline, I am still adding value to Iceland's economy. Everyone wins. Don't you love a happy ending?

Of course, I realize this option of flying off to a foreign country for a shopping trip doesn't work for everyone. And I suppose you could accuse me of being a narcissistic, materialistic consumer (flying to the Evil Empire for buying things and all), but if you're reading this blog, then I must assume that you're on a home PC or laptop, which someone in your household paid good money for. Alternatively, some people feel that buying a crazy-expensive laptop gives them a weird sense a national pride. Good luck with that. Someone has to pay for the kreppa after all...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Profiling the Skinka and Hnakki

As a public service for my non-Icelandic readers, I've decided to do a special post today focusing on the Icelandic societal phenomena known as skinka and hnakki.


Skinka is an Icelandic term describing a certain segment of the (usually young) female population whose tastes in clothing and fake tanning are rather tragic. Skinka girls typically originate in the suburbs of Reykjavik, and are often found--in packs--at one of Iceland's two shopping malls, scouring for bright pink, shimmering, butt-hugging spandex garments. The skinka girl can be identified by her orange-ish skin with 'raccoon eyes' eyeliner, stretchy Eurotrash outfits, and over-processed bleach blond hair. She also likes massively crappy pop music and probably watches American Idol (yes, sadly it is broadcast in Iceland) or the Icelandic equivalent, Idol stjörnuleit (Idol Starsearch). 

Unfortunately, skinka girls have a powerful hold on Icelandic society, as most of the retailers at Iceland's two shopping malls cater to the tastes of the skinka crowd, leaving other shoppers in a bind. Sadly, there is a huge gap in Icelandic fashion; there is either the high-end designer boutiques, which average consumers can barely afford, or skanky skinka shops, where classy people avoid altogether. The people stuck in the middle stock up on all their clothing essentials on overseas vacations.

Here is a visual, which shows how an ordinarily attractive girl (left) can become a skinka victim (right):

For those of you in the UK, a good example of skinka would be Katie Price (aka Jordan).

The Urban Dictionary defines skinka as
"Skinka means ham in english and icelanders use that term because the skin of a pearson that has gone to many times to a sun salon is all wrinkled like a ham.
A "skinka" is a girl that is super tanned, with bleached hair and dresses like a skank, showing as much of her boobs and thighs as possible. But that is a bad case.
Skinka is more commonly used when referring to a girl that has too much make up on, like a drag queen, and dresses like she's going to a club in miami when the temperature calls for much warmer clothes.
English: He only thinks she's hot because he has a thing for skinkas. 
Icelandic: Honum finnst hún bara heit útaf hann fýlar skinkur.
English: You are such a skinka 
Icelandic: Þú ert svo mikil skinka"
Meanwhile, the male equivalent of skinka is referred to in Icelandic as FM hnakki, or simply hnakki. Hnakki is pronounced like NAH-KEE and its literal translation is neck. Some say that the term originated out of Selfoss (small town on the south coast) for the boys with bleached, spiky hair, over-tanned skin, and an unfortunate taste for crappy rock bands like Nickelback. (The FM part refers to the radio station 95.7*, which occasionally plays Nickelback-type rubbish.) These boys also are known to spend a disproportionate amount of their income on American pickup trucks or tricked-out Ford Mustangs. In the US, these boys would be considered to be an odd blend of rednecks and metrosexuals, which, if you think about it, is sort of an oxymoron.

To see an example of hnakki, check out the blog Pale is the New Tan.  Also, Iceland's gossip magazine Séð og Heyrt runs rampant with both skinka and hnakki people.

Wiktionary defines hnakki as:
Etymology
From Old Norse hnakki. Origin of the slang sense is unknown.
Noun
hnakki m (genitive singular hnakka, plural hnakkar) 
1. nape of the neck
2. (slang, pejorative, neologism) a stereotypical grouping of superficial juveniles associated with sport, fitness and tanning, that often bleach their hair and dress fashionably- similar to a jock.
As one would expect--given these groups' adoration of hair bleach and awful fake tans--skinka girls typically pair off with hnakki boys. And then they make little skinkuhnakki babies and the cycle perpetuates itself, thereby guaranteeing a lifetime demand in Iceland for hair bleach, tanning creams, and crappy, tight-fitting fashions.** THE END.

*Thanks to some comments and other concerned parties, this was corrected to reflect 95.7 and not 97.7 as I had previously written. Radio station 97.7 is sooooo not as terrible as 95.7.
**Apparently, you can find plenty of skinka and hnakki people in New Jersey, USA. In fact, you can witness such phenomenon on the show Jersey Shore.  True story: in 2000, when I was doing a semester abroad in London UK, I met another student in the exchange program at a bar in central London. She was from New Jersey. She was wearing a cow-print mini-skirt and fake leather knee boots and had a very Barbie-like bleach blond ponytail held up by some serious hair spray. She asked where I was from. I told her I was from Wisconsin. She was like (seriously),"WOW this must be so weird for you to be in a city and all." (said the girl in the COW PRINT skirt...)