Playing Amateur Paparazzi
Up until this morning, I caught myself taking the unseasonably warm weather for granted. As I woke up and looked out the window, I noticed the room was slightly cooler than it had been previously (I was still keeping the window cracked open), and frost covering everything outside that wasn’t concrete or asphalt was a huge reminder that winter starts earlier in Iceland than in my neck of the woods. Dressing more warmly was the order of the day, so it was time to break out the heavier sweater I brought.
The only planned item on today’s itinerary wasn’t until later in the afternoon/early evening, so we had the day to ourselves. At breakfast, we revisited our shared intention of checking out the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which we spotted on Monday during our bus tour of the city, as well as wandering over to the Reykjavik Zoo just a few blocks away from the hotel.
As we talked and ate, someone mentioned that Yoko Ono was having breakfast with the mayor at the other end of the hotel restaurant from us, so I wandered over out of curiosity. Sure enough, she was sitting at a table with the mayor and both of their entourages, as well as a team of photographers circling the table like vultures over a fresh kill. Despite my healthy respect for people’s privacy, I figured she’s in a public place and it wouldn’t hurt to sneak a picture with my cell phone, which I promptly did. I’d no sooner taken a picture, when a curt and definitively Scandinavian-sounding voice yelled ”HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” As I turned, I was face-to-face with a severe-looking blonde woman with piercing grey eyes, blonde hair pulled back so tight her eyes bulged and a clear sense of disdain written across her stern face. I figured that I could’ve said anything and it wouldn’t have mattered, so I opted for complete honesty and explained that I was just taking a picture. She gave me a rapid fire lecture about it being a private event as I walked away (though I contemplated lecturing her that it was a public place, but whatev… as the kids say these days), and since she didn’t pursue me or have one of Yoko’s bodyguards rearrange my internal organs, I let that particular sleeping dog lie.
Zoos Can be Charming and Creepy
It was mid-morning as we stepped outside, but the air still had that early morning crisp you feel at daybreak, complete with seeing our breath, frost still lining grass and a chill that snuck into any opening it could find. Walking kept us warm as we arrived at the zoo entrance, which was both eerie and whimsical at the same time – especially since at first glance, it looked deserted…in a hey, that’s not normal…set up for a fan-made horror movie kind of way. It was an odd mix of my own local town’s zoo and the set of Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, complete with an unused merry-go-round.(1)
As we walked through the zoo, we finally saw other people wandering around – at least one couple who were also tourists, a few others who I couldn’t guess about, and a group of kids with their teacher. The zoo had a collection of reindeer, a few seals doing tricks for the kids, a minx that was dedicated to proving what mean little bastards they are, some everyday barnyard animals, a pair of very friendly Icelandic ponies horses who loved being pet, and a whole pack of artic foxes (the island’s only native mammal and only one until humans arrived).
(1) First, the Reston Zoo is barely more than a glorified petting zoo whose only claim to fame is – ironically enough – the now former zoo director being arrested for animal cruelty. Second, if you see nothing else that better defines the awesomely cheesy quality of late 1970’s TV programming, then this Kiss movie (which the band still hates with a vengeance) is the one for you. Trust me, it’s a beautiful, so-bad-it’s-fucking-wonderful movie best watched with friends MST3K-style…and/or while drinking.
A Museum Erected for Stiff Attention
Ever since we spotted the Icelandic Phallological Museum, my curiosity had been aroused about why this place sounded so familiar. The thought kept poking in and out of my subconscious, and best as I can tell, it must’ve come up in something I watched on TV (thanks, HBO). While many of our tour group blew off the place, several of us had been stroking each other’s sense of adventure to visit the museum and today we rose up for the challenge. The museum’s store front is plain and neutral, and the small lobby consists of the museum’s gift shop and clerk desk, manned by the place’s founder and owner Sigurður Hjartarson – a quiet, unassuming and polite man who struck me as having seen more than his fair share of obnoxious American tourist “dicks.”(1)
Walking inside, the museum wasn’t as impressive in size as you’d be led to believe – barely any bigger than a two or three bedroom apartment, but with dried, embalmed and otherwise preserved members from all kinds of species. The largest and unavoidable specimen is from a sperm whale (measuring in at around six feet long), and the smallest from a hamster (under a microscope). There were schlongs from deer, bears, dogs, and even one confirmed human appendage – all in varying degrees of identification depending on their condition and preservation. Old cartoons and newspaper ads and clippings lined the walls, and one room was dedicated to sex jokes and toys (though frankly, I’ve seen more imaginative ones elsewhere). Given our somewhat mixed crowd, it was hard not smirking or even laughing as some of the women in our crowd got caught up in a detailed discussion about what they prefer from their men while inspecting animal parts. Having seen the museum at length, we broke up – some returned to the hotel, and a few of us wandered around to wrap up shopping and/or check out a few last sites.
(1) Yes, any and all puns here are intentional (as if you didn’t know that).
How Much Cocaine Did the Host Have?
Many years ago, on my first European vacation, I toured the Stella Artois brewery, which was a liberating experience because I was 19 and the then drinking age in Europe was 18 (I’m not sure if that’s changed since then), and they were serving free samples. Needless to say, by the time we left, we were little more than a mass of tipsy teenagers and worried-beyond-belief-hoping-and-praying-they-wouldn’t-be-sued teacher leaders (to the best of my knowledge, they weren’t sued).
This evening’s entertainment was visiting the Ölgerðin brewery, nestled in the city’s industrial district, just a short bus ride from the hotel (in fact, I almost wonder if we should’ve walked there). Not only a brewery, the place was also the city’s (and possible whole island’s) soda bottling plant, and in what seemed to be today’s theme, not as large or impressive as expected, with the tour taking just a few minutes (by contrast, Stella Artois’ brewery is enormous). Our hosts were two women – one was a painfully thin British girl who can best be described as a struggling actress who had done way too many lines of cocaine before running on stage. The other was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed local beauty who had a certain Angelina Jolie look and referred to everyone as “my dears” in a voice like silk. They took us through a comprehensive account of Iceland’s drinking history, including their own Prohibition era and then attempts to bring back alcohol in the most God-awful concoction ever. Naturally, they made a mix of the concoction for us to taste test. Having already tried a few of the local brews, I already wasn’t too impressed with Icelandic beer, so when they started making a mixed drink consisting of the Icelandic equivalent of Milwaukee’s Beast and Brenninvan, my expectations were already pretty low…and that horrible drink was probably enough for washing away the taste of fermented shark, but not nearly appetizing enough for drinking until I didn’t care anymore.
About a dozen of us went downtown afterward hunting for dinner, but it was Friday night and the locals were out and every place packed, so the logistics of getting a large group into one restaurant was not happening. As we split into smaller groups, we came across a VERY energetic and drunk crowd of what we guessed were Germans and Icelanders, whose leader was pissing up against a wall for all to see. Eventually, having broken down into more manageable teams and losing the literally piss drunk locals, a few of us wandered into a dive bar with a scattered crowd of tourists and older locals, and a huge number of college age kids. The place had an awesome 80s theme going on with waitresses wearing neon-colored clothes, complete with off-the-shoulder baggy tops and heavy metal hair band coifs. Feasting on what was not the best burgers ever, the tasty stout (not local) made up for the food and brewery fare. A short hike into town and then a bus ride over to the hotel got us back just in time to meet up with some of the others for a few drinks before calling it a night.