Friday, May 25, 2007

Not Westfjords!

Ok, so we just checked the weather. We might not be going to the Westfjords anymore since it's gonna be cold with rain/snow/sleet. And we were thinking of doing it as a camping trip.

The car was booked, but only Icelandic style (i.e. they took Jo's first name only) so I assume we can back out it with no problem.

Hmm, what to do... Maybe a one or two day trip somewhere else. How about the Vestmanneyjar?

Thursday, May 24, 2007


We have Monday off next week (Whit Monday. No, I don't know what that means). So we're taking advantage of the long weekend and going on a trip to the Westfjords tomorrow! We rented a car, bought a road guide, and charged the camera battery. Winding and occasionally unpaved roads, here we go!

(I guess we still have to pack and figure out where we will be visiting, where we will be sleeping, and which direction we will be taking. Details)

Belgian Beer

And now, on to cheerier stuff. I wrote this last week but forgot to publish it. Also, note that this post might be boring if you don't care much about beer :)

Over the last couple of years, I have gradually gotten into good beer, often Belgian. Philly might not be the greatest city (sorry, Philly-lovers), but it is blessed with two Belgian food and beer places (Monk's and Eulogy). After trying some of the beers there I was hooked. Unfortunately, laws in Pennsylvania mean that buying beer by the bottle is quite difficult, so you end up having to buy it by the pack (6) or case (24) depending on the availability. And with those beers costing up to 5$ a bottle (sometimes more) at the store, getting a case would be too expensive. Plus it would take quite a while to go through.

Luckily, I had found a place in Maryland (only 45 minutes away from my former residence) that sold all kinds of good beers by the bottle, and I made several trips there and tried lots of good beers. It was great!

Coming to Iceland, things went downhill on the beer front. All the alcohol has to be bought from the state store (Vinbuð), including beer, so at the store downtown they seem to have about a dozen or so different kinds of beer, most of them being the typical pilsner kind (think Coors / Miller /Bud from the US, Viking / Thule / Egils from Iceland). So, few good options. Moreover, beer (as well as any alcohol) is expensive here, so buying it from the store ends up being about 3$ a bottle (for a basic beer).

However, the other day I stopped by the Vinbuð store in Kringlan, and walked around the aisles... Till I found.. Belgian beers! Now admittedly, it's not an amazing selection, but they had at least 10 different kinds of those. Plus a few interesting non-Belgian beers.

Also, the prices ranged from 200 to 350 kronur (3 to 5.5$) which is the same as I would pay in the US for those beers. Since drinks here seem to be (highly) taxed by alcohol content instead of by price, most beers end up within a narrow price range regardless of their original pre-tax price. This makes a good beer a better value in comparison to a standard one. So a Miller (MGD) would cost 3$ (compared to 1 or less in the US) while a blue Chimay costs 5.5$, about the same as the US.


Good stuff

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sumar á Líbanon

Well, it seems that just like last summer, this one is shaping up to be a bad one (or a 'hot summer' as people say in this case). Just two weeks ago, Jo and I were still thinking about going there this summer to have a wedding celebration there, with all my family (following the civil wedding in State College and Thai wedding ceremony in Seattle last year). But two weeks ago, my parents told me to postpone the plans, because things were unstable. I knew they were right, but I was a bit upset nonetheless.

Over the last few days, troubles erupted in North Lebanon, in and around a Palestinian camp. An extremist militia, after a botched robbery attempt, attacked army posts and killed about two dozen soldiers that day, so things got fucked up very quickly, and they have been involved in a fight with the army till now. Now, Lebanese politics are very complicated (seriously...), so I can't explain it in depth here... But let's just say that for each act, there are tons of different conspiracy theories that could actually be true. So it's often hard to know the real causes and motives. But, personally, I suspect at least a partial Syrian involvement in this stuff. We'll see.

Two days ago, a bomb exploded in East Beirut, near a shopping mall. Yesterday, I got a call from my parents, telling me not to worry... as there was a bomb 300 meters from our house (in a neighborhood named Verdun). This area down the street from us was targeted with a car bomb, and a whole building burned.

Now, there has been shit going on for the last two years, but when it hits your neighborhood... It's different. It's scarier. And it angers/hardens me in ways that I don't like. But that's the way it is (Interestingly enough, my mood at such times often oscillates between black humor, anger, fear and sadness).

I've felt this way last year too, during the summer war between Israel and Hizbollah. Though the whole thing was very stressful, the damage and/or destruction of familiar places (beaches covered in oil, bombed roads and bridges) always hit me very hard. But still, that would be nothing compared to loved ones being hurt.

Anyway, I really hope things don't continue on this path. This is not what my neighborhood is supposed to look like.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reminders that I'm in Iceland

1) It's currently snowing.
2) After staying for a few hours in a dimly-lit underground-ish club last night, I got out around midnight and it was light out. Went out to another place, got out at 2am. Still light.
3) They had cars and buses overturned and split last week, and it was part of an artistic event, not due to accidents or bombs.

I kinda like this place.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Turkish coffee

As an embodiment of our exciting lifestyle here, Jo spontaneously grabbed a camera and started documenting my first cup of Turkish (or Greek, for some of you out there...) coffee in Iceland.


Have a cup!

Voting twice a day

Icelanders yesterday had two elections they could vote in. In no particular order of importance, the elections were:

1) The parliamentary (Alþingi) elections. The 63-person parliament is re-elected in its entirety every 4 years. This is basically the most important election in the land, since the government is formed by a majority coalition in the parliament, and the president is mostly just a figurehead.

Without getting in too much detail, the ruling coalition (made up of one large party and a smaller one) saw its numbers reduced from 34 to 32 MPs, giving it the barest of majorities. However it seems that parties here are quite flexible in their alliances, so the upcoming weeks should be interesting. I must confess to being an election junkie (even though I've never been able to vote yet), so it's been fun watching the campaign season unfold here. I'm still a bit unclear about the math behind the allocation of seats in the parliament though, since I can't find much English documentation about it. If any Icelander's reading this, what's the difference between a "Kjörd sæti" and a "Jöfn. sæti"?

2) Otherwise, Icelanders (well some of them) voted in Eurovision too. This is a big event here... Small nation syndrome perhaps? We went to a "Eurovision party" (which I guess was also an "Alþingi party" at the same time) where people were watching the performances and drinking and eating and voting by SMS. This was my first time watching this event... And yes, it's extremely campy. The geopolitics behind the way the votes of one country are distributed among other countries is interesting though. Oh, and Serbia won this time.


The Reykjavík Arts Festival was launched this week. As part of it, large wooden dolls (a girl and her father, both giants) were "walking" around town. The whole performance was made by a French group, named "Royal de Luxe" (which sounds incredibly generic in French, frankly...).

I'm not sure what the general storyline was, but it basically involved this giant and his daughter. The giant left a path of destruction in the days leading to the event, which included damaging a lot of car and starting a geyser in downtown. The geyser was amusing, and a stræto bus (city bus) was impressively sliced with a giant knife.

Jo and I went downtown for part of the show, at the center of town. Plenty of people were amassed there, and the weather was sunny (though a bit cold) which gave the show quite the festive mood.

The giant's path: an overturned car...

And a nailed car

Sleeping giant, surrounded by the crowds

Trying to get a good view...

The girl

Her face

You wouldn't want to mess with him...

Sunday, May 6, 2007


I found out the hard way yesterday that if a game of Scrabble ends with a tie, the winner is the person who had the highest score before the points for the unused tiles are added/deducted.

Jo and I have finally received boxes we meant to ship to ourselves from the US (thanks Mike! :)) and we had our scrabble board in there. We can get quite competitive and pouty when playing, which is kind of amusing. Yesterday's game was one where I fell behind quite a bit from the very beginning (and at that point had a goal of not losing by more than a hundred points). However things kept getting better till we got to the very end, and the only play I could make resulted in a tie, and I was on the losing side of that tie breaking rule.

It was epic. The catastrophic beginnings. The constant struggle, and validation that it brought. The taste of victory, so close... And then, at the photo finish, brought forth by the smallest of margins... A tragedy compounded by the hope that had preceded it. You could easily make a movie about it.

Otherwise, before the game, we tried Tommy's hambugers (Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar), apparently a Reykjavík institution, and a 10 minute walk from our apartment. The burgers were quite tasty, if a bit undercooked.

Company outing

This Friday was different, at work. We were told earlier that week that there would be a company outing on that day, and that a bus would take us from work at 4pm. Further hints were dropped in the last couple of days, but since I don't speak Icelandic most of the stuff escaped me.

Now, for a quick background about my company, it's made up of 30 employees or so. It also belongs to one big Icelandic conglomerate (yes, they have those here too). Of the 30 employees, about 6-8 are in the software group (including me), and that group has been moved to a separate office recently.

So, it was finally Friday at 4 pm. We got on a bus, on which the other two dozen employees already were on. Actually we grabbed beers before we got on the bus. We then went to a recording studio in Hafnarfjörður (a town south of Reykjavík), where we ended up going in the recording room in groups of 4-5 to record songs! The song I sang on was called "Draumur um Nínu" (meaning "Dream about Nina", which a google search reveals is the 1992 Icelandic Eurovision entry). Having not heard this before, I tried to sing as well as I could.. It will be interesting to listen to it when we will be given copies!

After the recordings, the bus drove us West (towards Hveragerði), and we stopped by an ATV course. We put on some outerwear (it's muddy there!) and got on the ATVs, 2 people on each. At first I was in the passenger seat, which was a bit uncomfortable. Halfway through we switched and I was driving... Now that was more fun :). The course wasn't too complicated, though the setting was nice (surrounded by those moss-covered mountains).

After the ATVs, we got on the bus again, and were assigned to each interview our neighbor so that we could do a one minute presentation about them over dinner. The dinner was at a place called the "ski cabin" apparently, in the same area (not that there seemed to be much skiing infrastructure there...). Since there were 30 presentations to be made, that took quite a while. Everything was in Icelandic, so I could only understand word here or there. Thankfully my lessons start in 10 days!

After dinner, the bus took us downtown, and we went to a couple of bars/clubs. The combined alcohol from the trip (plenty of beer on the bus, wine and other drinks at dinner) and from the clubs had the (expected) effect of making Icelanders easier to chat with. People are quite reserved here when they don't really know you... Until the alcohol hits :).