23 October, 2010

One more for Reykjavik …

As Thor said, Reykjavik is a compact place - and yet, that compactness makes even short distances feel long. Interface with the extensive public bus system (stræto.is) at central station Hlemmur. Each ride costs 280kr, so if there's a chance you'll catch the bus just three times in a day, the 600kr day pass is a big saver. Just 50kr gets you a booklet with details on all routes, well worth its price.

My destination was Arbæjarþrek, one of the gyms i had found in an online review of the local fitness options. Fylkisvegur 6 turned out to be twenty minutes or more from the city center, and that online review was a bit out of date (day pass now cost 900kr rather than 700), but the trip was worth it for a basic, well-stocked gym. As i headed out, friendly Ingi at the front desk struck up a conversation, curious about my travels. I explained the hit-or-miss CouchSurfing lifestyle and told him about the work i do. "Give me a mail if you're in town again," he said. "I might have a couch for you."


In the evening Thor and i met up for a trip to the pools. (Thanks to him, i learned that 2500kr buys a pass for ten visits good at all the pools in Reykjavik.) It was late enough that the only one open would be Laugardalslaug, the big pool. Though this one's a little cooler, the pool and hot tubs filled the night air with steam. The expansive, arcing hot tub is punctuated with smooth rocks, and theres a lip at the edge you can lay your head back on.

As we soak, we talk a bit about the pervasively bilingual atmosphere here. I read somewhere that Iceland (pop. 300,000) has the highest rate of book publishing per capita of any nation - and that this is attributable partly to efforts to conserve the Icelandic language. Being multilingual is to Thor an advantage, but he also observes the precarious position of languages like Islenska, Gaelic, and other minor tongues. We talked for a while about the alphabetic and phonetic sides of language - and how Icelanders dropped c, q, x, and z, but still have 32 letters in their alphabet.

He explains that Icelanders speak English so well because it's all around them in film and television. While in most European nations American entertainment is dubbed, in Iceland there are only subtitles. Despite the people all around me speaking Islenska, i hear numerous Icelanders speaking excellent American English, and almost all important signage and public information is bilingual. A male voice crackles through the speakers letting us know the pool is now closed, first in Icelandic, then English. "He didn't say in English about the edge being slippery," Thor commented.

On our way back from the pool to the city center, my companion pointed skyward, where ghostly curtains of white shifted overhead. Though it is, in forecast terms, very quiet auroral activity, and despite light pollution, you could still see it. I chuckled silently, thinking of all those people who've paid for the northern lights tour and not seen an aurora. Better to hang out with a local, get a taste of the local pastimes - drinking beer and enjoying the cheap public pools - and glimpse the aurora by chance, all the more haunting as it surprises you on a late night walk home.

It's 1:30 now, and CouchSurfing here was an epic fail. Thank goodness for the boisterous Reykjavik nightlife; Bankarstræti is one throb of club music after another. With the pack i won't get into trendy Austur - but i can find someplace to dance myself awake until my flight departs at five AM.