Dec. 2nd, 2016

In November I went to Iceland to attend a Nordic Noir crime fiction conference. It was my first visit there and I really enjoyed it. The only real disappointment was that a tentatively scheduled trip to Siglufjordur in the north did not go ahead, although we did get out of the city on a day trip, exploring some of the southern peninsula.

Not all of the featured authors were Icelandic, but the author who was to lead this tour, Ragnar Jonasson, is, and is the author of the "Dark Iceland" series of books, which take place up there in the northern reaches of Iceland, and which I've been reading as they get translated into English (by Quentin Bates, who was also at the conference and who also writes his own series set in that part of the world). Other featured authors at the conference included Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Michael Ridpath, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves and Leena Lehtolainen.

As interesting as the conference itself was absorbing some of the national culture as well as the natural landscape in and around Reykjavik.

There seemed to be a museum for virtually everything, including a phallological museum (a.k.a. The Museum of the Penis), which I walked past but didn't actually visit. Those I DID visit included the "Art Museum" (modern art, including an exhibit by Yoko Ono and some comic book art), Volcano House, the Punk Museum, a photography museum, and a very interesting historical exhibit of Scandinavian design relating to children (toys, clothing, furniture, etc.) which was on at Nordic House, where the majority of conference sessions were also held. One interesting thing I noticed was that the cut-off age for a "senior" was usually 67 and sometimes even 70. Is that good or bad, I wondered? On balance, I decided it was probably a good sign of the healthy Icelandic climate and lifestyle, even though it meant I didn't qualify for the cheaper rate. Perhaps along the lines of the old Participaction ads that maintained the average 30-year-old Canadian was less fit than a 60-year-old Swede?

I never did make it to the Icelandic National Gallery, nor their National Museum. As is often the case here, they seemed to be closed on Mondays. So on the Monday which was my last full day in Reykjavik, I decided to go up the spire in the Hallgrimmskirkja, where I was treated to a panoramic view of the city. Afterwards, I went to a nearby indoor swimming pool with high outdoor decks and hot tubs, where I again enjoyed wonderful views of the city. I nearly chickened out when I got to the women's changing room and realized that before entering the pool area or even donning my swimsuit, I would first be required to take a shower sans swim-attire. Luckily it was not a particularly busy day there and the few others who were there seemed to be going about things quite matter-of-factly and unselfconsciously. After doing a lot of touristy things in the preceding days, it was actually quite nice to be taking part in something which seemed to be mainly a pastime of the inhabitants!

Christmas, or at least the festive season - Yule, Solstice, or whatever - seems to be quite a big thing in Iceland. Well, if you've only got a couple of hours of daylight each day, I guess you want to make the most of it! I will say that when the sun did appear, it could be fairly intense and I was glad of my sunglasses. Anyway, in Reykjavik The Season seemed to arrive in full force on Saturday, November 19. When I went downstairs on Saturday morning, there was a big tree in the lobby and lots of seasonal decorations. Major personalities of the season are the 13 Yule Lads, the first of which arrives December 12 and leaves December 25, with each subsequent one arriving and leaving a day later. They're all pretty naughty and mischievous and have names like Door-Slammer and Sausage-Swiper. There's also Gryla and her Yule-Cat, and I think one or two other characters who come into play. I'd been worried that November might be a rather miserable time to travel but it turned out to be a fairly good time - not peak tourist season, yet before the severe winter weather really kicks in.

In terms of time zones and TV stations and such, Iceland is on Greenwich Standard Time year-round, which for me meant a 5-hour time difference. In my hotel room, I mainly watched UK TV stations - BBC and ITV. I heard all about severe flooding in Bristol due to storm Angus, and pensioners having their benefits cut. But I did get to jump ahead on my Coronation Street viewing - they're about 10 days ahead of what we're seeing in Canada!

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