Reykjavik

Monday. My second to last day in Europe. I stayed at a hostel that night, woke up sort of late, then took some time to find an indoor bouldering place which ended up being closed till that evening. Then I decided to hit up one of their many thermal pools. The one I chose seemed to be pretty sans-tourist for which I was glad. I followed the ritual of dipping in the most scalding hot pool, then jumping into the most ice cold one, and back and forth until my skin felt like a tough smooth rubber. Then I found their steam room, and repeated the process for around one hour. Leaving the pool I felt immeasurably refreshed, but also kind of lazy.

Walking around, I found a bus that took me back to the hostel to grab my climbing stuff. At the Bouldering gym, I found some interesting people, one of whom was a Polish girl who had been living in Iceland since January, and loves it. I asked her why, and she said – because it is sunny in the summer all the time. And in the winter I asked? She said the dark is worth it for the eternal sun, and the contrast is amazing actually. They had the weirdest rating system, which was sort of like the V system in the USA, but it was more about the setter than the rating – almost like following the books of a certain author, you get used to a certain style of routes and know better what they are.

Also, not sure what was up with the huge pile of mattresses in the corner of the gym.

That evening I met up with yet another guy from couchsurfing.com. He and I had been chatting over the network, and I had called him a couple times. That night we finally met at one of the main bus stops. Instantly, we clicked. He had the most interesting eyes, the kind where you can sort of look into the soul and feel that there’s something real good in there. He was in his last year of studies to be an educator for disabled children, but taking the summers in Iceland to work as a glacier tour guide. He had been trekking around the island for the past two weeks as a vacation from his job using hitch hiking as his main way of transport. He was probably down to his last fifty Euros as I sensed while helping him around a Bonus (a grocery store chain). Then I invited him to come to a tour with me at 8pm – the “haunted tour” of Reykjavik. Only after I had told him the story of myself as a poor student in France and how people had helped me out monetarily, did he agree that I pay the price for him. In this case, it definitely felt great to give something rather than receive.
So we dropped his stuff off in my room and then went for some dinner, just in time to run over to the start of the tour. Except that I had marked the wrong place on the map. By the time we found the start point, the tour had already started, and no one knew which way they went.
We had worked so well together so far that I thought it would be fun to go hunt the tour down and take part in whatever was left of it. So we looked for clues: the website had three locations identified by words and two pictures. One of an “elf stone” (we found it),:

the other of the “oldest cemetery in Iceland”, and a third about the Parliament Park. We wandered around for about half an hour, finding the first two of the three things, until we stumbled upon a tour-looking group. Bingo! Found them! It was a really cool feeling, the two of us cracking jokes about our successful search and then about stuff the tour guide was saying. All in all, it was a good tour, but I did sort of freeze my butt off by the end of it. The day was coming to an end, so after grabbing a warm drink, my new friend and I walked along the bay as the sun was setting around 10pm, ending up at a statue of a Viking boat.

Eventually I had to stay goodbye as he boarded his bus that night, but I did so with a heavy heart. He was one of the best people I met on such random and spontaneous notice during my trip. In the end, I now do have a friend in Krakow, Poland where I know I’ll be welcome 🙂

Couchsurfing the Icelandic Way

At the Tegel airport in Berlin, I was messaging this man who had contacted me through Couchsurfing.com. He said he was going on a trip to south Iceland from Reykjavik and didn’t want to go alone. I was kind of skeptical and a little bit worried because he had no references yet on the website, and so I had no idea where this would go… but I took my chances. And I’m glad I did 🙂
There were a lot of questions in my mind – what if he flakes (he said he would pick me up from the airport), what if he ends up being a freak or sex offender… However, this was an opportunity to go visit a part of Iceland I would not see otherwise, as he was a local and would know places to go that the tour buses wouldn’t. That is exactly what I was looking for.

Oslo

Interesting facts

Teslas – people love them here. I totally get it – they are nice inside, quiet, look cool. But actually, the reason why it’s worth the money is that they are highly subsidized… by that I mean that apparently it is free to drive them around the city (regular cars have to pay a tax), free to park them in special spots in the city, and to charge them, it costs nothing too… so basically you have a Tesla = free. (except maybe insurance, but I don’t know how that works here).
Public transport – One of the best I’ve seen in Europe. Besides Toulouse at least. Things run on time, there are many routes in the small city. Also the basic fare includes ferry rides to the islands, bus, tram, metro, etc.
Money – Even the bus takes cards. I didn’t have to use cash at all but have you seen their krons? They have holes in the middle!
Diversity – Oslo is very diverse. There are Asians, Indians, Tourists, Middle Easterners, Tourists, Americans, Europeans from other countries, and did I mention Tourists?
English – Pretty much everyone speaks it, except maybe the gypsies, but even they know how to say please, which is more than I can say for the French :D.
Bikes and Dogs – These things are equivalent to children when paying for metro tickets during rush hour. Bikes are free outside of rush hour.
Sports – Everyone here runs, swims, bikes, or something else. They are really active at least in the summer.
Jetlag – This has nothing to do with Oslo, but after a week, I still have to take naps. It really sucks. Maybe I should start going to bed earlier than 1am. Oh but wait.. it’s vacation right? Sleep when you’re dead?

July 15

Wake up at 5am. It is early, but the sun has been up for 2 hours now. My couchsurfing host is awesome and wakes up with me, makes tea and helps me with my bag to get to the metro station 1 minute before it comes. Perfect timing. I get to the train station in good time, and the train leaves exactly on time. These Norwegians are “a l’heure”!