Monday, February 23, 1998 11:29 PM
part 1

This is being e-mailed to those whose address I have. Everyone else will have to wait. This way, I don't have to deal yet with the postal system... more importantly, I don't have to leave my warm office and go outside where it is snowing, to deal with the postal system.

To get to Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, from Australia, one flies to Amsterdam, then changes planes and flies to Reykjavík. The Amsterdam flight takes about 21 hours and seems to drag on forever. The flight to Reykjavík takes 3 hours, and when one is that close, it seems to take no time at all.

The airport is isolated, along with the army barracks - as it should be :-) - about 45 minutes' drive from the centre of Reykjavík. The view on the way gives a good indication of what Iceland is: vast plains of lichen-covered volcanic rock, and some snow (the rest of the snow being moved around by the wind and rain). Trees are rare.

Reykjavík is divided into an old section (the originally inhabited area) and a new section. The architecture is similar in both cases, and there is no distinct line that separates one from the other; however, in the old section, all of the necessities (home, office, markets, post office, and cinemas) are within a few minutes' walk, whereas in the new section, they are within a few minutes' drive.

The population of Reykjavík is small, about 100,000 people - almost half of the population of the whole of Iceland - so foreigners tend to be recognised very quickly.

Family names change with each generation - a son's family name is his father's name with the word "son" added (eg Björnsson), and a daughter's family name is her father's name with the word "dóttir" added (eg Björnsdóttir), so people are addressed by their first name. This is true for the average citizen, right up to the president.

English is spoken and understood widely, but being able to speak Icelandic is clearly an advantage. Iceland was first populated in the 10th century by Vikings, but the Icelandic language hasn't changed much since then. Thus, to learn Icelandic is to learn much of old Norse. I'm going to begin Icelandic language lessons in a couple of weeks.

The weather is unpredictable - every few hours it changes from some combination of rain, wind, snow, or fine, to some other combination, and it can be raining, snowing, and windy in one end of the city, and fine in another. An umbrella is useless here - the wind blows the rain in all directions, including upwards. It's also not as cold as one might expect of a country called "Iceland", owing to the Gulf stream that flows nearby. During summer, the temperature can reach 20°C; during winter, it drops below -5°C rarely, but the wind-chill factor makes it seem a bit colder than that.

At this time of year, the sun comes up about 10 minutes earlier *per day*. For the first couple of days, I wasn't convinced, but on the third day, it was obvious. During summer, the sun does not set at all, which is why Iceland is known as the "land of the midnight sun".

Being cold for most of the year, agriculture is rare here, so almost everything is imported, and the cost of living is quite high. In addition, the exchange rate is quite high, so a Big Mac (yes, they have McDonald's here) costs the equivalent of A$4.00.

With all of the volcanoes on the island, it makes sense to harness the geothermal heat for use in buildings, and that's what's done, however the hot water smells of sulphur as a result.

The banking system is slightly unusual, too - when you enter the bank, you take a number and wait in line. If there is no line, you take a number and just wait.

Overall, I'm having a good time. More later.

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