shewhomust generously let me have her Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland, and I had a long list of things I wanted to do and see; but I was only there for two days, and spent them in meetings. So, no geysers or northern lights for me, this time. However, I did take part in two quintessentially Icelandic activities. One was bathing outside (with snow on the ground), in a geothermally-heated pool, at around 40 degrees C. That was rather blissful, and I definitely recommend it. The other, I'm not so sure about...
One of our hosts was very insistent that we should try hákarl, or fermented shark - a food that has some reputation for grossness even in a country where rams' testicles are treated an ideal lunch box snack for the kids. It looks fairly innocuous - a sort of pornographic Turkish delight - but it smells much worse, being fish that has rotted in its own urine (sharks pee through their skin, as you will know): suffice it to say that ammonia is a key note in its bouquet. I managed to get down one lump, followed by a swift gulp of coffee.
I plan to get my host back by giving him Marmite sandwiches next year, when it's his turn to visit Britain.
Otherwise, Akureyri was pretty:
And it was very cool to see thorns being used on street signs:
And for fans of fusion cooking, there was Icelandic sushi.
Of course the Japanese and Icelanders are joined by a love of whale-hunting, but whale was absent from this menu, strangely. I was tempted by California Inside-Out Roll and Crazy Shrimps, but eventually plumped for the non-sushi alternative of tuna steak in a creole rub. It was delicious, and deliciously unlike hákarl.
I'd not been anywhere on the continent except France and Spain for several years, and I was really struck by how ubiquitous English was. Of course, everyone in Iceland seemed to be fluent, but during my brief stopover at Copenhagen airport most of the signs were in English first, even before Danish. One shop proudly declared that it was "By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark" - only in English. It seemed a strange way of expressing one's patriotism, but I guess they know their market. This was my favourite shop display, though:
Sulphuric acid! The ultimate exfoliating rub.
At the railway station at Brussels Airport I heard several people ahead of me in the ticket queue ask in sundry languages for a ticket to the city centre. Each time, the young man serving answered, "The centre of which city?" "Er, Brussels," came the inevitable reply. It's good to know that Belgian ticket sellers are fully trained in the Method of Doubt, though I couldn't photograph it. Instead, here is an advert from the cafe across the conference centre I was working at, showing an early form of aggressive advertising. Who are the competition being reduced to impotence? Are they recognizable brands of pasta from the early twentieth-century? Who has put them in the stocks, to be threatened by a phallic fork complete with noodly appendages, and apparently destined for world domination?
FACT: As of today, "Macaron le Bolo" brings up no Google hits at all. "Look on my Forks, ye Mighty, and Despair."