Monday, May 30, 2011

I'm looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.

1,000th post and still drinking wine from mugs!

(To be fair, I am currently drinking it from a glass. What a poser.)

I'll post pics of this place soon. I love my little attic, though I am positive I will totally kill myself on the ladder-like stairs one of these days. I am living in Archipelbuurt, the "fancy" neighborhood, according to my supervisor. (I said, "aren't all the Hague neighborhoods 'fancy'?" To which he replied, "Well, that's the FANCY fancy one.")

I really like my supervisor. He reminds me a little bit of Wil Wheaton for some reason, I think it's the mouth. (Commenting on someone's mouth will never not be a weird comment to make, I've obviously kept that one to myself.) But as I mentioned, I was having a really shit time with my Amex cheques. I asked if I could skip out early last week to deal with it (banks do not take them and I had to track down an exchange shop near the more remote Holland Spoor station). He said that was not a problem at all.

Later, I was in his office and I casually mentioned something about walking because I had no idea how the trams work. He was appalled. He brought up the shop on a map online and then physically walked me downstairs and out of the building (when you work at the UN, this takes a certain amount of effort--lots of badge scanning that was fun for about the first day) and showed me which tram and which direction. Confidence ensued. Later that day, I used the tram all by myself and was terribly proud. (Actually, I was pretty embarrassed how easy it turned out to be. The whole thing took about 8 minutes and after the money exchange, I had been gone for maybe 30 minutes. Good thing I left 2.5 hours early!)

The money exchange went well (aside from the ass-raping commission of 65EU) and as I mentioned I now have a cell and tram card. The former is mostly for emergencies or texting. It has seen no action so far, which is good since it's pay-as-you-go.

Otherwise work is going well. I do not have a verdict on the Dutch people. My landlady is French and she is very hard to read. I have been warned by all my flatmates not to get on her bad side. Apparently she has her moments. The general consensus seems to be "don't take it personally."

Random Dutch people, on the whole, have struck me as fairly rude. In fairness, I do not think this is the case so much as just my particular perception. They are a very direct people and it's not surprising someone like me would take it for rudeness. It's just something to be aware of. And I have had run-ins with the occasional random Dutch person that turned out to be very good experiences and they were exceedingly friendly and helpful. (But yeah, for the most part, they seem to be a fairly abrupt people. Not the biggest fan so far.)

And before you stop and give me shit that my supervisor turned out to be very helpful and friendly, I would tell you that he is actually not Dutch. As it turns out, he's from--drumroll, wait for it--yup, he's from Texas. Natch. (Ok, Houston, but I'll take it.)

If they used any of the footage from my shoplifting arrest, that would be great because my arms looked fantastic.

Ok, so Dill Restaurant!

I had a seven course dinner with wine pairings for each course. It was the most expensive meal I have ever had, no doubt. It was located in the Nordic House in Reykjavik, a cute little historic house situated...well, not really close to anything, actually. Which wouldn't matter unless you showed up at 5:30 despite having a 7:00 reservation because you wanted to get the show on the road since you have to get the hell up at 3:30am...and whoops, you just found out they don't even open til 7:00.

(So the oh-so-helpful waiter told me the closest bar was probably "up there" pointing vaguely to the city center where I had just come from. "Helpful" and "friendly" are not words that leap to mind when I think of my waiter.)

I saw a Radisson somewhat nearby and went for a glass of wine. I got to chatting with the Turkish bartender, whose name escapes me, but was very awesome with an actual personality and entertaining stories. I thought of the drunk Irish man from my previous evening and wanted so badly to show him what interesting people are like.

These also kept me company, they were quite nummy, whatever the hell they were.

So closer to 7:30 I went back to Dill. The restaurant itself is a tiny room within the Nordic House that seats 30; because the courses are so specialized and the place is so tiny, they basically have to make the diners keeps pace. So I was by myself but forced to spend from 7:30 until 11:30 eating. That part was actually pretty goddamn annoying. I love to eat leisurely and relish every part, I do, but this was ridiculous. It did end up working out in my favor, however.

I finished at the same time as the group of Icelandic businessmen to my left, who had only had the 5 course dinner (but who got there before I did). As I may have mentioned, Iceland had been much colder than usual, and the wind made it especially brutal. I had a jacket, but it was hardly a match for the wind that night. I started to leave, cracked the door open...and yeah, I said no. I came back inside the main room (mostly a gallery for the House, the restaurant was its own little room) and the businessmen were all in a group and leaving. I fully admit it, I walked right up and said, "This might be inappropriate, but by any chance are you going to be driving by the city center?" IT WAS REALLY COLD, GODDAMMIT.

I'm sorry, I had just spent the better part of four hours next to these people at dinner and based on their conversations, I guess I just wasn't worried. And sure enough, they turned out to be a bunch of IT geeks celebrating something with their boss that I cannot remember. So I picked a very safe group of guys. I left with three of them and they coincidentally chose a bar for drinks that was literally one block from where I was staying. I stayed for one drink but didn't want to crash the party--and goddamn it was bedtime--so I thanked them politely and left.

So even though I had to spend 4 hours eating dinner, I didn't have to walk home in the bitter-ass wind.

Anyway, the FOOD was actually quite good. I loved one of the chefs, who would occasionally bring out my dishes. He was much nicer and had an actual personality, unlike my waiter. Ironically, later I discovered that both myself and the table of businessmen thought the waiter was giving the other far more attention and felt we were getting slighted. (But really, I think they WERE getting better service.)

Seriously, the more I drank and the longer I had to wait to get food, the more I wanted to steal this guy. I would have, but only two tables had him. There was one at the entry podium as well, and I thought about swapping so I could nick mine, but that was too much effort for a memento taken in pettiness. Mostly meaning I thought someone would see.


My view while I ate--this is around 7:30, btw. And if you look at the right-hand view, you can see the church from a previous post--gives an idea how big it really is.

This was a tasting (below) that came out first. Oh, and we got a glass of champagne prior to dinner. I was asked if I wanted it before I saw the menu. That goddamn flute of bubbles was more expensive than the bottles I usually buy!

I know this looks like a pile of hay and you know, it very well may be. But that little guy in the middle is bread with smoked mayonnaise. It's very complicated to smoke because they do not have an oven. So they are little labors of love but very, very tasty.

The second tasting (yes, second tasting!) was Jerusalem artichoke with Icelandic mustard and chives. Very light, crisp and delicious. I could have eaten a little more...I was also quite taken with the bowl (kind of an earthenware pot) and the sexy little spoon. Small pleasures.

Bread! Also known as the prelude to the actual dinner segment beginning. Each had its respective butter but I wouldn't have known had I not asked the waiter. He reminded me of my old Commodore 64 mystery games--you just had to ask the right questions if you wanted to get anywhere. So the white (spelt?) bread got the herb butter and the maple bread (NOM) got the pine butter (the one in the back).

This is celeriac and herb cream with löjrom, cress, goat cheese and "earthy" rye bread. This was the first time one of the chefs brought the dish to me, and he explained that they go out into the forest and pick the herbs themselves. This is awesome and vaguely alarming, but all that matters is how nice it tasted. The thing on top is foamy, if you can't tell.

Here we have marinated shrimps, buttermilk and whey.

An even better view. The crunchy bits (the whey) were quite lovely.

This is the view of the kitchen, to my right. As you can see, not the biggest restaurant.

Next up! Scallops, carrots, sea buckthorn and pine, almonds and chevril. This was great, and the chef came and poured the sauce as part of the presentation. This was also about the time the waiter brought the 3rd wine over, a Chardonnay from France that was lovely, but I was too shocked to say anything when he brought the glass over with some already in it?! It was bizarre. So much for presentation on that count...

This one was one of the stars of the evening...potatoes and mussel salad with sour pearl onions, fried onions and "all kinds of DILL!" (Get it?)

But just a very sexy-looking dish, to start out with.

And quite nummy. I had to fight off the waiter from taking it before I was done, and then he stayed away for about fifteen minutes. *facepalm*

That was when I got bored and took more pictures of the scenery. As you can see, it is getting dark. Even in Iceland.

Veal, cheese and ramsons. Confit onion and fried vegetables. I really enjoyed him, but I also wish the dishes had been coming a little more rapidly. I was getting tired/bored, however good the dishes were. When *I* think the waiter is dragging his ass, you can only imagine just how impressive the down time was.

Yup, taking pictures of the glasses. That bored.

Darkness continues to fall in Reykjavik. I get older. The Earth rotates.

Another dish! YAY! This is "Skyr, fennel and Melissa." Your guess is as good as mine. It was cold and refreshing, very delicious, however cryptic.

God this was probably really good but I decided once and for all that I am NOT a beet person. I could barely get half of this down. It had great texture, color and presumably it tasted great to those who love beets. I was not enchanted. But for the record, this is red beets, honey and rosemary with sugar-fried hazelnuts and cake made with burned butter.

So that was dinner. I'm really glad I did it, even though I think that will have to be my birthday present to myself! (I wasn't counting on the wine pairings being a separate beast, but you can't NOT do them. I also felt self-conscious about being on my own, so got the 7-course instead of the 5.) Again, fuck it. If you're going to do it, do it right. (I will repeat this mantra while living in my cardboard box.)

You can probably perhaps start to appreciate how thin my patience had worn by the end of the night, so somehow walking 20 minutes home in a bitter wind was just too much to ask, hence the brazen request for a ride to the city center. Something I would never do back home in a million years, but somehow there it didn't seem out of line. (Particularly with wine-infused judgment, no doubt.)

I only got 2.5 hours of sleep, so though I felt fine in the morning (3.30am, thank you), I was soooooooooo tired I wanted to vomit. So I curled up at the gate.

And took a picture of the board. I mean, I had 2 hours to kill, didn't feel like eating, and Keflavik Airport is not friendly enough to provide wifi.

So I took one of these to Amsterdam and have been in Holland ever since. Pics of my new home to follow!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

We had a sick night, bitches.

Ok, never mind as to whether this trailer looks awful or not. The point is there was no "red band" warning before the one I saw! They seem to be a lot more liberal about what's ok for trailers here in Europe! It's great but Cameron Diaz letting out an oh-so-casual "fuck my ass" totally startled the shit out of me!

I wish I didn't think Justin Timberlake was funny...he could be enough to justify a screening.

Anyway, what I was seeing was not a whole lot better...I went to see The Hangover II.

Whoops, that's not quite right, how did that get there...

Ok, that's the movie I saw. And frankly, it was just what I needed it to be. Mostly entertaining and borderline juvenile. I obviously wouldn't say I recommend it. (But was very stoked to note that Bridesmaids comes out here June 22. Woot! X-Men and the final Potter are coming out in a more timely fashion, yay.)

But Hangover II had some good laughs. It can be hard to watch comedies here, however, since the subtitles often hit before the dialogue, so people are laughing in weird spots to my mind. I actually missed a line once.

9.50EU for a movie, sigh. Everything here is ridiculous.

Another small annoyance--you can seemingly only buy your ticket from an ATM-esque machine and you have to have a card to do so. I had to ask the ticket-taker wtf. Apparently if you want to use cash you have to get it from the popcorn guy. Everyone and their goddamn dog was there today, however, so that sort of sucked ass. They all seemed to be watching Pirates of the Caribbean Part Pi, based on the 3D glasses being handed out.

Also, they assign the seating, of which I am not a fan. I forgot about this little quirk, so I got my happy ass assigned to the back row, no shit. The auditorium had a decent slope to it, however, so it ended up being ok, except for getting people assigned on either side of me, too. To be fair, it was a fairly packed show. But from now on, I have to remember to ASK not to get stuck in the dipshit back row... And there was no way you could go was like 3 flights up and if you go back down you can't get back to the front, you are forced outside by design. Really crap.

Wow, that sure was a lot of bitching, huh? Well I did a little dress shopping prior to showtime to kill an hour, and here's one last complaint: the dressing rooms here are an epic fail. Yeah, they don't have MIRRORS in them. So you have to come out if you want to see how ugly something may or may not be. This was in multiple stores. And in one store, the woman was just standing nearby, so each time it was, "Do you like it? Why not?" I SAID I DON'T KNOW LEAVE ME ALONE.

And wow, I thought Dutch girls would have pretty big bums, too, but if they do, they do not shop there. The dresses were either too expensive (45EU for the cutest one I found, but it was not 45EU cute) or too short: it fit everywhere except one place, meaning I would not be able to walk or sit down without flashing cheek.

But otherwise, I got to watch an enjoyable movie and had an easy day. Back to work tomorrow. :/ (Not that work isn't also awesome, but I finished my project on Friday and I hate that feeling like I won't have enough to do.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The master will kill you for this! But not fast. Slowly! Oh, so slowly!

Ok, so the Blue Lagoon! This is THE thing to do in Reykjavik. I was on the first bus out so I could relax and spend as much time as I wanted. The unexpectedly nice part of that was we got there just before they opened, so it was empty and serene. Everyone was with friends but me, so I was all set to get in while everyone else was changing and chatting. I had the whole thing to myself for nearly 10 minutes. :O

So the hotspring (it's not really a hotspring, actually, it's..."geothermal seawater") is actually located between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates--so you're basically relaxing between two continents! It's quite different from a hotspring in one way because the temperatures are so odd--it's nice and warm, but as you wander around, you'll hit a cool or hot patch. And sometimes there'll be a cool patch around your legs, but it's warm around your torso. But regardless, very nice. And it was super chilly outside, so relaxing in the hotspring was ideal that day.

Oh, and I did not take these pictures. My hairdresser--whom I saw two days before flying out--told me not to! Oddly enough, he and his wife love Iceland and have been there 5 times in the past year and a half. He warned me that the air was so salty, you shouldn't use your camera because it will become corroded. LOTS of people were using their cameras. Whatever, I'm happy not to take the risk!

And it was salty--it wasn't bothersome or anything, but it was obviously noticeable. And nor was there enough that you floated--it's not the Dead Sea! The floor is an odd texture--nice and just a little rough. I found two parts that were nothing but soft white sand-mud, it was NEAT. It was hard to get it in your hand to bring to the surface for a look, it was that soft and silky.

And it was also NOT Japan. There was a wade-up bar that served beer, wine, sodas and ice cream bars. The Japanese would be beside themselves. Luckily, this was not Japan so I absolutely treated myself to a couple 900IS beers. (Yes, those are $8.50 beers.)

Another reason I'm glad it wasn't Japan is that initially, I didn't put sunscreen on. But suddenly around 11, you actually could feel the sun on your skin. So I went inside to put some on my face and shoulders. I felt weird at first (I mean, you're polluting the water!), but I value my skin more than their water. And it was a GOOD MOVE. I actually still burned on my arms and a little on my back where I hadn't put lotion since they were underwater. Not enough underwater, it turns out.

My hairdresser had also told me the hotdog stand there was THE. SHIT. And you have to get it "with everything." Awesomely, that dog was the cheapest thing I bought my whole trip. 300IS for a bitchin' hot dog (in Iceland, a mixture of pork, beef and lamb), whose bun was layered with fried onions, then the sausage, then topped with a delicious mustard and remoulade. (There is ketchup, too, but abandon be damned, I said NO KETCHUP.) And anyway, wtf is "remoulade," you ask? The interweb says:

Remoulade. This is an originally French sauce meant to be used with fish (we also love it with roast beef). The basic recipe is mayonnaise mixed with capers, mustard, herbs, anchovies, and gherkins, but I think the Icelandic version leaves out the anchovies. At any rate, no one makes it at home because of all the work involved.

That sounds awful! I had no idea. But it was really good, so whatever.

It was VERY. RELAXING. I had the hotdog after I had showered and dressed (leaving most of the conditioner in my hair, per my hairdresser! That place KILLS your hair, but I'd say it's worth it!) and then headed out around 2:15. The BL is 45 minutes away from Reykjavik, also known as "just enough time for a catnap."

Then I puttered around town and headed back to my guesthouse to get ready for dinner at Dill. That really will be another post. I wrote this one because I'm still waiting for B to get home. It is flat-out raining now, and I absolutely lucked out today by going outside for lunch to get an umbrella. I knew if I kept putting it off, I'd regret it!

(Seriously, going outside during the day is a big deal. Jesus, going to the bathroom is a big deal. Most of the doors require scanning your badge, even on the same floor, and there's a metal detector on the ground floor when you enter the building...and in general, the building is one wacky-ass shape that makes it impossible to find the same place twice. It's no UNT Music Building, but it's a close second.)

So THAT was a close damn save getting the umbrella. No idea where B's at, but not too worried. There's a young man at work I suspect may be involved...I have only recently (finally) acquired a phone but she's without until the weekend. I told myself I'd give her til 8:30, then it's time for me to get some dinner! I have been craving a greasy burger for some may be due to my rabbit-like lunches lately and my two mile daily walks! (Work is a mile away.)

But I need to finish up my post-work glass of wine first...

I could hardly drink my morning shower scotch.

From 1700-2000, I took a "Sense of Reykjavik" tour, which the four of us agreed should be called the "Taste of Reykjavik" tour. (I mean, which would you rather go on? And it involves 3 foodie tastings at 3 different places!)

Our first stop, just really pretty. I could have done without the wind.

None of us could even guess what was up with these two, even our tour guide was clueless. I almost missed them, actually, but the other girl on the tour by herself noticed them. She herself was actually fairly annoying, but I'm glad these caught her eye. (She was okay at first, but after a few hours...just...ugh. And I'm not even sure I can describe why she was annoying...I think she was just talking too much, you know? I did not pay for this tour to listen to you...)

Anyway. Bjork's house! I could see a man inside on the second floor. I hope she knows him.

This is the Church of Hallgrimur. It is very tall--you can see it from nearly everywhere and there is an amazing organ inside, which seems to get played nearly every day. You can go up in the tower, but we did not.

There were some great statues nearby, each having good stories associated with them, nearly none of which I remember. This one is something about Thor's Dream? To be fair, the guide was trying to get us to the first restaurant before 6, so I think he forgot this one.

This is a woman rising up in waves (again, no idea why), but for some reason there are tiny people caught up in the tide...


And this one was pretty cool. It's fairly famous (or at least the story behind it is?) because the woman (or angel, or God, or what-have-you) is protecting the boy. The ball (again, no idea where this comes from, but he told us) represents risk, and the boy holding it by his heart generally means that while the boy is protected, his choices are still up to him, and the risk lies with him.

The guide told the story much better, in any case.

And see, now we're inside the little restaurant whose name I never caught.

We had tea, coffee and some of the freshest fish! The pink guys on the left are trout, with sweet maple roll-up thin pancake things in the middle, and a mixture of fish-potato on the end. I'm not a huge fish person, but these were all fantastic.

Random, but I have a new respect for Icelandic. You always hear that Arabic, Japanese and English are the hardest languages, but I think this one needs to be added. And after having it explained to me how Icelandic works and where it comes from (which I will not go into incorrectly here), I cannot believe anyone can learn it. Lots of old Norse and craziness. I mean, look at this godddamn sign, will you?!

Just pretty streets.

More pretty. That is City Hall there on the right.

Better view of it. Also, this is back in my part of town...

This is basically five minutes behind my Guesthouse, and Restaurant #2 was here.

This. Whatever it says.

I think it was also some sort of historical house, but this was the room we sat in. They didn't seem to be a proper "restaurant," but it was hard to say what it was...

We had more tea and some lamb dishes. The guide described them as "lamb pate," for lack of a better description.

The grey one was more of a pate, the pink one was smoked. Both were quite good!

We walked back through the city center, where he stopped to talk to us about the House of Parliament. While we were there, this was going on with a bunch of kids. Who knows what they're doing, but there was loud music involved. Oh, and there were 2 men passed out by a bench on the ground. The police came, arrested them and marched them past us while we talked. Weird.

This was pretty neat...the guide was explaining how to find your way around Reykjavik, how the numbers go up or down (depending on where you are), but that basically this was the starting point. Zero, if you will.

We then walked down to the fishing wharf...for restaurant #3!

The view was incredible, needless to say!

This may not look like much, but it was a hearty lobster bisque. And damn was it good. Since it was pretty chilly out, this (and some bread with butter--Icelandic butter seems to be sweeter!) really hit the spot.

And no, I did not buy myself some mink whale! ;)

The tour actually went over (as he said it always does) but nearly to 2100! I was pretty anxious to get back to my guesthouse and see the city center on my own. Nothing is very far, so when it was over I was probably 5 minutes from my place. I dropped off most of my stuff and went in search of a happening-but-not-crazy bar. I ended up with Dubliners (seriously, there is one in every city in the world and I have no doubt they are not related in any way).

There was a fantastic 5 or 6 piece band playing traditional Irish music, which also involved singing and dancing. It was really lovely, especially when paired with the book I was reading and a good Icelandic beer: a Polar Bear. (Actually, Polar Bear was nothing special, but it was fun to order.)

The downside was the drunk (?) Irish man. He came and sat next to me and I was cordial and spoke with him. I am not opposed to chatting with others in bars, and just because I bring a book doesn't mean I hate conversation. But this guy was a serious douche.

It was rapidly apparent that he was either drunk or stupid (or both?) and I could not decide which. I kept turning away from him to watch the band, and when he did leave, I was ecstatic at the ease with which that success had come. But then he came back later.

Douchebag: "How's the reading going?"

EA: "Still going."

I seriously could only understand about 30% of what this guy said. And he basically started giving me shit (I think?) about why I was there. He flat-out asked why I was there.

EA: "Why are YOU here?"

Douchenugget: "Because I have to drink."

EA: "Well, I like to have a drink. I like to be around people, I like the I need a reason?"

DN: "No."

And I think at some point he said something along the lines of: "Why don't you (we?) fuck off out of here?" I don't think it was quite as obvious as that (?) and maybe he was still asking why I was there, but I played ignorant because it was easier. Right around this time he wanted to borrow my book and read it--but he said he was a slow reader and should have it back to me in 10 hours. I was pretty clear about that part, not that it makes any sense. It is very hard to decipher an idiotic drunk Irish man with a thick, working-class brogue.

Best of all, given my dilemma, I happened to look up to the top of the bar at one point, only to see a sign that read: "The worst part of being a bartender is trying to decide who's drunk and who's just stupid." I openly laughed.

It finally ended when he came up a third and final time and said, "Are you looking for someone better?" I just stared at him for several beats, with a confused look on my face, and said, "I'm not looking for anyone."

Despite the annoying fuck-wits who may have from time to time approached me, this was the first time ever that I nearly openly had to say, "And you know what? You're actually offending me. I need you to GO. AWAY." And I would have had absolutely NO PROBLEM doing just that. But luckily, he must have finally sensed that he was one mousefart away from the get-the-fuck-away-from-me talk, and he stayed gone.

So I had another beer, another singer came and played, it was lovely and I headed home around midnight. It was a 6 minute walk or so and again, I seemed to have the whole house to myself.

I got up around 815am or so for a 900am pickup to the Blue Lagoon. And that's where I'll have to pick up next time! Blue Lagoon and Dill Restaurant!

But today is good--Mladić has been arrested and it's pretty much one big party here. I'm chilling some white wine and B should be home soon. We were planning on going to a social event tonight, but it has gotten really chilly out (for the most part, it has been gorgeous every day) with rain. :( Oh well!