Thursday, April 05, 2007


I've decided that I don't really mind the lack of a safe in my hotel room. This entire nation is smaller than Tallinn, and the island is surrounded by thousands of miles of freezing ocean on all sides. Nowhere to escape to, not even inland, as the nature can hardly a support a single frontiersman, no matter how well-motivated.

This country doesn't merit a police force. It should just have a constabulary.

Joke of the day, in co-authorship with the kid from the Domino's down the street: "The rest of the world thinks that everybody in Iceland lives in igloos. Whereas in reality, everybody in Iceland lives in Reykjavik." The town itself is about equal to Tartu in population, although spread over a far larger territory. The Greater Reykjavik Area houses over 60% of all the people on the island.

Driving down from Keflavik, you pass by the abandoned NATO base. Not even a year ago, the Americans simply packed up and fucked off, leaving behind a couple dozen decent-looking apartment buildings and a bewildered nation suddenly devoid of any sort of armed forces at all. I thought Estonia's military was a joke, what with splitting an air patrol subcontract three ways with the other Baltic nations, but Iceland - a small nation, but not Europe's smallest - does not have an army.

There are no more American soldiers to protect the country, but then there are no more reasons why anybody would bother attacking it.

Iceland is half way between Europe and America, and it shows. In this way it is an extremely curious object for observation, and wondering if this is what Estonia would have been like if the Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact hadn't happened. The westward shift is reminiscent of Finland's American fetish, or Sweden's ala raggarbil scene, but to a much greater degree. Cars are everywhere. The very low population density - or rather the fact that all of the landscape is equally difficult to terraform, so you might as well not stick to just the bayside valley - means a sort of urban sprawl without the underlying overpopulation. Consequently the residential areas are largely self-confined: every community has the necessary set of church, musical school and swimming pool, and you can go a long time without needing to leave the immediate surroundings of your home. But if you do, you will need a car, as public transport is thin on the ground.

The Icelandic private fleet is a mix of small Euro-spec hatchbacks and American SUVs. Roads are smooth and sweeping; at their best, these are highways that any Estonian driver would kill for. At their worst, they are chip-sealed, twisty back roads, raised over a landscape devoid of any vegetation reaching higher than the ankle of a very short man. The fact that there is no Icelandic rally champion or even any noticeable drivers boggles the mind. Our tour guide said that icelanders are very keen drivers and love to go fast; but she looked up the numbers and was surprised to see that Estonia has three times the traffic-related fatalities per capita. No wonder: put your average badass icelandic street racer on the Tartu-Tallinn road on Friday night and see how far he gets.

I know that some of my friends reading this blog will never let me live this down, but: the Blue Lagoon mud has really made the skin on my face silky-smooth!

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