Economy and Indulgence

Stikkisholmur

Iceland is expensive.  Everyday products, like a chicken fillet, or a toothbrush, cost an average of 56 times higher here than in Europe or the US.

In layman’s terms, this means that a pint of tap Viking beer, which is just a normal, pilsner beer, in a neighborhood bar with wooden seats and creaky barstools, costs $12.00.

Obviously, I feel guilty about spending money, but I try to take the sting off by celebrating each small fiscal victory. 

Here are some examples of money-saving points I have earned on this trip thus far:

  1. When Guy told me about the $450 non-stop flights from Portland to Reykjavik, I said, “Yeah, Iceland’s nice, but it’s expensive”.  WARNING GUY AHEAD OF TIME ABOUT THE COST OF TRAVELING TO ICELAND: +1 point.

2. Instead of eating out, we’re buying most of our food at budget supermarkets like Bonus and Netto– presliced bread and cheese and peanut butter and jelly and lots of chocolate.  SHOPPING AT BUDGET SUPERMARKETS: +1 point

Unfortunately, we don’t have utensils. When I tried to make Toby a sandwich by spreading peanut butter on bread with my finger, it was so disgusting that even I noticed. Yes, I know that he is 18 years old and fully capable of standing in a parking lot and using his own finger to make his own sandwich, but I was trying to make up for 18 years of being me. Instead, I just ended up magnifying the whole experience.

So anyway, I felt bad for being disgusting and for not remembering to pack utensils, and for that time when he was 2 when I didn’t notice that his car seat strap was digging into his little shoulder, so I licked my finger like a fastidious cat, ate the sandwich myself, and bought him an $18.00 basket of fish and chips from the food cart at the Stikkisholmur wharf. I’M NOT SURE IF I GET ANY POINTS FOR THAT BUT WHO CARES SHUT UP.

Food Cart Fish and Chips

3. We don’t need to buy drinks this trip, because every tap spouts delicious fresh spring water. Iceland is very proud of its water. Also, grocery stores don’t sell wine or beer so we’d have to go out of our way to find a “Vindbudin”, a state run liquor store, to buy the heavily taxed beer, and they are open weird hours, so it’s just not worth the trouble and expense. DRINKING TAP WATER: +1 point.  NOT BUYING BEER: +1 point. Actually wait. NOT BUYING BEER +5 points.

4. In the spirit of frugality, I rented a car from “SAD Cars”, an Icelandic company that keeps prices low by stocking its fleet with “good solid cars that are older”.  SAD CAR RENTAL: +1 point

5. The money we saved on car rental disappeared after the man behind the SAD desk convinced me to upgrade to “Platinum” insurance coverage, because, as he explained, “With Platinum, you won’t have ANYTHING to worry about!” PLATINUM INSURANCE: -1 point but I love a man who tells me I don’t have anything to worry about. I would have gone Palladium had he asked. 

6. Our car is a blue Hyundai SUV with sketchy alignment and a hard-to-close driver-side door. When we hit 90 kph, it vibrates and shimmies like an overeager stripper. At first we wondered why everyone was passing us, but turns out the speedometer is off by 7 kph. CONSTANT MARTYRDOM FOR SHITTY CAR: +1 point

SAD car

7. Even though (because) we’re doing the self-driving tour thing, I wanted to surprise my family by splurging on a few memorable outings. The first was a folklore walking tour of Reykjavik that I’ll probably tell you about later. The third one hasn’t happened yet, so it’s still a secret.  SHH!

The second surprise was a fishing trip on the Breiðafjörður Bay. “Why fishing?” Anyone who has ever met my family may be asking. 

Fishing?

We all wanted to see whales and puffins but whale watching cruises are hit and miss by nature, and we saw a bunch of puffins in the Westman Islands last time we were in Iceland, so it didn’t seem right to splurge on a cruise to see a bird for a second time. The “angling” cruise was an opportunity for a tri-fecta–we could look for whales and puffins while we were fishing. Brilliant!  OPPORTUNITY FOR A WHALE PUFFIN FISH TRIFECTA: +1 point

8. I kept the fishing plans a secret until about four hours before the trip started and then I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Tell me when you want to know what we’re doing this afternoon!” I announced to the car.

“We’re doing something this afternoon?” Tavish asked.

“She wants you to ask you to tell her what it is,” Guy answered.

“Just tell me when you want to know. I’ll keep it a secret until then!” I chirped.

“She wants you to ask her now,” Guy droned, flicking on the squeaky windshield wipers.

“What are we doing this afternoon?” Tavish asked, obediently.

“FISHING! We’re going FISHING!” I announced triumphantly.

“Great. I’m going to vomit,” Guy said, turning off the wipers.

Nothing at all from the back seat.

“Fishing?” Tavish asked, perhaps hoping that I’d said, “Playing video games.”

Toby didn’t say anything. I don’t know if he was listening. Maybe he had his headphones on. Maybe he was too excited to speak, but doubtful.

I tried to explain about whales and puffins and trifectas and the peaceful waters of Icelandic fjords and new experiences and glowing trip-advisor tour reviews until finally I realized fuck it. Had anyone else in this car but me cared enough to plan a once-in-a-lifetime family adventure ON A BUDGET? I think not. They wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for me, not in Iceland, not even on this planet. MOTHERHOOD: + 10 Points

Tavish, cod wunderkinde

9. In Stykkisholmur, we stayed in a little hostel with delicious croissants, in a wood-floored family room filled with a double bed and a bunk bed that would have had a view to the harbor if the windows were bigger. Shared kitchen and showers were downstairs, and the shared bathroom with the unreliable lock was right next to our room. SEEING THE FRENCHMAN WITH NO PANTS WALKING TO THE SHARED BATHROOM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT: +1 Point

Can you say “Stikkishulmur” three times fast?

10. Perhaps not surprising to any mothers who have ever planned an outing, the fishing trip was super fun.

It was cold and windy and apparently fishing poles aren’t made for left-handed folks like Toby, but our laconic captain was patient and determined. He shuttled us around the bay for three hours trying different depths and lures and fishing guide tricks while offering inspiring advice like, “You should reel it in now.” 

Turns out, Tavish is a fishing wunderkind. He caught one fish after another until his arms were tired.  He even had a huge halibut on the line–so big that it pulled the boat along with it. The captain couldn’t stop talking about that halibut, even though we hadn’t caught it, or even seen it and none of us even know what a halibut is anyway.

Toby caught the biggest fish–a 15 pound arctic cod. I caught one that was a bit smaller, but Guy had to reel it in for me because it takes a long time to reel in a fish from 30 meters of deep dark sea. I couldn’t take the suspense waiting to see what was on the end of the line, and I handed him my pole. CATCHING ACTUAL FISH: + 1 point

This fish was too small

11. The captain deftly gutted and filleted both fish, then threw the guts and skin to the waiting seagull. He put the remains in a yellow plastic Bonus shopping bag, and handed it to Guy, who looked surprised.

“I don’t think we should cook fish in the hostel’s kitchen,” I said. “People might not like the smell.”

“Put it in your cooler and cook it tomorrow,” suggested the captain, who was in a hurry to get to his second job. “It’s easier to cook the second day, anyway.” POTENTIALLY EATING THE FISH WE CAUGHT FOR DINNER: +1 point

12. We don’t have a cooler in the back of our SAD car. Obviously, if we don’t have the utensils required to spread peanut butter on bread, we don’t have a cooler to transport mounds of raw fish.

“Why did we go fishing if we didn’t want any fish?” asked Tavish, who might-should be renamed Cassandra, and we all know what happened to her.

By this time, it was after 7:00 and the only grocery store in town was closed. We drove around looking for a mini-mart or some kind of 7-11, because every American knows that eventually if you drive long enough you will find a 7-11.  But we didn’t, because duh we aren’t in America.

Instead, we passed a little campground.

“Pull in here,” I told Guy. “Camping people need supplies.”

I walked into the reception building and asked the bored blond woman behind a counter if any stores were still open. She said of course not, it was Saturday night.

I explained our predicament. We’d caught some fish, but we didn’t have any tin foil and we were afraid it would start to smell. We didn’t think we would actually catch any fish, so we were totally unprepared. I didn’t mention that we weren’t staying at her campground.

She pulled a box of foil out of a drawer and handed it to me.

I tried to pay for it, but she insisted I take the entire package. I raced back to the car, waving the box in sheepish triumph. 

In the hostel parking lot we emptied groceries out of every plastic back we could find, and swathed the fish in foil and cheap shopping bags until it looked like a rotiserrie chicken, then smuggled it into the hostel refrigerator. FREE BOX OF TIN FOIL: +1 point

Our catch—in disguise. Bet you thought it was a rotisserie chicken.

13. After we stashed the fish, we went back down the wharf and bought three $18.00 baskets of fish and chips from the food cart for dinner. It was delicious. A GREAT DAY WITH MY FAMILY: +100 points.

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