The current UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament has (once again) catapulted Iceland into the sporting limelight. Of course this is certainly not the first time this Viking nation has hit the headlines in recent years … Remember the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption? And the banking crisis? After which, incidentally, this intrepid Nordic nation of 324,000 paid back its debts and threw the guilty-as-charged bankers in jail. Shame we didn’t throw away the key in the process!
I am actually in Wales at the time of writing this blog post and I am experiencing a sensation of déjà-vu as the world gives in to the same rosy tinted feelings that I did all those years ago… Everyone I meet on the street, in the bank, in the shops, on FaceBook. They have all fallen head over heels for Iceland – the football players, the coach(es), the fans, the OTT Icelandic sports commentator and last but not least, the intimidating Viking ‘Huh’ chant along with it’s accompanying slow hand clap.
And yet most have not even set eyes on the country! Little do they know what they are missing. Iceland is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries in the world. Over 10,000 waterfalls, countless hot springs, steaming craters, volcanoes (some better known than others…) black sand beaches, lava caves, glaciers, lava fields ancient and new – I could go on and will do so another time.
You have every right to envy those lucky cruise passengers who get to see and experience Iceland during their shore excursions. For it is a landscape that will captivate and hold you in its spell forever. You will never forget it.
I came to Iceland as a piano bar entertainer in 1997 – fell in love with a Viking and stayed. Well, that’s the short version at least.
In all honesty I didn’t want to even go there in the first place. My agent Jack Fallon had sent me for a six-week contract and I actually pleaded with him to try and find me something else!
Oh, how glad I am that he didn’t.
Iceland? You’ve got to be kidding me… Is there nothing in Spain? Anywhere warmer?
No, this was it. Take it or leave it Gammon. And so Iceland it was. The six-week gig turned into a literal residency and I have now lived very happily in Iceland for almost 19 years.
My love affair with the land of fire and ice has not waned in the slightest. Some things have changed of course. For example I no longer work as a piano bar entertainer. I qualified as a tour guide in 2000 which in turn led to me getting a ‘proper job’ within the tourist sector shortly thereafter.
But I cherish my early memories of working in the Café Romance piano bar (long since burnt down) and the crazy nights spent there. I worked from about 10pm until 2am – with a stint of back ground piano playing in the adjacent restaurant Café Opera before hand.
These were the days that bars closed at 2am and you would be kicked out onto the street shortly thereafter. Not a problem as the party merely continued outside – whatever the weather.
Illicit bottles of booze would magically appear from handbags and coat pockets to be shared around with friends and strangers alike. There might have been a bit of macho pushing and shoving on occasions, but it was all done in a good hearted Viking kind of way – with a fair bit of ‘Huh-ing’ and slow hand clapping going on too!
And this is how my Viking romance began. On the streets of Reykjavik following a night spent entertaining one the maddest and most difficult crowds that I have ever had to work with. He invited me to join him for an early morning/late night walk about town – an offer which I graciously accepted. We walked hand in hand through the madness, down the streets of the old town of Reykjavik to the downtown pier of Miðbakki where we sat for a while on a bench facing a Japanese tuna trawler that was moored alongside. We were soon joined by a Japanese crew member with a white towel tied around his head (funny how you remember these things!) a local bum on his carrier bag laden bicycle and a couple of young lads who soon left us when they realised we had no booze to offer.
The Japanese trawler man seemed very pleased to have made new friends and went back on board to get us all a present. He returned with three tins of mixed fruit. Our friend the bum opened his tin on the spot and gulped it down – whist mine and Ægir’s are displayed on our kitchen shelf some 19 years later.
A reminder of the night we met and walked together hand in hand amongst chanting Vikings, trawler men far from home and a local bum on a carrier bag laden bicycle.