Circumventing Iceland part 4

[previously: June 5-8, June 9-12, June 13-16]

Friday 17th June 2022, Reykjavik

The restaurant breakfast service closes at 7.00am this morning: our slot for getting off the ship is at 9.15am. That gives us a bit of time – conveniently for the structure of this write-up – to have a few thoughts about the cruise that’s just happened. And I keep thinking back to something that one of the Hurtigruten expedition staff said during the briefing for, I think, Grimsey: "if you only get off the ship once during this cruise, you should get off here." Was that just a rhetorical flourish along the lines of "if you only see one film this year...", or are there people on board who really did that? Treated the Fridtjof Nansen as nothing more than a great big hotel where the view from your window changes every day?

If that’s the case, I’m sorry for either their mobility issues or their fear of small boats, but that's just wrong. Because this has been an absolutely glorious trip. The ship itself has been lovely – the sauna and hot tubs easily being the one bit of decadence I could get used to – but all the activities on and off it have been terrifically well organised. At the start the expedition leader Erin warned us that the schedule we’d been given was potentially just a plan A, and weather conditions could at any point force us into a sudden detour into plan B. But that never happened – maybe we were just lucky, but every place we were told we’d be going to, we got to. We experienced all possible aspects of the Icelandic coast, from bustling cities to microscopic islands. We might do another cruise in the future: we will almost certainly get back to Iceland one day, if only because as I write this (two months after the holiday) I’m getting kind of fed up of people asking "so, did you see the Northern Lights?"

And as you can see from the size of this page, we’re not done just yet. Bang on time at 9.15am, we walk off the Fridtjof Nansen for the last time, and back onto dry land at Reykjavik harbour. We’ve got a couple of days before we fly back to London, and the plan is to chill out in the capital after a very busy week. At least that was the plan, until we realised that we were going to be arriving back in the capital on Icelandic National Day, the anniversary of the founding of the republic in 1944.

Plan B, then.

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Circumlocuting Iceland part 3

no you're not going to get any pictures of me in my swimming trunks STOP ASKING[previously: June 5-8, June 9-12]

Monday 13th June 2022, Akureyri

You’ll notice that I haven’t said much so far about the other 500-odd passengers we’re sharing this cruise with. For the most part, we haven’t really engaged with them. There are two old people I’ve been quietly keeping my eye on who are both independently convinced they’re the leading characters on this cruise, and have something to contribute to every event whether the rest of us want to hear it or not. Them aside, it’s a more age-diverse group than I was expecting generally, but still skewing quite old. (And possibly skewing quite German, given the cruise’s choice of secondary language for announcements.)

The other thing worth pointing out is that there aren’t many opportunities when you find yourselves casually chatting to other people - everyone keeps themselves to themselves during mealtimes in particular, partly down to the erratically-enforced Covid restrictions. The idea is that you turn up at the restaurant in a facemask, give your name, wash your hands, and go to the table you're allocated to so that they can maintain distancing and run contact tracing in emergencies - but as the cruise progresses, more and more steps get missed out of that process. (A couple of months ago, Hurtigruten were insisting everyone should wear N95s when moving round the ship: by the start of this cruise it's been knocked down from 'insisting' to 'politely suggesting', and the masked/unmasked passengers are a 50-50 split.)

In this case, though, we end up chatting to a similarly-aged English couple as we disembark at Akureyri, possibly due to the novelty of being able to walk directly off the boat without the aid of tenders. As we walk away from the Fridtjof Nansen, we share our mutual experiences of having our bookings kicked down the line for a couple of years. Eventually we have to part ways, because they're walking into the centre of town, while we're heading off in a different direction to see if a local brewery is open at 9.30 in the morning, which is very much on brand for us.

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Circumcising Iceland part 2

MS Fridtjof Nansen, named after the Norwegian explorer who was one of the first men in history to send a woman a dick pic. (No, it'll be more fun if you look for it yourself.)[previously: June 5-8]

Thursday 9th June 2022, Reykjavik

After breakfast in Grái Kötturinn – pleasant enough, but it does seem to be coasting on hints dropped in tourist guides that Bjork occasionally eats there – we have a morning to kill. We end up in the Reykjavik Museum Of Photography, and by pure coincidence we stumble into the opening day of a new exhibition. Landvörður (running till September 10th) is mostly made up of Jessica Auer’s photos of park rangers, wardens, and other people maintaining the Icelandic landscape in the wake of its increasing tourist population. The accompanying texts and videos make the general theme more explicit: tourism – and especially cruise tourism – is changing the nature of this country, and not for the better.

It turns out that because it’s the opening day, Auer is actually present in the gallery chatting to visitors, and we’re among the first she’s had. And she asks the inevitable question: oh, you’re from London, so what are you doing in Reykjavik?

”Well,” we answer. “If we pass a Covid test later on today, this evening we’ll be getting on that thing” – and we point at the MASSIVE CRUISE LINER THAT’S LITERALLY VISIBLE THROUGH THE GALLERY WINDOW – “and going on a nine-day cruise around the coast of Iceland.”


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BrewDogging #77: Reykjavik (or C.I. part 1)

Still Life With Board Games. (You'll have to translate the neon for yourselves, I'm afraid.)Sunday 5th June 2022

The last trip we made to a BrewDog bar outside the UK was Hamburg, which was two and a half years ago. The last trip we made to a BrewDog bar outside the UK by plane was Seoul, which was over three years ago. It's quite possible that after all this Covid nonsense, we've forgotten how to travel.

It's certainly the case that we've forgotten how to book Heathrow Express tickets three months in advance to knock them down to an acceptable price - we didn't realise that until it was too late to do anything about it. Still, it means that we start this adventure with our first ever go on the new Elizabeth line, which is currently just a rebranding of the pre-existing slow trains between Paddington and Heathrow (but will eventually connect fully with central London and the East End badlands). The trains look nice, though they're really just Overground carriages coloured in purple.

We get to the airport long before our flight's due, because you've heard the stories - aviation is broken now, and Heathrow is in a permanent state of chaos. But once we've got there, we whizz through check-in and security at a satisfyingly high speed. Our bags aren't so lucky: the baggage conveyors break down literally as we're checking in, and appear to be down across the entire airport. "Just leave the bags on the floor there, they'll get on the plane," we're told. It's a less than reassuring start, both to our journey to Reykjavik, and to a travel article that mysteriously has the words 'part 1' in its title.

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BrewDogging #76: Bath

Got to confess here, this guy was drinking with his partner virtually the whole time we were there, but I waited until she went to the loo so I could get a picture with this whole Hopperesque lone drinker vibe.The pandemic has, among other things, made it clear how rigid a calendar this site works to: there are certain milestones that take place at the same time every year, except for the years when we’re not allowed to do that. Edinburgh in August and London Film Festival in October are the big dates: the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme in February too, to a lesser extent. And then there’s Easter, when The Belated Birthday Girl and I have made it a thing that we spend part of Easter Sunday watching a film made in whichever part of the world we find ourselves in at the time. In recent years, that’s tended to overlap conveniently with our ongoing quest to visit as many BrewDog bars worldwide as we can.

Except, again, for the years when we’re not allowed to do that. So Easter 2020 was spent in London watching 28 Days Later for grim infection-centric yoks, while Easter 2021 – and I don’t think I mentioned this at the time – was also spent in London, this time watching Rocks. (It's alright. End of review.)

Easter 2022? Well, we’re on the move again. We have a trip out of town, a relevant film, a BrewDog bar, and even a bonus city thrown in on top.

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Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 2)

[THE SOUND OF THE DELTA VARIANT CHEERFULLY HOPPING BETWEEN BEAN BAGS]In previous Manchester International Festivals – look, just go back to part one of this piece and follow the links in there, I can’t be bothered typing them again – anyway, back then the hub of the event was Festival Square. For the other 102 weeks of the bi-year it was Albert Square, the big public space in front of the town hall. But at MIF time, it became a riot of food stalls, bars and tented stages offering mostly free entertainment.

This year was always going to be different, and not just for the obvious reason. Manchester Town Hall is in the middle of a massive refurbishment programme, meaning that Albert Square is closed off. So for 2021 (and probably 2023), Festival Square has relocated to the space outside Manchester Cathedral. It’s still offering booze, food and entertainment, but this time round entry has to be carefully controlled, with all visitors carefully spaced out into meticulously organised bubbles.

They would have managed it, too, if it hadn’t been for the inhabitants of Twat Island.

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Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 1)

[THE SOUND OF TRYING TO FIND SOME DECENT PICTURE CAPTIONS]As we walk out of our central Manchester hotel on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we see a plane flying overhead. It’s pulling a banner behind it. Because of the sun and the altitude, we can’t see what it says. This is a much bigger problem for us than you might think.

Less than an hour earlier, The Belated Birthday Girl and I had arrived in the city, all set for an extended run of the 2021 Manchester International Festival. Regular readers will recall our coverage of previous festivals – we paid a flying visit to the first one in 2007, had a good excuse for missing the second in 2009, then covered the next four for Europe’s Best Website (see 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017) before bringing it back in-house for 2019. All six of those visits had one thing in common – they only lasted a weekend, with us arriving late on Friday or early on Saturday, and on the train back to London by Sunday evening.

That’s how it usually works. This isn’t a usual year, though. With our planned foreign holiday kicked down the line for another year, we’re replacing it with a collection of short city breaks that don’t require us to leave the country. So this time around, we’ve spending a full five days (Wednesday to Sunday) at the Festival, although taking things at a slightly less manic pace than usual. The festival itself is an appreciably different shape to what it is normally – new outdoor and indoor venues to cope with social distancing requirements, a high proportion of online and hybrid content, a bit more public art than before – and so we’re going to be an appreciably different shape too. (Literally so, given some of the meals we’ve got lined up in the extended gaps between events.)

That plane I mentioned three paragraphs back is part of one of those public art projects I mentioned one paragraph back. It’ll all make sense in the end, probably – though bear in mind that this is a big enough festival to justify a two-part review, so scrolling to the end of the page won’t entirely help you.

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At Home We're A Tourist (part 2 of 2)

Us, underneath the i360, Brighton beach, 16th June 2021. (pretty sure we're in there somewhere)This story is about...

Well, it's part travel guide for visitors to London. It's part historical record of a city coming slowly back to life after months of lockdown. It's part review of a week's worth of culture in June 2021. And it's part pharmacological study, as we hurl everything we can at two people who've had two doses of AstraZeneca to see what we can get away with in public places.

It's part two (part one's over here) of my report on what The Belated Birthday Girl and I did around London on the week of our twentieth anniversary as an item. Awkwardly, it doesn't start in London.

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At Home We're A Tourist (part 1 of 2)

Us, north west London, 20th April 2013. (not to scale)This site has never shied away from celebrating big anniversaries. And this, to be frank, is probably the biggest. Because in June 2021, The Belated Birthday Girl and I are marking twenty years of doing that thing we do. I know, I know.

For some time now, we've been trying to work out: how would we commemorate our twentieth anniversary? For a while, we were considering a return visit to Hong Kong, winner of the Funnest Place On Earth award for the years 1993 to 2017 inclusive. Sadly, it's not really in the running for that award at the moment. Then, when our plans for our nineteenth anniversary fell through for covidular reasons, we realised that we could roll those plans forward a year to give us a rather spectacular setting for our twentieth. Those covidular reasons still remain, as you'd imagine, and we're currently planning to make that the setting for our twenty-first. Third time lucky, as they say.

In the end, it was a rollover booking from an entirely different holiday that helped us come to our decision: we'd spend our twentieth anniversary almost entirely in London. Because June 2021 in London had all sorts of interesting possibilities - the possible transition from the last stage of lockdown to a totally opened up city, leading to the various cultural hotspots of the capital slowly waking up again after many months of hibernation. We could take a week off work, and actually be part of that waking up process.

Over a ten night period, we may have taken that idea a little too far. Put it this way, this page is just going to be about the first five nights...

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BrewDogging #71: Cambridge

This picture by The BBG looks so utterly *alien* these days that I'm going to let you click on it to see it bigger. You're welcome.A Tale Of The Before Times (#5 of 5)

I'm posting this towards the end of June 2020. We visited our 71st BrewDog bar during the first weekend of March. There was a plan that by this point in June, we would be guzzling pints in our 72nd: but with travel restrictions being what they are, that isn't happening any more. (If you're wondering where that bar might have been, there's a subtle clue on one of the pages linked to in this piece.)

Let's say it out loud: Cambridge may well be the last new BrewDog bar I write about on here for some time. At this stage, it's hard to tell how many of the bars we've previously visited will survive this mess: we know already that Helsinki hasn't, which is a damn shame. In the circumstances, it's incredibly weird looking back three and a bit months to March 6th-8th, seeing what we did over the space of that weekend, and how little of it we could get away with currently. Sure, there were rumblings coming from the east that we were heading for trouble, but the main way I remember Covid-19 from that weekend was having the official Vietnamese campaign song stuck in my head for most of it. There wasn't any sense that this could have been our last weekend away for some time: whereas just one week later, we were sitting in the Brixton Ritzy watching The Invisible Man with a growing awareness that we probably wouldn't be able to do that in a few days.

So, as we head towards the July 4th re-opening of English bars with an increasing sense of dread at the second wave they could be instrumental in stoking, join me as we get all nostalgic about what things used to be like as far back as last Spring...

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