Letter from Europe

Polling day in Iceland

Issue no. 2010/8


Today is referendum day in Breiðdalsví­k. The town is a ramshackle sort of place on the edge of a bay of the same name. Breiðdalsvík does not really have a lot going for it. It is raw, untamed, an outback town that has something of the feel of the Wild West.

Dear fellow travellers

Today is referendum day in Breiðdalsvík. The town is a ramshackle sort of place on the edge of a bay of the same name. Breiðdalsvík does not really have a lot going for it. It is raw, untamed, an outback town that has something of the feel of the Wild West.

Most folk driving Iceland's southern coastal route end up in Breiðdalsvík eventually. It is a long haul from Reykjavík to Breiðdalsvík, especially just now with icy roads and lots of winter snow still lingering along the route. Breiðdalsvík is more than six hundred kilometres from the Icelandic capital, and it is quite another world. There are no hip hotels, no glitzy bars. But there is a rock shop. Rocks are big in Iceland, and in most places you can take your pick for free. There are no price tags on the rocks littered over the Icelandic landscape. So quite who actually buys rocks in Breiðdalsvík is a mystery.

Breiðdalsvík has a small hotel in its main street. It is called Bláfell which means Blue Mountain, a fitting name for a place that has a striking blue aluminium roof. Icelanders do remarkable things with aluminium. There are barns and bus shelters in fierce shades of mauve, magenta and mulberry. Folk in Breiðdalsvík are probably grateful for that electric blue roof on the Bláfell. It could have been something much more hideous.

Inside the Bláfell hotel the staff are welcoming and friendly. And they make great fish soup, which has the regular Icelandic dose of curry powder. It is hard to fathom how curry powder secured its status as a compulsory additive to fish soup in Iceland. But then lots of Icelandic matters are difficult for outsiders to really comprehend. At least that is what the old man outside the Bláfell says, as he gives a short tutorial on the Icelandic banking crisis of autumn 2008.

Today is the day that Iceland votes on a package to reimburse the British and Dutch governments for payments they made to savers who lost out in the Icesave collapse. All the indications are that the Icelandic people will vote against the proposals. "Look," says the man outside the Bláfell. "If there are funds to spare, they should be spent here in Iceland, and not given to Britain. And if cash is to be spent in Iceland it should not be in Reykjavík but over here in the east of country."

If you happen to be in Breiðdalsvík today and are British, take our advice and just lie low. Today is not a good day for Brits to be wandering the streets of Breiðdalsvík alone. Visitors from afar will not sooth the troubled nerves of Icelanders. Especially today. Especially in Breiðdalsvík.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

Iceland gets another mention in today's addition to the 'Notes' section on our website, where we comment on the affection for lamb soup that is a feature of many of Europe's peripheral regions. hidden europe 30, which will be published on 17 March, returns to Iceland when we feature the townships of the eastern fjords. We shall preview hidden europe 30 in the next issue of our e-brief.
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