‘Didn’t Want To End'

Score: 5/5

Nick Harkaway

I thoroughly enjoyed Nick Harkaway’s first book The Gone-Away World. It was remarkable. 

Angelmaker, his second book, didn’t quite reach those same highs for me, but it was still excellent.

He’s back to brilliance with this one.

As with his other books, it’s really hard to try to describe what they’re about, the context or the characters. Suffice to say, this has all the richness of characters and textures of his previous works while having nothing to do with the worlds of those works.

I really didn’t want to finish the book. I’d have been happy to just read more and more.

I hope he writes another book soon.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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SWMBO broke a bone in her hand yesterday:

Not as nice as it looks

Technically, I think it’s a multiple fracture of the fourth metacarpal in her right hand.

We went to A&E as soon as we could, and after triage, X-rays, fracture clinic, more X-rays, fracture clinic again, I got to bring her home.

I am once again very grateful for our National Health Service.

Tags: Personal
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So, while I’m away in Iceland, Google again starts being irritating.

Suddenly, Newsstand decides to start telling me headlines. And giving me notifications about them too.

A few years ago I noticed that companies weren’t being accidentally annoying, but were instead deliberately pushing the boundary of annoyance as far as they could - far enough to benefit the company but just short of so far that you’d switch to a different company. I wrote a ranty blog post called ‘Maximising Tolerable Irritation’ and then never bothered posting it. I’ve hunted it out and posted it now, years later.

I have never asked Newsstand to do notify me about news stories. I’ve never used Newsstand. I’ve never even knowingly searched for and installed Newsstand. I’m fairly aware of is existence but it hasn’t exactly been a part of my life.

Until now when I'm in a foreign country and it decides to notify me with headlines from a newspaper I already get email from every day. It’s trying to get my attention to tell me something I already know.

I truly do understand that it doesn’t know I already know what is trying to tell me. But it’s hard to see its AI as anything other than dumb now, and why would I want something dumb interrupting me?

All the other notifications are switched off on this tablet whenever they start, and it’s not a big leap that it should say ‘Woah, all the other times this guy had been notified he’s turned the notifications off. Maybe I should shut up?'

But no. Newsstand doesn’t even give you the option of not downloading shit. The only option it gives is disabling it downloading shit over mobile.

So I stopped it downloading shit and notifying me about stuff I already know by just uninstalling the damned thing.

I really don’t think that was the intent the designers had behind their new notification system, but hopefully if they see a lot of uninstalls as a result of their actions they’ll Actually Think Things Through instead of being so blasé about interrupting people.

I don’t care. I'm done Tolerating this kind of Irritation.

Tags: Clueless Idiocy
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(Meta: I wrote this quite a while ago and for some reason never published it. I'm not sure exactly when it was written though - it was just after the first series of Netflix’s version of House of Cards came out, so that would probably put it around the second quarter of 2013.)

We all know companies don't have our best interests at heart, and the bigger the company, it seems, the less they care at all. I’ve grown used to this, but I’ve started to see a more worrying trend among companies’ approaches.

Everyone is told that the way for a company to succeed is to put the customer first, provide the absolute best customer experience, and that untold riches await for the companies that do it right.

Turns out that’s bunkum.

Companies these days have latched on to ‘Maximising Tolerable Irritation’ instead of delighting customers. They don’t want to provide the absolute best customer experience, they want to provide the one that suits their goals that is just good enough so that most customers can barely tolerate it.

Take Netflix as an example. They allow users to maintain a ‘List’, where users can add titles they want to watch in future, to make them easy to find. Great. Nice usability feature.

In the previous version of their Android app, the first thing you saw on the screen was the recent things you watched (allowing you to pick up where you left off). Next was your own List, giving you easy access to things you'd cued up to watch. After that were various auto-recommendation lists and other nonsense.

With the latest version they've taken to Maximising Tolerable Irritation and moved the List - the things you've decided you want easy access to - much further down and the very first thing you see is a very big advert for something Netflix wants you to watch. Not something you want to watch, something they want you to watch.

The first time it appeared for me, it dedicated 25% of the screen to an advert for the first series of House of Cards - a Netflix-only show that Netflix knows I've seen because I watched it on Netflix.

Now my List is appearing down after the ‘Random picks for Geoff’ list! Yes, they think it’s better to give me easy access to random picks for me rather than things I’ve tried to set for easy access.

This is, in many respects, trivial. I know this. But it kinda shows contempt for the user, saying ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you want this, but tough luck, we're going to push this on you instead’. It’s not user-focused, it’s Netflix-focused and it's designed to be both annoying and interruptive enough that you notice their advert and have more difficulty getting to what you actually want, while at the same time not being a big enough deal that you switch to something else.

So, no-one will switch away because of this irritation because it’s tolerable, but they're really trying to maximise the irritation for their own benefit.

I’m not just saying Netflix do this - it’s just one example. There are plenty of non-Netflix examples. It's like all companies have taken the wrong message from Nudge. It’s not accidental bad usability or an anti-pattern of usability, it’s an actually user-hostile dark pattern that seeks to make things deliberately unpleasant for the user, just not so unpleasant that the user doesn’t use the service.

Like call handling systems that never seem to have the option you actually need, even though you've explored several levels deep. It’s terrible, but is it enough to make you switch bank (or whatever the company is)?

Or Amazon - try buying MP3s without using your gift card balance. Workarounds include - buy yourself a gift card and send it to yourself, redeem it after you've made your purchase. Or ‘pre-order’ (urgh) a ridiculously expensive book and cancel it when you’ve made your purchase. All just to try to get you to fit in with Amazon’s desires. It’s possible to work around them, they’re just irritating enough that you probably won’t take your business elsewhere.

Another example - we would regularly get letters addressed to The Occupier about overhead power lines. These didn’t really seem to come from a reputable company (at the very least on the grounds that we’d used the Mail Preference Service to make sure we wouldn’t receive junk mail) so we ignored them for the first few years. They kept coming. And they provided a form to allow you to stop receiving them. The options on the form were:

  • I have already received a large compensation...
  • I am aware that compensation was paid to a previous owner...
  • I have instructed another company to act...
  • I do not have pylons or high voltage lines near...
  • I am not the registered owner...

No option that says ‘would you just fuck off and stop bothering me’. It’s like they figure if they don’t give me the option of just choosing not to do business with them, I’ll suddenly start doing business with them.

OK, that last one doesn't really fit with the notion of Maximising Tolerable Irritation but it’s still pretty fucking irritating. It’s the same people who think it’s oh so clever to have ‘Rate This App’ or ‘Later’ as the only options on a dialog, instead of a ‘Never, Ever, Ever - Now Stop Begging’ button. (Or better still - a button that allows you to punish the app developer for putting such a bad dialog in front of the user in the first place.)

Signing up for Windows Azure is a better example. Microsoft require (and check) a mobile phone number, and say they’re going to text your number with drivel like ‘information for new subscribers’ - information that:

  1. I don’t want,
  2. I certainly don’t want on my phone - I use that for stuff I think is important or urgent, not drivel spam from Microsoft,
  3. I have no way of opting out of - the Privacy Statement says ‘You will not be able to unsubscribe from these communications.'

In fact, Microsoft’s approach to spam emails generally is an example of maximising tolerable irritation. They don’t have unsubscribe options on their emails (at least, not the ones I get), they have a link saying ‘Review our privacy statement’ or some such. If you sign up for something from Microsoft, they take it as you being contractually obliged to receive their emails. Maximising tolerable irritation - it’s irritating, but is it irritating enough?

Is it irritating enough to get you to stop using Microsoft? Or Amazon? Or Netflix? Or...?

Tags: Clueless Idiocy
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‘Shoulda Read Years Ago’

Score: 5/5

Kate Thompson

This book is filled with the hard-won experience of writing software. I really wish I’d read it when I was starting out programming. The book was only published last year, and I started programming *mumble* decades ago, but so many of the stories have a familiarity to them of things I’ve also gone through or seen others go through.

There are stories about some things that work, as well as some things that don’t. There’s advice on what to do, as well as what not to do. Most importantly there’s advice on what to do when the advice on what to do and what not to do contradicts itself - the nature of software development these days involves dealing with these contradictions acceptably.

But overall it’s a book full of nice, familiar stories and koans that remind me of things I’ve done that I’d do better these days.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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‘Beat, Bop, Bumming About’

Score: 4/5

Jack Kerouac

I’d never read this book before. I’d heard of it, of course, but I didn’t really know anything about it. To be honest, I just thought it was a non-fiction travelogue of a journey across the U.S., not a fictionalised account of the rise of the beat generation.

It is fiction, but apparently only lightly so - Kerouac did indeed take many of the journeys outlined in the book. 

But what made the book stand out for me was the ‘texture’ of the writing. The way he described people and their actions really helped bring them alive to me. I could picture them in my mind andI heard their individual voice when they spoke.

This doesn't happen much for me.

It was fascinating to read about the U.S. in the post-WW2 era, although translating money values was tricky for me. (The dollar was worth more, but not at a fixed rate for all items - a sofa will have had a different rate of inflation since then than a gallon of petrol/gas.)

But most interesting to me was the affect music and writing had on them. The characters described in the book would go out to music clubs at night (they liked their bop!), sleep during the day, travel, and in their spare time would be writing a book. Such was the Beat Generation, apparently.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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Almost What It Says

Score: 4/5

I liked the book. It's pretty much what it says - a lot of bets that are simple to describe but which are difficult to do or have a certain element of trickery about them.

They're not all certainties though. Some of the bets I figured out without reading the rest of the text, some I'm reasonably confident I'd have figured out, and some descend to such a level of pedantry that I'd be reluctant to mention them to people.

But mostly, yeah, they're fun to read, fun to think about, and maybe fun to try out.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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Another travel day as we headed home to Northern Ireland. The flight was around lunchtime, but that meant it was the kind of day where there’s not enough time to head out and do something before it’s time to head to the airport. It takes a while to get the bus from the hotel to the bus terminal followed by the bus from the bus terminal to the airport.

Icelandic Feetstagram!

So instead we chose to relax, have a leisurely breakfast, one final shot of fish oil (for me – I had one with every breakfast but SWMBO did not partake), then it was time to finish packing, check out and wait for the bus at 10am.

To be taken daily, with breakfast

A minibus goes around stopping at the hotels that have arranged a pick-up, and picks up the people at the agreed time. You’d think this would be easy.

It was easy for nearly everyone. It was just one family that thought the ‘10am’ bit of ‘10am pickup’ was optional. So, our minibus sat outside their hotel, chugging away, for 10 minutes while they got their act together and came out. I guess they were having a leisurely time of it because they weren’t going to the airport, just the bus depot. Missing a flight would only be a problem for us, not for them.

This is why I’m not a good traveller.

Next time I’d be tempted to book a taxi to take us to the airport. It would have been about €100, whereas the bus was €42 for two of us. It would have taken half the time though, and we wouldn’t have had to worry about Other People Making Us Miss Our Flight. One less stress might be worth the extra cost.

As the minibus arrived at the depot, I headed off to check-in for the airport bus while SWMBO got our bags transferred. Teamwork got us ready ahead of everyone else but the bus still had to wait for all the others from our minibus who were delayed by those latecomers. Nice to know it waited though.

And the weather gave us some final tears as we boarded the bus for the airport. The weather was good most of the time, honest! I think I just like rainy photos.

It seemed to rain every time we boarded a bus

Tags: Personal
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Iceland Day 3

I tried to book the Blue Lagoon for us a few days before we started our trip. The late booking meant we couldn't quite get the appointment we wanted - I liked the idea of going there directly from the airport, and only then - after a relaxing bathe - heading to the hotel to check in. That didn’t work out, but going early on our 3rd day was a good option.

It can be a bit bleak in parts

The arrival was quite chaotic. It’s not that the place was overly busy - it was certainly busy enough but I’ve been in busier places that handled crowds much better. It just seemed like there was little control over what was happening, who was being served, and who should go where next.

This wasn’t helped by the woman in front of us looking the wrong way waiting to be served…

There are 4 ‘levels’ of entrance you can buy: Standard, Comfort, Premium and Luxury. ‘Luxury’ was ridiculously expensive, so we went for Premium - it was a little dearer than the other options but it looked to be worth it.

It was. It meant we got to use a much quicker queue going in, and we got flip-flops as well as rental of robes and towels.

Places are limited, so you must book rather than just turn up. And apparently they’ve made a big effort recently to reduce the number of customers so that those that are there have a good experience.

I’m not sure it worked. If it did, I’d hate to see what it was like before.

But, and this is the most important bit, it didn’t matter once you got in to the lagoon.

Warm and happy

There was plenty of space in the lagoon. It could have handled many more people than were there even at the busiest we saw. It was just the customer-facing Front Of House that was terrible.

The lagoon was terrific.

I sang the Red Hot Chili Peppers every time we went under a bridge

It’s a natural lagoon, full of geothermally heated sea water. It’s warm enough to bathe and relax in, with a few hot spots that could be uncomfortable after a while.


There’s a bar, and our ‘Premium’ tickets got us a free drink. You get a special (NFC?) wristband that allows you to pay for things in the lagoon without having to carry cash or cards. It’s a nice idea, and it worked well in practice.

The lagoon had ‘stations’ with silica and algae for face masks. We gave both a go. I’ve no idea if they were any good or not. It certainly didn’t transform my appearance.

Us, in algae masks

It was nice being in the lagoon, but my favourite thing was just floating with my head nearly submerged and my feet sticking out of the water. SWMBO would keep an eye on me to make sure I didn’t just float away. Floating like that wasn’t really her thing, but I enjoyed it. Very relaxing, just let all my muscles relax. Aaaaaaaah…

Floating away…

I’d forgotten there was a sauna cave we could go to, but we were reminded by one of the staff at the algae mask kiosk. After a few brief minutes in the sauna, we headed under the waterfall.

I thought the falling water pummelled my shoulders quite hard, so I didn’t like it. SWMBO did. I reckon she could’ve stayed there all day.

I didn’t sing The Stone Roses at this point

The lagoon is pretty extensive. Some of the places we a little crowded at times - it was hard to get to the bar at first, but easier later.

We were told (on Tripadvisor?) that the lagoon had staff walking around the lagoon with iPads, who would take your photo and email it to you. That way you didn’t have to worry about waterproofing your camera or getting it damaged. I’d even thought about getting my email address laminated so that I could show it to the person instead of trying to spell it out every time. (Seriously, I love opinionatedgeek.com but it’s not a nice domain to have to spell.)

I’m glad I didn’t bother. Didn’t see a single one of these photographers the whole time we were there. There were lifeguards there for safety but not a single one of these mythical people with iPads.

Eventually I relented and bought one of the waterproof phone covers and went back to fetch my phone. (That was their plan all along!)

I’m glad I did. I got some nice pictures of us, and captured some nice memories of us in the water.

Another thing TripAdvisor got wrong: there were no problems with our robes or flip flops being nicked. TripAdvisor said it was prevalent - people who didn’t pay for the Premium tickets would just take any robe that was set down. Didn’t see anything like that. We left our robes and flip flops alone on a couple of occasions while we were in the lagoon, and they were always right where we left them when we came back.

The extra for Premium was really worth it. It was nice having a cold drink in the warm lagoon, it was nice taking the shorter queue, and it was nice having the robes - it was a bit cold and windy when you weren’t in the water.

We got the bus back to Reykjavik. Instead of going to the bus hub and getting a minibus from there to the hotel, this big bus just dropped us off a short walk from the hotel. Fine by us but I wouldn't have wanted to do that walk with a couple of suitcases! I still like the idea of flying in to Reykjavik, going straight to the lagoon for some relaxation before finally heading to the hotel. I suppose we’d have been fine with our small trundle cases but it might be tricky for those stopping off in Iceland on their round-the-world trip.

It was well after lunchtime by now, so we popped in to the bar that was first stop of the food tour. In keeping with the spirit of utterly failing to avoid paying the high price for alcohol, we had some alcohol, and for lunch we had reindeer balls. Well, meatballs made from reindeer, but reindeer balls sounds better.

Just don’t ask the price

The reindeer meatballs and sweet potato fries were very tasty.

It was mid-meatballs that we found out the Northern Lights tour was again cancelled. Tonight was our last chance - we fly out tomorrow - so that was disappointing. Still, the company was very good about it all. They could have taken our money and driven us around in the hope of seeing something, but they didn’t - they kept us up to date with their plans, and while they promised to email before 6:30pm they always emailed much earlier.

So, time to update our plans for the evening.

We headed back to our hotel so SWMBO could wash the lagoon out of her hair. After a nice relaxing cuppa we went out for SWMBO to buy some sweets for her workplace. I’d seen a nice pair of gloves and wanted to find out a bit more about them. Turns out they’re a UK brand – Sealskinz - so I didn’t bother buying them. I figured it would be cheaper to buy them in the UK than have them shipped to Iceland and pay the premium only to take them back to the UK the next day. Turns out I was right - instead of the £90 the gloves would have cost there, they were under £30 in the UK.

After that dander and a return to the hotel room, it was time to head out for dinner. This was more difficult than I expected but that’s just down to my not planning. Of course Friday night in a city means it’s going to be difficult getting in to a restaurant. We got the hotel to try to book Sjavargrillid but (of course) they were fully booked. We figured we’d just wander up the main strip and find somewhere appealing.

That wasn’t so successful. Everywhere seemed busy or just not what we were looking for that night. I like the spontaneity of just heading out and finding somewhere but I guess here I should have planned it better.

No comment. Seriously.

We made it to the top of the road at the Big Church without finding anywhere to eat. We did however find an awful lot of photographers taking pictures of the church. I have no idea why - I thought there might be something important on, but there was nothing as far as I could see. For some reason, there were just half a dozen photographers with tripods and expensive cameras taking night shots of the church. I wonder if it’s like that every night.

My uneducated, un-tripodded snap

We were running out of options so we headed in towards the city centre, again checking out a few places on the way. After trying a bunch of other places, SWMBO figured we should check out a quaint restaurant right on the main road which I thought would just be a total tourist trap, bunged with travellers. Turns out it’s bigger inside than I expected, and only mildly tourist-y. OK, quite tourist-y, but very good nonetheless.

We didn’t really have to duck under the slope

And, in a measure of just how we fail to learn from our mistakes, we went for the Icelandic Feast tasting menu. With paired wines.


The starter was interesting. It was four separate morsels:

  • Lamb on flatbread
  • Salmon gravlax
  • Dried haddock
  • Fermented shark


The lamb was tasty. The salmon was fantastic. The shark and the fish though…

The shark came in that airtight jar. ‘Cute’, thought I. Our waitress said it could have a strong aroma, and was an acquired taste. ‘You might like it,’ she said as she put down a shot glass of Brennivin. “What’s the Brennivin for?” we asked. She said it’s to quickly take away the taste and smell of the shark.

Our waitress was not great at sales, it has to be said. She seemed to come from the ‘increase foreboding’ camp rather than the usual ‘increase anticipation’ side.

Still, we gave it all a go.

My jar had 3 small cubes of shark. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to accompany it with anything, so I just popped one in to my mouth.

The texture was chewy and fibrous, not very like meat. The aroma was the surprise though. Ammonia! I don’t know about you but I have never in my life smelled ammonia and thought ‘That smells tasty’.

And as I chewed, the smell did indeed become stronger. The aroma was coming from the shark in my mouth, so I took a sip of Brennivin and that did indeed kill the smell.

I had the other two cubes and polished off the Brennivin. Shark isn’t for me, fermented or not, so I’m glad we don’t have to eat it to survive. SWMBO didn’t manage to finish her portion of shark. I didn’t volunteer to eat it though.

Finally, the wind dried haddock. This was pretty much like chewing plastic dipped in fish oil. I didn’t like it at all. I disliked it more than the shark, something that surprised SWMBO. I finished it, but not happily. Plastic. Chewable plastic. Dipped in fish oil. Plastic. Not tasty.

But that gravlax. That was just gorgeous. The cool, juicy salmon with a gentle dill dressing was so good. The lamb was nice too, but the gravlax was a genuine highlight. (And the plastic haddock a genuine lowlight, but I’ll shut up about that now.)

Next up was cream of langoustine soup, with ‘a cloud of cream’. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had ‘the best lobster soup in the world’ and didn’t particularly like it, and, well, I didn’t like this either. It was quite mushroomy and I don’t like mushrooms. SWMBO assured me it was lovely.

The main course of lamb and potatoes was good. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it other than it was tasty (and served with a nice Campo Viejo Reserva Rioja).

Tasty, tasty lamb

Desert was a fruity Skyr that again was absolutely not yoghurt, but if you imagine a thick yoghurt with blueberries you’ll have a good idea of what it was.

Not yoghurt

Tags: Personal
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I gradually came around and headed down for breakfast. It was the typical European breakfast of interesting breads, cheeses and meats with some cereals and the possibility of toast. The orange and apple juices were placed beside shot glasses and a bottle that looked a bit like a lemon cleansing product. I gave that a wide berth and had some apple juice.

SWMBO's curiosity was piqued though and after cereal when I headed out for some toast and she asked me to investigate. As I got there a young chap was reading the bottle and I said I was wondering what it was too. He said it was fish oil. We both expressed some skepticism about fish oil at breakfast, but together we felt brave enough to give it a go.

He filled a shot glass with fish oil for himself, and I said I'd have a small glass. He said 'Say when' as he started to pour and I said 'When' almost immediately. This surprised him. Surprised him so much he didn't stop pouring... So I got a bigger glass of fish oil than I was expecting but it still wasn't quite a full shot glass. We clinked glasses as if we were about to down a tequila and had our fish oil.

It'll never catch on.

The taste wasn't as strong as the cod-liver oil we would get back home but nonetheless fish oil is not a pleasant drink, for me at least.

SWMBO later rightly pointed out the sense of fish oil when daylight can be a precious few hours a day, as a way of getting some necessary vitamin D into your system. Nice and practical. But still, it'll never catch on...

After breakfast we got the hotel to book our bus to the airport on Saturday and then took the 'Art Tour' in the hotel.

Hotel Holt holt.is/english/ is a 40-room hotel near the centre of Reykjavik, but the one thing that sets it apart is its art collection. It's hard to miss this selling point - there are paintings throughout the hotel. There are 3 paintings in our room! The corridors are lined with them. The lobby, dining areas and bar all have more paintings and sculptures.

When booking I just thought it was a nice idea, and the price seemed reasonable enough compared to other hotels for the nights we were looking at. But there's a good deal more to it than I expected.

LobbyArtArt. Art everywhere!

For a start, the hotel shows about 400 pieces of original art, part of a collection of over a thousand (1400, maybe?) The original builder of the hotel in the 1960s was a collector of Icelandic art, and wanted to share his passion for it with others. Since then the collection has grown to include a lot of the 'pioneers' of Icelandic art, and some of the pieces are quite stunning. Yes, even to a philistine like me.

The half-hour Art Tour took just over an hour and showed us some of the highlights. It also brought home just how young Iceland is - the pioneers' pieces were from the early 1900s with only a few I think from the late 1800s. They depicted the old style of the communities from then, living in turf huts. We were told Icelanders only generally moved away from turf huts in the 1920s.

One artist in particular stood out for me. There was a corner of the 'Gallery' restaurant area that I liked. It had 4 paintings, each quite different in colour, tone and style. Turns out they were all by the same artist - Kjarval. He was one of the 'pioneers', and quite a prolific one. Many of his paintings turned up later on the tour, and there's a museum of his works near the Big Church. He also did a lot of charcoal or pencil portraits of people, and the bar in the hotel is festooned with many examples of these. (I'm typing this in the hotel bar now, and there are about 40 of them on the walls.)

It's remarkable that the hotel is so free with its art, and it's lovely to see. Since the hotel opened in the 1960s, not a single piece has been stolen, even though it would probably be quite straightforward to make off with some of the paintings. While some regard several of the pieces as priceless, I've no idea what value insurers place on them. It's possible they're not that valuable in the grand scheme of things, and that's why no-one has stolen them. I think that's probably not the real reason though. Maybe they'd be too easy to trace, maybe there's just not a market for 'hot' Icelandic paintings, maybe the valuable pieces are so big they'd be harder to steal.

I like to think it's because people are responding to the trust placed in them. Maybe people respond well to this instead of always  being treated as potential criminals the way other places do.

Nah, probably not. But it's a nice thought.

After all that standing around looking at the paintings, we headed back to the room to rest my feet for a few minutes. Then we headed out for a slow dander to Harpa where the Food Walk was starting from.

On the way to Harpa, I got a hat! SWMBO finally persuaded me that we found a wooly hat that didn't make me look like a complete dork. (Now, when you see me looking like a complete dork at least you'll be able to say 'Well, it's not the hat...')

The Harpa seems a pretty remarkable building. We only saw some of it while we were waiting but I think it might be worth going back to see some more.

Much less blustery than yesterday

The Food Walk was led by Barra, a bubbly young Icelandic woman. First stop was a locals bar where we were served some lamb soup. The place changes the recipe regularly (every week?). The story is that every Icelandic granny has their own recipe for lamb soup, so they get recipes from the grannies of all the staff. That way you'll never know in advance what particular recipe of lamb soup you’ll get, but you know it'll be a granny's recipe that'll feed you and warm you up.

I have no idea why they had a chalk drawing of a man riding a sheep into town.

I really have no idea why he’s riding the sheep

Today, the recipe was - I kid you not - almost exactly like the Irish Stew my granny would make.

It had the same warming broth, diced carrots and potato. The only difference I could find was my granny would cut the lamb up more. SWMBO said she'd expect more potato from an Irish granny recipe.

We’re not doing a good job avoiding alcohol

Food tours are a relatively new thing. The first one I heard about was the lovely Belfast Food Tour but there’s one in most cities we’ve been to recently. I like having a nice introduction to the city and its food early on in a trip because it often points out places to go to later, even if they’re not part of the tour itself.
Our tour group had quite a mix of people. Some from Singapore, some from Canada, and a lady from the US who disliked the way the US was changing so was going to start claiming she was from Canada. And interesting mix!

The next place we visited was a deli for some cheeses and meats. There were 3 of each. The cheeses were an Icelandic Gouda, an Icelandic Brie and an Icelandic Roquefort. I thought the first two cheeses were creamy but a bit bland. I don't think I'm used to mature cheeses, I think these were just fairly gentle. The third cheese, the roquefort, was a nice creamy blue cheese. Strong enough, if maybe a little salty. Could've eaten stacks of it.


The three meats were mutton, horse and goose. The goose was meant to be the highlight, but I found it tough. The sauce that topped it was nice, I just didn't like the texture of the goose meat itself. Ah well, you can't please everybody.

I may have taken too many pictures of SWMBO by this point.

She loves me really. Probably.

We took a walk up to near the Big Church to Café Loki. I was expecting something trickster-y on the menu but no - apparently the streets around here are all named after Norse gods and this happened to be on Loki street. Simple as that.

Insert picture of table at Loki

Here we had a dense ice cream with bread and chocolate through it. Lovely. I could've eaten much more of this. The café had a fantastic mural of Norse mythology. I tried to explain a bit about the new nation they're trying to form in space, following a tangent because the mural pictured Asgard. I don't think SWMBO was impressed. Also, it turns out I've been mispronouncing Ragnarok the few times I've actually said it out loud. I still can't pronounce it properly but at least now I know.

Nice weather for ducks

We walked down to the water beside the city hall and watched the ducks. There were geese and swans as well, but ducks are ducks. We didn't have anything to feed them when they came over to say 'Hi' and I felt a little bad about that. While here we had some skyr, which isn't yogurt. It looks like yogurt and, to my uneducated palette, tastes like yogurt but yogurt it is not! There are some very strong opinions on this subject apparently.

Look at all of us, not eating yoghurt

Then another dander down towards the waterfront where there's a famous hot dog stand. There's been a hot dog stand there since 1937 and it's well know. It's one of the few things I'd heard about before coming here this time. We had hot dogs. Hot dogs made with lamb instead of pork, with sauces sweetened by apples rather than sugar. Very tasty indeed.

SWMBO vs Hot Dog

Apparently two weeks ago a building collapsed right where we were standing munching our hot dogs. No one was hurt but we lost the urge to hang around the hot dog stand.

The hot dog stand has been there for years. The other buildings…

Next up was 'The best lobster soup in the world'. Apparently Time magazine sent reporters to Iceland to try out the different foods and they decided this place served not just the best lobster soup in Iceland but the best in the world! So, now I can reliably state I'm not a fan of lobster soup. If I've had the best in the world and still get Meh about it then I'm fairly confident of my decision.

The tour did take us to some interesting streets. Hotel Holt doesn’t have a monopoly on art!

This was done as part of a celebration of music

Finally we arrived back at Apotek, where we had a Happy Hour drink yesterday. This time we had a chocolate dessert and coffee. It was a chocolate and coffee mousse with crème anglaise and a pistachio base. Very rich, and too much for some folks who were full from the rest of the food.

I resisted the urge to eat everyone else’s leftovers

And that was it. We said goodbye to ask the folks we'd bonded with over the last four hours and wished everyone well.

Then it was back to the hotel to relax just as the rain started. We weren't hungry after all that food so we headed down to the hotel bar and sat among the sketched portraits for a few hours. We're not normally folks for staying in the hotel but this was a pleasant exception.

There were 40 of these portraits all around the bar

Our Northern Lights tour was cancelled again, so we rounded off the evening with a few catastrophically-expensive-but-tasty nibbles from the bar.

That’s 40 quid’s worth right there.

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