Reykjavík

Community Highlights Europe Reykjavík

“We Travel not to Escape LIfe, but so that Life does not Escape Us,”.

Early morning flight into Reykjavík and a blustery 48 degrees. Saw the above quote at the airport when we arrived. A sign? Check in. Clean up. Lunch. And then we were off. I didn’t need to worry about daylight. Arrived between National Day (like our Fourth of July) and the Summer Solstice Festival (72 hours of music, dancing, eating , drinking—no sleeping).

Could not believe the barren, desolate land we saw flying in.
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Reykjavik is a designated UNESCO City of Learning; and within the first half hour of walking, it was very apparent why: I have never seen so many book stores tucked away into each block; most of the restaurants have book shelves filled with books of all languages. Information plaques around the city celebrate the authors and artists from Reykjavik. Restaurants have areas for kids to play and read while adults eat.

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Spent the next four hours walking around the area starting at Ingolfur's Square. The square itself isn't much but it does contain fairly nondescript pillars (one with 874 on it). The square takes its name from Ingolfur Arnason who settled Reykjavik in 874. But like all good history stories, there is a legend involving him and the pillars. As Ingolfur sighted the southeast coast of Iceland, he followed an old Scandinavian custom and threw two carved wooden pillars from his best chair overboard with the intention of establishing his farm wherever they washed ashore. Once ashore he sent two of his slaves in search of the pillars, while the rest established a temporary settlement. Three years later (874) they found the pillars in the area of what is now the square. Ingolfur named the area "Reykjavik" which means "Smoky Bay" --probably because of the geothermal vapors he saw nearby. The local kids use the square for a skate park; and, like teens all around the world, they don't pay attention to the people walking around.
Shops and restaurants line the square. Seemed strange seeing so many pizza places.

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Wandered around the backstreets into some of the quiet residential areas. Very few houses remain from the 1890s. Most date from the 1980s because homes were destroyed after an expressway was slated to cut through the downtown. Locals protested and won--but homes had to be rebuilt. Could not find out if the city reimbursed the rebuilding. Many of the houses have corrugated steel (galvanized with zinc) siding and even roofing. On a cloudy day (such as today) the colors brighten the area. The gray ones have not weathered enough to be painted. The sheeting actually makes a great deal of sense: It's cheap, fireproof, easy to maintain.

House with Corrugated Siding

House with Corrugated Siding

Colorful Residences

Colorful Residences

1980s Rebuild with Corrugated Siding

1980s Rebuild with Corrugated Siding

Check Out the Spiral Escape

Check Out the Spiral Escape

The last area for walking this first day was the City Hall and Parliament. Although the city council meets on the second level, the first level is really for the residents for ceremonies, art shows, concerts--or even just a quiet place to sit and eat lunch. The building is really on a peninsula with a large pond--complete with ducks on one side. At the one end of the pond, facing the City Hall is a statue of a faceless bureaucrat. The residents do not think much of politicians.

Lake around City Hall

Lake around City Hall

View from Across “The Pond”

View from Across “The Pond”

Across the pond with City Hall in foreground

Across the pond with City Hall in foreground

The Faceless Bureaucrat

The Faceless Bureaucrat

Across “The Pond”

Across “The Pond”

Parliament is a much older building. People of Iceland like to say that they have the world's oldest parliament, but that really is not so. But I wasn't going to engage in a debate. For its first 400 or so years it was a court and not a legislature. But what we found really fascinating ( and a bit funny) is that Parliament is comprised of 66 members who serve a little less than 350,000 people. (That is about the size of the Santa Clarita Valley.)

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Ingibjorg H. Bjarnason

Ingibjorg H. Bjarnason

The Black Cone

The Black Cone

Iceland has a pretty impressive history of recognizing and honoring the rights of women. On October 24, 1975, over 95% of Icelandic women ( including housewives) went on strike to drive home their importance in society. The country came to a standstill. ( Men nicknamed this “The Long Friday”.) Iceland became the first modern democratic nation to elect a female head of state in 1980; she served four terms (16 years). And she was a single mother!

After about 2.5 hours the cold wind was just too much to fight. It was easy to tell who were the residents and who were the visitors: Just look who was wearing shorts and flip flops!
It was 40 Degree Out!

It was 40 Degree Out!

Not All Wear shorts and Flip flops

Not All Wear shorts and Flip flops

Grabbed some meat soup for dinner (chunks of lamb with a few vegetables in a tasty lamb broth)--a national dish. Really quite filling, though I would have preferred some additional veggies. The cod appetizer was more the size of an entree.
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On the way back to our hotel we passed THE HOT DOG STAND that Bill Clinton made famous. Could not believe how many people were lined up to pay about $6 for an ordinary hot dog. Apparently in 2004, Bill Clinton was in Reykjavik to speak at a conference; the owner of the hot dog stand offered him and free hot dog and he accepted. It is now the place for hot dogs; the lines are long for lunch as well as dinner. Unbelievable!

The Hot Dog Stand Clinton Made Famous

The Hot Dog Stand Clinton Made Famous

Wanted to get an early start on Wednesday, so our plan was to get to bed at a reasonable time. That was the first wrong assumption we made. Even though our room had blackout drapes, tiny slits of daylight managed to make their way into the room. My body did not understand why I would want to sleep when there was perfectly good daylight out there. Charlie? He went out in 15 minutes.

The next morning I was up with the sun -- 2:53 am. I had had one hour more rest than it: It did not set until 00:03 am! For the next four hours I dozed, read , and planned our day. Strange looking out a window at 4 in the morning and seeing a beautiful sunny blue sky. Unfortunately, by the time we were up and about, the blue sky was grey.

You can walk anywhere in Reykjavik. And today we were going to walk. I had 3 main objectives for us today: the Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church, the Einar Jonsson Museum, and the Sun Voyager sculpture. By the end of the day we would have well exceeded our 10,000 steps.

The skyline of Reykjavik is so pollution free that you can see for 75 miles on a clear day. Even though the day was overcast, we could see the top of the Hallgrimskirkja from our hotel. (In fact, you can see it pretty much from anywhere in the city.) The church, built between 1945-1986, is 244 ft. tall and was designed to look like a waterfall. The inside reminded me of hands swept up in prayer. The most impressive part of the inside is the organ: driven by four manuals and a pedal, 102 ranks, 72 stops and 5275 pipes. We happened to get i early enough to hear the organist practicing for a funeral. The music seemed to fill every inch of the church. Interesting fact: People paid to have their names on the pipes.

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From there we crossed the street to the Einar Jonsson Museum. Jonsson was one of Iceland's first sculptors. The museum had also been his home, where he and his wife lived in the penthouse apartment--accessed by a very tight spiral staircase and no privy.(Bathroom facilities were 2 floors down.) Jonsson was not a great sculptor but also a very shrewd business man: He offered his works to the Icelandic people on the condition that a public museum be built for them (the first in Iceland). He found the location (a hilltop with an amazing view and supervised the design and building--which included the first of its kind penthouse apartment. The museum /workshop/ residence opened in 1923; Jonsson lived there until his death in 1954. Behind the house and open to the public (free of charge) is his scupture garden with some 26 bronze casts of his work.

I found myself "reading" each of the pieces in the museum. He developed his own figurative language of symbols, personification, allegory, and imagination, and allusions to works of literature. There were a couple drawings I would have loved to own.
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By the time we had left the museum, the blue skies were grey and the wind had picked up. We still had one more stop--the Sun Voyager (although today it would have to voyage afar to find the sun).

Sun Voyager—Through My Eyes

Sun Voyager—Through My Eyes

“Sun Voyager” by Jon Gunnar Arnason

“Sun Voyager” by Jon Gunnar Arnason

The cold wind reminded me of some of the cold Michigan wintery days--but this was 2 days before summer. I really was not dressed for this weather change. When we had left in the morning, there was some sun but no real wind. the natives were dressed in shirtsleeves, shorts, sundresses, and sandals. (Notes to self: do not dress according to Icelandic residents; weather will change in a matter of minutes; this is Iceland summer.)

On our way back up to the center of town, we found a cute cafe for some wonderful hot soup. Now that we were warm again, we could make our way up Laugavegur (main drag for shops and some of the best restaurants) back to the hotel--so I could add another layer of clothes. Along this street and down some of the side streets we found some street-art murals. These aren't graffiti but really some interesting works of art. The locals found that if you leave a blank wall, the taggers will use it; so the local government and property owners commission artists to do the art work and the taggers leave it along. Found out that some of the best street artists are women. (Found out a few more interesting things about Icelandic women that I will share later.)

Street Mural Art

Street Mural Art

Color and Art

Color and Art

Street Art vs Graffiti

Street Art vs Graffiti

Shops in the main business areas are as colorful as the houses. Many carry the usual tourist fare. But if one perseveres, one can find some very nice treasures. Found a beautiful hand knit sweater for Charlie that fits as though it was made especially for him: The arm length was perfect!

Along the Main Drag

Along the Main Drag

One of the Treasure Shops

One of the Treasure Shops

More Colorful Shops

More Colorful Shops

Color along the Side Streets

Color along the Side Streets


Charlie Wearing His Icelandic Sweater

Charlie Wearing His Icelandic Sweater

Back to the hotel to rest up a bit, get some warmer clothes on, and walk some more until dinner at a fish and chips place we saw along the way. Need to get some sleep tonight for tomorrow is our last full day and we still have a lot to see.

This featured blog entry was written by jdsarff from the blog Travels With My Charlie.
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By jdsarff

Posted Mon, Jul 01, 2019 | Iceland | Comments