We come from the land of the ice and snow. From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
I was reminded that Led Zeppelin wrote The Immigrant Song about Iceland by a gregarious local named Finn between shots of Brennivin and Opal in a bar called The English Pub in downtown Reykjavik (aside from the dart board, The English Pub is an English pub in name only). Brennivin is a potato-based fermentation flavored with caraway seed often used as a chaser to Hákarl (fermented/rotten shark that tastes like a sponge marinated in ammonia). Opal is a licorice flavored cough syrup…i mean liquor.
I’ve mentioned that Iceland is populated by extremely friendly people, and it’s no joke. I had just ordered a beer at the bar and had barely taken a sip before i was asked if i wanted to join in on a game of darts between Olig and Finn. Never one to pass up an opportunity to have my ass handed to me in a friendly game of Cricket, i said ‘Sure!’. The next thing i knew, we had closed the bar and i was making my way back to my hotel. Reykjavik is that kind of town.
Reykjavik is a lively place that’s not only the capital and largest city in Iceland, but it’s probably the one place in Iceland most familiar to people (at least until that volcano erupted last year and pissed off anyone with a flight in or out of Europe). In 1986 the former French consulate was the location of the famous Reykjavik Summit which eventually lead to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty in 1987 – one of the events that led to the end of the Cold War. I remember hearing about that summit and imagined, being such an important event, it would have taken place in a Versaille-like estate – not the understated house that sits at the edge of the Faxa Bay in the North Atlantic.
But that understated aesthetic extends to more than just the location of that summit. It’s prevalent throughout the capital. Reykjavik doesn’t look or feel like any European city or town i’ve been to. The modern architecture is simple and functional, yet with a cheerful disposition most noticeable in the bright color scheme of the houses in and around the capital. Structures are painted in bright yellows, greens and reds that are juxtaposed against the stark backdrop of the basalt mountain Esjan – the informal symbol of Reykjavik. I also came across several large, graffiti-like wall murals that echoed the playful nature of the people of Reykjavik.
While the main road downtown is home to the highest density of shops, cafes and restaurants in the city, there are a number of side streets that intersect it and are lined with small antique shops and boutiques. Several of these side streets lead to the famous Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran church. It’s an unmistakable structure whose architecture is reminiscent of the geological landscape that surrounds it. The striations of the basalt mountain ranges around Reykjavik are echoed in the sweeping parallel lines that make up steeple and wings of the church. Inside is a massive organ that seems more at home in the structure than any other organ i’ve ever seen inside a church or cathedral – again, following the clean, parallel lines of the surrounding architecture.
Having had only a few days to explore, i left a lot of the city and surrounding areas untouched. In doing so, i didn’t really got a good sense of the size of Reykjavik. According to Wikipedia it has a population of ~120,000, which seems like a lot. I never got the feeling that i was in a city of that size – it seemed more comfortable than that. It’s someplace that i’ll definitely be going back to, even if it’s for only a portion of my next trip.