Saturday, August 18, 2018

48 hours in Reykjavik

Iceland is not large. It's eye catching -- poised there in the middle of the ocean, but its land mass is actually slightly smaller than the state of Kentucky. And there aren't many people who inhabit it. About 335,000 live here. That's a lot less than the population of Wyoming -- America's state with the fewest people.

Reykjavik itself is tiny -- its population is 119,000 (and declining each year). But today, I think it swelled to at least twice that number. In addition to the Marathon and the Culture Night festivities, something else took place here today -- something so unusual that when it happens, people congregate in great masses outside to celebrate: it was sunny.

Everything about my travels today was easy, except that I didn't sleep and I ate poorly. Because the flight left Minneapolis late and was, in fact, relatively short (five and a half hours, flying east), Delta skipped the usual transatlantic dinner service, opting for a basket of snacks in the evening (think: nuts, potato chips and bananas) and then a breakfasty meal before arrival. I would have done exactly the opposite. I had left the farmette at 3:30 and had not eaten properly since breakfast on the porch. Sometimes on these longer flights I doze off. That didn't happen this time. Such is life.

Still, all went well and I even found my way from the Bus Station to the street with my rental apartment without getting lost. Remarkable.

The street where I live -- for 48 hours:


My apartment occupies the ground floor of this lovely little building:


The unit itself is brand new and it is full of beautiful light (witness that glassed-in porch):


But I can't get in. The lockbox has the key, I have the code, but the key refuses to turn. This is when you wish you had a desk clerk downstairs who could assist you. No such luck here.

Fortuitously that lovely glass porch has a door that someone had forgotten to lock. In I go.

All nice, fresh, pretty.


And now I have to start my torpedo run. Sort of like a marathon, only without any prize at the end of the day for pulling it off.

I'm going to post a string of photos. If you've been here, you wont be surprised by them. If you haven't, I hope you'll get an idea of what Reykjavik feels like, on a day packed with Icelandic people running, eating, banging out music, wielding fake swords in fake battles, drinking, pushing strollers with lots of bundled up children with remarkably light hair.






At the very top of my list for today is a visit to the Sandholt Bakery, to get a proper breakfast (or is it lunch?). There are a number of good bakeries in town and they all will have trays of pastries that are sort of a cross between danishes and Viennese cakes and buns. Like this:


Too, there are a number of good coffee shops in Reykjavik with very good coffee. But few bakeries offer coffee and few coffee shops offer food. Sandholt is the exception here. And it's good! (I had an okay quiche and an exceptionally tasty "Viennese," which is one of the more typical Icelandic sweet treats.


As I walk the crowded streets of this very small city, I am happy that I can shake away my earlier tiredness. Cool but sunny weather, with a strong breeze from the ocean is just such a boost to the soul! (And it is cool here: today's high was 56F/13C and the low will go down to 46F/8C.)

Highlights from my rambles? Well, the sweet, colorful houses of course.


And the Harpa Concert Hall, which was built in 2011 -- a cooperative effort between a Danish team and an Icelandic architect. The geometric panels of glass have different hues and the entirety is just dazzling, especially in its waterside location.


To the side of Harpa, I see a few boats bobbing in the small harbor.


Reykjavik is at the mouth of a large bay and as you look out toward the water, you can just barely see a summit from the shore on the other side of the bay (to the right in the photo below). The summit is actually a glacier and it looks like it is rising out of the water. On the left side of the photo, you see the lighthouse warning of past and present dangers.


It's quiet here, along the shore of the cold Atlantic Ocean. All the noise and action are downtown today. Eventually I return to it, to enjoy the happy gatherings of people who rarely feel too warm and almost never experience the feeling of being just too hot.



In the evening, on the recommendation of my hosts (who are faceless email writers), I had booked a seat at the bar at Snaps Bistro. I'd been warned it's packed full of locals and it surely lived up to that hype. As I placed my order (which had some mishmash of French and English words), the woman sitting next to me asked (in English with that faint Icelandic accent) -- excuse me, are you French?
I was hoping. (??) So... where are you from? (Isn't it obvious?)
The United States.
She waves her hand and shakes her head, but maintains her smile. (My interpretation: love all you creative people, but I'm somewhat mystified right now by your country!)
She is my age, waiting for a friend. He comes, smooches her all over, they chat in Icelandic. Then her brother comes and the whole thing repeats itself.

Earlier, I had told her that I had been in Reykjavik as a young woman.
Iceland has changed so much! -- she tells me.
Yes, you've had some dramatic moments -- the 2008 financial crisis, the volcano...
Oh, the volcano -- that was nothing! It blew all that stuff into the air and no one could go anywhere! So interesting -- we all had to stay put. But the financial crisis -- that changed us. We worked so hard and someone else was getting rich. We said -- fuck you, we're not going to be martyrs. (She is an extremely well presented woman, but she does not mince words.) Those motherfuckers, we're not going to kill ourselves for them. (Do they teach such vocabulary in school? English 101: speak as the natives would speak...)

I eat my slabs of halibut in a fish broth. We are so parsimonious with our halibut in the US, but halibut swims all around Iceland. Indeed, the largest halibut that was ever caught anywhere came from Iceland -- all 220 kilo of him.


After dinner, I watch the streets fill with people. They're all heading in the direction of the big hill that overlooks the bay. It's the fireworks: I'm in Iceland on a day that is like the Fourth of July, only people are huddled in scarves, jackets and caps and the fireworks wont start until 11. It still is not really dark before then.


 I hurry home. Maybe I'll fall asleep before the noise begins. Maybe. I need a little rest for the tail end of my trip here. I have big ideas for it. But I need to rest first.