Pouring rain and blowing wind greeted me as soon as I landed my two feet in Björk’s homeland, Reykjavík, Iceland. Well, I was expecting a “warmer” welcome from the northernmost capital in the world (not as isolated as the land of far far away, “only” three hours from Copenhagen by flight) in the end of August. Despite unfriendly weather, I witnessed preserved nature in the middle of modernity with lots of remaining green areas, breathed fresh and unpolluted air. Other big cities should envy this kind of luxury.
Reykjavík, literally meaning “smokey bay”, is anything but crowded with approximately 200,000 inhabitants, representing about half of the population in the country. No need to brush one’s shoulder to another to mingle with locals, since there are only three people per square meter. No need to worry about nasty hands targeting bags and wallets in Reykjavik. Moreover, thanks to political stability and low crime rates, Global Peace Index awarded Iceland as the most peaceful country in the world in 2013.
If puffin bird watch, aurora borealis or geothermal spa at Blue Lagoon is not in your agenda, what does Reykjavík offer you?
COLOURFUL DOWNTOWN CITY WALK
Colourful details in every building are worth to observe in the city once depended on farm and fisheries.
MULTICULTURAL MELTING POT
Do not underestimate the existence of foreigners in the capital city of the least populated country in Europe. Sushi is one of the popular dishes apart from traditional ones, numerous Thai and Chinese restaurants are available to indulge more diversity in the art of eating. Specialty souvenir stores are great tools to promote a foreigner’s homeland and to comfort the feeling of being homesick. Suomi PRKL! Design offering Finnish design brands, including the famous Moomin character, and Nordic Store offering various Scandinavian souvenirs.
From the bus window, I looked at a cyclist enjoying his solo ride by the ocean without motorway pollution. It seems beyond belief that I was still in Reykjavík, not Greater Iceland.
Icelandic fashion brands, namely Cintamani, 66° North and Geysir, are acclaimed for high quality and durable material winter clothing. Yet, they don’t come that cheap. Cintamani jacket can keep you warm for about € 150 after using a €50 voucher from a tourist booklet. Amazing collections and attractive interior design make window shopping is a pleasant activity no one should miss. Surprisingly, nobody forbids me from taking pictures inside the store and I was very happy about it!
If not speaking Icelandic is something you remember the most about Iceland, mugs, t-shirts and sweatshirts with an inscription “ég tala ekki íslensku” (I don’t speak Icelandic) will be perfect to take home. Being more “affordable” than quality winter clothing, an average price for a t-shirt is €25, a sweatshirt €35. I didn’t see any €15 shirts and under, unfortunately.
Dear animal activists, environmentalists and Greenpeace members, animal fur clothing and household goods are everywhere, from scarfs, jackets, winter hats, pillow cases, seat covers, carpets and even mummified wild animals become part of the decoration. You may complain, but I’m not sure you can sue them.
One of the main streets in Reykjavík has a mural teaching “Fashion for Men 101: How To Wear a Tie”.
Situated beside a pedestrian way in the suburb of Reykjavík, perhaps mushroom picking could be an alternative for groceries, but I haven’t seen anyone doing it. Is it allowed? Is it edible? I don’t know. They mushroom everywhere effortlessly.
Taking a sightseeing tourist bus is a good idea to get a big picture of the city, from downtown to suburb. Strangely, it works as a commuter and a sightseeing bus simultaneously. Reykjavík City Hostel, Hilton Reykjavik Nordica and BSI Bus Terminal are 3 of 10 destinations besides major landmarks, namely Hallgrimskirkja, National Museum and Perlan. In many other countries, hardly do hostels and motels become part of the tourist bus route unless they have historical values, let’s say a former Emperor’s castle or a fortress.
A sign that it has a few inhabitants: as I switch to another bus to Blue Lagoon, the same driver moves to the next bus I got in.
The only landmark I went was Hallgrimskirkja, the biggest Lutheran church in Reykjavík named after an Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson. It was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, built in 1945 until its completion in 1986. The statue of Leifur Eiríksson, the first European who arrived in North America 500 years before Columbus, stands gracefully in front of the church.
Unfortunately, my visit didn’t succeed because it was booked for a wedding ceremony. Two adolescents, who were the guest receivers, made sure that only invited guests could get in, not tourists. Looking at these young guys, as well as the rest of local people, I’m not so sure that Björk has a typical Icelandic feature on her face. Nonetheless, hearing the way she speaks English, I think I know where her accent comes from. Just a thought, by the way.
By exploring Reykjavík on foot or by a local public bus, you’ll find more attractions mostly not mentioned in the tourist bus’ audioguide. I accidentally found an unusual place of attraction, The Icelandic Phallological Museum, exhibiting Icelandic ocean animals’ penises. Have any idea about the height of a whale’s penis? Could be taller than a human being from top to toe, depending on the type of whale. I’ll get back to this particular topic in my future post.
Generally speaking, “Smokey Bay” offers a different side of a capital city in Europe without palaces, fortresses, Gods’ temples and arc de triomphe. Not that typical, isn’t it?
EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, that’s what it’s made for!