I don’t know where to start when talking about Iceland. The people? The history? The landscape? The towns?
I was and still am totally captivated by Iceland…so familiar yet so exotic. At times I felt I had journeyed to Middle earth.
There is so much information and too many pictures to choose from. Perhaps the best way in is to recap the main places visited in separate blogs and then list all those other facts I collected which round out the picture in a final.
So part 1 of the Iceland sage is Reykjavik, the main town.
The 45 minute drive through flat rocky landscape from Keflavik airport is the first sign that Iceland is special. In the distance mountains and volcanos can be seen in every direction.
I learn that the rocky field are in fact fields of lava, Iceland having a third of the world’s lava flow with an eruption on the south coast around every 2 years.
We pass satellite towns of smart new developments. Iceland is strange but the architecture of these new suburbs about 10 years old bring a note of the familiar as does the heavy 5pm traffic flows. There was a building boom here between 2000 and 2008 preceding and in part generating the Icelandic fallout from the Global Financial Crisis.
What a splendid small lively town swamped by tourists. About 240,000 of Iceland’s 320,000 people live in the capital. More than 1 million tourists would pass through here annually.
We stayed at the stylish art deco Hotel Bork on Parliament Square, central to everything. Such temperate days with some in shirt sleeves but I hear that in winter the pavements are heated with the abundant cheap thermal electricity.
While there are many smart, opulent satellite suburbs radiating out from the old town, the centre retains a number of the old houses built of colourful corrugated iron.
Parliament Square is the home of the Althing, a surprisingly small and unpretentious 19th century stone building with a smart extension – surprising until you remember that the population is only 320,000, less than many local authorities/cantons in the western world.
This Parliament is symbolically important as the descendant of the world’s first Parliament when the chieftains with their law reading and judges met annually in the fields 45k west of here.
In this square in 2008 the people gathered to demand action on the financial crisis causing the State to take over the banks’ debts. By November, what is now known as the “pots and pans” revoltion happened. People made constant protest noise with these kitchen tools . The police had to keep calm. Some people started dressing in orange to signify peaceful protest and stood between the police and those with less calm dispositions.
It was suggested that the bright orange floral borders are an ongoing reminder of those protests.
Below is one of my favourite monuments in the square – the Monument to Civil Disobedience – reminding citizens of their right to oppose unjust laws
Now after 8 years, the debts are paid and young people who went abroad are being encouraged to return.There now seems to be a new wave of construction although the few Icelanders I spoke to were wary, working harder than ever to set themselves up debt free and hoping the cycle was not returning.
Harpa Hall the concert hall, was being built on the waterfront as a convention centre, hotel etc. by a bank when it went bust in 2008; the government bailed them out and this huge cultural centrepiece was completed by the national and city governments. 1.7million visitors a year enjoy this standout building of geometric glass shaped panels. It is a beautiful, imposing building even if perhaps out of scale with the town.
An explanation of the complex but yet simple acoustic system still remains a mystery though impressive to me!
Hallgrim’s Church, the main Lutheran church stands out from a distance; it was commissioned in 1937 and took 41 years to complete. it is said to be designed o resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape.
There is a Settlement Museum in town showing an excavation where the first earth and stone houses lay under the foundations of the current town. It also contains copies of the Book of Icelanders (1130) and the Book of Settlements (13th and 14th Centuries)
The National Museum has a statuette which is believed to be of the god Thor one of the few remaining artefacts of the pre Christian culture.
The pedestrian area is lively as in many tourist towns though the Japanese tourist below needed a quick nap in a quiet spot:
Just down the street, crowds were settling in, playing Pokemon Go!!
Graffiti is always fun:
The installation (?) below was signposted as “speed dating”
The best way ever of signalling the beginning of the pedestrian only area:
We also visited Asmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum. Sveinsson, a popular 20th century sculptor, designed the impressive white museum.The public art, to my mind, was indicative of the respect shown to artist in Scandinavian countries .
These young ones had no interest in the sculpture garden, nor anymore in their skateboards. It was device time as in most parts of the young world now!
Public sculpture too, pleases the eye:
Eating could be interesting too
I enjoyed watching the crowd at one posh restaurant, the Grillmarket, where there was one entrée of 3 sliders filled respectively with puffin, minke whale and lobster. I sat at the bar watching dish after dish of minke whale leaving the kitchen. I enquired of the meat the girl next to me was eating. I was told it was the best horse in town.
Wine like most things in Iceland was expensive There were Australian wines: – a Wolf Blass President’s Selection at17,900 IK a bottle ($195) and the familiar old Jacob’s Creek cab sav for $359 (gulp). Coffee was $5.90 in most places and glass of Spanish wine about $16.
It wasn’t all chocolates
Lest I have been too carried away, let me give you the one sour note. There I was sitting in bed chewing chocolate when I felt a strange object floating in my mouth. Half a back tooth! The hotel found an emergency dentist. The taxi driver was a gem, walking me out of the cab to the 5th floor or an empty commercial building in a distant satellite suburb at 10.30pm and picking me up. The cheery (and obviously well off dentist as he was off to the Caribbean the next day with his 4 kids) was equally kind and concerned. What nice people these Icelanders were.
More to come……..