Monday, August 26, 2013

Happy Times in Iceland

Everyone in Blacksburg is gearing up for the first day of school right now, and I'm starting my third day in Iceland! Funny how things work out like that.

The magnet wall in the hostel

The plane ride over was decent, but I didn't get much sleep at all. The 6 hour flight went by quickly though, so I guess I did pass out for a bit. Customs was nothing, got my bags, hit the bus, and got into Reykjavik very smoothly.

Saturday was a marathon day (literally), it felt like I had lived four days in one. On the airplane, we learned that day was the Iceland Culture Festival, which began with a marathon run and ended with concerts and fireworks. Lucky us, right?! After checking into the hostel at like 7am, we shelled out 1400 krona (around 11 bucks) for the hostel breakfast and then napped til 10. Then we headed out towards the Harpa Conference Center and Music Hall, crossing streets of marathoners on our way. The weather was windy and misty and yucky, and I was sad that I wasn't getting any good photos of the building.

Marathon runners and the Harpa

Pikachu and Sully admiring some art

The inside of the Harpa (which is "harp"  in icelandic) is stunning. The windows are all odd hexagon shapes, some with colored glass, and all large enough for a person to fit into. The ceiling is a tesselation of mirrored tiles that cover up mechanical bits like sprinklers and air diffusers. It's a little busy next to the windows, but it creates some crazy reflections.

a good shot of the ceiling

and the windows!

Wallace and I went on a free walking tour of the city, where our guide told us all about the history of Iceland. We covered literature, politics, and good places to eat. Everything was crazy busy because of culture night, but it was fun. We learned about the stone houses and how Icelanders used to construct their homes to withstand the sea (timber frame covered in corrugated iron) and about how they all have elves living in their rocks, or something. All of the buildings here are painted bright colors, perhaps to bring some cheer to an otherwise overcast and misty city. 

A stone house and an elf rock (elves live here, apparently).

We ran into some vikings on our way back to the hostel, too.

I ditched my camera and bag in the afternoon because my shoulders were absolutely killing me. We napped around 3, then headed back out around 5 for happy hour, one of the greatest inventions that Iceland has ever had. Happy hour specials are 2 for 1, so you can get two HUGE pints for 1000 krona. By the way, everything is expensive here, if you ever want to visit. Plan accordingly.

So at this point I'm a little drunk because I'm not used to huge pints, so we looked around for a noddle place I heard about on reddit for dinner. It did not disappoint, and we lazily made our way back to the hostel afterwards. There were live concerts on every street corner for Culture Night, and EVERYONE from Iceland was in the streets. Crazy crowded, crazy awesome. After another quick nap, we headed out to find a good spot to see the fireworks, which did not disappoint. Icelanders are insane fireworks enthusiasts, and their shows are spectacular. It put every fireworks display I've seen on the 4th of July to SHAME.

At this point, it was 11:30 or so, so it was an acceptable time to go to bed.

The next morning, I dragged Wallace out of bed and to the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral, for the Festival of the Sacred Arts. A choir sang during mass and they had art exhibits up in the nave, which were very nice. I'm getting a good feel for Icelandic culture here this weekend. After mass it was raining buckets and I couldn't take any photos, so we headed to the grocery store and back home.

As luck would have it, the sun finally broke through the cloud cover and I got to see Reykjavik in all of its true sunlit beauty! Wallace and I booked it back to both Hallgrimskirkja and the Harpa to take some better photos. We spent the entire day just walking around the city, through neighborhoods, into bakeries, to the pond in the center of the city. It was a beautiful day and we definitely took advantage of it!

The opposite side of the bay, which I hadn't seen before due to fog.

Hallgrimskirkja, Pikachu and Sully

A glorious church. Very unadorned inside, I thought it was beautiful.

Most Icelanders are Lutheran, according to our walking tour. It was interesting to compare Hallgrimskirkja to a Catholic church we stumbled upon. The Catholic church was much smaller, made of darker stone, and heavily adorned inside with statues, colored marble, the stations of the cross, all of the iconic Catholic decorations. The Cathedral was pristine and clean and white, with no adornments. It really speaks volumes about what is important to each religion.


The Harpa is so much prettier in the sun!

We ran into our roommate Bill the German as we were heading to a bar for another Happy Hour, so we all went inside for a pint (or two). I remember being upset with CJ while he was abroad because of how often he went out to drink- we would never go out at home and I felt left out. But now I completely understand it- that's how you meet people! I've met LOADS of cool people in bars, Icelanders, Americans, Australians, you name it. I'm enjoying trying all the icelandic beer here, too. 

We haven't planned today yet, but tomorrow we're hoping to rent a car and drive the Golden Circle loop and see some of Iceland's natural beauty. SO EXCITED.

I'll close with this: Everyone in Iceland looks happy. No matter who you talk to, they are friendly and helpful and just seem to genuinely enjoy life. It's very awesome to see, especially coming from America where we can all get caught up in our own lives so easily. Iceland is a  beautiful place, and I'm glad I'm able to visit!


  1. Sounds like your vacation is off to an awesome start!! Love the pictures :) you'll be a seasoned pint drinker by the time you get back ;)

  2. I've just found your blog, and I'm so glad I did! Adding Iceland to my list! :)

  3. Awesome! It's like travelling from my armchair :-)

  4. Wooooooooooooow!!