07 Aug 2014

Icelandic Adventure by alexkrook

2/6

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More sleeping in from me, and another late start. I spent the first couple of hours of my day yawning and writing in the various rooms of Kex Hostel. Hostels in Reykjavik are numerous (and cripplingly pricey), but Kex was recommended by friends and the internet alike and it's not hard to see why. Its refreshingly trendy and well-photographed website is a good starting point. The place is full of retro decor and wide open communal spaces, and its bustling bar and dining area are clearly a draw for everyone from middle-aged tourists and 20-something travellers to the local hipsters and ageing families. When getting directions from the bus station I was told to "just ask someone - everyone knows where Kex is." It's situated centrally with beautiful views out over the water, and every night I have been here the place has been hosting some sort of concert or event for beautiful and trendy people to congregate at. Comfy seats and old-school maps cover every surface, and there's no shortage of vintage decorations and reading materials. And a very excellent selection of beer - so there's that too.

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I set out on a new route towards the buzzing old town, with the destination of the Reykjavik 871+-2 in my sights. It's a museum housing a journey through Reykjavik's early history, built around the excavated remains of a Viking longhouse, and so-named after the volcanic eruption in 871 from which most of Icelandic settlement is dated. I studied the Vikings last year and so spent quite possibly too long enthralled by the mixture of real-life archaeology on display and the space-age technological aids employed to EDUCATE YOU. Holograms and touch screens for days. I particularly enjoyed a cartoon representation of the Great Auk, hunted to extinction centuries ago which is a real shame as it resembled a flightless and overgrown budgie (and apparently sounded like a hippo).

During my wanderings into town I was also forced to purchase something to throw over my exclusively summer wardrobe for my enterprising trip into the Icelandic countryside tomorrow, and settled on a plaid garment from a vintage store. I was also confronted by the incongruous sights of three children petting a disgruntled pigeon, and a man wearing a T-shirt of a giant pug's face. I finally worked out the source of the preponderance of LGBT flags and stylish men - it's pride week. Nordic style.

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The day was grey but I forced myself around some of my guide book's recommended hot spots. The Alþingishúsið, Iceland's National Parliament, housed in a depressingly empty 19th century building as the government is on a summer break. The National Cathedral, by no means as impressive as the Hallgrímskirkja to the east but rather more cosy inside with its delicious blue light from a central stained glass window. The Tjörnin lake, filled with ducks and seagulls and looking more like Barnes pond under the depressing weather. I do love that every road you turn down in the old quarter is so close to the coast that waves and mountains peak out from behind the stream of cyclists and pedestrians. (If only it was a bit sunnier.)

I hung around outside the penis museum wondering whether I could stomach the extortionate entrance fee (and the contents), before deciding to wend a scenic route back to Kex for a coffee. I remarked on some new window dressings on the way, including a glass dog pooping, some ornamental brasswear, and a stuffed animal of unidentifiable and presumably disturbing provenance. A weirdly lifelike pair of ogres grace the main shopping street, and someone had charmingly draped a wreath of dandelions on the head of the female.

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I whiled away the rest of the afternoon finishing my book over an "Arctic Berries" ale, feeling slightly more trendy in my vintage store acquisition. While waiting at the bar I spotted the delightful specimen of a man in a t-shirt stating "I am not your cousin". This is no flippant fashion choice; with an incredibly inbred population of 320,000, consanguinity is a danger faced by all Icelanders who want to reproduce - or even just have a good time: an app has been created from the millenium-old Landnámabók (Book of Settlements) to avoid accidental incest. When Icelanders meet someone in a bar they can now simply whip out their iPhones and check that they're not actually first cousins before heading home together, instead of getting a nasty shock at the rehearsal dinner.

I got so lost in Maya Angelou that I did not notice the hours slip away before my stomach did, and I made a rather miserable meal of pasta and whatever I could find on the free food shelf. The evening was greatly improved, however, by a cheerful Canadian and a French girl with a perfectly picturesque accent moving into my dorm, and we all headed downstairs to investigate the music video launch in the "gym and tonix" space of the hostel. The event was full of blonde people in large frames and long coats, and we arrived just in time for two glasses of free beer and the viewing of the video itself. Artistic nakedness involving shrill vocals and a very beautiful Nordic woman in lacy suspenders and nothing else. Plus a whole lot of paint. It's called The Backbone, by Rökkurró, and it's actually a fairly good song if you get past the soft porno part. The band were all present and we later realised that two of its members had been serving us beer - they were pretty big in Iceland a couple of years ago and are making their comeback. Tell your friends, y'all!

I haven't spoken French in a while so was self-congratulatorily proud of acting the translator for the evening. Felt suitably smug for the rest of the night, and then felt suitably horrified by my bank balance after booking a trip to the Blue Lagoon - but it can't be missed, apparently. This country will be the financial death of me.