Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reykjavik - the grave, the city, and the wilderness

So...I really like Iceland. I only developed the burning desire to come here after taking a course on Viking archaeology and getting a little overexcited about Nordic stuff in general.

I am going to preface this whole series of posts by saying that Ativan is both my friend and my enemy. The good thing is that I finally figured out a dosage that keeps me from having a nuclear meltdown while on an airplane. The bad thing is that, since I am approximately the height and weight of Frankenstein’s monster, that dosage is some 8mg over a span of 10 hours. That is a whole lot of Ativan. A woman I used to work with claimed that after getting stoned on pain killers after some minor surgery, she woke up the next day to find two containers of ice cream in her microwave and every single one of the chairs in her house turned upside down. That’s kind of what I felt like when I opened my carry-on bag in Reykjavik to find three fashion magazines and about $20 worth of chocolate. All of which I apparently purchased on layover in Boston, the entirety of which I have no recollection of. At all. I freaking hate fashion magazines, so it was a little disorientating.

September 3rd and 4th were spent in Reykjavik, which I freaking loved. Ahhhh historical buildings and Viking museums and more creepy old graveyards. Incredibly fresh air and interesting food and shops and cobblestone streets and pretty people. Oh, and Icelandic wool. Possible indicator that I am an obsessive knitter: I know the Icelandic word for wool, but not the word for sheep or lamb.

Some things about Iceland and Reykjavik in general:

- People here are...really pretty. Everyone in downtown Reykjavik seemed so stylish and Nordic and blond. I stood out as a tourist less because of the camera around my neck and moreso because I was the only girl my age wearing jeans and a hoodie.

- Icelandic people are really nice and slightly flirty and many of them speak English. When I say slightly flirty, I mean that my mom totally got hit on by a lot of older Icelandic gentlemen. She is half Swedish, half Anglo-Scottish, and she blended into the crowd in Reykjavik perfectly. She kept having people come up to her speaking Icelandic, whereas everyone spoke English with me immediately because it was clear I was a tourist.

- There are barely any North American tourists out here. When people found out we were Canadian, they would ask if we were from Gimli, Manitoba and had Icelandic heritage. Gimli has the largest population of Icelanders outside of Iceland, and apparently no one visits from Canada unless they’re looking up their Viking genealogy.

Obviously I am a stupid tourist with no understanding of pre-economic crisis Iceland, but from walking and driving around Reykjavik I wouldn’t have guessed that ten months ago the country was having serious economic and government reorganization issues. The biggest difference was that instead of 50 Kronor to a Canadian dollar, it’s 100 Kr to a dollar right now, and I won’t be able to change my Icelandic money to Euros once I leave the country. Despite hearing about exorbitant prices in guide books and such, we found that hotels and stuff here isn’t much more expensive than the average Canadian city. In fact, our hotel in Halifax cost us more than our hotel in downtown Reykjavik.

We also rented a car to get around. In Canada you can get an international driver’s license for around twenty dollars with a valid in-country license, and I think you can rent a car in Iceland as long as you’re over 19 or 20 (as opposed to 21 in Canada). Driving was, again, comparable to most Canadian cities. The paved highways outside the city were on par with the undivided highways I’ve driven in the Rockies, except with a random gravel road or two.

Summation: I don’t know why more people aren’t visiting Iceland right now. The economic crisis hasn’t had a big effect on tourists, the exchange rate is good, it’s not as expensive as it’s made out to be, and you’d be helping out the economy. Come to Iceland! [/end tourist brochure]

The Culture House, where there is an exhibit of medieval sage manuscripts, some from the 13th century. It was a little overwhelming for my little archivist/archaeologist heart.

The Pearl (Perlan) is actually built over Reykjavik’s hot water storage tanks. It’s very James Bondy, and it’s free to go up to the viewing deck and take pictures of the city, and has the Saga Museum on the first floor.

Moar old graveyards. If I thought the Old Burying Ground in Halifax was cool, then the old cemetery in Reykjavik (called Hólavallagarður) was uber-cool. It was opened about the same time the graveyard in Halifax stopped being used, and the differences (and similarities) between the two were really interesting. There were more trees in the graveyard than I saw anywhere else in Iceland. The running joke seems to be that if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up. Apparently pre-Viking times there were woodlands here, but they’ve been clear cut for a few hundred years now. The number and variety of trees planted on graves in the old cemetery means that it’s actually been set aside as a nature conservation area. The graveyard is much less ramshackle than my pictures show it to be; I’ve never seen such a variety of gravestone styles and shapes. Many had circular bas reliefs on the stones, which I’d also never seen before.

In the background you can see Hallgrímskirkja (big church), but it is covered in green scaffolding right now and is not very photogenic.

Reykjavik has a notoriously vibrant nightlife. I’d kind of brushed off the stuff I’d heard about it, especially since I also heard that alcohol is super expensive here, but omg. Icelanders know how to party. Friday night was just an average night in Reykjavik and I think the only reason people eventually went home was because parking stops being free in the good lots around seven in the morning. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer when it’s light all night. Obviously I have been living on top of Burnaby Mountain for too long because I was shocked/impressed by the number of people still milling around on the streets and bars at 5:30 on Saturday morning.

More pictures of Reykjavik and Hólavallagarður.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading this, Ginny! I laughed SO hard at your drug problems, and then sent the aforementioned paragraph to a friend who I was talking to at the time. someday you and she will meet. and it will be epic. Iceland looks incredible!