Reykjavik, which so far had only been a name heard in Hardy Boys novels or the geography book!
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital. A town on the coast,a population of about 2.30,000. Shaped by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. At latitude 64 08’N it is the world’s northernmost capital. Founded in 1786 ( though history dates the first permanent settlement in what is now the town to AD 870), Reykjavik is one of world’s greenest, safest and cleanest cities.( source: Wikipedia)
Waking up was unreal. Who would have ever imagined that we would be drinking our morning cuppa looking out to a starry, starry night? Soon, breakfasting at about 9am but still under the moonlight shining in through the window and under lamplight?
Yes, we were experiencing about 20 hours of darkness. A sunrise at 11.31am and a sunset at 3.29 pm meant about four hours of very dim light. For the rest, we were in complete darkness. But did life stop? Not at all. I sat all day by the window watching the town wake up. Soon lights were switched on in offices just across. The shops lifted their shutters. Cyclists, walkers, cars buzzed on the road. Everyone went about their daily chores just as we would , except that it was dark!. This took a little getting used to and for a day our minds refused to come in tune with our body clocks.
Our apartment, downtown, on the main street, Laugavegur, proved to be an unbeatable location. We could walk to almost every place and still be able to come back for a short rest. Life soon settled into a pattern after Day 1. We would head out by about 9.30am, walk to the nearest thermal baths, swim in the heated pool and then dip in the open air sauna . The day’s plans were chalked out while in the sauna, greetings exchanged with Icelanders. This was such a local tradition; I think almost the entire area converged to the thermal baths. Did anyone ever bathe at home? Ready, we would head out to a new lane everyday. The snow laden streets, the bare branches, the roofs with their colour shining through the snow, blue skies, chilly winds, and snowfall, was what we lived with for a week. Each walk was different even though we were exploring the same town. Shop windows and home entrances were dressed up for Christmas, lights were on most of the time, smoke used to come out of the chimneys indicating a constant huddle on the hob and very often we would smell the aroma of freshly baked bread and cakes.
Iceland’s largest church and the sixth tallest architectural structure, Hallsgrimskirkja, was designed by the state architect to resemble the basalt lava flow of Iceland’s landscape. It is situated in the centre of Reykjavik, high on a hill, and is visible from every part of the town. The church houses a large pipe organ.
The church is also used as an observation tower. A lift takes you up to the viewing deck and you can view the entire town and surrounding mountains.
The Harpa is located by the old harbour in between the city centre and North Atlantic. A building based on hexagonal shaped glass tubes, the Harpa is a conference hall, auditorium and main concert and arts centre. The structure consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colours.
The Hot Dog Corner
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, which means the ‘best hot dogs in town, is a must-stop in any visit to Reykjavik.Opened in 1937, Baejarins Beztu is a tiny red shack by the harbor with a view of the stunning Harpa concert hall. Long lines outside Baejarins Beztu are as likely at 5 a.m. as they are at lunch, and happy customers sit on the two wooden picnic benches if it’s 50 degrees or zero. An almost daily stop in our week long stay in Reykjavik, the daughter was ready to brave even a gale on one day so as not to miss out on her hot dog.
Life in small towns is so comforting. You learn the ways quickly; you start recognising people; people get to know you. We felt we ‘belonged’ when the local vendors greeted us as cheerily as they did the locals. Tired after long walks through the day, often slow because of the snow, we used to love heading to one of the many pubs/cafes which dot Laugavegur. Friendly and welcoming acquired a new definition when we discovered that only were children but even pets were allowed in pubs Sitting cross-legged by the window with a rug on our knees and warm heaters under the table, we loved sipping our wine or even downing some chilled beer. The daughter could not believe it that she was in pubs; that loud noise and smoke was not the norm; that no one would ask her to leave or hang over our shoulders waiting for the seat to be vacated.
Walking over a frozen lake was a first for all of us. All our experiences were proving to be a ‘first’ and this was no exception. A frozen lake found us one day as we exited a lunch place. The strains of Swan Lake wafted through my mind as I gingerly tapped the ice with my feet. Would it break under and would we be in deep waters (literally)? A gaggle of geese and a group of children traversing the stretch reassured us that we could attempt the same. We pretended we were skating; often waltzing; as we made our way diagonally across. A note to self was to come back one day and see the same in summer or autumn with the water sparkling, the flowers blooming and the benches full of people.
New Year in Reykjavik
The New Year was round the corner and the tradition was to go bonfire – hopping. Each locality lit a huge bonfire and the people of that area met, exchanged sweets, and danced around it singing traditional songs. It kind of reminded me of the Indian Lohri festival. As January 1, 2014 was going to be a long day for us as we were going on an excursion, we limited ourselves to the bonfire in our area; came back for dinner; and then made our way along with hundreds of others to the Hallsgrimskirkjka to bring in the new year. The celebration is like the Indian Diwali with everyone armed with candles, sparklers and fireworks. While the coast guards light up the most amazing fireworks display at the stroke of midnight, the locals also played with their own sparklers while guzzling on beer. Our hospitable host. Arnar, had already bought the daughter a set of what looked like our ‘phuljhadis’ and two cones very much like our ‘anars’. He had also brought special glasses through which to view the fireworks. As the crowd grew, so did the noise, the music, the crescendo and soon enough it was 12 midnight and the turn of the year. Kisses, hugs, champagne pops and dazzling lights filled the atmosphere.
Truly a night to remember, each moment of which will remain etched clearly in our mind’s eye.