A 30.000 pies por viajeros para viajeros

Reykjavik A Great Small City I

This, the first part of the post focuses on the rich music scene in the Icelandic capital. As we shall see, it is an enchanting, visitor-friendly city, full of contrasts.

To some extent, if you’ve only seen Reykjavik, you haven’t really seen Iceland. What you have seen, though, is its openness to the world, its warmer, more friendly side, making you feel comfortable despite being thousands of kilometres from home. For, once you leave the welcoming streets in Reykjavik’s city centre, the distances between built-up areas grow exponentially, with population centres distributed like in the United States. Reykjavik itself is the largest city on the island, with a population of 130,000 inhabitants – 215,000 if you include its surrounding areas. Once you leave the limits of Reykjavik, nature rules, but that is another story we will deal with some other time.

While the freezing winter temperatures preclude the sort of sightseeing we Mediterraneans are fond of, a visit to Reykjavik in spring, summer and early autumn can be a fantastic experience. In early October, temperatures in the city are still bearable for Spanish tourists, ranging from a minimum of two degrees to a maximum of ten. Well, that’s cold, but not untowardly so. With that in mind, and given the scarce sunlight hours, you will feel like walking up and down the street and peeking into the shop windows ranged one after the other in the city centre. Craft stores, fashion stores and boutiques with a huge variety of apparel. Those selling jerseys with colourful, handmade patterns come highly recommended. Then there are the restaurants, musical bars, art galleries and even record shops, making downtown Reykjavik a large business emporium, although worlds apart from the crowding of the large European city centres. Here, everything is carefully thought out, but endearingly so – shops all have their own personality and service is warm and friendly. You won’t be overwhelmed by ghetto-blasting piped music, endless queues or intrusive, frenzied marketing campaigns.

When you’re ready to grab a bite, your options range from strong-tasting local fare to Italian-style pizzas, like those served up at Primo Ristorante, while appetising Nordic- and Slavic-style soups are also much in vogue – be sure to visit Svarta Kaffi, at Laugavegur 54, where the soup is served in bread. Also worth trying are the hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (Tryggvagata 1), a street stall where, according to George Clinton, they make the best hot dogs in the world. And, don’t worry about the service. Apart from the fact that you can come across people of various nationalities – among them, quite a few Spaniards – Icelanders are friendly yet discreet people. And, don’t be surprised if the waiters or waitresses seem very young by Spanish standards. While work may be considered ennobling, in Iceland they appear to have learned this earlier than in other European countries.

For those who don’t fancy walking about, Reykjavik has several bus lines covering the city centre and surrounding areas.

A trip to Iceland could start in the streets of Reykjavik and then strike out necessarily across the island, one of the most beautiful in the world for those seeking tranquility, a magical atmosphere and nature in the raw. In the city, buildings are painted in various colours, so you can come across one with blue walls adjoining another in stately white, tainted by the passage of time. In the wild, the white of snow and ice, the bright green of the vegetation, volcanic greys and browns and the one thousand and one hues of freely flowing waters combine to create a colour palette which underscores the majesty of this land’s natural surroundings, which Icelanders have long protected, a sentiment deep-seated in their hearts.

While your first port of call may be the city, you should also consider taking the chance to venture out into Iceland’s wild, free interior. To go no further, Reykjavik harbour provides numerous options of three- to five-hour boat rides to go whale-spotting. The idea is to observe various types of whales swimming freely in the cold Arctic waters; whales of different sizes, as well as an amazing variety of dolphins. But, don’t get your hopes up too fast – the animals aren’t just out there waiting for you to come along. It’s up to the gods of the sea whether you will be lucky enough to spot them, or whether your trip will be successful. Indeed, you are more likely to get the desired results by going on an outing to the areas where those “little Atlantic friars” the puffins live and nest. Some eight to ten million puffins are believed to inhabit the territory.

But, there is a lot more to do in a city like Reykjavik. From there you can watch the fantastic northern lights and, if you are lucky, you will coincide with one of the few occasions when the city lights are switched off to enhance everyone’s viewing experience of this natural wonder. You could also visit Hallgrímskirkja Church – with grey tones on the outside, and striking forms and interior spaces – or have a dip in the warm waters of any number of thermal baths, both in the city and outside it.

Our next post will focus on one of the most prolific and interesting music scenes on the planet. Fire up and discover the world’s northernmost capital – check out our flights here.

Text by Joan S. Luna (Mondo Sonoro)

Images by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

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