At Victorious Festival 2016, my brother Kieran and I got talking about traveling, and Kieran stated that I should suggest to him where I would like to go, if there were anywhere accessible. That of course shut my wild mind down a bit. I wasn’t heading for Greenland anytime soon. Surely Iceland was a brilliant compromise. However, considering Kieran’s recent ‘LADZ ON TOUR’-style trips to Amsterdam and Lisbon, Reykjavik (or anywhere that wasn’t sunny and/or known for its cheap booze) seemed about as feasible as Antarctica.
On 13th December 2016 though, things changed. Since the debacle of not being able to think of anywhere that I wanted to go besides music festivals, I pessimistically asked Kieran whether he would go to Reykjavik – home of Secret Solstice festival. I expected a ‘no’. After all, what the hell is there to do there? Upon briefly stating who the headliners of Secret Solstice were, I got a ‘yes’. He said that he needed to check that he wasn’t doing anything else. A couple of days later, we were buying tickets. Holy cow. It’s happening.
Here was how the trip unfolded.
DAY 1: THE FIRST TOUR
On our first day, we were greeted by a seriously gloomy landscape, which remained identical for almost the whole of the hour-long shuttle bus from Reykjavik-Keflavik airport, to the BSI Bus Terminal in Reykjavik. I thought that arriving in Nowheresville was pretty cool, though I admit that I was worried about how Kieran might be feeling. Without him, this holiday wouldn’t be happening, and we could both have done without him regretting his trip as soon as we landed. Luckily, I think that he was won over. That said, even I for a moment was slightly concerned as we entered the city. We arrived at about 11AM, under a thick veil of cloud and showers, and to begin with it wasn’t pretty.
The appearance of Reykjavik, running parallel with its unpredictable weather, is very temperamental. Under the clear light of a bright day, Reykjavik looks more lively and somewhat eccentric with such a mish-mash of architecture. Houses made of timber and corrugated steel, resembling shipping containers, plastered with gay pride graffiti, only a five-minute walk from parliament, seems justified. Under this weather though, it’s easy for an outsider to be fooled into feeling that it’s a soulless mess.
However, it didn’t take much exploring to recognise that things were just fine. Our first early-afternoon venture was a wander to the beautiful harbour.
There were blue restaurant buildings there. Outrageously priced restaurants. All Icelandic restaurants are. By this point, I think that we had reluctantly accepted the matter. I had already had to pay more than the equivalent of £11 for a 12-inch sandwich at Subway, next door to the hostel.
At 1PM, we walked to the Icelandic parliament building (or Althingi) which would be the starting point of a walking tour around Reykjavik, run by CityWalk.
Technically, the tour is free, however the website is pretty liberal with its quotation marks. Things aren’t free, they are “free”, meaning that you are expected to donate what you thought the tour was worth at the end.
Our tour guide Sara, was funny and friendly. There was definitely a lot of playful national pride in how she spoke, gladly pointing out the safety of living in Iceland, low crime rates, gay pride and women’s rights symbols. Inevitably, there was a stab at the USA, by pointing out that the only place that you will find armed police in Reykjavik is outside the US Embassy. We were taken around for about two hours, beginning at Althingi, and ending at Reykjavik City Hall, via an old cemetery (in which five marked graves remain, most of which are those of children…).
At the centre of Reykjavik is a small lake called Tjornin. Sara explained “People from Reykjavik just call it ‘The Pond’. And can anyone guess what the name of the street is across the pond?” Most of those on the tour replied simultaneously with the correct answer – Pond Street.
In the city hall, the final exhibit was unfortunately missing – normally in the hall you would find a giant image of a vagina. It was missing that day to be cleaned. Let your imagination go disgustingly wild here. I’ll wait. You’re welcome.
This was hilariously awkward, because Sara used this opportunity to shamelessly mention vaginas and periods, and she had very little to work off of to raise the subject matter. It seemed to come totally out of nowhere, and may as well have just opened the segment on “so, let’s talk about vaginas”. It comes as no surprise to find her profile of the CityWalk tour guide as “a hardcore feminist, mother, hippie and a high school teacher [bringing] in much needed diversity”.
Afterwards, we walked back around the Tjornin, to our hostel for the night – Oddsson Hostel. It was at the far north of the city. It was impractically placed so that it was quite a trek to get to most things in the city centre. Reykjavik is compact enough that it wasn’t too horrifying, but it was hardly ideal when it is so rainy and windy.
However, its location had a plus – there was a great view from our window of both the city and the sea. I took a few pictures in which the sky was brighter at midnight than it was at midday. Due to the summer solstice, the sky never got fully dark. This had worried me to start with, as I didn’t want it to tamper with my sleep. Luckily, I got used to it within one night. This was probably aided by just how tiring the day had been, and how we had to be awake at 3:45AM to catch our 6AM plane. Oh, and the beds were pretty damn comfy.
DAY 2: WANDERING ALONG THE COAST OF REYKJAVIK
16th June? That’s my birthday! While it would close with seeing Foo Fighters live at Secret Solstice Festival, my birthday didn’t seem to have the grandest of openings. We would have to make a three-mile walk along the seafront, past a couple of striking landmarks and to a different hostel – the Reykjavik City Hostel. We decided to move to the hostel next door to the festival, which sadly meant that we would need to haul our luggage across the city in soggy and chilly weather.
Not far on our way, we stumbled across a geocache amongst the rocks – a secret package that those into ‘geocaching’ can find to sign. It was a metal box with a pen and paper in it, with a clue written on it. Thinking back it bugs me a little to see Kieran signing it in the photo above, because I have no recollection of actually signing it myself. I guess that is excuse number one for returning to Reykjavik.
We also walked past the Harpa – a huge conference and concert hall, which we had both heard recommended as a place to get good food, and for a good free view of the city. It is easy to see why, considering its size and how it is made almost entirely of glass. We decided to take shelter for a bit and have a coffee before we carried on walking. Solfar (or ‘The Sun Voyager’) is a metal sculpture which when planning our route, originally served little other purpose than indicate that we were heading in the right direction. Still, I’m glad we stopped by it.
We dropped our luggage at the lobby of the hostel, and did the obviously most practical thing to do when you are shattered and sodden – go to a music festival.
Over the next couple of days, we would get to explore Reykjavik in much more depth, try Bill Clinton’s favourite hot dogs, and play a drum it in an old public toilet. Really. Click here to find out more in Part 2.