Editor’s note: I originally wrote this post while still in Reykjavik, but ran out of time to finish without risking missing my flight to Paris. I haven’t changed anything since then 🙂 PS I am in Aix now and it is incredible and obviously pics soon.
En route to Aix-en-Provence, where I will be teaching for the next seven months, I had the chance to have an 18-hour layover in Reykjavik, Iceland. Everyone (and the cost) said buy the ticket. I hesitated, thinking, “I’ll be so exhausted”(I was right). But ultimately, the opportunity and the low cost couldn’t be turned down.
My friend Gail has been to Iceland a few times, and after talking with her I realized I didn’t want to go on a corporate bus tour. I started looking into walking tours around Reykjavik and stumbled upon I Heart Reykjavik, written by an Icelandic blogger named Auður (and I’m so sorry but I still can’t tell you how to pronounce that). The blog itself is a must-read for anyone going to Iceland, as she gives the inside scoop about what the locals are doing, what anxieties a lot of tourists face, and whether the Blue Lagoon is actually worth it. She also has language podcasts, necessary for a language that hasn’t really evolved since its inception and is pretty much localized to one island.
The good news for me was that Auður also gives walking tours in addition to her blog (and has been featured in the New York Times!)–not the boring historical blah picked from a book, but information deemed important by a local with background stories to go with it. The coolest part, I thought, is that Auður grew up in the city and went to Sunday school at Hallgrímskirkja, a huge Lutheran church with a breathtaking view of the city. For me, she was more of an expert than any trained tour guide would have been (plus sometimes she is super snarky on her blog and I love it).
She loves street art (and often instagrams it), and made a point to tell us that commissioning street art has been one of the city’s projects to improving neighborhoods. Apparently, graffiti artists respect the murals and won’t tag them, so the way to keep your house safe from tagging is to have a giant mural instead! These are found all over the city in alleys and on most of the buildings (that I noticed at least). As someone who grew up in homeowner’s associations, I loved that so much autonomy and respect and creativity is given to the homeowners, and that the city has come up with such a creative way to spruce up the neighborhoods.
We looped through the smaller streets I had been walking down earlier and Auður gave little stories about the different architecture and statues and even alleys, really showing off the character of the city and its residents in addition to the history. I thought her presentation was hilarious, because she seemed so self-aware of all the little quirks of the city and knew it was different from America/Europe/everywhere else her tour guests were from. She even was patient with us for not being able to pronounce anything–really. We couldn’t pronounce anything. Plus, she told us her favorite restaurants and bars to go to–and I would definitely trust her over TripAdvisor.
My tour with Auður started at noon, but by then my day was halfway through–I took the Flybus into the city at 8 a.m. and struggled to find some kaffi for a while. I was expecting all the cafes to be bustling by then, but when I asked Auður she said most people drink their first coffee and breakfast at home–thus why the cafes don’t open until later. On three hours of sleep, I was desperate and finally found a place to sit, recompose and have language anxiety because I actually cannot understand anything anyone says here. Luckily, though, I think a lot of Europeans are in the same boat.
After my breakfast, I wandered through the streets of Reykjavik, eventually finding my way to Harpa, the Iceland concert hall. The entire building is art, from the exterior architecture to the birds hanging from the Esch-inspired ceiling. It was incredible.
After that, I went to the Handknitting Association of Iceland–known as the store where you can buy woolen goods with confidence that they are actually made in Iceland instead of imported from China. I bought a scarf, but it was a haven for lopapeysa sweaters and unspun, dyed sheep’s wool with women in the back knitting and working on new projects. So so cool (it is also the place Auður recommended on our tour–everyone in Iceland has a lopapeysa and she said they are great for places with cold weather!).
When the tour was finished, I ran back over to Hallgrímskirkja to take the elevator to the top, where you can see all the colored houses, boats, ports, and mountains in and surrounding Reykjavik. I got lucky and found a small window of time when it wasn’t pouring sideways rain/hail to be up there, though the wind was a bit scary from 73 meters up!
Afterwards I ducked into Reykjavik Roasters (because wifi and instagram), known for having some of the best coffee in Rekjavik (a serious crown). You can even buy the coffee all the way in Brooklyn! I made the decision to walk from there over to the Sea Baron, a restaurant in the Old Harbor known for its lobster soup and huge portion of bread on the side for $10. Yes please. I was starving by the time I arrived and gulped it as soon as it was cool enough. I swear there was an entire lobster in my serving…so the price was definitely right.
As my fatigue increased and my time grew short, I decided to quickly go into the Reykjavik Art Museum, expecting a lot of Van Eyck-like art. I was not prepared. Not prepared at all. Remember in Girls when Booth Jonathan traps Marnie in his torture box with so many videos and music and it is just horrifying? That is what the Reykjavik Art Museum is like. I spent most of my time in there terrified because it was so unlike all the Smithsonians I’ve grown used to and I was just not ready for any of it. Eventually it became comical, but the initial eerieness of being one of the only people there definitely stayed with me.
Now, I sit in the Keflavik airport, having just spent all the rest of my krona on Einstock porter (delicious), Reyka vodka (unopened as of yet), and smoked salmon. In two hours, I’m off to Paris, which still makes me squeal from excitement. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be in Aix!
Note: Auður graciously offers tours to other bloggers for free, but all opinions are my own.