Of all the places I have ever wanted to visit, I would say Iceland was and still is, on top of my list of wonderful world locations. Why?
If you love photography, nature and music, Iceland is the place to be. Nothing about the place is predictable. The country and its harsh environment, have produced artist such as Bjork, Sigur Rós and the ever talented Ásgeir Trausti. The music, art and fashion-scenes are experimental, dark and ambient and to me, descriptive of the environment. Perhaps the reason for this unpretentious creativity, could be the isolation, the lonely alien landscapes, the breathless cold, the volcanic eruptions and the northern lights. I can’t help hearing the landscape in these artists’ work and I wonder if nature, is their main source of inspiration? I also wonder if you are a creative, living in Iceland, do you actually appreciate it? Whatever it may be, it’s working for me. I have diarised our short visit with some images, although I don’t think any image can really do the landscapes any justice.
Day 1: We arrived from visiting a couple of days in Copenhagen (Denmark) and the weather was gloomy but our spirits were high. Kevlavik airport was as delightful as any airport can be and we wandered around some bookshops and bought some basic supplies (Duty Free) after which we hit the nearest town to buy some food for our apartment. Getting supplies was not the easiest task because everything is labeled in Icelandic which is not the most recognisable language on the planet. The locals were very helpful though and one of the ladies at the Hagkaup (convenient store) explained how to cook some of their local fish and how to eat the dried fish (with butter).
We decided to book self-catering accommodation, because Reykjavik can be very expensive if you stay in a hotel. If you consider eating two meals a day in a restaurant, it could set you back a couple of Icelandic króna (ISK) and since we just arrived from Copenhagen this was not ideal. Street food is also not really an option during the shoulder season because it really is too cold, so mostly you will be dining in restaurants, if you are not staying in an apartment. Our one-bedroom apartment (Local Apartments Reykjavik) was spacious and clean, with everything that we needed for the first couple of days of our stay. It was located in the heart of downtown and very close to the fabulous Leugavegur street and walking distance of most pubs and music spots. The manager Sigga, welcomed us and she was extremely helpful. She gave us information on the best places to go for groceries, music and various sites around town. Sigga’s husband writes for the Grapevine (a local paper where they write some music reviews) and I would recommend either buying a copy or going online when you get there because it gives you the current updates on events around town, especially music.
Leugavegur street is the main shopping street in town and if you love vintage clothing, your mind will be blown. It is not the cheapest vintage clothing but everything is such a good condition, so you can’t go wrong. We strolled the trendy streets and decided to check out the Lebowski Bar. The bar was warm and welcoming, with some interesting decor and they also had a movie quiz night, that we obviously had to try out, while sipping on some Tuborg Classic drafts. We met an interesting guy that we dubbed ‘the bubble man’ and whom we later became friends with. His sister taught him how to make these massive bubbles (a couple of meters in size) and he (Wronek Wronisław) is now making bubbles all around the world. Somehow, in that location it seemed like there was no other street art that could better express the fragile environment of Iceland. Our evening was made, although it was still light at 2am.
Day 2: After our homemade breakfast we headed to the Blue Lagoon in our tiny red rental. Blue Lagoon is a geothermal area where you can bathe in warm, luminous, neon-white-blue water. It took us around 45 minutes from Reykjavik to get to Blue Lagoon. The drive there was easy and beautiful and although the weather was a bit misty it added to the atmosphere and experience. The location itself is possibly the most touristy thing you could do in Iceland, but it is really well worth the trip. You get a tag, towels and a robe to walk around in for the day and you need to lock your locker with this tag. This system is confusing, especially since no one shows you how the system actually works and things got stolen. Someone stole my only thermal jacket out of the locker and also another girl’s brand new iPhone. I would suggest leaving your valuables in your car of somewhere safe (the lockers are NOT safe at all). After reporting the theft, the lady at reception showed me a print-out of how many times my locker had been opened (more than twenty times), during which time I was Instagramming in the pool so it couldn’t have been me. They told me they would email me, they never did. If you can find another geothermal pool to go to (especially in the West – locals mentioned some nice ones) I would probably say go to another one. I decided to not be demotivated and nothing like a bit of red wine to save the day! Apart from the little ‘jacket-episode’ the food they served at the restaurant was fantastic and the day and the experience was truly incredible.
Day 3: The weather was the least pleasant during the third day but we took a lunchbox and headed to the small town of Hveragerdi. The road trip was more of a road-drip so we decided to drive back and explore the city (and rather road trip in better weather). We did however drive through to Hveragerdi (around 40 minutes drive from Reykjavik) where we got to meet the owner of a small and simple (but fabulous) Kjot & Kunst restaurant that is known for it’s “Earth Cooking”. Earth Cooking is when they place grids over the geothermal steam and the food basically steams from the heat and steam below the ground. This was pretty amazing. We also checked out the golf course where Nic decided that he had to at least play one game of golf before we go back to Dubai. We drove back to the city and strolled over to Lucky Records (5 minutes from our apartment) – an absolute must if you in Reykjavik – and we spoke to the manager who was extremely generous with his knowledge on some of the best local bands. We bought some CD’s and he gave a list of recommendations.
After dinner we strolled down to the Kex hostel where we heard another band was playing (we saw a couple during our stay as it was the Reykjavik Music Mess). The experimental band Parábolur premiered their latest show and we felt very privileged to have seen it. The trio played on large metal drums or parabola (made from antenna covers) and this was performed live with electronic music. The trio consists of Sigtryggur Baldursson (from The Sugarcubes), Steingrímur Guðmundsson and Kippi Kaninus. As a lover of electronic music, I was in heaven because they combine these dark, primal, organic, drum sounds with light, mesmerizing, electronic synth. We had a couple of craft beers at the hostel and made some friends, before heading over to Dillan Whiskey Bar (another small place in Leugavegur street) for more music and dancing.
Day 4: Sigga was so kind to give us a late check-out and after breakfast and we headed to the Hallgrimskirkja church and went up the bell-tower, where you get a really good bird eye-view of Reykjavik and it’s colourful rooftops. Across the road from the church is a small restaurant called Loki (like the brother of Thor) that specialise in local Icelandic cuisine. We had Icelandic plate II, that consist of smoked lamb on sweet homemade rye bread with mashed fish and potato and some pieces of dried fish (with butter). Nic said the fish tasted like dried carpet, but I liked it, because it reminded me of dried chicken or fish (you can find this in the Cape region in South Africa). I had a plate with three small pieces of the sweet rye bread and some pickled (raw, sweet&sour taste) mackerel and egg. We then tried their adventurous local shooter called Brannevín, which consists of a piece of fermented shark meat that is washed down with a shot of potent unsweetened Schnapps. This is most definitely not for the faint hearted.
After the interesting and somewhat challenging culinary experience, we headed to our new apartment. Perfect Apartments is in the older, but more sophisticated part of town and we stayed here for the remainder of our time in Reykjavik. The Old town is beautiful with its delicately restored houses that resembles doll houses, with their brightly coloured walls and roofs. The hosts where amazing people (we met Ýmir Björgvin Arthúrsson) with an incredible attention to detail and it felt like we where staying with our long-lost family. I would absolutely recommend this place and recommend you read his blog before visiting the city. The apartment itself has such a brilliant history and the building is also a historical site. Part of the original interior is still in tact and the layout is well-planned and comfortable.
Our evening was rounded off by the world premiere of the production called Wide Slumber. This was a multimedia performance / theatre / installation production about the relationship between the life cycle of a moth and butterflies (lepidoptery) and the human sleep patterns with the theme of metamorphosis. The performance was incredibly powerful and it was part of the Reykjavik Art Festival, inspired by Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists by A. Rawlings. The ensemble consisted of four musicians, three singers and a performer who shared the stage “to create a poetic microcosmos through live music, puppetry, moving scenography and video projections”. After the show Dr. Melissa Whitaker: an evolutionary biologist in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, where she specialises in lycaenid butterflies; spoke about the art and science of lepidoptery and left the audience with some serious food for thought. This was immensely inspiring and incredibly educational.
Day 5: The weather was clearer, so we spent the day driving the Golden Circle , which started with the UNESCO World heritage site Pingvellir National Park, where the two tectonic earth plates meet and are still moving. After the park we drove to the geothermal active valley of Haukadalur where the well-known geyser, Stokkur, erupts between every 5-10 minutes. This was amazing to see (the water smells like egg) so don’t stand down-wind.
We then headed to Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall that looks like a slice of cake in the earth covered with icy cold water and we also visited Solheimer, a small town that is known as the world’s oldest eco village. The village was very quiet, so we just drove through. The minimal land-art made it worth the trip and we where glad we stopped there and had some picnic food (I can recommend this because there where not many places open as it was Sunday).
Day 6: I had to finish some photos for a client, so Nic went and played some golf in town where he met some local guys who offered that he played with them. Later the evening we explored more of the old town and walked down to the harbour and visited the converted fisherman’s cottage called The Cinema House or Cinema NO2. Celebrities such as Eva Mendez have visited the cinema, where they screen films by a local filmmaker (Valdimar Leiffson), who explore and documents the history and the landscape of Iceland. The cinema is intimate with candles lit all around the wooden floor. It introduces you to all the areas around the country and how the geographic areas differ and we came to the conclusion that we would need a couple of trips to this magical country, to grasp the magnitude of its beauty and take time to explore and photograph it. I also learnt that the northern lights appear from light particles that travel from the sun and hit the earth atmosphere at the right moment in time and that the magnetic field around the earth create the beautiful green, pink or purple colours.
After the film, we checked out the local and organic Icelandic Fish and Chips shop (fantastic) and had a very large beer to line the stomach and reminisce about the films and the beauty of the northern lights. We ended up at the Lebowski bar and we met a great German couple, a guy called Matt from Ohio (who was on-route to find the girl of his dreams) and Wronek (the bubble man). It felt like this evening went by in a glimpse and before we knew, it we almost missed our flight. The drive to Kevlavik airport is at least 4o minutes and we made it just in time.
Day 7: After a very stressful trip to the airport we managed to get some sleep on our way back to Copenhagen. The weather in Copenhagen was beautiful and we booked into our Hotel Du Nord again and got some rest before hitting the streets on our last evening. We got a pizza from a tiny (but amazing) Tony’s Pizza and took a bus to Christianshavn. I can absolutely recommend Luna’s café – they have the best Baily’s coffee with Vanilla Cream, the perfect end to an amazing adventure.
SOME ICELAND TIPS:
Go in Summer for the Music and tourist sites.
Go in Winter for night photography and chasing the Northern Lights.
Pack a picnic basket.
Do self-catering or hit a hostel.
Book Everything WELL in advance especially the hostels.
Rent a Car – it’s too cold to try other modes of transport.
Bring a camera and something to clean your lens if it gets wet/damp.
Bring a Tripod and trigger release / remote trigger.
Swim in a geothermal pool.
Eat dried fish.
Listen to some local music after going to Lucky Records.
Experience the arts scene.
Do shopping at Budget (cheese and such basics) or Haukaup for fresh meat and fish.
Drink Tuborg or craft beer on tap at the Kex and be in with the crowd if you have a beard and button-up your short sleeve shirt.
Take a warm jacket.