So on Easter Sunday we drove to the northernmost capital city in the world, Reykjavik.
I had read in various places that it’s the place to be: happening, vibrant, dynamic, the usual stuff, but Iceland has so much to offer in the natural wonders department that I consider any time spent in the vibrant, etc. (which one can find in a thousand other cities elsewhere, anyway) to be valuable time lost. Still, I wanted to do the free guided walking tour of Reykjavik so we could obtain early background information on the country.
We arrived an hour early. It was still sunny and we walked around a bit. The iconic Hallgrimskirkja, with its unusual triangular facade, was a bit too far – we didn’t have enough time to go there and climb to the top to admire the view. That was a pity. Instead we headed to the water’s edge, close to a modern complex named Harpa, which contains conference, concert and exhibition halls.
This is a rather box shaped building, with an elaborately designed cladding consisting of glazed hexagonal prisms, creating a kaleidoscopic effect inside the building in the late morning sunshine. Quite impressive.
Back outside, we admired once again the view across the water in the distance of the wild beauty that was awaiting us.
Our guide, Tomas, did give us many interesting snippets of information. Like the fact that Iceland declared its independence from Denmark in the midst of the second world war in 1941, at a time when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, and when the war was over the Danes didn’t bother to reclaim it as it was a bit of a burden anyway. Or that crime rate in Iceland is extremely low, so the police hardly have anything to do and you don’t see any of them in the streets. The popularity rating of their president, who also, constitutionally, hasn’t anything to do and lives in a residence without any security guards, is 99%. He once famously replied, when asked by a schoolchild what he would do if he had executive powers, that he would ban pineapple as a pizza ingredient. Another child, who was with the guided tour, asked Tomas why did the vikings go to Iceland in the first place, back in A.D. 800 and something. Our guide’s theory is that they were probably lost and ended up on its shores…
The city of Reykjavik employs a committee whose job is to choose a “Tree of the Year”. During the tour Tomas pointed out various past winners.
They’re the first country in the world to legislate for mandatory equal pay for men and women doing the same job. This one surprised me. It’s so obviously the way it should be but apparently for many countries, even in the western world, it isn’t and in fact this legislation is only recent. It’s incredible, to me, that such blatant discrimination should be the norm in this day and age. So, yes, Iceland is in the forefront of women’s rights. Including for the right to “free the nipple”, said Tomas. A few months ago thousands of Icelandic women posted pictures of themselves topless on social media in a campaign aimed to end another form of discrimination against them – the legal obligation to cover their breasts in public swimming pools – and they won.
Tomas explained how the financial crisis of 2008 to 2011 crippled the country and drove unemployment sky high. Iceland is recovering well now by selling one of its best assets – its natural wonders – to foreigners. Us, the tourists. Right in front of us we could see major construction works going on in the middle of the city. They need to build many more hotels to keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for tourist accommodation.
Following the walking tour, we had lunch consisting in the Icelandic national fast food – hot dog. I had two (greedy pig that I am).
I really should have taken more pictures of Reykjavik. Too bad I didn’t, as it’s a colourful place, but we still needed to drive for over 2 hours to an isolated hut in the Snaefellnes peninsula, our abode for the next five nights.