Reykjavik's most famous landmark.
Once we had arrived back at the Downtown Hostel in Reykjavik, we used the leftovers of our Christmas groceries to cook up a mean pasta before making our last use of the rental car to have one more go at a decent showing of the Northern Lights.
Driving about 30mins out of Reykjavik, to a little side road pitched in complete darkness, we waited excitedly.
Northern Light "forecasts" on the internet gave us minimal chance of actually seeing anything tonight - and unfortunately the forecasts were to prove correct.
So back we drove to the car rental place, calling up a taxi to take us back to the hostel.
Although we had kinda seen the lights in Hveragerði
, we were saddened that it didn't really happen for us on this trip. I'll definitely make more attempts to see them properly in the future - but for now there was some drinking to attend to.
We had each bought a bottle of spirits as "Xmas presents for the group" and had got through almost all of Gkee's Irish whiskey and sizeable chunks of Davies' rum and my Icelandic vodka (which is really nice by the way, and cheap - about £12
Relaxing times at one of Iceland's most famous attractions. Photo: Michael Gardner.
for a litre of it duty-free!). These spirits, in turn raised our spirits, and before long we were ready and excited about having a crack at Reykjavik's famed nightlife. I had a feeling that tonight was gonna be a good night.
We were warned by the hostel staff that the nightlife doesn't really kick off in Reykjavik til after midnight and timed our departure accordingly, around 1am. There were loads of locals on the street.
Our hostel is quite brilliantly located - within a walking distance to most of the sights and the nightlife was only a mere 5-10 minute walk away. We didn't really know where we were going, just that all the nightlife tends to centre on the area around Bankstraeti and Laugavegur, which happens to be the main shopping street in Reykjavik as well - so we just started walking in that general direction.
We spot one of the most beautiful girls we have ever seen walking past, so we go over and ask her where is a good club to go to. She recommends B5 and within five minutes we are there, at Bankstraeti, no. 5. Looking through the window we see some of the most
Sun-Voyager sculpture resembling a Viking ship facing out to sea.
beautiful girls we have ever seen.
"What do you reckon guys, should we go in?"
The place was fairly crowded and the music was quite mainstream and everyone, us included, was in a really good mood. We got ourselves some local lager, Gull, which was a pretty standard lager. The place was pretty cool with funky lighting behind the bar and a downstairs section for private functions. People were quite pushy though, which was the only annoying thing (we later discovered that B5 has a reputation for having a pretty snobby crowd). We pitched up next to a table and drank for a bit before joining some of the most beautiful girls we have ever seen on the dancefloor for a boogie. On my way back to the bar, I get hauled aside by a one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen, just as Justin Timberlake's "Senorita" comes on. OK then, one dance. She was fun.
I don't know many people from Iceland - Sigur Ros, Bjork, Emiliana Torrini and Eidur Gudjohnsen - and that's about it. As I walk towards the bar I recognise a familiar blonde man and realise that it is in fact,
A good night.
Eidur Gudjohnsen! What are the chances?! He's dressed in a tuxedo too, very smart (there were quite a few guys dressed in tuxedos actually, and Gkee actually asked one of them what the occasion was and the guy replied, "I dress like this all the time" - OK then).
Excitedly bringing the beers back to the boys, I excitedly point him out to them and they confirm that it is actually him, and not a figment of my drunken imagination. I am pretty wasted by this stage, so I have no hesitation in asking for a photo with the former Chelsea legend, kindly taken by one of Eidur's friends, one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen. Gudjohnsen therefore becomes the third famous footballer I have seen on my travels after seeing Julian De Guzman in La Coruña
and Darren Fletcher in Las Vegas
Back with the boys and some the most beautiful girls we have ever seen, we are having a riotous time. I seem to recall getting slapped by one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen for no good reason - Davies/Gkee can you confirm if this actually happened?
Back at the bar I get talking for what seems like forever with
The ex-Chelsea forward is the third famous footballer to appear on this blog.
a local girl, Bára. I don't recall exactly what we were talking about, but it was fun. We exchange a beer, a shot of Jaegermeifter and our details before she gets back to her friends. Liverpool fan though. Ugh. For that reason, not one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen ;-)
I remember hearing Jay-Z's "Empire State Of Mind" for the very first time in that bar and everyone really enjoying it. Top track. Apart from that my memory is pretty hazy after that.
B5 closed at about 5am, but it felt like the party was just starting and we were having such a good time that we wanted to continue. One of the local guys reckons a place down the road called Cafe Karumba is still open, but when we get there we find that it is closing up as well and they aren't letting anyone in.
The street is packed with drunken revellers, including a guy having a piss on the footpath in full view of everyone including the police, who shove him in a paddywagon.
We ask some girls walking past us if they know of a place still open and they take us
Me and Gkee get our hip-hop shapes out.
to a place called 11. The bouncers let us in, but the place is absolutely rammed
. It's like a mosh pit in there as the crowd sways one way then the other. The bouncers obviously haven't done their job.
As much as we want to continue partying, this isn't much fun so we leave. There are other places still open but they are all just as rammed. Reluctantly, we head back to the hostel. Beer blankets were certainly effective as I wasn't really feeling the -5 temperatures.
Great night though. What they say about Reykjavik is true.
Literally every person between the ages of 18 and 35 was out that night, and we wondered the next day why the crowds were so huge. It was Boxing Day, meaning it was the first time the bars were open for a few days. Also, a lot of Icelanders living abroad were probably back in town for Xmas, meaning it was also a night for everyone to catch up with one another, resulting in a huge night. Not that we were complaining.
the next day though. To use a Northern English term, we were "proper mongin'". We couldn't waste the
Lake in the middle of town. If only we had ice-skates.
day though, so out we went for a walking tour of Reykjavik.
Walking back towards last night's festivities, we walk past the pretty square Ingolfstorg, before reaching the rather modern Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik City Hall) which is right on Tjörnin, a lake in the middle of they city that has frozen over. Again, we lamented not having a pair of ice-skates as we watched some children carve up the ice.
Walking past some huge
swans and ducks by an ice-free part of the lake deliberately kept warm for them, we continued past the the relatively unspectacular parliament building, the Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík, and the National Gallery of Iceland before making our way back towards the main street of Laugavegur.
From there we went to arguably Reykjavik's most well-known landmark, the Hallgrimskirkja.
Apparently built to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape, the church towers 74.5 metres above the city. Inside is an awesome looking organ that looks like it is about to transform into a robot at any minute. People can pay about £2 to go up the tower, so we thought we might as well and were rewarded with some awesome views across the city and harbour, over
Organ Inside Hallgrimskirkja
This thing looks like a Transformer. Cool.
the sea towards the snow-capped mountains.
In front of the church is a statue of the explorer Leif Erikson
On the way back to the hostel we watched Manchester United crush Hull City over some Mexican food while we talked to an old local man at Tabasco's, just down the road from the hostel by Ingolfstorg. Again, he seemed friendly, but you just sensed a small degree of resentment beneath the surface. Perhaps it was the paranoia of the supermarket incident
We had a bit of siesta back at the hostel before having a really late Italian dinner on Laugavegur, where I had a very interesting curry pasta.
We were really hoping that people might be out again tonight, as the next day was a public holiday, but unfortunately a repeat of the previous night was not going to happen on a Sunday.
Instead we had a couple of quiet local Viking beers at Vegamot, a cool little place recommended by the girl working at the hostel, where we saw the most beautiful girls we have ever seen.
I decided to sleep in the next day while Gkee and Davies went out early. Overnight, about half a foot of snow
Cute Icelandic A-Frame
These were all over town.
had decided to dump itself on Reykjavik. Thank God for longjohns. I did a solo walk beginning at the harbour where I followed the coast around to Solfar (Sun-Voyager Sculpture).
Like all Scandinavian countries, Iceland's capital is full of cute, colouful A-frame buildings and I spent a short while photographing these. It reminded me a lot of the houses on Brännö Husvik in the Gothenburg Archipalego
. I met up with the boys again at an English pub to watch Chelsea beat Fulham. There were quite a few locals supporting Chelsea - Eidur Gudjohnsen did play for them for quite a few seasons after all.
Tonight would be the night where we would have a go at the rather quirky Icelandic cuisine.
Our restaurant of choice was Íslenski Barinn (Icelandic Bar) right on Parliament Square.
For starters I had smoked Arctic char (pretty much like raw smoked salmon) with caviar, and fermented shark in a jar
. The shark was cut into two small cubes, was chewy and spongy in texture and was pungent like wasabi. My main course was the game feast, a collection of different meats. Included in the feast was puffin
and reindeer. It was actually very nice. For dessert I had some more Icelandic skyr
(thick, strained dairy product very much like yoghurt) that came with blueberry jam and whipped cream. Yum.
The last thing we had to do, was a shot of Brennivin - the local liquor which is a schnapps made from potatoes and caraway seeds. They call it "Black Death" over here and it's easy to figure out why. It wasn't the easiest shot to down and the guys thought it was horrible, but it didn't stop me buying half a litre of it duty-free before we went back home - at £3.50 a bottle, how could you not?
Looking around the restaurant, the place was popular with locals as well as tourists. There were probably about 40 people in total in the restaurant and about half of them were men. Of the women, all of them were young and about half of them were very attractive. The other half (including our waitresses) were the most beautiful women we had ever seen. So forget about Sweden and Denmark, I think we have a new champion.
Once again we were hoping for another spectacular night out, but it looked like it wasn't to be again as people were back at work
This bar/bistro specialising in traditional Icelandic food had cool, nostalgic Icelandic decor.
the next day.
Back at the hostel it was still quite early and the guys in our dorm were already asleep so we went to the hostel kitchen and spent our last night in Iceland doing what we did on our first night here - playing poker.
On our way back to the airport the next day we stopped at another of Iceland's most famous attractions - the Blue Lagoon. It's quite something - a lagoon of hot steaming water in a milky shade of light blue set in the middle of a black lava field. I don't think I've ever jumped into a swimming pool so quickly, so cold was the wind outside.
After getting used to the temperature of the water I thought the water felt a bit lukewarm and I was actually starting to feel chilly. There was a hot water fountain where fresh hot water was spouting out from, so I made sure I stayed close to that. Really thick clouds of steam were being blown into our faces and the effect it created was somewhat surreal as you couldn't see anything in front of you while immersed in the clouds. You were almost expecting
Another Blue Lagoon
Surreal, mineral-enriched, light-blue pond outside the main lagoon. Photo: Steven Davies.
to have been transported to another place once the clouds had cleared. Also surreal, was bathing in the hot water as a chilly -20 degree wind froze your head off. Parts of my hair were literally freezing. The wind also blows icicles and little shards of volcanic rock into your face, which actually hurt.
I noticed that the water near the surface was a lot hotter than the water down below, so the most relaxing part of our two hour stay was lying away in the shallow part of water by the edge of the lagoon. People were putting the white silica-mud from the bottom of the lagoon onto their faces so I thought there would be no harm in following suit. Bathing in the Blue Lagoon is said to help people suffering from various skin diseases. We spent some time talking to some of the other tourists while sitting right next to the really hot water
by the water fountain before doing a bit of an exploration around the lagoon, which has a cool grotto for chilling in as well as a waterfall which we stood under for 5 minutes.
Taking pictures of the lagoon while out of the
water and dressed in only a towel was pretty unforgiving although the part of my body that was the most uncomfortable was my feet as it made contact with the ice on the ground.
It was then back to the airport.
There are only about 120,000 people living in Reykjavik and it definitely felt like a large town, rather than a small city. It was refreshing however, and I definitely think we all appreciated the relative calm and charm and the hospitality (of most) of the locals. There is a real sense of community here and you certainly felt a friendly vibe. It felt unbelievably safe as well.
Sadly, it may have been what happened at the supermarket, but after that unsavoury incident it was difficult not to feel that a sense of resentment and wariness of foreigners among the locals.
By all accounts, prices were ridiculously high here before the economic collapse, but I actually found things to be about the same as London, maybe a little bit more.
In saying all that, I had a fantastic time in Iceland - the best holiday I had in 2009. The place has everything and is unique. It was great
View Of Reykjavik Harbour
From the top of Hallgrimskirkja.
to be somewhere relatively isolated and where the beautiful natural landscape is relatively unspoilt.
So it was definitely sad to be leaving...but I think that I will definitely be back one day.
Bless Ísland - see you next time,
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