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Even if you are a teetotaler, it may still interest you to know that in Iceland, whose capital is Reykjavik, the ban on beer drinking was only lifted in 1989. No wonder the place leads Europe in having the longest work-week – 43½hrs.
In this country, where the total population is a little over 300 thousand, most of the citizens actually live in the city – Reykjavik. I was amazed to find that it was the order of the day to bump into people who were visiting the place just like me. And that made me feel at ease really fast. You can’t compare the feeling with the one you would experience when visiting a country like the US, whose population is a little over 300 million. Most people there are Americans, and I imagine you would be conscious of being a visitor, whether you are European, Asian or African.
On the contrary, Reykjavik is one place where you will feel like you belong very quickly. I was eager to venture out to the pubs once I got there, and much as I may wish to say it’s because I wanted to learn what Reykjavik’s entertainment spots are like, the truth is that I really felt like letting loose. I’ve gotten into the habit of working too many hours – resting only when it is inevitable – and so I hoped that traveling to Reykjavik would give me a good break.
When I chose to travel, I thought I’d work a little and do more visiting, but what I had in mind were educational places like libraries and museums, and then the outdoors. I’m a freelance writer and so reading and learning are never far from my mind wherever I am. However, after spending my first night at the Oddsson Hostel, where I had decided to spend my ten days in Reykjavik (the accommodation per night cost around $32), I was eager to see the city in daylight. So, I didn’t even open my laptop that first morning.
Truth be told, I could have visited more tourist attractions with the time I had, but I kind of, got carried away by the hospitality of the locals. I ended up spending a lot of time with some locals I met the first day in a pub. At the end of the day, I made many local friends.MN
The Oddsson is, kind of, a hostel, but it also has a beautiful restaurant with a wide range of dishes. If you want Italian dishes that are made the contemporary way, you’ll get them. If you are a Pizza diehard, you still won’t feel homesick – the Oddsson has it on the menu. You’ll also find Mediterranean dishes, so if your least favorite part of the holidays is gaining weight, you need not worry. Anyway, I prepared and went for breakfast. The reason I was so eager to venture outside was that what I’d seen the previous night as our plane was approaching the airport was a sight that I can only describe as mesmerizing.
The Beauty of Reykjavik
The aerial view of Reykjavik is magical. From above you see a beautiful cover below, but from a distance you cannot tell what it is; until your plane lowers quite a bit and you realize it is a spread of colorful rooftops. Then as your plane lands and you step outside, there is a serenity that surrounds you.
There is actually nothing to overwhelm you, as happens in many airports. In my case, this first experience made me feel at home even before I’d left the airport. Talking of my airport experience, the first air I breathed at Keflavík International Airport was one of freshness, although this airport is the largest and busiest in Iceland. That freshness was to be replicated wherever else I visited because the air all over the city is basically free of industrial and other pollutants. Keflavík International Airport has three runways and mainly caters to international flights.
On stepping outside the hotel, what embraced me was an atmosphere of freshness enhanced by the greenery around. I couldn’t imagine the contrast between the freshness of this city and the pollution in other cities I have been to. Right there, I decided to start my day. With a full tummy and flexible work timelines, I set out to explore Reykjavik.
For my first day I was prepared to pop into any place that drew my attention. So I set off without a plan. It might sound exaggerated, but this city is an indisputable spread of beauty. I admired the curved landscape that gradually rose to form mountains, which I was to later learn have volcanoes that are thought to be extinct. I didn’t get to climb up the mountains on Day 1, but I must say the geographical feature I saw right in the middle of the city was sufficient. There is a lake in the middle of Reykjavik, a very beautiful one, and it is called Tjörnin. I’m told the lake is referred to as ‘Tarn’ in one of the ancient English dialects, and the name literary means ‘mountain lake’.
This lake is very close to City Hall. So as I admired it, I had a good opportunity to discuss with the friendly people I encountered the city’s administration and related matters. Incidentally, there is a lot you can learn about Iceland from locals without even travelling far because it is quite a small country – although it is the second largest island in Europe, beaten in size only by Britain.
My unplanned stroll was well rewarded. At Tjörnin, it was fascinating to watch the ducks and swans swim gracefully and without a trace of fear despite our presence. I guess they have learnt over the years that the people who stand around the lake to watch them are harmless. I also saw some seagulls among the birds. As if to enhance the feel of the natural, there is a small bridge across Tjörnin that helps people access City Hall.
Booze Is for Evening
I was already in the holiday mood when I returned to the hotel in early afternoon. In fact, I wouldn’t have made such an early return, were it not that I wanted to change to a lighter outfit. I was eager to begin scouting the pubs. Of course, this being Iceland, I took a coat with me, but carried it by hand. Having come from Nairobi, which is within the tropics, I knew I couldn’t joke around with the weather of a country whose name is associated with ice. And it’s true – temperatures in Reykjavik are often in single digits, averaging around 6°C (43°F). However, my visit was in summer, and so it was an exceptional season with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 15°C (50-58°F). I was told by locals that winters sometimes drop to -15°C (5°F).
Anyway, my experience at the pubs was wonderful. Everyone I talked to was very friendly, and not in a devious manner. And although the locals I had approached earlier in the day appeared somewhat conservative, the ones I met in the evening ended up becoming more open. One more thing I noticed was that even those locals who looked well off were still very down to earth in a social setup.
In the days that followed, I visited many places in Reykjavik, including areas where visitors and locals went snowmobiling on the glacier, with others dog sledding. I also visited the National Museum of Iceland and the Víkin Maritime Museum, both of which are within the city.
Truth be told, I could have visited more tourist attractions with the time I had, but I kind of, got carried away by the hospitality of the locals. I ended up spending a lot of time with some locals I met the first day in a pub. At the end of the day, I made many local friends. What I observed was that most people relax at home after work, but they still venture out as the evening wears on for a bit of socializing. There is this habit of people moving from one drinking joint to another, and others strolling outside either in couples or in groups. Bottom line is that everyone feels safe in Reykjavik, be it day or night.
All in all, I’d like to visit Reykjavik again. The friends I made promised to show me more interesting features, including the Sun Voyager, which is a massive boat with a great history. They also promised we would dine at the Pearl, a structure of spectacular architectural design that has a rotating restaurant within it. In reality, I had so much fun in Reykjavik that I ended up taking a full break from work – and I didn’t regret it.