Iceland summer 2012: Reykjavik

This was my first and only day off. I woke up ridiculously early, of course, but didn’t venture out until 10. I went up Laugavegur, heading for Hallgrímskirkja and as I walked up the hill, I suddenly spotted Baldursgata (Baldr’s Street – Baldr being the son of Odin) which reminded me that I’d wanted to go and take photos of all the “God streets” around the church. I found Lokastígur (Loki, the God of Mischief), Þórsgata (Thor, the God of Thunder), Njarðargata (probably Niord, the father of the Vanir), Freyjugata (Freyja, Niord’s daughter), Bragagata (Bragi, the God of Poetry), Válastígur (Vali – there are two in Norse mythology. One is the son of Loki, whose entrails were used to bind Loki while a snake dripped venom on him until Ragnarok and the other is the son of Odin who was born to avenge Baldr, who was killed by Loki, using Hod – this was the crime Loki was bound for), Óðinsgata (Odin, the All-Father) and Týsgata (presumably Tyr, the God of War).

Once I’d found them all and taken photos of the road signs, I went up to the church. It was busy, much busier than it had been last time and there was a man practising the organ inside. Hallgrímskirkja is very simple and grey and minimalist inside, except for this massive, silver ornamental organ that dominates the back wall. I sat down to watch and listen.

I wanted to go up the tower but there was a queue for the lift. The church was open until 9 at night so I decided I’d come back later when it was quieter.

I went down to the seafront via Snorrabraut, which I can only think is named after Snorri Sturlusson, one of the most famous men in Iceland, the only saga writer known by name, the author of the Prose Edda and for a while Lawspeaker at the Alþing, Iceland’s ancient parliament (established 930AD), walked along the seafront and decided it really was about time I went into Harpa, the new conference and arts centre by the old harbour. After the town being so busy, it was weird to see Harpa so empty. The outside is all green glass and sea-like patterns but inside is dark grey concrete, stairs at weird angles. I went upstairs, right to the top. The view isn’t actually as good from up there as I’d hoped because of the window frames and the coloured glass.

I decided to go back to the Flying Viking to have something to eat and get a map but on the way, I passed the Volcano House, which has two films, one on Eldfell and one on Fimvorðuhals and Eyjafjallajökull running several times a day and also has displays and a café. I decided not to sit and watch the volcano films but I did stand and read a recipe for a volcano cake before I went home.

I didn’t mean to stay in until evening but that’s what happened. Later on, when the sun was a bit less fierce and the crowds a bit smaller I went out again, with the intention of going up the church tower. I got distracted on the way by a man sitting on Laugavegur playing some kind of Alpine-style pipe made out of drainpipe.

Then I went up the tower. The church was empty by now and there was no queue so up I went. The view was very different on a summer evening to last time I was up there. There are a couple of islands in the bay between the city and Esja and I couldn’t believe I’d managed to not notice them last time. The thing that looked like a crashed plane last time now just looked like a building in the distance and I spotted a fairly large plane coming in to land at the Domestic airport.

I wandered along to the Tjornin, which was now full of water instead of ice, walked along to the end, round the back and along back to the new Alþing building and the cathedral – Hallgrímskirkja isn’t officially Reykjavík’s cathedral but because it’s the biggest one in town, it’s the one where big events tend to happen. The cathedral itself is a small dark stone church down in the centre of town.

My plan to walk back through the town to the harbour and seafront was derailed by running into Wally, the Australian street performer. I was kept entertained for half an hour, not least because I couldn’t work out where he was from – his English was far too good to be Icelandic and yet he didn’t sound English. He dragged various volunteers out of the audience, none of whom were Icelandic either except the lady on a hen night apparently with her wife-to-be.

By the time his show was finished, I was getting cold. I went into my favourite shop, Eymundsson, the bookshop and went down into the basement where they had children’s books and came across Thor: Tales of Asgard. I’d been hoping to find a DVD of either Thor or the Avengers – probably Thor, since the Avengers isn’t out yet – because the idea of Thor and Loki actually speaking Icelandic, which is old Norse, the language of the sagas and myths of those times, was appealing, whether it was dubbed or just in subtitles.

Once again I stopped off at the seafront to see my favourite view before I went home for the night.

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