Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reykjavik, Iceland

Its all about the experience you choose to have, really. Isnt it?

There is so much in this world to see and do you can have a voracious appetite for it all, grab as much as you can so none gets away; or you can suffer from anorexia taste none of it, waste away.

I find myself very happy right now just looking like Peter Sellars in Being There?

Heres one. Its after 11pm in the North Atlantic. This is the view from your balcony. Sun and Sea. Amazing.

Today we arrived in Iceland; sailed along the coast a way then into the protected harbor of Reykjavik. Arrived at 9am and we had all day here.

Our cruise brochure tells me that Iceland is a land of volcanoes and glaciers, lava fields and green pastures, boiling thermal springs and ice-cold rivers teeming with salmon we didnt see any of that!! (in fact we had a tour of many of the sights and cancelled). Parenthetically, everyone says it was all absolutely wonderful and a definite to-do some time.

As we sailed in we did get a good view of the green pastures and the distant mountains (with snow still visible on the slopes)

Skies crystal clear Reykjavik is one of the cleanest cities in the world because 95% of the buildings are heated entirely with geothermal energy from underground hot springs.

Houses that look like they have been here forever 

and Iceland does have a long long history. The ubiquitous Irish Monks seem to have been first here looking for solitude (!!!!) in the 9th century. Around the same time Vikings from Norway came to settle in 874 Ingolfur Arnarson arrived and is considered the founder of Reykjavik. Icelanders developed the first parliament in Europe in 930 (the Althing) it was a participatory democracy based on tribes represented by an elected chief.

This very advanced system resulted in a code of law and judicial system. Christianity brought monasteries and schools and it was during this time that the Icelandic Sagas were written.

Explorers from Iceland ranged far and wide. Eirik the Red discovered and colonized Greenland his son is better known Leifur Eirikson who beat Columbus to North America by almost five centuries!!!.

Sadly, changing weather patterns and disease caused this carefully crafted structure to fall apart. Civil war followed and eventually Denmark seized control and, in various forms, did so until 1944.

Iceland enters my recent consciousness for two main reasons

  • First, that in the recently past yuppy years Reykjavik was a very popular party place for the expensive weekend

  • Second, after the incredibly good years when Iceland boomed on the back of the finance bubble, it staged a spectacular collapse. It appears there have been no bailouts and banks (and investors) have gone under.

Today was spent wandering around wonderful downtown Rejkjavik.

What I enjoyed most about our day here was the sense I had of contrasts

Some of the buildings are constructed of stone block just as we had seen in Bergen. 

 Then you see the new all glass Harpa concert and convention center

And the futuristic Hallgrimskirkja Church the largest in Iceland looks like it could carry you into the heavens.

In front, a statue of Leifur Eirikson 

with a memorial plaque I found a bit abstruse

Far more of the down-town buildings are wood framed with corrugated iron siding (in the weather here wood or composite simply rots away).

Peoples individuality and sense of fun comes out in the bright colors they paint their houses

 In fact a love of color comes out in other ways the way they set up flower beds.

 Even the chairs and tables outside a restaurant.

 Many of the shops catering to tourists trade on past history in their identities 

but sell some of the most beautiful woolen goods knitted hats, gloves and sweaters. 

They offer passers - by the opportunity to add their contribution

Also lovely fur items but then take it a bit far by having donor beasts stuffed and on display.

 A store selling the most beautiful felted wool figures and animals made by the lady inside. She was busy making a puffin when we came in and allowed us to buy one. Merle admired some of the figures she had on display beautifully detailed. Great expressions. No, she said, she wouldnt sell these they meant too much to her!! A shop that wouldnt sell its wares. Different?

 The best jewelry on sale was simple, spare and striking.

A silver brooch

 Gold figures across the crack in this piece of rock wonderful to display

BUT sooooo expensive!!!!

A Fierce Norse Viking stands guard over small and vulnerable foreigners (unlike the tiny troll in Bergen who needed support)

 Some of the clothing stores offered startlingly colorful and striking fashions

And shoes

 And people watching was a source of great interest 

for the way they dressed

And also the street entertainment which ranged from buskers

  • to a young troupe in bright colors using their bodies as street sculpture as they moved up the street (which Merle missed because she was busy shopping so no photo)

  • to this lady doing a very carefully planned and measured street painting in coloured masking tape

the tours we had rejected offered whale watching and puffin observing.. out in the wild

we had the opportunity to view the final common pathway

Alex is a vegetarian???

As we approach the end of our wonderful trip, Reykjavik was a refreshing stop. I would be happy to visit the earths inner turmoil here explore its ventings, geysers and convulsions another time

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