Reykjavik - Rambling Around the Icelandic Capital with a Beautiful Local

Reykjavik, Iceland • May 2016 • Length of Read: 5 Minutes

The Icelandic capital was quiet and quaint as I wandered along the pedestrianized main street; the unpronounceable street signs on each corner making navigation potentially very difficult were it not for the fact that one can circumnavigate the whole city centre in less than 20 minutes. Out for a little exploration, I took joy in trying to pronounce and enunciate the foreign alphabet under my breath, chuckling when I passed the Post Office and saw that it was named Posturinn (pronounced Post Urine). Reykjavik may well be one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world according to statistics, but this made it seem that its supposedly hygienic residents were pissing in parcels and then sending them to one another by tracked next-day delivery mail.

Speaking of cleanliness, did you know that if you turn on a hot tap anywhere in Reykjavik you're greeted with the pungent smell of rotten eggs? Whereas the country’s cold water comes directly from underground springs and is very refreshing to drink, the hot water comes from deep geothermal boreholes and has a natural smell of sulphur. Turning on the shower in the morning made the bathroom in my hotel smell like the bowel movements suffered by someone the day after a chili eating contest.

I spotted a little arcade across the street which, to my nostalgic childhood delight, had two walls lined with retro video games such as Donkey Kong and Mortal Kombat. I went up to the counter and asked the guy behind the till if he could break a note into loose change. Looking around, the only other person in the place was a cute local girl,  button bashing aggressively on Super Mario Bros; the pixelated character jumping about the screen like it were having an epileptic fit as a result. I went over and introduced myself.

“Bet you can’t get further in the game than I just did,” she toyed. Mario had just lost his last life and as the screen faded to black the phrase [insert coin] flashed up.

"Challenge accepted."

Sliding 100 Krona into the coin slot I guided Mario through one, two, three levels; using my dozens of hours of practice from the Game Boy version to help me.

“In your face,” I beamed as the character bounded over one of the Goomba mushroom men and into unknown territory for our Icelandic female.

“Beginners’ luck,” she jokingly huffed, punching me playfully on the arm. “How about we go and get some tea?”

“Let’s. A tour guide is just what I’m after.”

I was led along the street, down a short flight of stairs, and into a quirky little artisan café. Live piano music played as groups of sophisticated people sat huddled in deep conversation around wooden tables. Ordering two cups of green tea we got chatting about all things film and travel related before I posed some questions about Reykjavik itself. More specifically, what did the city's younger residents do to pass the time? For all its breathtaking beauty, there are only so many glaciers and volcanoes a person can look at before their head starts to steam like a geyser. A small army of teenagers had commandeered the main square and transformed it into a skate park, but in terms of nightlife things appeared to be a bit thin on the ground.

"Us Icelanders live quite a chilled out existence," she stated, confirming my hunch, "but you've come during exam time so it's especially quiet at the moment. Most of the students are at home studying for their finals."

"That's such a shame. I'm flying out to New York tomorrow morning and was looking forward to seeing what this city has to offer once the sun goes down." It was 10pm at this point and the daylight showed no sign of fading.

"One of the main things Reykjavik has to offer is the spectacular sunset itself."

"Well I don't want to keep you up too late, but how about we grab a beer then head down to the harbour to watch it? I may not be here in the correct season for the Auroa Borealis, but I imagine you get a pretty good light show all year round anyway."

"We sure do..."

Following a refreshing pint of Viking pale ale, we strolled hand-in-hand down to the elaborate Concert Hall that stands jutting out into a vast sea of blue; an icy breeze coming down from the staggering snow-capped mountains blowing right across the harbour and chilling our faces. As the sun began to slowly disappear behind these towering giants of nature we looked each other in the eyes and basked in the awe and tranquility of the moment. It was sheer bliss.

Bathe in the Blue Lagoon (Bucket List #36)

Reykjavik, Iceland • May 2016 • Length of Read: 5 Minutes

Our bus trundled out of Reykjavik’s BSI Main Terminal and onto the arrow-straight highway; briefly accelerating up to fourth gear before settling down into what must have been one of the most economical driving speeds imaginable. Despite Route 41’s 80kph speed limit our driver was clearly reluctant to take the engine beyond what would be considered slow even in a built-up suburban neighborhood with school crossings and play parks.

Perhaps this was due to the demographic of passengers he had on-board, the average age most likely higher than the speed limit. If OAP bus passes were accepted we would have been the only passengers required to actually purchase tickets. Aside from my family I can’t imagine there being a full set of dentures in the house, but as my brother grimaced at the snails’ pace of our journey these gummy octogenarians seemed more than content in letting the gorgeous Icelandic scenery roll slowly past the windows.

The wheels on the bus went round and round in slow-motion until we eventually made it to the world-famous Blue Lagoon, the most visited attraction in Iceland. Located in a lava field in Grindavik, 40km north-east of the capital, this geothermal spa is an open-aired swimming area with a natural temperature of 38oC. The water is rich in minerals such as silica and sulphur, giving it a milky colour, and has been proven to help alieve skin conditions and other ailments.

All of the staff members behind the welcome desk looked like they had been showering in this fountain of youth since birth, and their perfect complexions were very accommodating towards the throngs of tourists piling in by the bus load. One can actually visit the blue lagoon on a 5 hour trans-Atlantic layover and not even have to spend a night in the world’s most northerly capital.

Strapping on my wristband, which doubled as a locker key and payment card, I headed through to the changing rooms. Putting on my trunks alongside a group of Europeans a woman’s voice suddenly echoed off the pristine tiled walls in strong Irish accent, the reverberations giving everyone a bit of a fright. “NEIL,” it boomed. “NEIL.”

At this heckle one of the changing room security guards went marching up to the door and, in a complete contrast to the eloquently spoken Adonis who had served us at the welcome desk, greeted her with some of the most broad Glaswegian I’ve ever heard. There I was in an Icelandic spa, half-naked, and bearing witness to a conversation between two accents more used to haggling with one another in an East End Scottish flea market or chanting at one another during a football game.

“How can I help you lassie?”

“My husband has gone into the male changing rooms with my bathing costume in his bag and I’m trying to get it back.”

“What’s his name and where’s he come fae?”

“Neil. Neil Hamilton from Donegal.”

“NEIL, YER WIFE WANTS YE,” screamed out the helpful security guard. “You better not be slipping into a little two piece down there.”

“Don’t worry,” called back the elusive Neil in an equally strong Irish voice from one of the cubicles, “She hasn’t been able to fit into it for years anyway.”

I turned to the Europeans who were still beside me, sensing a large amount of confusion swirling in the air. It was as if their spa mud-masks had hardened and frozen the looks of disbelief on their faces.

“You scaffy bastard,” grinned the Scottish guy as he was eventually tossed the garment. “Dressin’ yer wife in drapes fae JD sports?”

“Ah it’s a grand clothing store for all intensive purposes,” reasoned Neil with absolutely zero shame.

I went for an obligatory pre-lagoon shower and, whilst conditioning my hair, tears of laughter mixed with the soapy water as it rolled down into the drain below. The Europeans had no idea how golden the banter being thrown about was and I felt a little sorry for them.

The lagoon itself was as warm and relaxing as everyone had told me, and I was able to unwind with a few pints of beer from the swim-up bar under a cloudless blue sky. This was then followed by a sauna and mud-mask treatment of my own before drying off and heading for some sushi in the overlooking restaurant to top off a couple of hours of sheer bliss. A day pass to this natural wonder costs €66 per person (price correct as at May 2016) and I’d recommend getting there as early as possible to avoid the crowds; serenity being an absolute Godsend in the Blue Lagoon.

“I can’t get my locker open,” questioned a dreadlocked guy to the Scottish security guard as I went to hand my towel back.

“I don’t bloody believe you,” he sarcastically barked back before resolving the guy’s issue in two seconds flat.

It’s always nice to get a little taste of home whilst on the road isn’t it? Especially in the most unusual of places.