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.
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.