My recorded recollections of Reykjavik are scattered, my journaling at the time taking a dive while I explored by day and worked remotely from my hostel by night. But one of my favorite parts about this city was its English fluency — less exotic than trying to make friends somewhere no one speaks your tongue, but a much easier situation for connecting with others. I spent three weeks in and out of the city, and here are my favorite images and a couple of brief memories from my time there, focusing those I met.
While I had a collection of travel buddies during my stay—drifters from Australia and Europe, tourists who came along as I escaped the city in an overnight bus tour and a day trip or two, not to mention the various guides, all interesting in their own picturesque Icelandic way; I would be remiss not to mention that the first week was spent delightfully in the company of my best friend — bringing along my loved ones for parts of the trip gave me completely different experiences in the same places. So this article is for her!
Eating at this restaurant with shared tables in the waterfront, my friend and I sat next to a wonderful older German couple, who told us of their journey and showed us pictures of their perfectly blonde and staggeringly successful economist children.
I met a student named Brett in a strang laundromat, where a coffee shop sat atop a stiflying basement laundry room. This strange and exhuberant fellow was from the Viking Gyres Expedition, part of a group that called themselves Citizen Scientists. They had just spent three weeks at sea collecting and measuring trash, particularly the micro particles — and subsequently publicly presented their findings in another hostel later that night.
There was another woman at the laundromat who got along exceedingly well with Brett, who was going around the island to study geothermal energy by interviewing residents there.
Ramen Momo is a tiny hole-in-the wall restaurant that can hold maybe eight at a time. It was opened by two Tibetan men, one of whom, I must admit I don't know which, I had a long conversation with as I muched on momos. We compared our favorite dumplings and talked about travel in Asia, and what it was like to be an immigrant into such an insular culture as Iceland's.
I got my only haircut abroad in Iceland — in a strange salon where the barber who cut my hair kept joking around with the other stylists in a sort of Icelandic humor that I didn't completely understand. He was a large and burly man with a beard, and another of the cutters told me that he used to be a ballet dancer — something that sounded so ridiculous that I believed it for way longer than I should have.
I made a brief friend named Theresa who shared a bunk with me in our 8-person hostel dorm for a couple of days. She was an Australian student who had just studied abroad for six months in Switzerland, and was on holiday before returning to Sydney and her boyfriend. She was writing a paper about the abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram.
The first day we spent in Reykjavik proper, these artists were putting on a performance piece — walking painfully slowly all through the town in the rain. We saw them multiple times during our explorations of the day, and none of them spoke, nor did we ever find out the point of this piece.
We watched a Northern Norwegion Choir in the Harpa Atrium. They dressed in white tops, blue bottoms, and red scarves — they were middle aged and very expressive as they sang in Icelandic, Swedish, Norse, English, and Gaelic.
I got the chance to do two interviews in a single day — one was with Kolbrún S. Kjarval, whose image is down below. This member of a group of all-female potters is also the granddaughter of Iceland's (arguably) most famous artist, Kjarvalsstaðir.
The other interview was a tour of Omnom Chocolate, Iceland's first bean-to-bar chocolate makers then located in a revamped gas station outside of the main city of Reykjavik. I was led on the tour by Kjartan Gíslason, who worked then at Dill, the NOMA of Iceland. He had just finished a vacation that consisted of cooking at a fishing lodge up north for a week.
My final and slightly longer story was a surprising twist at the end of my stay in Reykjavik. In the dorm one morening around 1:00 AM, I woke up to the incessant knocking at the door of this eight-person dorm. When someone finally let him in, this person was looking for another man he suspected of stealing his girlfriends' purse. They had all met in the common room upstairs, where the police were now waiting to question this second gentleman. It took him ages to get up and dressed, consistently denying the crime, and the two of them left the room — he wasn't back in the morning when I got up. Later when I arrived at the checkout desk, the boyfriend was there and the purse was in his hand, apparently it was in the luggage storage room the entire time, and his girlfriend was inconsolably crying and talking about how she was disappointed Iceland wasn't as safe as it was reputed to be. I don't know what happened to the person they accused.