It’s my first day in Rekyjavik and I’ve just been offered a place to stay by an American music journalist I met at the cafe. He’s here to report on the Airwaves festival, which apparently I’ve just missed out on. I don’t take him up on the offer straight away of course, but I’m soon to learn that this is the spirit of Iceland. Here you can still hitch a ride safely, leave your camera in a nightclub and come back to find that someone has handed it in. I didn’t come with any expectations of the city, only to see the Northern Lights, so I’m pleasantly surprised by this warm and welcoming place. Its small colourful rooftops cheerfully huddle together against icy wind and snowy mountains. It’s November and the days are short, but the nights are long and full of opportunity.
I’m here alone, but I’ve already made some friends at the bar. Evening is drawing in quickly and an English cyclist we’ve met who is riding round the whole of Iceland, coaxes us out for a drink. We get ready and wander down the main road past endless streams of trendy, but drunk students. We decide on Kaffibarinn, a small, popular nightspot set up by Blur frontman, Damon Albarn. It’s a little pretentious, and the bar staff keep shouting at us every time we take a picture “No pictures, no pictures!” The locals keep drunkenly barging into us, but somehow we have made friends with them. They soon invite us back to their place for an impromptu house party. Being invited to someone’s home is the Holy Grail for me. It’s a chance to get ‘behind the scenes’ of life in a different country. We follow the small crowd through the dark streets and through the back gate of a house. On entering, we see the party has already begun as beers are shoved into our hands. I get chatting with the tattooed hostess and make friends with her dog. The main wall is adorned with a huge eye-catching painting by one of her friends, depicting two nude women who look identical hugging. It’s painted in a Picasso style and reminds me of his piece ‘Girl before a Mirror’.
The next morning, I take a trip to the Kolaportið flea market near the old harbour. A short walk across town is like playing hide and seek at an art gallery. Large, quirky murals and smaller understated creations are waiting to be found on practically every street, there are even poems on the pavement. Getting lost isn’t an issue, since it’s such a small place, and you could easily navigate using the artwork as a reference! Inside the flea market, it’s an Aladdin’s cave type of jumble sale. A lesbian couple are performing some sort of weird marriage celebration. The larger of the two is dressed up in a furry onesie and is carrying a ukulele and a drinking from a can of beer (presumably the man). The smaller one looks like an 80’s Barbie, wearing a colourful shell suit, with long, blonde, crimped hair and a pink tiara and veil. She has a cardboard placard around her neck and holds a collection bottle for donations. They are pretending to busk while their family throw money at them. I’m not sure if this is some strange Icelandic tradition or a crazy idea they have concocted themselves!
Browsing the stalls I come across a gorgeous pair of leather cowboy boots for the equivalent of 2 quid. I grab them before the lady realises she is selling them too cheap. I’ve seen similar pairs in the vintage shops around town going for 40 quid. They fit like a glove, so I’ve picked up a real bargain. I’m tempted to get a fur coat so I can blend in with the fashionistas I’ve seen around town, but it would never fit in my small suitcase.
Today, I move my stuff out of the noisy hostel and into the American journalist’s quiet apartment, called ‘Little Red House‘. In the morning I discover it’s not so quiet. The bells of Hallgrímskirkja church ring loud and clear. After lunch, we attempt to climb Mount Esja, which is part of a small volcanic range across the bay, and at just under 1km high, she should be a relatively easy hike. However, its seriously windy today. After finding the start of the path at the base, we decide we may as well continue even though the weather conditions are worstening and it looks like a storm is coming in. We battle against the wind, which is ferocious and does its best to push us back down the mountain. Its so cold, I keep a strong pace to keep warm, but my friend isn’t able to keep up, so I slow down. Half way up, an old man comes trundling down the path ahead of us, with icicles hanging off his beard. He is a local and says it would be unwise to go up any further, since he nearly got blown away. We heed his advice and return to the hire car.