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{28/08/2012}   Iceland Travel Diary: Day Nine

Saturday, 18th August 2012

I need to stay alert for another hour and 20 minutes so I can walk to the harbour to see the fireworks at 11pm.  I am eating an unexpectedly tasty chocolate coated wafer and drinking a herbal tea that promises to invigorate.  The rest of the city is probably out drinking beer.  It was really, really busy in Reykjavik today for the Culture Day; a really buzzy, friendly, lively and noisy atmosphere with live music or DJs playing everywhere possible.

I saw a makeshift bar set up in a wool shop in town.  They appeared to be giving out free alcohol.  On closer inspection, the wine was boxed Liebfraumilch, but I was even up for that.  I ended up with a free bottle of beer as I wandered around the shop looking at wooly jumpers.  Most surreal.  And there was a DJ playing pumped up Rod Stewart.  I thoroughly enjoyed that little interlude.

There were lots of bands, though I didn’t know any of their names and on the stage I didn’t know if it was advertising, sponsorship or the band’s name written there, so much confusion as to who was what!

Embracing the art scene (not that I knew I was going to be embracing art until I was committed), I queued for about 25 minutes to get on a steely grey (ie very official) Fishery Inspection boat, assuming it would be an interesting opportunity to see inside this massive boat.  At no point did I think or was it suggested (albeit that most people were Icelandic thus I couldn’t understand a thing) that I was queuing for anything other than a snoop.  It was a hot day today (about 18 degrees and sunny).  About 15 of us were led along the side of the boat and into it, then down some stairs and along a very narrow grey corridor with no windows and which was hot (the outside wall of the ship was really hot – sun) and on a par with a sauna (no kidding).  I don’t know if any of the Icelandic people knew what to expect.  We were led into what was probably the front of the ship as in the middle of the floor was a sort of hole through which a massive chain, presumably attached to an anchor, was visible.  At no point were any lights used beyond a torch so you didn’t trip over a high step.  We all assembled in the “room”.  It was very dark except for some lights on some of the grey ship panels.  Then it started.  It was a light and sound display, art I believe.  It was very clever.  The lights matched the many shapes of that part of the boat, so a white light would spread up a pipe of the same size for example.  It lasted maybe ten minutes and was impressive for its unexpectedness and weirdness but also for the precision of the light display to map the features of the “room”.  I was glad I’d queued, having followed a few other people!

I then went into the relatively new concert hall, Harpa, which I had previously only ever seen from a distance.  It was designed by architects and an artist, the latter being the Icelandic-Danish bloke who did the big sun/weather installation at the Tate Modern almost ten years ago.  It is absolutely incredible inside and outside, especially as today it was full of people and full of live music!  The windows are all segmented and some are slightly coloured.  It looks kind of like ice or water and seems even more amazing in photographs.  I am ashamed to say I had never wandered into the building before.  In terms of its purpose, it reminded me of the South Bank Centre, lots of different spaces, seating areas all over the place and open for all.

I listened a bit to two different groups of musicians in there, then listened to two outside, one a bit Chemical Brothers and the others quite pop rock with a hint of classical.  Wandering around the streets was amazing as the roads were closed to traffic and it seemed as if the whole of Iceland and chunks of France and America were all congregating in the capital.  There were all kinds of performers around, music from almost every open doorway and street corner and a whole host of food stands.  Plus it was sunny.  I’d been to the harbour earlier and it was like a busy Greek resort where people were wearing more clothes but otherwise ignoring the fact it wasn’t in the 30s but rather in the upper 10s! 

I had a disappointing coffee that gave me a tummy ache (always a bad sign – Starbucks do that to me too) then went to the flea market again.  I bought some smoked salmon to take home.  Every time I’ve been to that stall, Depla, I’ve wondered what the white nougat-resembling coating is on one kind of fish.  Today I found out: a type of cheese marinade on smoked trout.  It’s very white and does appear to have thin slices of nuts on it and really does look like nougat.  I didn’t buy any!

So that was my afternoon.  My morning was very different!  I slept really badly last night and was very sluggish in the morning.  I set off at about 9.30am for another swimming pool, quite a walk away and technically out of Reykjavik.  I got to the road that runs by the sea and was greeted by the 8.30am-start marathon!  It was so different to the London marathon; hardly any spectators (about four), Powerade being offered as the free drink, which left the air around the hand-out point, smelling sweet, cars still on the road (though not for the first round – I think they ran at least three times the same route) and pan lids being the go-go-go sound!  There were runners, walkers, people running while pushing children in buggies, people cycling alongside and a wheelchair user speeding past a lot of people (though that was at the 8km mark, so I’m not sure if he managed to sustain those speeds!).  I would have felt mildly inferior in sporting terms had it not been for the fact I was walking about a mile and a half for a swim (I made sure my towel was on display!).

As I got to the pool, the sun seemed to be making progress through the misty cloud.  The pools were almost empty and it was a lovely pool, the one with water that helps skin problems (I am seriously baby soft at the moment!).  I swam a few lengths, while the marathon runners ran right alongside the pool, did the rounds of three different hot tubs (the latter being 40-45 degrees and which I endured for fewer seconds than degrees) then, aware the sun was surrounded by blue sky, I positioned myself in one of the large shallow pools with my face to the sun.  And there I stayed for about 30 minutes.  I have discovered that my head, slightly off-centre, has a good flat area perfect for resting my head face up to the sky.  It was this flat area that largely held me in place as I largely floated in the salty pool water.  It was a real “life is good” time.  I am hoping to develop a fisherman’s tan but it hasn’t seemed to have formed quite yet.

On leaving the pool I stopped at a bakery in an attempt to try local delicacies.  I ordered something that ended up being very good.  Kind of like a bakewell tart but no pastry, just almost meringuey almondy bits, gooey in the middle, with a lick of red berry jam.  Rather lovely.  I had that sitting on some lava rocks just above the beach.  I secured myself a rather large, well-angled rock looking out to sea.  I wrote a letter sitting there with the sun on my back and the runners behind.  Then, almost an hour later, weird things happened with the weather and this bizarre low fog cloud quickly, in seconds, crept over and it was suddenly chilly so I climbed down the rocks below and onto the beach and walked along the sand.  There was a lot of sand-ground glass on the beach, I’m not sure how or why.  It was really pretty and the sea was so still.  Then the fog sort of cleared and suddenly you could see mountains, islands and another town again.  Very odd.

I then went to the flat, had lunch, and headed out to the festivities.  I also managed to sneak in an extra Sea Baron post-lunch meal, though instead of a third lobster soup I had prawns and scallops.  The sun is still lingering at 9.52 pm which is helping me prepare myself for my departure in less than an hour.  I may need to wear my new Icelandic wool cardigan as I expect the temperature will have dropped considerably from the 18 degree peak indicated earlier (it may have got a bit warmer during the day but I don’t think so).

I had hoped to go swimming tomorrow but on Sunday the local pool doesn’t open until 11am.  I think I will have my first shower in a flat instead, though I would like a final swim.  The flat owner is letting me leave my bags here, he’ll then put them in his car when he comes to prepare the flat for the next guests and meet me at the bus station at 2.15pm, 15 minutes before my airport bus leaves, with my case.  So helpful.

Tomorrow, I will either walk around (I might take my towel and costume just in case) or sit around, but either way I will spend the morning at leisure before heading for the airport and my non-holiday life.

I am so, so glad I stayed up to see the fireworks.  The walk by the sea to get to the harbour at dusk was lovely and the sun had left a red glow to the west across the sea beyond some mountains.  There were loads of people around and it was buzzy.  I didn’t know where exactly the fireworks would be but I’d seen photos of fireworks displays and people seem to watch them from a grass bank on one side of the harbour.  I decided to stay on the other side of the harbour and walked up the harbour arm with quite a few other people.  I sort of ended up following some people onto a boat whale museum and, undisturbed, with no one jostling my view, I watched the fireworks from across the sea.  It was amazing and I loved it.  They were a bit late starting because a free concert was still going on outside – it was so noisy and the crowd could be heard cheering and singing along – and its finale wasn’t until shortly after 11pm.  Then, with the crowd still cheering and clapping, the fireworks began.  I loved it and it was fantastic to be front row with just the sea and a boat between me and the fireworks.

I even enjoyed walking back as it still wasn’t properly dark and even though there was a torrent of vehicles driving out of Reykjavik, someone always stopped the traffic to let me cross roads.  A very enjoyable and kind of apt last night in Reykjavik.

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