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Reykjavik: A City of Contrasts
by steve wilson
We are excited to have guest blog post from one of our travelers, Steve Wilson. Steve is taking an amazing trip and is chronicling his adventures on his blog, A Hungry Man Travels. Follow his travels by reading his blog and checking out his photos. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your walking tour of Reykjavik with us...
I was very lucky to go on a private cultural walk of Reykjavik today with the lovely and talented tour guide Birna Poroardottir (that is one hell of a last name eh? You can just feel the Norwegian influence here sometimes lol). Honestly, it was an incredible tour simply because it was so nice not only to see the important landmarks and icons of the city, but to also go off the beaten path and explore alleyways and old houses. To walk into the oldest house in the city (which currently houses a clothing store) or visit a seafood restaurant by the waterfront to talk with the fisherman, who in turn surprise you by offering a non-seafood Icelandic treat known as slátur (the innards of sheep, yum) blódmör (blood), which is basically an Icelandic version of blood pudding and tastes amazing (and according to Birna, very healthy and good for you – I had to smile at that). To visit Lydveldisgardur (Republic) Park and see the four stones dedicated to the 4 regions of Iceland or get the chance to meet the hot Chef of Einar Ben, one of the oldest fine dining restaurants in the city (and where I’m having dinner tonight!). Not to mention visiting the biggest and most visible phallic symbol you’ve ever seen after the CN Tower in Toronto; the tower of Hallgrimur’s (Hallgrimskirkja) Lutheran Church. Amazing.
Over three hours, Birna took me just about everywhere; from the gorgeous city centre, to the areas that she calls the homes of the slumlords. It’s not what you think though. Birna is fiercely proud of her city and as such has definitive opinions on what she sees as the active desecration and destruction of many beautiful Icelandic iconic homes due either to money or the need for certain citizens of Reykjavik who to want to modernize the city, or both. The economic crash of 2008 forced many people who once owned these buildings to either let them fall into disrepair simply because the money promised to fix them up or worse tear them down for modern buildings ceased to exist. This country was hit hard by the crash. She took me to the square across from the Parliament buildings where she and thousands of other Icelanders held protests for days until the government quit! Like I said it was a very cool tour, but what made it sad was that she also showed me what has happened to her city since the crash including visits to huge, modern brand-spanking new buildings built for condo living but now sit entirely empty. A view of the new cultural centre being built on the harbor that was close to being stopped altogether because the country ran out of money to complete it (the building is currently being finished with the expectations of project completion by 2011).
Reykjavik is beautiful. I always thought it would be and the tour proved that. You can definitely see, however, the toll that the crash has had on the city and the country as a whole. She uses the words proud and resilient to describe Icelanders (along with greedy) which is true, but I can definitely say I appreciate the city all the more thanks to her amazing guidance