Reykjavik, “Bay of Smokes”
The capital of Iceland has a population of about 120,000 (which is, like around the same number of people jammed onto my suburban commuter train into central Tokyo each morning), more than a third of the country’s entire population. We didn’t spend much time in town, but from what little I did see the spirit of the place reminds me of Kingston, Ontario and other small cities: a core of old but brightly coloured wooden houses with steep-pitched roofsin the city centre mostly occupied by hipster shops, cafes, and restaurants, and the bachelor apartments of making-it artists and artisans, and a couple of minimalist, Scandesign-inspired office towers downtown, surrounded by suburbs.
According to legend, the original settlers of Iceland arrived from… Mongolia. Yeah, I know: As if a Viking pedigree wasn’t cool enough… You can read a brief recount of the tale on the Wikipedia page… In any case, the artist Jon Gunnar had this story in mind when he conceived of Sun Voyager, the aluminium sculpture which eventually found its way to central Reykjavik.
The art deco tower of Hallgrímskirkja is a central landmark for navigating downtown Reykjavik. The serrated lines of the tower were inspired by the basalt cliffs in areas such as Vik.
In 2007, for John Lennon’s 67th birthday, Yoko Ono unveiled Imagine Peace Tower on an island in Reykjavik Bay. We happened to be in town during the first week of spring, one of the few times a year the tower is lit.
The original, eponymous geyser. At one time, like back in 1845, this spouting hot spring shot boiling water 170 metres into the air. Geologists used to drop soap into the pool to force an eruption; nowadays, geysir is dormant but nearby Strokkur geyser still puts on a show for the tourists.
“Golden Falls” is an iconic image of southern Iceland and, along with Geysir (above) and Þingvellir (below) is part of the Golden Circle – a popular tourist circuit in southwest Iceland.
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which for most of it’s length lies deep in the Atlantic Ocean, rises to the surface at Þingvellir National Park.
Once upon a time, Reykholt was apparently a bustling center of learning in Iceland: a kind of Viking Oxford. Today, this hamlet of 60-odd people is still home to one of the better museums and a research center for the study of medieval sagas. It’s so remote, however, and so thinly populated, that the Japanese have established an aurora research center here, and Reykholt’s dark sky makes it a popular stop for Northern Lights hunters. There’s also a Lutheran church with striking, minimalist stained glass windows and apparently beautiful accoustics which hosts a classical music concert each summer.
One of many fjords along the southwest coast. The landscape is certainly photogenic and austerely beautiful from the seat of a heated tour bus, but man it must have been grim sailing into these icy passages in an open-decked longship…
Another of Iceland’s landmark natural wonders, Skógafoss also saw screen time in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Black Sand Beach, Vík í Mýrdal
The Atlantic rolls unobstructed all the way from Antarctica: you can feel the power of the ocean as the waves surge up the lava beach. Legend has it that trolls pluck their unwary victims off the beach and drag them under the water.
So about half of Iceland is made up of a mountainous lava desert and other “wasteland” (hey, that’s the official term for it), a place fir for trolls and elves and other “hidden folk” from legend and imagination. Of course, anyone who has spent time in the desert knows that one person’s wasteland is another’s paradise: in Iceland’s case the otherworldly landscape is the reason so many photographers and film makers travel here in the first place.
Even in March, with so much still covered in snow, you still get a sense of the spirit of the place in its rivers, glaciers, and mountains. Really, it’s more than any one picture can capture, so I’ve included a small gallery of images below.