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A Rambler in Reykjavik


I've spent two weeks in Reykjavik, eight years apart, and I still don't know whether to think of it as a really big small town or as a miniature metropolis. Perhaps it's both.


There are no huge skyscrapers; most buildings are four floors or fewer; even the Parliament Building, the Althing (above) is a miniature of other country's ambitious buildings, although the legislature itself is the world's oldest, at just shy of 1,100 years. When it first met, there was no 'France,' or 'Germany' or 'Italy.'


aP1040078Even a monument to Iceland's first president when it became independent from Denmark in 1944 is small scale, sitting in a small park in the center. In conversations, I found a sort of 'don't take government too seriously' attitude that may be the reason for this statue of "The Anonymous Bureaucrat" near the City Hall.

Even main shopping streets, like Laugavegur (below) are small scale, and for the past few years pedestrianized. Alright, out in the suburbs there is an IKEA and more, but that's out in the suburbs.


Still, Reykjavik's not as small as once it was; Iceland has grown, and so has the city—disproportionately! In 1950, Iceland had 142,000 residents; by last year that had grown to 345,000. In 1950, Reykjavik had one-third of Iceland's population; today it's two-thirds. That's meant a lot of housing construction, and a shift away from the small buildings, often clad in corrugated iron that can still be seen 'downtown.'


Newer construction has shifted styles entirely, and seemingly endless numbers of buildings like these can be found; nearly all have balconies, parking spaces and other amenities; we stayed in one this time; the view is from a window toward the next building. At midnight!


Reykjavik is also Iceland's most important port, not only for cargo but also cruise ships and fishing trawlers, although most of the fishing boats no longer operate from the inner harbor; that space is now taken up more with other types including tour boats for whale-watching and puffin peeping


Also on the harborfront is Harpa, Reykjavik's world-class concert and conference center, standing alone on a pier. Alone because the 2008 financial crisis not only stopped its construction for a time, but also canceled the ambitious World Trade Center Reykjavik, which was meant to include hotels, luxury apartments, office buildings and luxury retail. Its tinted glass is meant to resemble the island's landscape of volcanic basalt rock.


For several years, Harpa was the only sizable construction project in the country; the Althing decided it was too humiliating to let it wait for recovery. It opened in 2011.


Other notable buildings in the capital include dueling cathedrals. Christ the King, below, was built in 1929 by the Roman Catholic community, and while no one says it's a direct result, plans started shortly thereafter for an impressive home for the Lutheran Church of Iceland. That's Hallgrimskirkja, above, the largest church in Iceland, and meant to resemble the rocks and glaciers of Iceland's landscape, It was under construction from 1945 to 1986.


Leaving aside for the moment the monumental buildings...Reykjavik has plenty of quirky or cute buildings as well... and some are strictly for the birds!


Speaking of birds, here's an afternoon scene at City Hall, which backs into the downtown Tjornin lake that was once an arm of the sea. At times, over thirty kinds have been counted there.


Artists have had fun with buildings... note the last one, with the building's TV mast integrated with the picture.


A couple of storefronts with humorous signs...


Some animals on display...

Pleasant accommodations: a neighborhood children's playground, and a lunch-and-relax setup outside a small food store.


In the shop of the Icelandic Handknitting Association (really gorgeous work), and below it a statue outside the Reykjavik Junior College. As far as I can tell it's the only statue in the city that you can't find on Google (unless a reader shows me wrong!


And, just to keep us with our feet on earth, or somewhere wilder: the famous Reykjavik 'hot dog with everything' and a museum of Icelandic Punk, housed in a former public toilet.


For a not-very-big city, it's hard to run out of things to see or do in Reykjavik!


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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