I knew we were in for a good day when I woke from a dream that I’d won ‘Iceland’s Got Talent!’ By dancing. I must be extremely susceptible to advertising as I’d seen the programme advertised on a huge hoarding only a few days before. The bed was certainly sleep and dream inducing though, and Icelanders have no qualms about sleeping in late during the dark Winter mornings. Whilst I can be a morning person if I’ve had plenty of sleep, I tend more towards insomnia unfortunately, and so rather than being lazy by staying in bed gone 9am, the reality is that I might not have fallen asleep until gone 5.
After breakfast we caught the No.14 bus to Hlemmur, where we changed to the No.19 and disembarked at the bottom of Oskjuhli – the big hill in Reykjavik that’s topped by Perlan. We walked up the snow covered hill to look at the remains of the WW2 bunkers, and then on up to the home of Reykjavik’s huge hot water tanks.
Perlan is a big tourist attraction, and it felt like it. It houses the very small (but expensive) Saga Museum, as well as a posh restaurant, and a less posh but still pricey cafe for the likes of us lesser mortals. There’s even a simulated geysir. We walked up to the 360 degree viewing platform, along with several bus loads of tourists who’d probably paid a small fortune to be shipped across town from their hotels, and then bought a very disappointing hot chocolate in the cafe.
Walk more than ten metres from the entrance however and you have the hill largely to yourself again. We walked through the woods to Nautholsvik – a manufactured thermal beach, closed for the Winter but worth seeing all the same, and then followed the footpath along the Fossvogur coast, across Kringlumyrarbraut, through Fossvogsdalu and back up to Langholtsvegur. Greater Reykjavik has a really good network of footpaths for dedicated walkers, and it’s a relief that they’re not publicised that much. The footpaths map is like gold dust however, and we’ve yet to track one down. I shall however persevere.
Walking in the snow and ice did the trick in tiring us out, and after big geothermal bubble baths we settled down to watch the early evening fireworks, whilst drinking malt and appelsin – the national Christmas drink. It’s like shandy, only nice – the way you want shandy to taste. It also goes well with pickled herrings, surprisingly, which was a good thing as we still had two jars to get through before we left.
At 8.30pm we walked down to Laugardalar park to find the local New Years Eve bonfire. Fortunately we soon came across several groups of people who looked like they knew where they were going, and tagged along. Sure enough, within a few minutes we’d arrived at what I can only describe as an inferno. There’s no way you’d have been able to get anywhere near to toast your marshmallows. The atmosphere however was jovial, and we were surrounded with families. Whilst the parents drank from beer cans, the kids were calmly handed distress flares and lit matches. No health and safety worries here! But I guess that if you’ve been bought up with fireworks, taught how to handle them correctly, and live in a society that doesn’t suffer fools gladly, you’re less likely to come a cropper anyhow. Not like in the UK. Where we have to be reminded not to pick up hot sparklers, or not to fire off fireworks in people’s faces.
By 10pm most of the onlookers had dispersed so we made our way home for hot tea and chocolate. From 10.30pm most of Iceland goes back inside to watch the annual satire show – Áramótaskaupið. We would have too but couldn’t figure out how to turn the telly on. So instead, like the hard core revellers that we are, we curled up and read until just before midnight, then donned our hats and coats and positioned ourselves on the balcony.
You’ve not experienced a fireworks display until you’ve been to Reykjavik on New Years Eve. They started with a vengeance at 11.30pm, and by midnight the sound was deafening. But it was beautiful. For almost an hour there was a fireworks frenzy. It only stops when there are no fireworks left. It’s almost impossible to capture the splendour in photographs as you’re not sure where to look, and we had the perfect vantage point over the city. Fair enough we didn’t get the atmosphere of being part of the crowd outside Hallsgrimskirja, but we still got to witness the magnificent sight, and to welcome in the New Year Viking style. Hamingjusamur Nýtt Ár allir!