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To Reykjavík i Go – Day Two

17 September, 2014

My first full day in Reykjavík, and I had already booked a walking tour around the city with Auður. (Quick plug – Auður is a blogger and independent tour guide. Visit her informative and entertaining site and enjoy the wonders of Iceland through her words and pictures. If you are heading north, it’s a treasure trove of advice.)

Two hours flew by in about fifteen minutes as Auður showed our small group of eight around the city she hearts, offering tips on where to eat and drink, insider knowledge on the street art around town, and fascinating and knowledgeable information about the history of the city and the country. If you find yourself in Reykjavík, this tour is a must.




Then time for a spot of lunch in Café Babalú while I set up the sim card I had bought (through Auður!). I sent a couple of texts home from my new Icelandic phone number, posted on facebook (even though I had said I wasn’t going to) and enjoyed my veg lasagne with hot chocolate.


After lunch I wandered around Kolaportið market for a while, people watching and browsing book stalls and Lopapeysa stands, followed by a teeny bit of gift shopping before heading to the Harpa concert hall / conference venue. I had booked for a show that night and needed to collect the tickets, and I had also read in my guide book that there was a daily guided tour so I decided to do both at once.



At this point, I need to interrupt my tour diary to talk about the language. It had become very obvious very quickly that my Icelandic was basic to the point of useless. I knew a few simple phrases – hello, goodbye, thank you, how much is this – and I could recite months, count to ten, ask what time you start work tomorrow etc, but none of these were terribly useful. And I was also encountering the tourist’s classic language barrier problem whereby I would rehearse my opening line, say it, and then be offered a reply which I could only answer with an uncomprehending blank look. I was stuck in a dilemma – I knew that everyone in Iceland speaks good English, but I felt it would be disrespectful just to speak English and assume I would be okay. But by thinking this, I was making communication difficult for myself. What to do? As I approached the Harpa ticket office, a solution occurred to me. From now on I would open every conversation with “goðan daginn, talar þu ensku?” (“hello, do you speak English?”) thus assuaging my post-colonial Briton abroad language guilt, whilst also knowing that I would always get the answer yes and we could then have a conversation we could both understand. TRG, you’re a genius.


So, to Harpa, and the second fascinating and informative tour of the day, this one ending with views across the city and the harbour from the roof of this beautiful glass building. Along the way, Elsa our tour guide explained how the acoustics worked and could be altered according the requirements of each event. And when we reached one decent-sized theatre space, she took to the stage and sang an Icelandic aria in a perfect mezzo. Exquisite.



I still had an hour or so till the show began so I nipped out to take some more pics and do a spot more shopping. I picked up a couple of fridge magnets, chocolates, Icelandic socks, that sort of thing, and headed for the counter. The girl serving looked at me strangely and then said “didn’t I see you in the other shop?” It turns out she was covering shifts in two shops and yes, she had sold me some gifts earlier. I had been in Reykjavík less than thirty six hours and already I was being recognised by the locals.


An entertaining hour back at Harpa for the show “How to be Icelandic in 60 minutes”, and afterwards it was back to the hostel for a couple of beers while I wrote up my diary. It turned out that the barman there was Brazilian so I offered him a cheery “obrigado!” as I took my drink, the only word I know in portuguese. Sometimes one word of a language is all you need.


  1. One of my friends who visited Reykjavik recently, attended a Mass that lasted 2 hours and had to stay awake during a sermon (all in Icelandic) that lasted for 45 minutes!

    Is the graffiti/street art shown in your photos commissioned or does it just spring up when the local police aren’t looking?

    I’m a mezzo soprano but can’t say I’ve ever sung anything in Icelandic.

    • I can’t say i went to any services, but i thoroughly enjoyed looking round the church there.
      Some of the better, bigger pieces on the sides of peoples houses are commissioned and are something of a status symbol. But there is a lot of “illegal” art aswell on derelict or empty buildings. And much of it is just as good as the commissioned stuff.

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