The crisis and smiling traffic lights.
Since the big crisis hit us in October 2008 and Iceland almost went bankrupt, the nation has been blue. Our króna collapsed 100%, people who had taken foreign currency loans from the banks saw their loans skyrocket and couldn't pay the mortgage. Their cars were confiscated, their homes were auctioned, we lost our jobs, price of imported goods skyrocketed as well. Every day more and more Icelanders are flocking abroad to look for work, many of them are in Norway now.
The nation has to pay the English and the Dutch a humongous loan called Icesave, which belonged to one of our privately owned banks - which was nationalised together with all the privately owned banks. England put Landsbankinn (The National bank) on a terrorist list in 2008, scaring the Icelandic nation to pieces. We were told that there would be no import, leading to people flocking to the grocery stores and hoarding food (hair-colour was sold out) and people who depend on medication to live faced that there would be shortage of medication. And of course there were foreign-currency restrictions, and there still are 2 years later.
Living standards here were amongst the best in the world, but now we have had to downsize big time.
So a small gesture by the city was to put a smiley face on the green traffic lights down-town Reykjavík, a small gesture but it means a lot, at least to me :D The red light has got a grim face though - but I concentrate on the smiley green light :D
The Oslo Christmas tree - a present from Oslo.
For 60 years now (2011) Reykjavík has received a present from Oslo, the Oslo Christmas tree.
The Oslo Christmas tree is lit on the first Sunday in Advent on Austurvöllur square, the square opposite the Parliament. The ceremony starts at 16h and a lot of people attend with their children as this is the herald of Christmas here in Reykjavík. The Cathedral choir sings and the Norwegian ambassador holds a speech and this year the embassador of Norway in Iceland handed the Christmas tree over to our mayor. Everybody then counts down from 10 and then the tree is lit. And then we sing Silent night together. It is a lovely ceremony.
And then there is a program for the kids.
The tree is cut down in Norway and there is a ceremony there as well and the mayor of Oslo and the Icelandic ambassador in Norway attend.
In 2009 the Oslo Christmas tree was thrown into a fire which protestors had lit - shame on them!
There is another Christmas tree by the harbour, that one is a present from Hamborg. That tree has been given to the Icelandic nation by Hamborg since 1965, as a token of gratitude to Icelandic seamen who brought food-gifts to battle-weary children in Hamborg by the end of WW2. Hamburg stopped sending the tree in 2010 so for the first time the Christmas tree by the harbour is Icelandic.
Cats in Reykjavík.
There are so many cats in Reykjavík, especially in the older parts of town, where there are fewer blocks-of-flats. Especially in 101 Reykjavík you will run into a lot of cats while walking in the city. Cats here are very friendly and I always stop to pet them - I adore cats :) They will respond to "kis kis" - "kisa" being the Icelandic word for a cat, another word is "köttur".
Also while walking by the sea-shore I encounter a lot of friendly cats :)
There are some wild cats here in Reykjavík, but they don't come near people.
For the longest time dogs were forbidden in Reykjavík, but now the city is filled with dogs. They are not allowed to roam free though like the cats, the only place they are allowed to play is on Geirsnef (see my "off the beaten path" tip).
Two kinds of smell in Reykjavík.
There are two kinds of distinct smell in Reykjavík, the hot-spring smell (hveralykt) and the money smell (peningalykt). I put this tip it under customs as this is quite characteristic to Iceland.
Our hot water is geothermal water straight from the earth and it has quite a distinct smell of sulphur, some say it smells like rotten eggs, but we all know what sulphur smells like. I would say it smells like a fart as I have never encountered the smell of rotten eggs. But that is what you get when you turn off the hot water tap. I had never noticed it until foreigners started talking about it. It started bothering me a bit when I got a sulphur poisoning after visiting a geothermal area in the North of Iceland during a strong wind which blew the fumes straight into my lungs. After a while you get used to the smell of the water and don't notice it anymore. But some days the smell of geothermal water is very strong in Reykjavík, so much that we have to close our windows. But the good thing about geothermal water is that you can stay in the shower for a long time and the water never runs out. I have heard the insult that Icelanders smell of sulphur from the water, but that is not true.
The other smell - on certain days - we call "peningalykt" or money smell. That smell is a very strong fish smell, coming from factories extracting fish oil from capelin. Because although the smell is strong - strong, but not offensive - I would say, then this means that we are making money from export of the fish-oil. Now these factories have closed.
So be warned - sometimes there is a rotten-egg smell in Reykjavík and sometimes there is a fish-smell here as well. But this is only from time to time :)
Austurvöllur square - on a sunny day!!!
Austurvöllur square - our haven from the northern wind!
On sunny summer days sun-starved Icelanders flock down-town and Austurvöllur gets crowded with people, more crowded than the photos I add show. It is a tradition to go sit on Austurvöllur on sunny days and there you always meet people you know. Old and young people alike, mothers with young children, drunks and yours truly gather there and sit on the grass or on the benches. Why we chose this place over other much more attractive parks is not fully known, but the shelter from the northern wind is one theory, the closeness to the cafés and bars is another, but for as long as I can remember this has been the most popular place in the sun.
The only problem with this park is that homeless people and drunks have taken it over. Of course they have to be somewhere, but when the square is filled with people and the drunks pick a fight and the police has to come and intervene, then we who are sober cringe, especially when there are tourists around. Young mothers with their children frequent this park and it is somewhat surreal seeing these young children play in the grass next to the drunks. But there is no solution to this problem, or so it seems, and this will probably continue to be like this.
Once I was sitting on a bench there reading a newspaper when a drunk, who I gather "owned" this bench, sat next to me and then fell asleep on my lap. I don't mind them, but I don't want to be close to them when they start picking a fight.
Austurvöllur is the park opposite Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament.
In the olden days Austurvöllur park used to be much bigger and farmers visiting Reykjavík on business used to camp here during their visit.
Here is a webcam of Austurvöllur square.
Icelandic women's fight for equality - Women's day
This day is called Women's Day Off - in Icelandic "Kvennafrídagurinn".
Every year since 1975 women in Iceland have flocked down-town Reykjavík on the 24th of October to remonstrate against women getting lower pay for the same kind of work here in Iceland. 30.000 women showed up in 1975, to everyone's suprise, kudos to these women!
But nothing really happened, pay equality is still common here in Iceland. On Women's Day Off in 2005, 50.000 women showed up and it turned out to be the largest Icelandic outdoor rally in history.
In 1975 women walked out of their workplace at 14 o' clock, in 2005 they walked out at 14:08 - this means the time when women have earned the proportion of the pay a man would for the whole day a women works. In 2010 both 24th and 25th of October were dedicated to the rally and women walked out at 14:25 (66% of what men earn).
It takes courage to stand up from work and walk out on this day and now everybody can do that. Immigrant women, who have not lived in Iceland for a long time, have a harder time doing this than Icelandic women, who are accustomed to this day now. They might fear that they will lose their job if they leave the workplace early.
It is surprising to me that women still get lower pay, we have had a female Icelandic president, a female mayor, men and women share the household chores and Icelandic women are very liberal - so what is this thing about lower pay for women than men???
So if you are ever in Reykjavík on the 24th of October you may expect the city center to be filled with women.
Women around the country also walk out and rally in their own hometown.
I add the link to the website of Women's Day Off. They have photos there from the first rally, which I remember vividly, being 10 at the time :)
Big trucks in the streets of Reykjavík.
I remember reading a conversation on the forums here some time ago about the big trucks in the streets of Reykjavík.
Yes, there are many many jeep-owners here and some of them are driving big pickup vans making normal cars look like ants next to them. During the boom here in Iceland, which then led to a total crash in October 2008, then a lot of people bought themselves a big jeep. They were able to do this by getting a 100% car loan, mostly a foreign currency loan. Of course these loans backfired when our króna collapsed, but that is another story.
When the ISK króna was strong against the US-dollar then a lot of Icelanders imported jeeps from the USA, and many of them imported big pickup vans, which look stupid in the streets of Reykjavík, they are just way too big and having an accident with one of these trucks driving a normal car is not a fair game.
But living in Iceland and wanting to travel in the country a 4x4 is needed. I don't own a 4x4 so I have had to skip a lot of places when travelling around the country. And living in Reykjavík and travelling around the country, it goes without saying that you have to drive the truck in the streets of Reykjavík as well, as people cannot afford to own 2 cars, one for the city and another one for the countryside.
I remember back then when only directors owned jeeps, that was a big fad, every director had to own a jeep. And Icelanders, having the mentality of small kings and feeling like they are all small kings (I am not making this up) then every Dick and Harry had to buy a jeep as well as not to be inferior to the directors.
And then started the big boom when the banks got privatised and the bank directors started competing against each other - then the most luxurious jeeps were bought, the black Range Rovers. Nowhere else outside of England did Landrover export more jeeps per capita than to Iceland.
A lot of the jeeps are elevated, those are the jeeps that go on glacier tours, and when on the glacier they will let air off the tires so that they can float on the glacier. That is the best way to travel on glaciers. Arctic Trucks, an Icelandic company located in Norway, specialises in altering Toyota jeeps so that they can drive on glaciers and on sands without difficulty. That is a big business and they alter jeeps f.ex. for Dubai and the Norwegian and Swedish army.
A district with streets named after the Vikings.
There is a district in Reykjavík called Norðurmýri or "The North swamp" where all the streets are named after Vikings from our Sagas.
This district is in the city center - east of Snorrabraut, west of Rauðarárstígur and south of Miklabraut and north of Laugavegur.
The streets are named after Vikings in the Sagas Landnáma, Laxdæla and Njála and Grettir. Auðarstræti after Auður djúpúðga, Bollagata, Guðrúnargata and Kjartansgata named after Bolli, Guðrún and Kjartan in Laxdæla Sagas, Gunnarsbraut named after Gunnar in Hlíðarendi, Hrefnugata, Karlagata, Mánagata, Skarphéðinsgata, Skeggjagata and Vífilsgata, and parts of Flókagata, Njálsgata, and Grettisgata named after Grettir the strong Ásmundarson from Grettis Saga. Egilsgata named after Egill Skallagrímsson from Egils Saga, Leifsgata named after Leifur the lucky Eiríkssson and Eiríksgata named after Eirík the Red, the father of Leifur the lucky.
The photos I add are taken in the exhibition on the ground floor of Þjóðmenningarhúsið The Culture House.
More customs tips on my Iceland pages.
I have added some additional tips on my Iceland pages under Icelandic customs but most of my customs tips are here. The tips on my Iceland pages are: Iceland's strongest man, Rye bread baked in hot-springs, The Icelandic flag, and the Icelandic coat of arms.
It is a bit difficult choosing between where to add my tips, so bear with me that I go back and forth between these two pages :)
You don't have to leave a tip.
Leaving a tip here has never been a custom in Iceland. I have accompanied many VT-ers to restaurants here and all of them are surprised that they don't have to leave a tip. Some of them have even found it insulting to a waiter not leaving a tip. But I have told them that leaving a tip is equally strange here as not leaving a tip abroad.
Being raised here in Iceland I have always found leaving a tip a strange custom and I never know how much to leave. But that is only because we are not accustomed to this.
But I have been thinking about this, maybe you should leave a tip in restaurants, especially in foreign currency - seeing that there is a big crisis here and foreign currency restrictions ;)
But, no, leaving a tip is not a custom here.
Festival of the Sea - Bizarre sea creatures part 2
The Icelandic Marine Research Intstitute displayed various fish in fish-tubs at the harbour during The Festival of the Sea. The exhibition is called "Bizarre sea creatures", and some of the fish is somewhat bizarre, others are fish caught here and sold for export.
The fishing industry is one of Iceland's biggest industries. The stable of Icelandic food has always been fish and cod-liver oil was given to all the pupils at school when I was growing up, as Vitamin D is needed when you live so far up north, especially during the darkest winter months when there is lack of daylight.
17th of June - Our National holiday.
We have been celebrating our National holiday since 1874 when it was first held on the 1000 year anniversary of settlement here in Iceland and the arrival of our Danish King Christian the 9th to Iceland with our constitution.
If you visit Reykjavík on the 17th of June don't miss the festival down-town which starts at 10 and goes on until 23 in the evening. 17th of June is the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879) which we call Jón forseti (president), but he was the president of the Parliament and played a key-role in Iceland becoming a republic in 1944. Before that we were under the reign of the Danish monarchy, although we got our sovereignty in 1918.
The program starts at 10 when the president of the city council lays a wreath on the grave of Jón Sigurðsson and at 10:40 the formal program starts on Austurvöllur by the statue of Jón Sigurðsson where the President of Iceland makes a speach, followed by a speach by the Prime minister and "The woman of the mountains" Fjallkonan.
The program for the kids is at 13-17 in Hljómskálagarður by the south-end of Tjörnin (the pond) and in Hallargarður. The parade starts from Hlemmur at 13:40 and goes to Ingólfstorg. There are concerts on Arnarhóll, Lækjargata and on Ingólfstorg and dancing in all those places and festivities all over this part of the city center. This is not an event to be missed. I add more pictures in a travelogue here.
Sick of skyr? Try Srumjölk!
It is a sour mil, similar to yoghurt that can be drunk natural, or with the add of a fruit sauce.
It is a nice dessert and also good for breakfast, but it's not as poor of fat as skyr is!
You can find it in every supermarket.
Sex and that sort of thing
The Icelanders have a fairly liberal attitude towards sex. It seems that this has always been the case and is not just a modern attitude. The reason for this is explained generally as the fact that Anglo-Saxon puritanism never quite made its way over there due to its remote location. According to Richard Sale, a British travel writer, the Icelanders "view sex as a fun activity to be indulged in often rather than something to be done with the lights off".
This attitude is apparent in that condoms can be purchased just about anywhere, even from cab drivers. Many shops have an "adult" section which is seen as being quite normal. There are also several erotic nightclubs located among the usual shops and restaurants in the city.
The Museum of Phallogy is also located here which reportedly houses over 80 penises from more than 30 species of mammals. I did not go there, but I kind of like the fact that it exists.
Another intersting thing is that Iceland has the highest birthrate to single mothers in Europe. Having children out of wedlock is not stigmatized in this country, it is instead viewed as commonplace and normal. I read someplace that the explaination for this was that Iceland has a long history of single women raising children due to the fact that so many men were lost at sea on a regular basis. Whether or not this is true, I can say that I did see quite a few women with babies who appeared to be alone.
- Arts and Culture
17th of June - Our National holiday-part II.
On the 17th of June there are a lot of activities for the kids in Hallargarður and Hljómskálagarður. You will see a horde of people going from Lækjargata and Fríkirkjuvegur to Hallargarður, which is right next to The National Gallery of Iceland (Listasafn Íslands), but in that garden there are a lot of fun activities f.ex. clowns, Kung-fu, Aikido and fenching shows, mini-golf, fortune-tellers etc. Then you walk to the end of Fríkirkjuvegur and into Hljómskálagarður (see the pictures) where the Scouts organize the activities, there are inflated castles and stuff all over, a magician, a sky-diving show and a lot of tents with food and helium-balloons. There is also a veteran-car show in Skothúsvegur, by the bridge dividing the pond Tjörnin.
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