The Festival of the Sea - Fisherman's Festival.
Fishing industry is the biggest industry in Iceland and The Fisherman's Festival
(Sjómannadagurinn) is part of our annual Festival of the Sea. It is held on the first Sunday in June in honour of the big part fishermen and their families have played and play in the life of the Icelandic nation.
This year (2013) it was held for the 75th time and there were a lot of activities by the old harbour and in Grandi down-town, speeches and honoring of fishermen, music and singing and dancing. It is a lot of fun.
The coast guard’s helicopter demonstrated rescue operations at sea with one of the search and rescue teams. I was on board a ship getting ready for a free tour of the bay and the helicopter was so close that I was taken aback - it was just amazing, and I felt so great respect for fishermen and the rescue team.
There was free admittance to the coast guard ship Óðinn and the whole day the ship was filled with people exploring the coast guard ship.
There was a rowing competition, pillow fights and airobatics and a free sightseeing cruise on The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue’s schoolship, Sæbjörg. The activities of Harbour day continued throughout The National Fishermen's day, focused on the sea.
Don't miss this day if you are ever in Reykjavík on the first weekend of June. It is so much fun :)
Iceland is one of the not very many REAL countries left in Europe. This might sound as a cliché of sorts, pompous declaration or superficial ranting and raving. Still, this remote island not only offers astounding geography with unexpected revelations around every turn of the road but has its culture trotting along globalization as a matter of fact. Of course, one of the manifestations is food as everywhere else. What is not so trivial is the fact that these people actually do eat interesting and Nature-bound stuff such as sheep or fish with all its components. Well, many people eat sheep even in America but they consume only the meat and the rest is practically turned into a fodder for the sheep themselves. In Iceland one can purchase a cooked sheep head strait in the supermarket. And this is more than normal because people eat “exotic” parts of the body that somehow do not inspire exclamations such as: “the food is staring you back!” Deft reference to sheep’s eye balls. Another testimony to a populace still bound to Nature is the consumption of Greenland shark which must have been a last resort even in saga times. The fact that this particular creature has a peculiar way of releasing its urine via the skin makes its flesh highly poisonous, though if left to “ferment” for some months in the ground it becomes edible, mind you the aroma is powerful. Powerful maybe but just slightly more than what a sophisticated French camembert cheese can muster. So, when some folks from the artificial city environments declare this food obnoxious, they appear to be ridiculously provincial. Even seasoned “international” chef celebrities (from New York where all the gourmet trends are set in motion) come to Iceland to have their palate provoked and face twisted in grimace in front of the cameras so their gastronomic intolerance can be broadcasted to a world that has limited gastronomical experiences by default. Just leave all bias and enjoy hakarl (pronounced something like how-cut).
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A hot dog stand must not sound as much but this is not the case in Reykjavik. Here is one establishment with at least 70 year history that has seen it all; from the paupers to the rich and famous, people have lined up in front of this shrine of sorts to celebrate food in its most unostentatious form. The fame of this stand is such that even Iceland Air promotes it on its flights (maybe to make up for the lack of food on board) as the hidden gem that is up there in the Premier League of worthy attractions, vying for supremacy with ice caps and glacier lagoons. Yes, it is difficult to believe it, especially after tasting its production (rather bland for my taste) but the long list of lucky gourmet dignitaries proudly displayed nearby testifies to its unswerving popularity.
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Winter solstice - the shortest day of the year.
I add this tip here under customs so you can see the contrast to my tip on summer solstice. As Reykjavík is so far up north (64 degrees North) the winters are really dark here with ever decreasing daylight until the 21st of December when there is daylight for only ca 4-5 hours. Here is a day to day list of Sunrise and sunset in Reykjavik on winter solstice. A lot of people suffer from S.A.D. depression caused by lack of light. One totally loses sense of time when it is so dark and we can never get used to this even though we have lived here for our entire lives. The days are even shorter in the northern capital of Iceland, Akureyri.
When the days are so short we actually prefer it not being sunny as it is hard driving when the sun sits so low in the sky and this is the cause of many traffic accidents here in Iceland.
When planning a trip to Iceland this should be taken under consideration.
Summer solstice June 21st - sumarsólstöður
The Summer solstice is on June 21st and as Iceland is so high up north the sun hardly sets from mid-June to mid-July, with the longest day being on the 21st of June when the sun sets and then almost immediately rises. It sets at ca 00:04 and rises again at ca 1:30, but it never gets dark during this time. Time of sunset and sunrise on solstice.
This is the most famous magical summer-night here in Iceland (Mid-summer night being the other) and we flock to a good spot where we can watch the sun set. I go to Grótta in Seltjarnarnes, which is part of the Great-Reykjavík area and there were so many people there, locals and tourists alike, taking pictures and just enjoying this longest day of the year. There is something so magical about this night that we hardly sleep at all.
In Viking times the solstice was the main celebration of the year and they had a big "party".
We try to make the most out of this time of the year as the opposite goes for the winter months when there is up to 20 hours of darkness during the shortest days.
New names and old names of streets.
In the old part of Reykjavik the street names have more than one - and sometimes more than two names on each sign.
This was decided some years ago, to show the old names of the streets on the signs. I like this, even though I have been living in Reykjavik all my life, I did not know the old names of the streets. So this makes it easier to look up the old names and read up on the story of Reykjavik. And sometimes the old names tell a story of their own.
Don't get startled if you see an unattended baby-carriage (or what seems like an unattended baby-carriage) outside in front of cafés or shops. This is very common here in Reykjavík and around Iceland. As babies we sleep outside in the baby-carriage, this is almost a rule here. We bundle the babies up and leave them outside our house, even in minus temperatures, maybe this custom is to toughen up the babies. But this makes us oblivious to a draught later in life, I think, and most of us want to sleep with an open window. Is there a correlation? I think so.
But I know that some foreign guests here get startled when seeing an unattended baby-carriage outside a store or café, but don't, they are ok. I remember a Scandinavian woman leaving her baby-carriage outside a café in New York and she got arrested for it. So this custom might be approved in Scandinavia as well?
What I don't like though is when they baby is left unattended in the baby-carriage in front of a store and wakes up and is crying its lungs out, that always bothers me.
The photo I add I found in one of our news-papers. It is of me and my girlfriend in Café Paris and two baby-carriages outside the window. Written under the photo is "conversation between baby-carriages". These were not our baby-carriages and we hadn't even noticed them there ;)
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
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 :)
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