Bernhöftstorfan and Ingólfsbrekka.
The row of old houses in the old center of Reykjavík are called Bernhöftstorfan. They are located between Bankastræti and Amtmannsstígur. They are so beautiful, but there was a time (1970) when they were to be torn down and bigger buildings erected here for government offices and maybe move the houses to the open air museum in Árbær. The nation was ashamed of its old houses and had an inferiority complex. And they would have been torn down if not for the conservation movement which stood up and protested - they were called Torfusamtökin or The Torfa Movement (1972) which had its roots in the 68-generation. This was a big protest which lasted for a long time and I remember it well. In 1973 our Prime Minister kind of gave in and didn´t protest when a group of the Torfa Movement started painting the houses on the 19th of May 1973.
The houses were spared. The houses didn´t look that good back then and in 1977 there was a fire here, probably arson. Only the house closest to Bankastræti survived almost intact, but the other ones were later restored to their original form in 1979 and preserved.
I don´t think anybody regrets preserving these houses, to me they represent one of the most beautiful parts of down-town Reykjavík. And a new addition has been erected, the house behind Lækjarbrekka restaurant, which was built in the same style as the old houses and fits in perfectly.
These beautiful old houses date back to the 19th century, which is old for Iceland. The name derives from the bakery which was located in Bankastræti 2 called T. D. Bernhöft bakery, which was Iceland´s first bakery in 1834. Bernhöft bakery is now located further up in Bergstaðarstræti.
The slope beneath the houses is called Ingólfsbrekka slope, actually the whole slope was called Ingólfsbrekka slope and the houses called Bernhöftstorfan were at the end of the slope. But now there are only houses and stores in the slope, so the only green part is beneath Bernhöftstorfan. There was a garden and a water pump here, which was used by many. Now there is a big open air chessboard here. When I was younger there used to be big chess players here as well and anybody could play outside chess when they wanted. It was installed here in 1981.
There is a white house called Gimli here, built in 1905, kind of like a small castle. The house next to Gimli was built in 1838. That house was built by the treasurer of Iceland, Stefán Gunnlaugsson, and was named after him "Gunlaugsenhús". The next owner was Martin Smith and the house got the nickname "Smithshús". The next owner was the Icelandic psalmist Sr. Stefán Thorarensen and the first Icelandic Minister, Hannes Hafstein, lived in this house for 4 years before he became a minister. The Director General of Public Health, Guðmundur Björnsson, added the tower. From then on the house was called "Landlæknishúsið" and Guðmundur had his doctor´s office at home.
There is a lovely restaurant here, Lækjarbrekka, where I have accompanied several VT-members, who wanted to try whale meat.
When I went to college down-town in 1980-1984 my friends and I frequented the beautiful restaurants here, Torfan (which went bust in 1989 and now Humarhúsið restaurant is located there) - and the beautiful Lækjarbrekka restaurant, and had the cheapest thing on the menu - creamy asparagus or mushroom soup and hot cocoa with whipped cream - those were the days :D
There is a statue at the end of the slope by Lækjargata called Vatnsberinn or The Water carrier by one of our sculptors, Ásmundur Sveinsson, made in 1937. It was moved here in 2011, but since 1967 it was located north of Perlan out of sight, really, alone on a hill. This is a much better location for this most famous work of Ásmundur Sveinsson.
The old prison in the city center.
Now this tip should under no circumstances be considered a "Thing to do in Reykjavík" but I add it here as this building stands out in Skólavörðustígur street. It is an old prison in the city center. It was built in 1874 and is the oldest prison in Iceland. It served as a court-house as well as a prison. Around 1920 even Supreme court was situated in this prison.
From 1879-1881 the National Museum was located here.
Nowadays there is room for 16 inmates there, and this prison serves mostly as a reception for prisoners who are just starting to serve their centence and will be going to other prisons, or for prisoners with short sentences. There are no recreational facilities for prisoners here only a recreational open area behind the prison. The main prison is by Eyrarbakki town in South-Iceland. This prison is called in Icelandic "Hegningarhúsið" or The Penalty house. The Icelandic word for prison on the other hand is "fangelsi".
Now there are talks about building a new prison and that this old prison should be made into a museum or maybe a restaurant - will see what is going to happen to it.
On Reykjavík Culture Night in August each year there is always something happening in front of the prison, once there was a concert, in 2013 there was pole dancing - as a sport of course.
The private nature gallery of Hrafn Gunnlaugsson.
Next to the Sigurjón Ólafsson museum you will notice an extraordinary sight - the private nature gallery of one of our film directors, Hrafn Gunnlaugsson. It is all about Norse mythology which was the old belief of the Vikings before they "took up" Christianity - and just abstract art.
During our Winter festival the second weekend of February 2012 Hrafn opened up his nature gallery to the nation and offered free hamburgers from Hamborgarabúllan. He expected ca 200 people to attend at the most, but 1.000 hamburgers were served, so more than a 1.000 people visited him, including me - and I was blown away by his home. He offers people a private tour of his gallery on request.
Not everybody has been thrilled with Hrafn´s enterprise, as it were, I like his work though, and the police ordered him to stop building on some of the land around his place which didn´t belong to him. He had put some ponds there and they came and destroyed them. I am not happy about that... Icelanders have been kind of known for not accepting anything out of the ordinary - but that is fortunately changing a bit now.
Hrafn Gunnlaugsson has directed so many Icelandic films, many of them Viking films, some quite violent ones. I add a link to Hrafn´s website and list of films here below. Amongst them are In the Shadow of the Raven (Í skugga hrafnsins), The White Viking (Hvíti víkingurinn), When the Raven flies (Hrafninn flýgur) - they are all violent and bloody, but then the Vikings weren´t known for their peaceful manner.
Every year Hrafn hosts a Christmas party for his extended family and last year I was invited to his home. It was just lovely and loads of fun as Hrafn is a colourful character.
Culture Night in August in Reykjavík.
On the 3rd weekend in August every year Reykjavík Culture Night is celebrated. Last year (2013) VT-member Jonathan Barker was in Reykjavík for a visit, so I showed him around. Culture Night is a big celebration and there are happenings and concerts all over down-town Reykjavík.
One part of Culture Night is especially lovely; the residents of a special area in 101 Reykjavík, by Skólavörðuholt and by and around Óðinstorg square, invite people to their homes for waffles, pancakes, hot chocolate and coffee. This tradition started by Reykjavík city asking the residents to take part in this waffle project back in 2007 and it turned out to be a success and the tradition has been going strong for 6 years now. Reykjavík city provides the ingredients, waffle-mix and jam and cream.
One resident says that she receives up to 400 guests on Culture Night, thus making ca 400 waffles! I have visited this resident on Culture Night and it was so lovely, we sat on the grass in her garden and listened to a life performance, everybody eating waffles and drinking hot chocolate.
More and more residents in this area are taking part in Cultur Night every year.
Last year (2013) it was raining a bit, so we couldn´t sit down, but had coffee and pancakes in one resident´s garden in Þórsgata. There was also a flee-market in their alley.
On Austurstræti square there were viking fights, and one of them attacked Jonathan, who seems to be rather enjoying it on the photo ;) There is something special about seeing Vikings on the streets of Reykjavík in my opinion.
Later in the evening there are organized outside concerts by Arnarhóll hill and the celebration is finished off by beautiful fireworks.
This festival has been celebrated since 1996.
Street art: Superb murals by Guido van Helten.
I noticed one day that a big mural of an old man´s face had appeared on one of the houses in 101 Reykjavík. It was painted by the known Australian graffiti artist, Guido van Helten. It is called "afi" or the "grandfather" and depicts the previous owner of the house and the grandfather of the owner living in the house.
I found another mural in Skagaströnd in North Iceland and just found out that I missed another mural in the same town.
And now Guido van Helten is making a series of murals from an Icelandic play - he is painting them on Héðinshús in 101 Reykjavík, opposite where the first mural is located. I will keep my eye out for them and add them to the tip when I see them. They are made by photographs taken by Andrés Kolbeinsson, which he took of the Icelandic production "Læstar dyr" or Locked doors by Sartre from 1961. The Icelandic actors in the murals are Kristbjörg Kjeld, Helga Löve and Erlingur Gíslason, all well known actors.
Beautiful graffiti artwork in Reykjavík.
In the old part of Reykjavík you can see beautiful graffiti and artwork on the houses. I always carry my camera with me and take a photo if I see a beautiful graffity or decorations on buildings, like the one of Iceland and another of a waterfall, which glistens in the wind.
This is cooperation between the artists, city hall and the owners of the houses/buildings. The artists were allowed to use one square, Hjartarreitur, for their graffiti, but now that square has been closed and an Icelandair will soon be built there (summer of 2013).
It is better to have cooperation like this as graffiti per se is forbidden in Reykjavík. Since the cooperation was established the cost of cleaning illegal graffiti has plummeted from 99 m.kr. in 2007 down to 9 m.kr. in 2013.
Sara Riel painted the Phoenix in the last photo and it took here 4 weeks to complete her artwork.
The Latvian sculpture "Stuðningur".
There is a big sculpture on a small square in Reykjavík. It is the sculpture "Stuðningur" or Support by Paul Jaunzens. It is a present from the people of Latvia to the people of Iceland, for the recognition of independence. Iceland was the first nation to recognize the independence of Latvia.
The sculpture, which is 2 m wide and 1,80 m heigh, was unveiled in September 1996 by the Latvian Prime Minister.
The sculpture is made out of granite, the lower stone represents Iceland and the upper stone represents Latvia.
On the sculpture is written: "We are a small nation, we shall be as great as is our will".
There is another Latvian sculpture in Riga on a square called Íslandstorgið or "Iceland Square". It was unveiled in 2011 exactly 20 years after Iceland had been the first country to recognize Latvia´s independence. This is the only square/street in Riga which has been named after another country.
Phones and mobiles in Iceland.
Mobiles/cell phones are very widely used here in Iceland, everybody has got at least one. It came as a surprise to me when visiting Canada that not everybody had a cell phone, here it is like an extension of Icelanders and I never leave the house without my cell phone. The Icelandic nation is gadget crazy and iPhone 5 is amongst the most popular mobile phones here.
It might be a good idea to get yourself an Icelandic SIM card when visiting. We have Frelsi, which is a pre-paid service. And we have 4 phone companies Vodafone, Nova, Síminn and Tal.
I add a photos from the brochure in the WOW airplanes, but the same offer is valid with Icelandair as well. One can buy a basic mobile phone with an Icelandic SIM-card from Síminn and a Voucher for ISK 1.000 for only ISK 4.990 aboard the plane. One can also buy just the SIM-card from Síminn with a Voucher for ISK 2.000 - for only ISK 2.000. Here is the ad from Icelandair´s brochure Stay connected in Iceland.
I recommend this, especially if one wants to interact with a VT-member here (that would be me). I had problems when I met up with a VT-member from the USA as we sent SMS which didn´t get delivered.
To look up numbers here in Iceland the most widely used link is ja.is where you can find good street-maps as well. Of course we have a phone-directory as well where people are listed by their first name, but I solely use ja.is to find phone-numbers. And 118 is the number for assistance in looking up people or addresses.
Hólavallagarður cemetary is Reykjavík´s second oldest cemetary, dating back to 1838, in November 2013 was its 175th anniversary.
Reykjavík´s oldest cemetary is Víkurgarður cemetary by Aðalstræti, Reykjavík´s oldest street, and before Hólavallagarður was taken in use Víkurgarður cemetary had been Reykjavík´s only cemetary for a thousand years. Víkurgarður had become overloaded so a new cemetary was sorely needed.
The problem with a new cemetary is that nobody wanted to be in the first grave there due to the folk belief that the first person buried there would not rot but become the watchman of the cemetary. A woman named Guðrún Oddsdóttir Sveinbjörnsson got the first grave.
The major part of my family is buried in this cemetary and we have got a family lot there. In 1932 all the graves had been distributed and another cemetary was taken in use in Fossvogur. But people are still being buried in family lots there. My father is there, 3 of my grand-parents, my brother-in-law, my Aunt who died as an infant, and a lot of my ancestors.
Well known Icelandic ministers and politicians are buried here and by walking in the cemetary one can learn a great deal about Reykjavík´s history.
Another name for Hólavallagarður cemetary is Suðurgötukirkjugarður - named after Suðurgata street by which the cemetary stands.
Red Rock Cinema
In Iceland a red rock means vulcano, so the Red Rock Cinema is all about vulcanoes.
In one of the many books we had read before our trip we had come across it.
It's a place where a vulcono chaser( is that a good word?) shows films about vulcano eruptions in Iceland. Don't mix it up with the Vulcano Show which seems to be better known.
The Red Rock Cinema is hidden in a backyard.
The owner has been filming every single eruption and knows very much about vulcanos. We were the only visitors and were afraid there wouldn't be any film at all, but instead we got VIP treating: A very interesting talk with the owner and then a film shown just for the two of us.
I had seen films about vulcanos before, but this was special. It not only showed the force of an eruption but also the force and sheer power of the streams of water which come into existence when the snow and ice of a glacier melt because of the heat.
A huge boulder was swept away like a small pebble, the force of nature was made clear in a spectacular way.
Seltjarnarnes - walking along the coast
One of the highlights of our trip was a walk along the coast.
We took bus number 11 to Seltjarnarnes near Reykjavik and got off at a stop close to the coast. (The tourist information has very good bus maps available.)
It was a mix of rain and dry spells, but since it was also very windy our wet clothes got somewhat dry again. We walked toward the lighthouse, looked at the sea and the birds and admired the brave Icelandic runners: While were were wearing warm jackets, we were passed by several runners wearing T-shirts and in one case even shorts.This must be a wonderful running trail in better weather and I've already looked into the possibility of running the Reykjavik marathon or half-marathon.
We passed some structures which I suppose are water fountains - maybe for the exhausted runners there who forgot their water bottels at home?Related to:
- Family Travel
A guided city tour
We hadn't planned to do a guided city tour of Reykjavik, but then decided to do it after all. Again we booked with Gray Line.
This time we had an excellent tour guide who was very proud of her country and her city and told us much more than " here you see this and there you see that".
We could have visited most of the places on our own, but then we would have missed the many additional facts our tour guide gave us, facts not only about the history and architecture, but also about daily life in Reykjavik. And I would have missed trying the very good Icelandic Christmas cake she told us about. It's delicious.
I had heard about the Hidden People, but hadn't known that there is a government employee especially for working with them. ( I must admit I first thought this was a joke).
Apart from the main tourist attractions in Reykjavik like the Hallgrímskirkja church
and the great view from the Perlan, we also went to the neighbouring town of Hafnarfjördur where we stopped at the harbour. I was surprised to see a large arch there made out of rocks. This is a memorial for the first Protestant church in Iceland which was built there by traders from Hamburg in Germany in 1533. The memorial is new, about 10 years old.
Too cloudy for Northern Lights?
We had hoped to see the Northern Lights, but the weather was rainy and snowy and there were too many clouds, so we didn't see any. To get at least some ideas we went to the Aurora museum, the Northern Light Center. It is a small museum, but very well planned. You get to know more about the legends connected with the lights, there are great pictures and you can even take one yourself - a fake Northern Light picture.
What I liked best was the presentation which explained the lights, even if it was very scientific, I could understand it.
The museum is near the harbour and not easy to find. There is a lot of construction going on and even though there were some signs put up, we only saw them afterwards as they had been blown over. So don't give up, it's worth going there.Related to:
- Family Travel
Watch the fireworks on New Year's Eve!
The whole nation goes wild on New Year's eve in Iceland shooting fireworks, you will notice that from ca 20 o'clock we start slowly shooting some fireworks then everything will be dead-still from 22:30-23:30 as the whole nation watches an Icelandic comic show "Áramótaskaupið" which is a satire on the events of the year.
Then 30 minutes before midnight, when the show is over, the fireworks start for real and the nation goes crazy and the whole sky is lit up (I have added a video on my page from fireworks in Reykjavík in 2008 and a link to the fireworks in 2013-2014) and it is a breathtaking experience.
Here in Iceland everybody can shoot fireworks, so every family is busy with this. If the weather is still the pollution can get overwhelming, like in 2009/2010, when we could hardly see the fireworks due to pollution. People with asthma have a difficult time and must stay inside. It was not too bad this year (2013).
A good place to watch fireworks is from Öskjuhlíð hill, where Perlan is located. There you can see almost the whole of Reykjavík plus the neighbouring towns. I have often been there on New Year´s Eve. There is also another very good place, a hill in Kópavogur called Víghóll, I used to go there when I was younger and often I was there alone with a breathtaking view. Then buses filled with tourists started going there as well so I found another place (not that I have nothing against tourists though :D)
Then at ca 1 in the night people start flocking to the discos which are open until very early in the morning. Very few restaurants have been open in Reykjavík on New Year's eve and this has caused a problem for tourists.
Two years ago I phoned several popular restaurants here for a VT-member to see which ones were open and only the restaurant at Icelandair hotel Loftleiðir was open. There are some more restaurants open this year restaurants open on New Year´s Eve.
This is a family evening and everybody is busy shooting fireworks with their family and friends so nobody wants to be cooped up working on this very special evening. But as we have got complaints from tourists about nothing being open this has been taken under consideration.
Visit the bonfires on New Year's Eve.
It is customary here in Reykjavík to visit the bonfires on New Year's Eve. They are always at the same spots, in different vicinities in Reykjavík and some are lit at 20:30 and others at 21 and last until ca 22:30. The Icelandic word for them is "brennur".
Then people go home to watch the satire show "Áramótaskaupið". There are 9 of them altogether in Reykjavík. I visit them every year, even though I live in the suburb of Grafarvogur, where we have our own bonfire, I go down-town to Ægissíða and visit that bonfire and then go to the Seltjarnarnes bonfire. I love this tradition, feeling the heat of the bonfire and shooting firecrackers. There are always big crowds of people by the bonfires and a lovely atmosphere.
The only bad thing is the flares which people light at the bonfires and cause a lot of smoke. People with asthma should take this into consideration before going to the bonfires or try not to be too close to the bonfires.
Here is a vide I took at the bonfire in Seltjarnarnes on New Year´s Eve 2013.
At the bonfire in Seltjarnarnes (a neighbouring town to Reykjavík, but adjacent to it, so you will not see where Reykjavík ends and Seltjarnarnes begins) there is a singer and a fantastic organised firework displays by our rescue teams.
Reykjavík Excursions run organised tours to the bonfires and several other companies, so only take people to see the fireworks and other take people to see the bonfires as well.
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