“THE sky above Reykjavik was as dark as black ice, save for a handful of diamond stars. As a cutting wind whipped off the frigid sea and blew down the narrow streets lined with brightly painted storefronts, shivering pedestrians tightened their scarves and scurried into cozy bars and restaurants to find warmth.” Though it was only 4:30 PM, writes Liz Alderman, the Nordic light had already appeared and Reykjavik’s sophisticated appeal captured her.
She and a friend had come to admire Iceland’s natural beauty: “thundering geysers, powerful waterfalls and the therapeutic waters of the Blue Lagoon, a vast thermal lake half an hour south of Reykjavik with a turquoise hue so impossibly bright that it looks Photoshopped. We wanted to spot the glowing green ribbons of the aurora borealis, which were reported to be especially luminescent this year because of sunspots casting a wide spectral aura over the North Pole. But it wasn’t just Iceland’s natural splendors that lured us: we also wanted to get a taste of the rollicking midnight club scene that Reykjavik has been known for since Bjork put it on the map.” But they were immediately captivated by the bars and restaurants full of Icelanders conversing well into the night.
Icelanders are friendly and open, quick to assist with directions, and equally so to discuss their nation’s troubled economic history and recent rally. One of my friends mentioned that the country is now an offshore banking haven. Prices are high in the trendy boutiques as well as in the craft shops. In the 1990’s free market reforms led to an economic upswing until 2006 when inflation and banking deficits, followed by the global financial recession in 2008 devastated their gains. Today the country’s economy is slowly rising; tourism, aluminum smelting, software production and fishing are major sources of income.
The architecture dates back only to the 18th century when wooden structures replaced mud houses. We saw one of the mud huts on our trip to the Blue Lagoon. Handsome structures abound now in and around Reykjavik.
Our guide told us that Icelandic was the base for all Scandinavian languages but, upon researching this myself, I found that it is the westernmost of the Indo-European languages of the West Nordic branch, also including Faroese, Norn, and Norwegian. Though difficult to pronounce, many words could be understood phonetically.
I tremendously enjoyed this country of dramatic contrasts and look forward to returning to admire the midnight sun. “Eventually, someone will whisper that the island’s snowcapped mountains are protected by trolls and elves, mystical creatures that, it turns out, many Icelanders still firmly believe exist today. One loquacious guide on a tour outside the city told us of a fairway on the outskirts of Reykjavik that was diverted around a pair of large boulders believed to be the homestead of a troll who did not want his habitat disturbed by modernity.”
Photos by Zvi Binor.