Spotcheck: Iceland

Here are a few fun facts about Iceland to put things into perspective for fellow Wisconsinites. The population of the entire country is half of the population of Milwaukee. Additionally, the population of Reykjavik, the only metropolitan city in Iceland, is similar to that of Green Bay. If these comparisons are not helping, I will just say Iceland is a pretty sparsely populated country. This is not all bad though. From what I experienced, Icelanders are extremely happy and peaceful, there is hardly any crime, their military is non-existent because there is no need for one and they prioritize environmentalism and sustainability. Also, because of the tourism boom, there is basically reverse unemployment, there are too many jobs and not enough people. Considering all of these factors, Iceland is pretty chill. 

I arrived in Reykjavik at about 8am after an all night flight and was not able to check in to my AirBNB until 3pm. My original plan was to stop by the AirBNB and see if I could at least drop my bags off, then walk around the city and explore. No one was around at my place, so I was stuck with my bags and it was raining. Exploring the city with a big duffle bag and a backpack in the rain did not seem enjoyable, so I stopped at the first coffee shop I could find to try to figure out the rest of my day. Lo and behold I end up meeting two really interesting guys that are in the process of opening up a new restaurant. One of them is a DJ and the other is a chef (checked his credentials, he was pretty legit). They suggested I go to a spa so I could unwind and also store my luggage in the locker room. Spas and pools are pretty common in Iceland because of all of the natural geothermal heat they have. The one they suggested was called Laugar Spa and I decided I would check it on a whim, because, why not? It was pretty lux, there was hot tubs and saunas, all heated naturally via geothermal energy. I had never been to a spa in the United States, much less a spa in a foreign country. I had no idea what spa etiquette in Iceland was like, but I enjoyed my experience there. 

After the Spa, I finally got to my digs for the week, which were conveniently located in downtown Reykjavik and within walking distance to pretty much everything. The first bar I already knew I wanted to check out was called Prikið, I read about it beforehand and determined it would be up my alley. It did not disappoint. It was the exact vibe I was expecting, it was like an Icelandic East Room (really popular bar in Chicago). I had a few beers and met some of the locals. They invited me to a hip hop show the next night, of course I was down for this.

Hallgrímskirkja, the large church in the middle of Reykjavik. 

Hallgrímskirkja, the large church in the middle of Reykjavik. 

The next day I really just explored the city. I found the skatepark and a few other skate spots I decided I would try to skate later in the trip and shopped and scoped out some of the street art. I also did a few touristy things like stopping at Hallgrímskirkja (the large church in the middle of the city) and the The Einar Jónsson Museum, which is a museum dedicated to the first sculptor of Iceland. It was also the first museum ever made in Iceland. After all of this, I got ready to hit the hip hop show. Upon my arrival, I was extremely impressed with the accuracy in which Icelanders culturally appropriated hip hop from the United States. It really felt like a hip hop show in the U.S. minus the rappers speaking Icelandic. The one guy everyone seemed to be excited about right now is Aron Can. I guess he is really popping in Iceland right now. I was leaving on a big excursion early the next day, so I promised myself I would go home directly after the show. However, everyone knows how it usually ends up when you plan on going home early. I ended up becoming acquainted with some friendly Icelanders and we danced and had a blast at the concert. They invited me to join them for another drink at a different spot after the show. I knew I had to be up early, but one of my new Icelandic friends was gorgeous and she was also Bjork's backup singer on her most recent tour, which I found interesting (I have been told that Bjork is so famous and Iceland is so small, it is pretty common to meet her associates out and about). She was also by far the most friendly towards me, so I found it quite difficult to decline the offer. I should mention that this was Wednesday night, but it was the day before Maundy Thursday, apparently it is a big party night in Iceland so everything was open late and plenty of people were out and about. We danced some more and had a few more drinks and before I knew, it was 4am and I decided I really had to go home considering I was leaving on a 2-day adventure trip in four hours. 

Music video from Aron Can, up and coming rapper from Reykjavik.

After minimal sleep, I woke up and packed up to head out to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (Icelandic is a really fun language). I was picked up by my tour guide Jonas, he was accompanied by Deborah, Kenobi and Yehseul. I would spend the next two days with these people. Fortunately everyone was really cool. Deborah was a little bit older, she was Kenobi's grandma. She decided she wanted to take her grandson on a big trip while he was old enough to appreciate it, but before he decided he was too cool for his nana. Yehseul was a Korean woman about my age that was fed up with her job as an engineer in Seoul and decided to drop it all and travel the world for a while. Jonas was the homie, I sat shotgun the whole trip and we became buds. The concept of the excursion was to drive around the peninsula and stop and do small hikes to specific points of interest, then stay the night at a small hotel, stop at more points of interest the next day, then head back to Reykjavik. We saw so many amazing sights, it was unbelievable. We visited cliffs, black sand beaches, water falls, lava fields, craters, volcanoes and even explored a cave. I think it would be safe to say that I saw some of the most beautiful sights and landscapes I have ever seen in my life throughout this trip. We also were treated to a beautiful display of the northern lights during our stay in the peninsula. It was truly amazing. 

I got back on Friday night and went back to Prikið because it is my favorite bar in Iceland. The next day was skate day. I found a few cool spots to check out when I was exploring on Wednesday so I headed out to warm up at the "skatepark". The only skatepark in Reykjavik proper is not really a skatepark. It is actually just a plaza at the city center with a couple of handmade obstacles lying around. Either way, it was fun messing around, although I do hate when there is an audience and there was definitely spectators. I went about my business skating anyway, fuck it. The next spot was a littler transfer to a rail at the National Theatre of Iceland. This was a place I eyed up and only wanted one trick on, so I set up my camera and filmed my stunt. I laced it first try, but of course there is always room for improvement. I landed it a few more times and finally got the money shot, so it was on the next obstacle. For those that do not skate or know how I skate, I am not much of a rail skater, nor do I do many major stunts on big dangerous objects. However, something about being there inspired me to do a pretty large rail I found. This spot and trick attempt gathered the most spectators and I hated every minute of that. It took me about 20 minutes each attempt to hype myself up, so not all the spectators stuck around the whole time, thankfully. The third time was actually the charm for this one, because I stuck it after two attempts. 

That night, my last night to party in Reykjavik, I met up with my friends from the first day at the coffee shop at a bar called Pablo Discobar. It was really great vibes, the DJ from the coffee shop, Hörður, was on point with the tunes and the cocktails were delicious. I met some other friends of the DJ and the chef and partied with them all night. It was really an amazing time. The next day was my last day and I just got breakfast and souvenirs and hung out before I had to leave.

Iceland is a really interesting place, from the incredible scenery and nature to its interesting Norse history and folklore and pagan traditions. It is an incredibly young country, as it did not gain complete independence from Denmark until 1944. Although young, I think it is safe to say they are doing a few things right considering their high standard of living and lack of violence and crimes. Overall I really enjoyed my time there and am super happy I took this trip. The more I travel, the better I get at putting myself into new situations and I think it is super important to my personal development, so I will continue to travel and explore and write about it. 

Until my next adventure.