Rest of Reykjavik

Inside the Hallgrímskirkja

Inside the Hallgrímskirkja

There wasn’t a whole lot left of the capital for me to see, so I had a bit of a lie in (I needed it!) and met Elfa to see the last few things. We walked up to the church which this time was open. It’s very plain inside compared to just about any other church I’ve ever been in. Apparently this is typically Icelandic and I like it. Too many churches are filled with ornaments and decor that must have cost a fortune. It all screams “our religion is richer than yours!” whcih somehow doesn’t seem appropriate.

In contrast, the interior of the Hallgrímskirkja looks like the workers have just finished plastering it. There are rows of seats, an altar at one end and an organ at the other. They’re about the only things that lend colour to it. The ceiling’s magnificent, though – it reminds me of a similar design in one of the churches I visited in Liége.

As you face the main door of the church from outside, look left and you’ll see the house of a famous artist, Einar Jónsson (now deceased). Elfa wanted to show me that, but it’s closed in January and February. The sculpture garden attached to it, however, is open all year round. Access is through a gate on the next street down towards the town.

Now I’m not one for art. Never have been. I read comics and think the pictures in there are good, for crying out loud. I’ve been to Paris and couldn’t be bothered going to see the Louvre. In fairness, one or two of the enormous paintings in the art gallery in Nancy did catch my eye, mainly for the detail.

But the sculptures in this garden… wow. There’s something about them I like and I think – again – it’s attention to detail and the thought that’s gone into them. Whereas a lot of the sculptures I saw in places like Rome are detail-heavy on one side, these ones were definitely designed to be walked around. In fact, some seem to almost change as you circle them.

The cold, wet weather really suited them as well. All the sculptures are made from metal (I believe they’re bronze casts of plaster originals) and the little crags on them hold rainwater very well. I’m sure they’d look very different in warm sunshine.

Back down in town, we headed for the coastline and saw the modern “Viking ship” that was erected recently. It’s a metal framework and apparently a bit of a love/hate thing with the locals. Elfa is one of those who’s not impressed! I think it looks good – again, the misty weather suit it and I don’t think it would look anywhere near as good on a sunny day.

I should have noted the titles...

I should have noted the titles...

A short walk away is a Thai restaurant (Krua Thai) which we settled on for lunch. Staffed by Thais, the menu is varied, prices reasonable and service fast. Oh, and the food was good! We chatted for a while and then meandered through the streets to a little café which Elfa hadn’t been in for years. Apparently hanging around in cafés is something the younger generation do. A lot. It’s just what you do. Which I suppose beats standing around on street corners.

We talked for quite a while in there, killing time until Elfa had to go to work, and I found out a fair bit more about Iceland’s culture. With the population being so small, everyone is related to everyone else fairly closely – usually no more than 9 people link any person to any other.

Large families were common until fairly recently. Elfa’s father was one of nine if I recall correctly. Thing is, Iceland – until recently and now no more – was never really a rich country. Work was hard to come by and families are expensive to raise. As such, children were often “farmed off” to couples with no children – kind of like an adoption scheme. The children were effectively raised by the couple they lived with, in exchange for which they helped with whatever that couple needed – farmwork, looking after them if they were elderly and so forth.

Elfa’s father was one of these children and the couple he ended up with offered to take him on full-time and raise him, put him through school and so forth. It’s just something we’d not have in the UK. Too many lawyers getting involved and so forth. Oh, and the fact that generally the kind of people we have who have nine children don’t care what happens to them as long as the child support cheque comes in.

It really does give the image of a close-knit community and explains why so many people know so many people. That and the 300,000 population, half of which live in and around Reykjavik.

Half past four arrived and Elfa needed to get ready for work, so we strolled out and into the slightly more pleasant evening. She toddled off and I walked out of town a little way to find Gulla’s house. She was to be my host for the evening as she is slightly closer to the bus station than Roberto and Tamara.

After some walking up and down trying to spot house numbers in the dark, I made my way into her cosy little flat. While I checked my email and made friends with the cat, Gulla Took a quick trip to the American embassy to join a small protest against the situation in Gaza. Well, there’s no Israeli embassy in Reykjavik!

Modern sculpture of a Viking boat

Modern sculpture of a Viking boat

I got talking to her son, Gunnar, who’s thinking about selling up and moving to Denmark. His flat is costing him more than it did when he bought it due to how Icelandic mortages work. Essentially, you pay off your monthly amount and then the bank adds on another sum based on inflation. This, currently, is a larger amount then he (and a lot of other people) are paying off. Not good. So economically, it’s cheaper to walk off and let the bank take your home, claim bankruptcy and start again. Obviously not good for banks who are now being saddled with properties they can’t sell.

A little later I made a brief trip over to R&T’s to pick up all my stuff – they’d been out at the gym when I parted company with Elfa – and had another great chat with them. Fantastic hosts!

The evening was relaxed as Gulla and I sat on our respective laptops, talking to people abroad while taking the occasional break to chat to each other. I munched my way through all the snack food I’d picked up that I didn’t want to carry from country to country.

My original intention had been to grab a couple of hours’ sleep before my coach at 4:40am. Instead I sat up online. Whoops. But that bit really falls into tomorrow’s post.

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