[This is Part Two (of three) of my Iceland blogs. You can catch up and read Part One here.]
Curious about the most interesting $16 I ever spent? Well, it was in Reykjavik, Iceland on September 13, 2017.
After shopping at the Harpa we saw a sign for “Iceland Art Museum” or something like that — sounds wholesome, right? And the outside looked fairly harmless:
We walked in and paid the 1600 ISK. Turns out, it wasn’t so much a museum as just a gallery space that exhibits different artists every month or so. And boy, did we walk in on a good one — I still don’t know if I’m being sarcastic or not. Mostly, I left the place feeling confused.
The artist’s name is Ragnar Kjartansson and the collection is called God, I Feel So Bad. The first piece we saw was “Hitler’s Loge,” which I didn’t actually know was an art piece until after I read from the program. It consisted of a pile of crap, essentially. Turns out, Icelandic musician Helgi Björnsson was one of the people in charge of the reconstruction of the Admiralspalast theater in Berlin, which included the removal of the private loge made for Hitler. Kjartansson called Björnsson, and “he supplied me with Hitler’s loge,” as the inscription on the wall states. Hitler’s loge lies in a heap on the floor.
We then entered a large room where we found ten men scattered about lying on the floor, sitting on couches or bare mattresses, or leaning against the wall. Each one was playing guitar and singing their own song, but all with the same somber cadence and melody. There was a fridge stocked with beer. Every now and then one of the men would go grab himself another drink — they all had growing piles of empty bottles next to them. On one wall a romantic scene from the first Icelandic full-length feature film was playing on repeat — the actors are Kjartansson’s own parents. The title of this whole display is “‘Take Me Here by the Dishwasher’ — A Memorial for a Marriage.”
I won’t go into detail about every single piece, but there is one last exhibit I wanted to mention because it involves one of my favorite bands — The National. It was a six-hour video called “A Lot of Sorrow” (spoiler alert: I didn’t stay for the full six hours because nobody got time for that). Kjartansson invited The National to play their song “Sorrow” repeatedly for six hours straight during a performance (yes, in front of an audience) at the MoMA PS1, New York. You could see how tired the members of the band began to look, but they experimented and altered the song subtly with every repetition. The audience kept cheering, too, which was perhaps the most surprising thing about it.
The whole experience was uncomfortable, and mostly I just wanted to get out. But lord knows, I’m still thinking about it and I’m convinced that Kjartansson is a genius, so it was $16 well spent.
Am I an art reviewer now?
Nope. Moving on!
The rest of the evening consisted of, you guessed it, more wandering around. We stumbled upon the House of Parliament and City Hall, located right on Tjornin Pond.
We caught the pond right at sunset and it was one of the most beautiful views I witnessed while we were in Reykjavik.
There was also this statue, which somehow perfectly describes what it feels like to go to work on a Monday morning:
After grabbing some dinner we, of course, found ourselves in a bookstore because, honestly, how could we avoid it? But I’ll tell you, It wasn’t just food that was expensive — books definitely didn’t come cheap. I saw a mass market paperback for about $17, something you can get for about $5 here in the States. I really wanted some of the amazing books I saw on Icelandic folklore because I’m nerdy like that, but I just couldn’t justify the cost. They were still cool to look at — it was fun to see how different covers were for well-known books here versus there. The book I most regret not getting was one by Hugleikur Dagsson, who has some of the funniest comics I’ve ever seen — seriously, try not to blow air out of your nose when you read these:
Skip to Day Three! It could have been a horrible day, seeing as I woke up with my period, but it just wasn’t. It was actually one of my favorite days of our trip.
We ate breakfast and headed to the National Gallery — home of some more traditional Icelandic artwork, I guess. I just freaking love a good art museum and Reykjavik is full of them. There were two pieces/artists that stood out to me there. First, was Nervescape VII by Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, a.k.a. Shoplifter. She is an Icelandic artist based n New York and likes to explore the history of our obsession with hair as a human race. Nervescape VII is, obviously the 7th of it’s kind with multiple other installations around the world. How would I describe it? Like a giant worm made of bright, colorful, and fluffy clown wig hair with no beginning or end, coming in and out of the ceiling and the walls but never touching the ground. [Arnardóttir has also worked with Björk, which makes total sense.]
The other piece I loved was by Eggert Guðmundsson. I only wish I could remember the name of the piece, but it consisted of the tiniest, most detailed flowers. Looking at it from afar, it appeared as though they were moving, and up close you could see every single minuscule brush stroke. I did find a picture of it online but am confused about what it is titled. This picture doesn’t even begin to do the detail justice:
We all stopped for another hot dog and then it was time for the main event of our day — a tour at the Omnom Chocolate factory. Located in the Grandi harbor area, it was a bit out of our way, , but SO WORTH IT. Our tour consisted of about 30 people. We were all shuffled into a classroom, where our lovely (and extremely handsome) tour guide told us all the basics of how they make their chocolate. I got to taste a cocoa nib (disgusting, by the way), as well as something our tour guide called “Forever Young,” brewed like cold brew coffee, except with the leftover shells of cocoa nibs. It is now one of my favorite things, but extremely inaccessible. Why don’t places sell chocolate cold brew?? It’s amazing!
I learned that the processes for making chocolate, wine, and coffee are all very similar, or, at least, they’re all in the same family. That’s probably why they all go together so well. We got to taste so much chocolate. They have three main types: Madagascar (tangy), Nicaragua (earthy), and Tanzania (raison-y). These three chocolate bars are made with only two ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar. My favorites, however, were their milk chocolates and, more importantly, their coffee bar. YUM. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend the first day on my period than touring a chocolate factory and eating as much chocolate as I could get my hands on. It was perfect timing.
The factory itself was not very big but full of truly kind, hard-working people. They wrap each bar individually by hand before shipping it off. Not to mention, the wrapping itself is beautiful.
The next day was not the greatest — it was another “hurry up and wait” sort of situation. My friend picked up the rental car that morning and we were on the road out of town by 10:45. I think we were all excited to be out of the city. Visiting Iceland’s really about seeing the nature. We made several stops along the way and saw incredible sights such as these:
We were driving through Þingvellir (Thingvellir), which we would later visit for real (more on that in my next post). Our second hostel was in Laugarvatn, home of the lake by the same name, which contains geothermal springs under its surface. The town has capitalized on this, opening up Fontana, a spa and wellness center, where you can take a dive in the swimming pool as well as a dip in the steam baths. We had a couple hours to kill before we could check in to our hostel — not quite eight hours, but enough. We walked as far as we could around the lake before it got too muddy.
We also stumbled upon Vigdalaug, a small hot pool near the lake. Legend has it that around 1000 AD, when Iceland converted to Christianity, they used this spring as a baptismal pool because the people wished to be baptized with the warm water rather than the freezing water of Lake Thingvellir. It is also said that Jon Arason, Iceland’s last Catholic bishop and his son were executed during the reformation, and their bodies were exhumed and washed in Vigdalaug before they were re-buried.
I love me some cool history.
We killed the rest of our time drinking coffee in a cafe until we could check in to our hostel. We were a bit surprised when we saw a sign at the front entrance asking us to take our shoes off. They don’t allow anyone to wear shoes in order to keep the place clean. However, they did provide slippers to wear, which were quite cozy. We also got a room with a view!
We took it easy for the rest of the day. I took an unintentional nap and did some journaling. It was we were making dinner that we realized the kitchen didn’t have stove. Apparently, they had to take it out due to some unnamed “incidents” that had occurred in the past.
We wanted to stay up late to see if we could maybe see the Northern Lights. We checked the forecast and saw it was at a 6, meaning “very active.” At around 11pm We drove down the road for about 5 minutes to get away from the lights in town. There were a couple other cars at the same pull-off. It was crazy quiet and insanely dark — almost to the point of claustrophobic.
And I’m happy to say we actually saw them. I didn’t attempt to take a picture — I’m not that skilled of a photographer. At first they seemed like they were moving quite sporadically — like the sky was covered in saran wrap and someone was poking it. That probably doesn’t make any sense. Then they shifted lower in the sky and started to look more like the pictures. Either way, they were awesome.
And on that note, I think that’s where we’ll end this one. Don’t worry, there’s only one more installment to come. And it covers my favorite part of the trip!