The land of fire and ice – The beginning. And the end.

Saturday was my last day and I was having a day in Reykjavik. I know that a lot of people touch down in Iceland wanting to head off to glaciers and lava fields, but limited time meant that I had to be selective and, in any case, I like cities so spending a little time in this one was just the ticket. After breakfasting on some yummy skyr (seriously, best yoghurt ever), I set off.

So I went to see where it all began. The earliest known dated structural remains found in Iceland. A fragment of low turf wall thought to be part of a land enclosure. This has been dated to 871+/-2*, so in terms of settlement, this is pretty late on in the game compared to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. At The Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik, the said structure has been preserved in its original location (Aðalstræti). 

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There are also the remains of a 10th century long house discovered in the same location, and a museum space has been built around them.

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A recent find of an even bigger Viking longhouse has just been reported here.

There were several small display cases with some of the finds from this and other excavations in the Reykjavic area.

This wooden human figure is thought to be a child’s toy.

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There is also this beautiful 9th/10th century silver bracelet.

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And this fragment of wood, scratched with an undeciphered runic inscription.

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In addition to the archaeological remains and artifacts, the exhibition also contains one small room holding only six items; documents including The Settlement Sagas and the Book of Icelanders.

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The Settlement Sagas were written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and look back to life in Iceland from the ninth century through to the period of Iceland’s Christianisation (in 1000 AD). They detail people and places, events and the emergence of a new law code.

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This is a small but perfectly formed exhibition that aims to tell one very important story, the story of the first Icelanders.

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Well worth a visit.

Wandering round Reykjavik, you’d be forgiven for feeling like you were being watched. Everwhere you go, towering over you is the spire of the central church, Hallgrímskirkja. This is the huge, unmissable church in the middle of town. It’s pretty striking in its architecture, referencing the hexagonal basalt columns that are found at various sites around the country (think Giant’s Causeway. They’re like that).

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In the courtyard in front of the church is this statue of Leif Eiricsson (c. 970 – c. 1020), explorer and possibly the discoverer of America when,  according to the Book of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement at Vinland.

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This photo of the church (below) was actually taken at about 3.30am (on my way back from ATP) when the stone glowed salmon pink in the midnight sunlight.

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For 600isk (about £3), you can take the tiny lift (6 persons only) to the top of the spire for these amazing views across Reykjavik and the sea. Worth every penny.

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When I came back down to earth, I was treated to an impromptu concert, as  the church organist and a tenor (I think) were having a practice. The church sits at the top of a street full of pretty funky little shops so I stopped off to buy my Mum a souvenir. I wanted to get her some Icelandic wool, but she can’t wear wool, so…

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How twee!

Lastly, before setting off for ATP, I visited the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which was right opposite my guesthouse.

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I suppose that I was expecting a cultural exploration of the phallus in Icelandic culture. There was some of that but it was primarily bottled willies.

I actually found this a little gruesome, but also interesting. And especially interesting that someone was fascinated enough to go to the trouble of finding and preserving so many animal (and human) penises!

And so, off to ATP Iceland.

I was intending get to Ásbrú in time to see the Rhode Island 2-piece  Lightning Bolt. I’m really liking this band although, for me, I think that they are primarily a live band rather than to listen to at home.

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Their set (I have no idea what any of the songs are called) consists of choppy, challenging rhythms, a certain amount of bass-noodling, incomprehensible vocals, speed drumming and non-stop fidgeting from the drummer. This may not sound like a laugh a minute and, yes, this may only appeal to particular eardrums, but it seems to work for me and I find them enormously entertaining.

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At the end of their set, I was fortunate enough to meet up with fellow Soundheads, Simon and Ellen, and we chewed the fat until Loop came on (of course there was Loop. What do you think I’m even doing here. 😀 ). For all the goss on Loop, see this post here.

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After Loop we went off to the Andrews Theatre to have a look at Icelandic garage band Pink Street Boys. This is a fairly bonkers band, I can only describe it as ‘redneck garage fronted by Jack Black’.

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They also seemed to have a Bez. It wasn’t bad, and pretty good fun, but it’s not going to change my life. We only stayed for a few songs as Swans were due to start.

Swans are known for their volume and intensity. ‘Swans will always be harder than you’ goes the saying. Their songs are long and rhythmic, often with chanted vocals.

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I only saw a bit of the set as I was unexpectedly whisked away. That pretty well put the kibosh on my seeing any other bands, but that was ok, I’d already seen the most important band of the weekend 😀 (you know who you are 😀 ).

You might think that the number of bands I’ve mentioned looks a bit rubbish for a three-day festival and it’s true, I don’t really like spending interminable hours at these festivals so I don’t go too early. I’d rather see 4-5-6 decent, or at least interesting, bands than 30 bands, most of which I have no interest in.

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Sunday. Home Day 

The flight was fine. No volcanoes erupted.

Notwithstanding the complete absence of Romans, Iceland proved to be a very interesting country to visit, and I only saw a tiny fraction of it, so I’d hazard a guess that the rest contains many more natural wonders.

At home I crashed. Properly crashed. Spark out. The midnight sun plays merry havoc with your sleep.

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*The archaeologists have been able to date this so closely because of a layer of volcanic material from an eruption around 400km away.

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