Why are the older homes painted so colourfully in Reykjavik? On a walking tour of the city, we were told that painting your house in bright colours is a way to bring cheerfulness to the long dark days of winter in Iceland. Our last day in Reykjavik was rainy but that didn’t stop a crowd of about thirty people from meeting in the square across from the Icelandic Parliament buildings for a city walking tour that runs many times daily. Tomas was an interesting and humourous guide. He was born and grew up in Reykjavik but his father is from Chicago. Here Dave asks him about the annual music festival in Iceland. Our son’s band performed at that festival several years ago. There is lots of construction going on in Reykjavik. Here a large hotel is being built. The tourist industry in Iceland is responsible for much of the new construction. In 2000 there were 300,000 visitors to Iceland, the same as the number of people who live there. In 2017 some 2.4 million tourists will visit. Tomas said Icelandic citizens have mixed feelings about the tourists. They are happy for the income they add to the economy but question how all those visitors and the infrastructure needed to service them is changing their country. Gay Pride is the biggest festival in Reykjavik. Thomas says his company gives tours 364 days a year, but not the day of the Gay Pride parade in August. There are simply too many people in downtown Reykjavik celebrating to make that feasible. This etching commemorates the adoption of Christianity as the national religion of Iceland in the year 1000. Today the state pays 140 Christian ministers even though only 10% of Icelanders go to church at least once a month and nearly 50% never attend church. This is a high school in Reykjavik. Do you notice the open windows on the school even though it is a cold day? Central heating in Iceland is geothermal and is so effective and cheap that buildings often get too hot and windows need to be opened to moderate the temperature.
This elementary school was right across the street from our apartment. The government pays for all education in Iceland from nursery school through university. I was surprised that despite the cold rainy weather the children seemed to spend a good part of their day outdoors.
The concert hall in Reykjavik called Harpa is very distinctive. The glass exterior is inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. In the Reykjavik tourist information centre, we gathered around a large map of Iceland to learn more about its geography and geological make-up. Since we were at the end of our week in Iceland it was interesting to hear Tomas talk about many of the places we had visited. Tomas ended the tour by talking to us about the fact that everyone in Iceland is related. All 300,000 people are part of the same family tree. There is a website Icelanders can go to and by typing in their name and social security number they can find out all about their family tree. There is even an app that allows two people to find out how they are related. Tomas says in Iceland many people do that after the first date or even the first dance to see if their kinship is distant enough to continue the relationship.
Tomas recommended that instead of going to the expensive touristy geothermal pools around Reykjavik we just go to one of the geothermal pools located in almost every neighbourhood. They are cheap and you get to enjoy the steam and heat with local workers, students and families relaxing and socializing there. We took his advice and did that at a pool a short walking distance from the apartment we had rented.
It was great. Just as Tomas warned however we had to strip naked and shower communally with others before going in the pool. Colourful posters in the showers illustrated all the parts of your body you needed to soap thoroughly. You did put your swimsuit on to go into the pool though.
Tomas and his friends do free walking tours of Reykjavik year-round. At the end of the tour, you can pay the guide whatever you thought the tour was worth. Tomas gave us lots of good tips about what to do in Reykjavik, where to shop and where to eat. Dave and I have done these free walking tours in other cities and have always found them to be of good value.