camera obscura travel

a weekend in Reykjavík, Ísland : part 3

July 9, 2012

I recently made a weekend trip to Reykjavík, Ísland with my wife and two close friends. We departed from Boston on a red-eye flight Thursday evening and returned home early Sunday evening. The following is a series of short blogs about our long weekend abroad in Iceland. Rather than try and hastily cram two and a half days of observations into one entry I have decided to parse out the journey into short palatable doses.

Unfortunately for you, the reader, my Icelandic travel blog will read like a Quentin Tarintino screenplay. (Without the piece of brain on the windshield.) Specifically, there will be no chronological order to this. I hope you enjoy!

As much as one can possibly observe in a weekend…

It’s unfair to make sweeping generalizations about a culture in just a weekend, so take any of my perceptions with a grain of sea salt.

Note: All of the photos below were taken in or very close to Reykjavík. My biggest regret was not having enough time to explore more of Iceland’s natural surroundings–but that only gives us a reason to go back, right? We did, however, get a chance to boat out to a small island home to tens of thousands of puffins. Anyway, I am thinking a stop-over on the way to Denmark next year. Any takers?

The Blue Lagoon

This really is a must. The Blue Lagoon is a geo-thermal hot spring about mid-way between Iceland’s airport in Keflavik and Reykjavík. (About a twenty minute drive.) We took a shuttle from the airport that included a stop-over at the springs en route to Reykjavík–super easy and very convenient. Shuttles arrive and depart both ways on a regular schedule. You will notice the terrain is exceptionally rugged; after all, it was once the site of  volcanic activity.

As someone who deals with mild psoriasis, the Blue Lagoon is considered to be one of the meccas for natural psoriatic therapy with many people showing amazing improvement to their skin after soaking in the thermal hot springs. (I only learned this after we returned… wondering if my insurance would cover trips to the Blue Lagoon? I’m fairly certain it would.)

The Blue Lagoon staff run a tight ship… as soon as you enter you are given a bracelet that locks and unlocks your locker and additionally serves as a purchasing agent–but what could you possibly need to purchase whilst bathing in a geothermal hot spring? Don’t worry, I’ll get to that. Towels and bathrobes cost extra when you check in, I recommend the bathrobe. The changing rooms are very spa-like and very well maintained.

I wore a pair of Nike boy-short style trunks. (Why am I telling you this? I have no idea.) I was kind of concerned that maybe I looked like an idiot… comparatively this was not the case as apparently sagging Speedos is the bathing suit of choice here.

Upon walking out to the pools we were greeted to a steamy vista of opaque robin-egg blue water replete with a gregarious group of older folks bobbing around. I know this sounds really awful but my friend Chris turned to me and said, “Does this remind you of the movie Cocoon?” (Might’ve been the quote of the trip.)

Aside from the natural algae mud masks* the other point of interest is the swim-up bar that offers a selection of beer and Caribbean style cocktails. This is where the bracelet comes in handy–it gets scanned and you are presented with a slightly shocking bill on the way out.  [*Side note: the algae here is not what you are thinking of. It is soft white mud that you can rub all over, preferably the face.]

Oh shit! I almost forgot to mention that we saw Bam Margera, or as I call him Bam Margherita, and his 19 year-old girlfriend [conjecture].


The uniform amongst most women here seems to be black tights, very short jean shorts and combat boots. I would say… hmmm… one in three were wearing this ensemble. I am definitely not complaining. Iceland is all about the tights (most likely a symptom of summer day-time temps in the lower to mid-50’s). We ventured into a store that sold almost nothing but tights. In fact, I think it was in the tights district–like a Pinterest board come to life.

It’s interesting to see a city’s perspective of vintage. I think I’ve lamented about this in a previous blog, but vintage is now the 90’s and in Reykjavík the 90’s are expensive. So much so that I am thinking of trying to figure out a side business where I become a middleman between Goodwill and the country of Iceland. There is profit to be made!

Chucks, also big here. We even went to a record store that was selling American Apparel… whaaaaaat.

Which leads me to…

Reykjavík has an amazing sense of DIY. Many of the cafés, bars and restaurants utilize vintage ephemera to the point that I kind of believe it to be a leitmotif of the city’s persona. At first I thought it just happened to be the lone café that managed to get its hands on some second-hand finds. But then I noticed that it was everywhere. Or maybe I am just a magnet for this shit? Or maybe the economy dictates “on the cheap” so much so that if you squint you can almost imagine you are in Tucson, Arizona hanging out at Epic Café or Plush. Seriously, where did they get this stuff? It’s not Icelandic. If the vintage clothes prices are any indication, these cafés may have shelled out a ton to appear authentic.

Regardless, it’s a very cozy and familiar vibe–like being in someone’s living room.

Architecturally speaking…

Most of the buildings are sided in brightly painted corrugated steel. Part of me thinks this is because it ships well but also because… I don’t know… snow slides off of it? Reykjavík has a nice contrast of old and new, but for the most part the city seems very new in contrast with say Paris or Copenhagen. Even Hallgrímskirkja, Iceland’s tallest structure and most prominent landmark, wasn’t completed until 1986.

What struck me is the simplicity of form in much of the architecture. My favorite building? No doubt the moss covered walls of Reykjavík’s City Hall reflecting in a zero-edge pool of water.


Being a graphic designer I always pay attention to things like menus and logos… a lot of nice design for such a small city.

I don’t know if there is any one specific over-whelming trend here… my guess is designers are tapped into the international community and the internet has made inspiration globally accessible from anywhere one has a wifi connection–whether it be a tights shop or a hipster café.

And last…

I very much liked this city and country. It felt very young for such an old soul. Or maybe the city embraces the culture of its youth as an investment to secure its relevance? How many fantastic bands are coming out of Iceland? Aside from Bjork and Sigur Ros… there definitely seems to be a vital interest in the country’s commitment to the arts.

I guess if I had to say anything to Iceland it would be… bet on the pony that doesn’t kill what you want to sell.

Read part 1

Read part 2



You Might Also Like


  • Avatar
    Reply Kristin helga August 7, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    were did you find american apparel in what store?

    • Avatar
      Reply davidtornado August 8, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      I’m trying to remember… I think it was a store that also sold vinyl records and other random things like skateboards. I think I remember walking down a small flight of stairs.

    Leave a Reply