Greetings from the beautiful country of Iceland! We arrived at 6:30 a.m. this morning (Icelandic time) after a five-hour flight from O’Hare. We were able to see some of the Icelandic countryside during the 45-minute bus ride from the airport to our hotel, Hotel Fosshótel Baron. With black lava fields covered in light vegetation that offset a temperamental gray sky, Iceland’s landscape is alluringly dramatic. Snowcapped mountains came into view as we drove into Reykjavík, creating one of the most breathtaking sights I had ever seen.
Reykjavík is like a cross between a ski town and a Scandinavian utopia. The city’s architecture is a mix of older Swiss styles and contemporary modernism. The buildings are mainly low-rise, so the mountains and water can be easily seen from the streets. My favorite building so far has to be the Harpa concert hall, which opened in 2009. Harpa is covered in glass panels that reflect the Icelandic landscape, making the building appear almost like a mirage. There will be plenty of Airwaves shows in Harpa during the Festival, so I can’t wait to experience the space in a musical context.
After storing our luggage at the hotel our professor Althea Legaspi gave us a tour of Reykjavík to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the city. We ate some authentic Icelandic hot dogs for a snack, which are in fact made of free-range Icelandic lamb, pork and beef, topped with onions, ketchup, brown mustard, and remoulade.
The highlight of the day was the middle of the afternoon, when we met with Heiõdís, or Heidi, who is the International Relations and Marketing Manager at Visit Reykjavík at Reykjavík City Hall. She has the coolest job in the world, which is to coordinate the details of Iceland’s major festivals, including December in Reykjavik, Winter Lights Festival, the Children’s Culture Festival, Secret Solstice Festival and of course, Iceland Airwaves. Iceland’s cultural department is 100% publicly run, and its events are funded mainly through sponsorships from big businesses.
After City Hall, we hit the Sundhöll Reykjavíkur pool, which was a much-needed refresher. At the pool, we were all quickly thrown into culture shock, as we had to undress, shower and then put our bathing suits on before getting into a lap pool. We wore our already-exhausted selves out doing some laps around the pool, and then ran outside into the geothermal hot baths. This is a major social activity in Iceland, and while in the baths, we were immersed with locals and a few other foreigners in the steaming water.
After swimming, we headed to the hotel to regroup, and then met for dinner at Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar, a burger joint reminiscent of Chicago’s Pick Me Up Café. The burgers were so good they put us to sleep as we waited for a Reykjavik Excursions bus to pick us up for our evening excursion.
The evening excursion was a three-hour bus trip to see the Northern Lights. The bus took us to Thingvellir National Park, where we stopped at a lookout point to gaze up for a chance to see the lights. Although we didn’t see any magnificent colors tonight, we were able to see the shape as the particles danced in the sky.
It was a packed first day, and I learned a ton. Tomorrow, we conduct our in-person interviews for the stories we’ve been working on all semester!