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Reykjavik attractions
museums + galleries

Thursday 4th September

We had a day and a half to explore Reykjavik's sights and attractions. We knew already that the National Museum was closed (for year-long renovations) and were to find several others had also shut - in Iceland, many places close on the 1st of September. But first we collected our washing and had hot dogs, coffee and bagels for breakfast. There was some sun, but mostly it was overcast, with a sharp drizzle.

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Ásmundur Sveinsson museum
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a head

Walking east, our first stop was Asmundursafn, the Ásmundur Sveinsson sculpture museum. This is one of three galleries that make up the Reykjavik Art Museum; the one 500 króna ticket gets you into all of them for the day. The sculptures were great and the building itself interesting.

We then wandered through the Botanic Gardens, where we found a nice historical display at the hot springs, explaining how poor women used to go there to do the washing. We were trying to find the Zoo, but the rain had become quite heavy by this time so we gave up on that and caught the bus back to the city centre.

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a Reykjavik housefront
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view from Hallgrímskirkja
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Hallgrímskirkja

Next stop was another of the Reykjavik Art Museum galleries, this one with collections of paintings by Johannes Kjarval and Eyjólfur Einarsson, and some driftwood sculptures by Sæmundur Valdimarsson. Next we went to Hallgrímskirkja, where we climbed the tower - it was dramatically windy, but there were superb views in all directions - and listened to an organ performance (and Camilla bought a CD of Icelandic choral music).

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the Phallological Museum
Just over the road from the church is the Einar Jónsson museum. Camilla found his use of symbolism a bit creepy, though when we'd seen his statues in public places they'd seemed more natural. Next came the phallological museum, which she found even creepier. This is really a trophy collection rather than a real museum - there's almost no explanatory material at all, just the occasional "certificate" of authentication - and expensive just for the "eek" value.

Next we went to the third of the Reykjavik Art Museum galleries, in the Hafnarhús (Harbour House); the central exhibit here is a collection of Erró political cartoons. We stopped for a hot dog, then went to the Culture House, which has exhibits on saga manuscripts (including many original manuscripts), cartography and exploration, and the Vikings in Greenland. This is a fascinating museum, which we left only when it closed and could have spent many more hours in.

On a quick bookshop crawl, Camilla bought some Mr Men books in Icelandic, while I bought Ring of Seasons and Angels of the Universe (it was a toss-up between that and Reykjavik 101). We also bought some hákarl (rotten shark) from the supermarket.

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Anna at the Arni Magnusson Institute
It was getting pretty damp as we walked over to the university and the Arni Magnusson Institute, where we met Anna. Using the opportunity to grab some Net access, I discovered my ATM withdrawals were coming from my credit card rather than my savings account, and did a quick transfer to cover that. We had dinner in Cafe Paris, with Anna talking about the politics and personalities of Old Norse studies in Iceland; I tried the smoked lamb flatbread.

Back at Anna's flat we braved the hákarl - I didn't think it was that bad, just a bit gristly, but Anna and Camilla were more unenthused. We only tried the fleshy bits, though, not the whiter fatty bits.

Friday 5th September

We had waffles and coffee for breakfast, and chatted to the young American running the waffle shop. Then we headed to a photography exhibition at the city library: Travel Journeys by French-Vietnamese photographer Claire Xuan. Then we went to the university, where we checked out the bookshop before saying goodbye to Anna.

We walked to the National Gallery but found that closed, so we caught a taxi to the Perlan. The Saga exhibition there is really not worth the money - it's three times as expensive as the Culture House and maybe 10% as interesting, with wax-figure dioramas and audio commentary from a portable CD player. The whole thing feels like a big tourist trap, complete with fake "geysir" in atrium.

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outside the Perlan
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steel egg at Keflavik airport
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coloured glass

From Perlan we descended through some woods to Hotel Loftleiðir, from where we caught the flybus to the airport. Camilla bought a copy of Independent People, we ate skyr and a strange malt drink and two hot dogs each (which was too many), then got our tax refund and changed our remaining króna for pounds. And it was goodbye to Iceland.

Reykjavik attractions: It would be easy to spend four or five days in Reykjavik without running out of "major" attractions, at least if you're interested in art. (The night-life, which I know nothing about, might be a replacement for some people.) Of the places we saw, I'd put the Culture House and Hallgrímskirkja at the top of the "must see" list.

We didn't get to see the National Museum, the National Gallery, Nordic House, the Natural History Museum, the Labour Unions Art Gallery, or the Electrical Museum, among other sights. We'll just have to come back one day!

Next: Conclusion
Previous: Reykjanes - Grindavik, Blue Lagoon

[Alternative spellings: Asmundur Sveinsson, Eyjolfur Einarsson, Hallgrimskirkja, Erro, hakarl]

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