The Roads of Reykjavik

HON195 Student Post By: Emma Quinn, History Major (w/ an education 7-12 pathway); Archaeology and Honors Minors

Career Aspiration: History teacher

The Roads of Reykjavik (updated: 6/25/17)

“In regard to the horizon, it is nothing that is in between and it is this nothing that you look at when you forget that you are looking out the window. You are not just looking, you are just thinking. But you don’t see anything. This is where you as the observer, create your own image, according to your own knowledge and experiences.”  – George Gundi, Horizons.  

The day began as it ended: looking through the window of Geocamp, watching the seemingly endless horizon. Devoid of trees, the landscape stretches for hundreds of miles before it is met with mountain and shoreline.

When breakfast (skyr and cheerios) was over, and our backpacks were slung onto our shoulders, we headed out ready for our day of adventures. Traveling through the roads of Keflavik, I gained a greater understanding of  Jón Kalmann Stefáenson’s, Fish have no Feet. Keflavik–a land god had lost and then forgotten. In order to get to the Settlement Exhibition (our first of many stops) we traveled through a sea of rotaries. If we had only closed our eyes, it would seem as if we were back in Gorham. We waded through the narrow streets, finally arriving in the heart of  Reykjavik. Einar [owner/operator of Hit Iceland and our tour guide] led us through Reykjavik’s Hijómskálagarður Park, which lies just a few steps away from the city center.

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Hljómskálagarður, Einar described, surrounds the south part of Tjörnin (the Lake), and holds several statues and works of art, many of which were by female Icelandic sculptors. One  of my favorite pieces of art located in Hljómskálagarður Park was the large statue of Tómas Guðmundsson, an Icelandic poet, who permanently sits on a bench reflecting as he looks upon the lake. Another fascinating sculpture, is the peace stone for Hiroshima. Donated by a Hiroshima-based citizen group, the stone (which comes from the devastated landscape of Hiroshima) is engraved with the image of a goddess, and the words “From Hiroshima” serving as a witness of the tragedy, and as a message of peace.

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Looking at the stone from Hiroshima, whilst in Iceland, about the United States bombing on Hiroshima, was a poignant for me, illustrating the interconnectedness of the world, and the far-reaching consequences of our actions.

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After the walk through Hljómskálagarður Park, we finally arrived at the Settlement Exhibition. We were greeted by Jón Páll Björnsson , a historian who gave us a fascinating tour of the museum.  The Settlement Exhibition centers around the remains of a tenth century longhouse which has been preserved in situ. Discovered during the excavation of the oldest district in Reykjavik, the longhouse and part of a wall (found just north of the longhouse) remain the earliest relic of human habitation in Iceland (radiocarbon dated to approximately 871 AD). Unlike other preserved viking longhouses, the ruins include a front room, indicating the wealth of its inhabitants. Viking longhouses were constructed with truf (a practice still utilized today). Held by two rows of posts, an immense hearth sat in the middle of the house (one of the largest hearths in all of Iceland). The unique discovery of the spine of a horse along the western wall, indicates the presence of an indoor stall which would have been created to display the owner’s power and prestige.  A 3D computer can allow museum goers to delve into the longhouse, exploring every nook and cranny.

Along the outside of the exhibit, the walls were lined with a reconstruction of the vegetation and landscape of the tenth century. Within the panoramic photographs which cover all the walls, videos had been inserted, displaying the settlers ever changing life. Starting with the earliest settlements and ending with the Christianization of Iceland in AD 1000,  the museum illustrates the constant period of transformation in early Icelandic life. The study of archaeology is highlighted in the exhibition, illustrating how the study of artifacts, can enable us to draw conclusions about the environment, culture, and everyday life of the past. While it is tempting to only study Viking sword, Jón Páll Björnsson points out, it is more important to examine the fish hammer (a vital tool in the processing of dried fish). Overall, the Settlement Museum, was a wonderful exhibit, that allowed us to examine the society, landscape, and culture of tenth century Reykjavik. In the words of the American author, William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

After the Settlement Museum, we once again boarded the bus to travel to a different section of Reykjavik, where we explored the Hofdi House, which was built in 1909. Initially serving as the house for the French consul, more famously, the Hofdi House was the location of the 1986 summit meeting of President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which marked a turning point in the Cold War, illustrating Iceland’s important role in the Cold War.

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Across the green space, a small piece of the Berlin Wall stands, further memorializing the Cold War.  After this visit, we went on a beautiful shoreline walk, where we saw many sculptures, including the famous Sun Voyager.

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Hungry, we made our way to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, an hot dog stand made famous by former president Bill Clinton. If anyone is heading to Reykjavik, I highly recommend making a pit stop!

Back on the bus, with our bellies full, we watched the shoreline dissipate as we trudged over to Reykjavik University (a partnering institution with the University of Southern Maine). There we met with Ari Kristinn Jónsson, the president of the Reykjavik University, as well as other faculty and students. As we explored the university campus, we were told about the various exciting new developments, such as  introducing a fisheries management program on the Westman Islands, and creating a tourism and hospitality program with the help of the University of Southern Maine

After hearing about the exciting happenings at Reykjavik University, we went to the Saga Museum where we listened to narration about various sagas in Icelandic culture.

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After viewing the wax figurines, we came to everyone’s favorite part of the museum–the costume room. Once there, my classmates and I dressed up as the characters from the Sagas, such as Lief Erickson, and Freydis.

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After the wonderful tour of the Saga Museum, we returned to Keflavik where we truly immersed ourselves in Icelandic culture. Rather than returning to Geocamp, fifteen students and three of the faculty traveled to the public pool in Keflavik. Having learned all about pool culture from Libby, it was thrilling to experience a unique aspect of Icelandic society. Unlike in the United States where we step out of our street clothes and immediately enter into the pool, Icelandic society requires you to fully shower in the nude. With no private stalls, you must shower communally.  While a daunting task to many of us who are used to our privacy, we all successfully rose to the challenge. Fully equipped with an outdoor swimming pool, three hot tubs, and a sauna, my classmates and I quickly and fully embraced Icelandic pool life.

After the pool, we returned to Geocamp, where we had a delicious home-cooked meal consisting of chicken, salad, and of course french fries. Although already stuffed, we all readily dug into delicious chocolate and raspberry cake, in honor of my nineteenth birthday. After a sumptuous meal, we waddled back to our apartments, where I now sit. Sipping black currant tea, I look out the window, momentarily taking a break from writing this post, I can’t help but smile about quite possibly the best birthday of my life. Although it is nearly midnight, the sky is as bright as it would be if it was seven in the morning. Before I return to my laptop, I look out once more. Although we should all be in bed, I hear the sounds of laughter throughout the apartments, and the air contains a palpable excitement for adventures yet to come. As we look across the land of the midnight sun, purples, pinks and oranges begin to dance across the sky, a momentary break in the horizon.

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