A Walk to Clear the Mind; Reykjavík Edition

HON195 Student Post: Sacha Kiesman, Political Science Major; Honors Minor


A Walk to Clear the Mind; Reykjavík Edition

June 24th – Today was our free day in Reykjavík. We all begin our day watching a 360 degree video of the natural features from all across Iceland. The video is projected on the walls and ceiling of a small room in the Harpa center. Beautiful images of fire and ice surrounded me but they aren’t distracting enough so my mind wanders, and I begin to think about my future, a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. Becoming a lawyer would leave my life void of images and visuals like these. My job would primarily be words and texts. The tape deck of possible careers and majors in my head starts flipping again, a thought process that has been stealing away my energy for over a year. I leave with wet cheeks but am practiced at pushing aside these thoughts for later.

From there I go to an indoor flea market. There are aisles and aisles of odds and ends, ends and odds. Wool sweaters, cheap sunglasses, lava rock jewelry, old records….I felt along the curve of an unknown item. I asked what it was and my hand jerked away in a surprisingly visceral reaction when told it was whale bone. Whale is [rarely] eaten or displayed by Icelanders themselves. Whale [mostly] exists in the sphere of tourism, entertainment for us innocent invaders. Their slaughter has become superfluous.

I try fermented shark, a food that I later learn is not just made for tourists but is actually eaten by Icelanders to this day. Unlike the whale, it is not endangered so I indulge. Indulge may be the wrong word though. The cube of prey smells and tastes like ammonia. The smell lingers in the back of my nose after I manage to swallow the gelatinous meat.

***Click here to see us try Hákarl!

The day continues with a much better taste, I go across the street to purchase an Icelandic hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which translates to “Town’s Best Hot Dog”. I go all in, a fully loaded hot dog including ketchup, lightly spiced mustard, remoulade (a mayonnaise that’s been made with gherkins and capers), and both raw onion bits and crunchy fried onion bits. The actual meat is a combination of pork, beef, and lamb. It’s one of the best hot dogs I’ve had, on par with a Flo’s dog.


After I eat my hotdog at the wooden tables outside of Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, I decide to find higher ground a visit The Perlan (The Pearl), a dome situated over hot water storage tanks on 61-meter high hill. On the way, I find a coffee shop called Micro Roast Te & Kaffi. Anyone who knows me knows that I love coffee to the level of having a tattoo of a cup of coffee on my back. I ask for a recommendation and the barista tells me her favorite drink at the shop is the cappuccino because of the foam. I order a cappuccino with a double shot of espresso and a Sara, a delicious danish cookie named after a French actress. I take a sip of the cappuccino and realize the recommendation was spot on. The foam was luxurious, frothy and thick. The espresso is warm and very subtly sweet. I was planning on drinking the coffee on my walk to Perlan but it was too special to divide my attention. I sit in the shop watching the life around me taking perfectly contrasted sips of the less sweet cappuccino and the sweeter Sara cookie. I realize this is the best cappuccino I’ve ever had. I watch a baby crawl towards the exit before its mother walks him back, and a little boy in a kerchief ride around on a wooden bike in the courtyard outside the window. The only problem is that I know my mom would love this cappuccino and it makes me miss her that she is not there to experience it with me.


I continue trying to navigate to the Perlan.  I consider using a bus but I am 100 kronor short so I do the 40-minute walk instead. I inadvertently walk in the wrong direction for a bit, not taking account of the point of view on my map. After I manage to reorient myself and head in the correct direction, the path to the Perlan leads me past the famous Hallgrímskirkja church and through most of the center city. I walk past a hospital, along with the highway for a little bit, past a soccer field and I soon arrive at a path up Öskjuhlíð, the hill the Perlan is located on the top of. Located In the middle of the Reykjavik, Öskjuhlíð’s bushes, trees, and lupines–Iceland’s wildflower that seems to grow almost everywhere–are a stark contrast to the urban city. I go inside and climb to the fourth floor. Up the four flights of stairs, there is a cafe, gift shop, and access to the outdoor lookout that wraps around the dome. After my walk, I treat myself to a lemonade and look out at the landscape of Reykjavík. I see the Hallgrímskirkja in the distance, where I had been not too long ago. I walk around the observatory, once to take pictures, twice to just take it all in. I see my reflection in the dome. Though only 19, my reflection looks old and weary. I will be 20 in August, turning two decades old. I should have a plan by now. Every day that goes by without a realization of what I want to study or how I want to earn a living is a step in the opposite direction of my own personal Perlan.


I listen to music and walk away from the Perlan, this time on purpose. I walk past girls practicing soccer in bright uniforms, a van displaying the wise advice “Don’t worry, be sexy!”, and a cat walking along a stone wall hunting a small dog being walked by a man on the opposite sidewalk. I don’t think about the future for awhile, taking in the sights of the present. On the tail end of my walk when the thoughts arise again I can sort through them with a new sense of calm. The sights of the city are reassuring. The life around me eclipses my own. Taking a walk through a city as beautiful as this one will always give me joy. It gives the decisions I haven’t fully made less weight that I will always have new sights and cities to walk in.

I am excited that I still have time to visit the Reykjavík Art Museum. I love art museums, and contemporary art is one of my favorite kinds of art to see. The entire museum was dedicated to Ragnar Kjartansson, an Icelandic performance artist. Each exhibit room brought a new surprise. One of the highlights was called Woman an E. An exhibit that really moved me was A Lot of Sorrow, a showing of a six-hour continuous performance of the song Sorrow by the National. I already liked this song and was surprised to see it in an art gallery. The exhausting duration of a song that is so sad and charged with emotion in the first place made for a powerful piece.


I’m glad we were able to tailor this free day to our individual interests. I got to do three of my favorite things ever – drinking coffee, taking walks, and looking at art. Doing things I loved made me feel so much like myself and getting to be on my own in such a beautiful city filled me with energy. I will remember the beauty of my free day in Reykjavik, Iceland for a long time.



One thought on “A Walk to Clear the Mind; Reykjavík Edition

  1. Erin Kane gave me this link to read and see about her trip to Iceland with the students. I read your blog, Sacha, and loved it. The imagery was so clear that I felt like I was there. I feel your pain about not knowing about your future as you are about to turn 20. It happened to me when I was a sophomore in college, 19 years ago. I went to a park, sat in silence and got my answer. I listened to my gut. I have a feeling that your trip to Iceland may have done that for you, whether you know it at this moment or not. Best of luck.


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