Iceland is a small island with a small population: exactly 320,044 people as of June 30, 2012, in fact.
So it makes sense that Reykjavik, its biggest city, is a capital with a charming, small-town feel—kind of like Amsterdam (pop. 800,000). Although two-thirds of the Icelandic population lives in and around Reykjavik, many head to the countryside during the summer to work in tourism. (One such Reykjavik resident was our Zodiac boat captain, whom you met in a previous post.)
Still, Reykjavik felt far from empty during our visit. That’s because this city is packed—with style, creativity, and color. Just check out these houses in downtown Reykjavik!
One striking similarity I found between Reykjavik and Manila: the use of corrugated iron (a.k.a. GI or galvanized iron) sheets as a building material.
In Reykjavik, the choice is dictated by the harsh weather; back home it’s simply a matter of economics… which makes our GI homes look
totally third world quite different. How I wish Manila could pull off this look!
That similarity aside, the pristine white trim, clean lines and enamel house numbers give Reykjavik homes that distinct Scandinavian vibe.
In addition to the houses, much of the color in downtown Reykjavik comes from street art, which is everywhere.
I especially loved these murals with “pixelated” mosaic tiles that sparkled in the sun.
I wish I knew who created them. Can anyone ID these?
Aside from color, another thing I love to see in a city is humor.
I don’t quite know if the Icelanders are poking fun at visitors, or at their own language here. Maybe it’s a bit of both?
Speaking of humor, my Pinoy funny bone was quite tickled to spot a familiar name in the Reykjavik cafe scene.
To Filipinos, Babalu is one of the funniest sidekicks in Pinoy pop culture, whose name has been immortalized in local slang as a way to describe someone with a prominent chin. But in Reykjavik, Babalu is a little cafe that serves great cakes, crepes and coffee in a quirky, cozy environment…
… with a perfectly charming roof terrace.
After exploring downtown (mostly just walking, since shopping is freaking expensive), we ended our Reykjavik day by walking to its harbor front. In contrast to the small, colorful houses downtown, the most striking piece of architecture is the huge, shiny new concert hall called Harpa.
After the narrow streets and cozy feel of the city center, the harbor feels open and expansive, all sea and sky. Here, the Viking ship Solfar (The Sun Voyager), sculpted by Jon Gunnar Arnason, is permanently poised to set sail, to brave the elements, to discover.
A Reykjavik day’s final flash of color comes very, very late in the summer—well past midnight—but it’s worth staying up for.
Reykjavik is the furthest I’ve ever been away from home, but it’s funny how many things reminded me of where I come from: its color and humor, its people’s resilience and friendliness (not to mention their persistent belief in little people!), even its GI sheets and stunning sunsets. What a wonderful surprise, this city.