We’re packed up and ready to head back to New Jersey, but before we do we’ll make a quick journey through time from one of the first Viking settlements in Iceland (around the year 900) to a state-of-the-art building in the heart of Reykjavik….
A few steps from our hotel is this plexiglass box announcing the site of the Settlement Exhibition. Looking down you see an excavation…but no entrance. Asking a receptionist (who’s obviously been asked many times before) inside an adjacent building, we’re directed around the corner.
We go downstairs, hang up our coats, don’t have to pay as seniors (one good thing about getting old), and step into a totally unexpected space.
In 2001, these remains were excavated in Adalstraeti. They turned out to be the oldest relics of human habitation in Reykjavík, with some of the fragments found dating to before 871 AD.
During the excavation, a longhouse from the tenth century was also discovered. The hall and a wall fragment are now both carefully preserved at their original location and form the focal point of The Settlement Exhibition — about life in Viking times.
The construction of Viking Age buildings is explained using multimedia technology to provide an insight of what life was like at the time of the first settlers.
Other artifacts from archaeological excavations in central Reykjavík are also on display and aim to provide a look into the environment of this farm/longhouse at the time of the first settlers. It’s a fascinating place, one that we probably should have visited on the first day of our stay for a proper orientation. A great way to spend a last morning.
At noon we checked out of the hotel and onto the bus taking us to the airport. On the way we had a special stop organized by SmarTours.
You might remember these spectacular geometric basalt formations we found on the black lava sand beach we walked the other day. It was the inspiration for Olafur Eliasson, an Icelandic – Danish artist who designed the facade of the Harpa concert hall at Reykjavik harbor.
He gets more attention than the building’s actual architects, Henning Larsen, a 52 year old firm.
To give the house of culture special meaning and importance. He came up with a tilted cliff face made of multiple hexagonal glass tubes, with colored and mirrored panes inserted seemingly at random. Inside, the hexagons continue, forming a faceted and mirrored ceiling. The outside shape also reflects that of a harp…thus the name.
Those of you who live around NYC may remember Eliasson as the public artist who did the spectacular waterfalls under the East River bridges a few years back.
When we entered the building we were greeted by a beautiful, stately woman who was probably descended from Viking stock judging from her ram straight 6 foot 2 plus carriage. Our 15-minute tour turns out to be closer to an hour as we explore all five levels of the building completed in 2011 as both a concert hall and convention center. It’s one of Europe’s most important venues, especially for the arts.
The views are spectacular. And even more spectacular; as our guide describes the perfect acoustics in each of the five halls, she breaks into an absolutely beautiful Icelandic folk song in the voice of an angel. (Turns out she is a professional singer of renown who is currently on break). What a fantastic surprise.
She explained that the building’s acoustical engineers had absolute authority over the hall construction and no adjustments or tuning were necessary upon completion as so many other similar venues need. The systems of baffles, spaces and walls (all moveable) make it a perfect place for events ranging from ballet, to rock concerts, to symphonies.
What a way to end our journey, standing in one of Iceland’s most modern wonders looking out at the ancient volcanos that formed this magical place. We hope all of you will get your chance to dip into these special hot springs.
A few factoids of interest we forgot to mention above:
- Immigration: Iceland really needs an immigrant population. However, the language is extremely difficult to pick up and it has never been modernized as other Scandinavian and nordic languages have. All “new” words like “computer” for example do not take on a phonetic spelling, but instead a translation into Icelandic. Icelandic has remained the most pure of Nordic languages. This was corroborated by a waitress from Bulgaria (who moved her family/children here to escape oppression) noting the difficulty with the language a real roadblock to settling there.
- Thingvellir National Park, where in 930 AD one of the world’s first Parliaments was established (we mentioned in a previous post) is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site — as part of the globes most geologically significant landscapes; the point where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
- Eyjafjallajokull Volcano site where its eruption in 2010 brought European flights to a complete standstill. We passed the area, saw the remains of the ash fields and learned about the struggles of the locals, many of whom remained behind to protect their homes, crops and animals. Fortunately the winds blew the ash eastward, away from most of them. Very dramatic.
- Olafur Tryggvi Magnusson (Oli): Our tour guide. Incredibly knowledgeable, personable, diplomatic and caring. Able to leap tall volcanos in a single bound. We feel a deep gratitude to him for making us feel like true honorary Icelanders. Tak Oli.
Our next sojourn will be along the Dalmatian Coast some time in April. We’d love it if you could join us. In the meantime, safe travels, peace and love….