Reykjavik, Colorful In All Ways

22, a popular pizza restaurant

The city of Reykjavik came as a complete surprise to me, since I knew so little about it.

In fact, it turns out I am not alone in my lack of experience with what this interesting small city is like, as the concierge at my hotel informed me the other day. Many people are apparently dissuaded from visiting, going so far as to ask questions like, “Is it safe to walk the streets alone?”

While trying to be polite, he kind of rolled his eyes at our collective ignorance, the way I would if you asked me if you can find milk in Seattle.

Suspicions that Reykjavik is so exotic that it’s too scary to visit irks its locals—understandably so, since you’d think from the way people treat this little island that it was closer to the moon than to the rest of the planet. 

The concierge’s English is impeccable, by the way, as is the English of everyone in Reykjavik I encountered, for which I am grateful, since my Icelandic consists of one whole word: takk (thank you). I thought I knew two whole words, but the second word, if I know it, isn’t coming to me.

The concierge, an informative person, told me that the Icelandic people speak excellent English largely because they rely so heavily on the outside world for imports, including imported culture.

In every nook and cranny, you find color in Reykjavik

Being a small island country, they don’t produce a lot of their own goods, and so they receive most of their entertainment from the United States and England. This leads them to watch American and English TV and movies, and learn English from subtitles. As an English teacher, of course, I am a little skeptical of the efficacy of this method, but it’s partially how I learn Swedish, so what can I say? You use what works.

Startling graffiti on a side street

Walking through the streets of downtown Reykjavik, it didn’t take long to see the influence of the rest of the world. From graffiti-splashed apartment buildings to Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, Iceland has integrated international influences. This does not mean that they have lost their local culture or customary foods, however. Iceland’s primary industry is fishing, and since I was determined to sample as much of their local food as possible, I ate something prepared with fresh fish at least once a day.

Graffiti indicates the overall youth of the general population, and indeed, Reykjavik has the ambience of a university town

Every day in Reykjavik has been a culinary delight. As you’d expect from an island nation, their seafood is absolutely delicious. Lunch one day was a simple lobster bisque eaten in the old-world ambience of Fru Berglaug Café (juxtaposed by 1950s American pop music radio playing in the background). Another lunch, I tried traditional Icelandic Laxarós (smoked and cured salmon). At the Italian-influenced Ristorante Caruso my dinner was risotto and shrimp with a seared scallop starter, and both were prepared perfectly.

Colorful breakfast juice against a grey backdrop of April rain
Spring comes to Reykjavik

Also colorful, in a somewhat different way, is the “delicately spiced” Nepalese and Indian grill and curry restaurant Kitchen Eldhús, where I ordered the “taking-no-risks” zero-spice level chicken korma and butter naan.

The owner and I talked, and it turns out he’s planning to open a Nepalese restaurant soon, either in Seattle or Vancouver, B. C.

Since I just flew in from Seattle, and he just returned from there, we had one of those “oh my god, this is such a coincidence!” moments that you have when you’re traveling and find that your path intersects with that of your new acquaintance.

These moments inevitably lead to the clichéd “isn’t it a small world” conversation, but when you’re a stranger in a strange land, the world doesn’t seem so huge and you don’t feel alone, knowing you have these things in common with someone you’ve just met.

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