I’ve been in Iceland for four months now and the experience has been totally different from what I thought it would be when I was getting ready to go. I’ve gotten to see the days become longer – from a brief four hours of daylight in January to something more reasonable and with the midnight sun still to come.
There’s also the popular expression here that if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes and it will have changed. This expression isn’t exaggerated. There have been a few days where it snowed, sleeted, rained, with sunshine and gusty winds all in one day. And it feels very much like you’re heading out on an Arctic adventure every time you go through the routine of putting on the thick socks, the scarf, the boots, the coat, zip and button, and finally top off with the hat and gloves. And then you’re ready to walk down the block to the servo. That being said, it has been getting warmer and sunnier (a scorching 8 degrees), and I’ve been able to go running outside in only a long sleeve shirt next to the Greenland Sea.
I’ve also partaken in the Icelandic pastime of visiting a swimming pool with friends and lounging in the hot water for hours, which is almost the Icelandic social equivalent of going out for coffee. It was surreal sitting there during twilight mid-winter in the warm water while it was -2 degrees outside with gusty icy winds blowing the steam this way and that.
During the dark winters, Icelanders also keep their spirits up with intensive festivities; they celebrate the twelve days of Christmas until well into January and end the celebrations with a bonfire – sacrificing old Christmas trees – and fireworks. They also celebrate the coming of Lent with Bolludagur (Cream Puff Day, where masses of profiteroles are consumed), Sprengidagur (Bursting Day, of which the point is to eat until bursting), and Öskudagur (Ash Wednesday, where the Icelandic children dress up and harass you for lollies). I’ve also been lucky enough to try some Icelandic food, including harðfiskur (dried fish) with butter, hákarl (fermented Greenland shark) and Brennivín (“The Black Death”), lobster soup, and rye bread and rye bread ice cream.
Reykjavík is bubbling over with culture and art. I’ve been to the amazing landmark concert hall, Harpa, to see Eivør and the Danish orchestra and choir perform, and the Icelandic Opera perform Don Giovanni. Art-house film screenings and concerts are held frequently and spread by word of mouth and social media. It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know the city; from its colourful houses and commissioned murals, the action figures perched on various street signs, the interesting buildings with their unique stories and the quirky cafes, to the cats that rule the place (there used to be a law against having a dog in the city and even today owners need to apply for permits exempting them from the law).
I have also been outside the city with friends who had scraped together the money to rent a car and we drove outside the city to Hveragerði to hike up to the Reykjadalur hot springs. It was a crazy and amazing experience, and I think I’ve bonded for life with the people who stood there on the little wooden deck with me getting dressed in a snow flurry with painfully cold, dead hands that would not zip up our coats.
My classes have also been very interesting. My Icelandic is still probably atrocious, but they do say that it’s impossible to learn. I’ve also had the incredible opportunity to do a group case study of the Icelandic company, Plain Vanilla Games, known for their quite popular app, QuizUp, and visited their offices where the atmosphere is buzzing with innovation and excitement, and got to meet the CEO, who happened to be in the office for the week before heading out to LA again – interesting stuff happening!
I also look forward to my parents coming to visit me, getting out of the city a bit more and seeing the amazing Icelandic landscape and scenery, perhaps riding an Icelandic horse (Icelanders find it very insulting if you call them ponies and are very proud of them), and snorkeling in Silfra in Þingvellir National Park between the two continental plates. Exams are also coming up, but let’s not think about that, right?
Anna Van Rensburg, a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance/Economics) student , Semester 1 2016 exchange at University of Iceland, Iceland
- Read Anna’s pre-departure blog post here