Insider's guide to Reykjavik
Sunday 01 April 2001
What's the weather like now, and where are the locals hanging out?
What's the weather like now?
Reykjavik has enjoyed a mild winter this year, with very little snow and ice. Equally unusual has been the lack of the storm-force winds that tend to lash the capital during the dark winter months. But it's windy here no two public clocks in Reykjavik tell the same time because of the differing gusts throughout the city. Currently, it's considered warm, at around 7C.
What are the locals complaining about?
The location of the city airport. Originally built by the British when they occupied Iceland during the Second World War, the airport today is considered to be too small and too close to the city centre. Debate is raging about whether to up sticks and relocate to Keflavik, the international airport 30 miles west of the capital at the tip of the Reykjanes peninsula, where Nato has a base.
Who's the talk of the town?
The Egyptian-born British fiancée of President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. Following the death of his wife from cancer, the President struck up a relationship with the jewellery designer and Tatler journalist Dorrit Moussaieff, whom the Icelanders refer to as Dorrit M. The couple became engaged last May. Her efforts to learn Icelandic, an impenetrable language barely changed since the time of the Vikings, has endeared her to even the most hard-hearted ocean-going fisherman.
What's the cool drink?
Beer, beer and yet more beer. As prices continue to fall, it's now possible to buy a large beer in Reykjavik for about £2.50 (only a couple of years ago it would have cost more than twice that amount). Reykjavikers seem to consume more and more of the stuff – including yours if you leave it unattended for too long.
What are people eating?
At this time of year the delicious combination of cod liver and cod roe is a firm favourite. Simply purchase some from your fishmonger. But be careful to check your Icelandic phrase-book before ordering because just announcing "cod" will cause offence – calling someone a cod is an insult. Boil your fish in a pan and serve it with fried potatoes.
What's the most outrageous stuff on TV?
Gone are the days when Icelandic television was so strictly regulated that it didn't even broadcast every night of the week in order to allow people to take part in cultural activities, such as singing in choirs. Today Reykjavikers are glued to a channel that has just started broadcasting, Skjar 1, which shows programmes on everything from the sex lives of the Icelanders to the best way to prepare a haddock.
Where wouldn't the locals dream of going?
The swankiest hotel in Reykjavik, Hotel Saga, is normally packed full of visitors and conference delegates dashing up the stairs to admire the view or the majestic snowy mountain-tops which encircle the Icelandic capital. Not only is rubbing shoulders with tourists in glitzy hotels most definitely not cool but also no Icelander would dream of paying more than £6 for a large beer, which is the price charged here.
Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?
Swimming pools are to the Icelanders what pubs are to the British. This is where people come to socialise and catch up on local gossip. The Sundhollin Pool in Reykjavik is a favourite among the city's inhabitants: here trawlermen rub shoulders with politicians to soak in the outdoor hotpots filled with geothermally heated water or, on a bright day, to catch a few rays on the sun terraces attached to the pool. There are also hydro-massages and concerts on offer.
Where are the chic people shopping?
Kringlan shopping centre on the outskirts of Reykjavik is the place to go to stock up on your designer gear. The Hugo Boss store is a particular favourite among Reykjavikers, who know that, contrary to what many visitors believe, the cost of designer clothes in Iceland is much less than elsewhere in Europe.
What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend?
Akureyri. Iceland's second town enjoys a stunning setting on the very edge of the Arctic Circle overlooking the icy waters of the country's longest fjord, Eyjaforour. Over recent years the bar and restaurant scene in town has expanded fast, making it an attractive destination for a weekend break for city slickers from Reykjavik. Akureyri is also home to that most unIcelandic of things – the forest. In a barren, windswept land it's easy to forget just how exciting to an Icelander a humble tree can be.
James Proctor is co-author of 'The Rough Guide to Iceland'.
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