Monday, April 4, 2016

Iceland - Walking Tour

Yay! We finally found the group!
As luck would have it two weeks before our trip friends Kimberly and John went to Iceland. Their number one travel tip was to take the free walking tour of Reykjavik through CityWalk. The tour is completely free, but they do encourage donations in any currency. They don't set a dollar amount, but do give guidelines (i.e., a beer costs so much, museum entries cost so much, etc.).

Erik, our guide

The two hour walk started across from the Parliament building in the oldest part of Reykjavik, as marked by the three oldest streest: Adalstraeti (Main Street), Kirkjustraeti (Church Street), and Hafnarstraeti (Harbor Street). No stops for shopping or bathrooms or food along the 2 km route. If there is bad weather, he adjusts the route. Registration takes place online no more than five days before the tour. The tours do fill up quickly, so register in advance.
Parliament Building

Erik taught us about the history of Reykjavik. Iceland became a country on June 17, 1944. They were one of the few places to benefit from World War II as they had an American Air Force Base and were able to become free from Denmark.

Skuli Magnusson (1711-1794) is considered the founder of Reykjavik. The name Reykjavik means "Smokey Mountain" and was settled between 900 and 1200. We hung out near his statue which is on top of the former cemetery. His statue is in front of the 871 +/-2 museum.
871 +/-2 Museum
Why "plus or minus" 2? Because they think Iceland was discovered in 871, plus or minus two years. 

An Elf Rock

From here we walked over to Elf Rock where we learned 50% of Icelanders believe in Elves. Of course no one who told us this information admitted to believing Elves. That is something that is part of the culture of the "older generation." We heard about people who will not move elf rocks without permission from the elves because you don't know what they will do if they are displeased. Inside the elf rocks are palatial homes.
Rocky Village

Past the Elf Rock is the Rocky Village -- a series of historic homes built from timber and covered in corrugated iron. The homes are allowed to be painted in any color, but are not allowed to be changed in any other way. The timber was imported from Denmark in the 1850s because by then all of the trees in Iceland had been cut down. Now they have a law for every one tree that is cut down, two more must be planted. By 1910 they were using concrete to build structures instead of timber.
Geothermal sidewalks

Much of Iceland has natural geothermal heating. Hence no need to plow or salt roads after a snowstorm. Pretty neat trick! Ninety percent of their electricity comes from renewable sources.

The statue is of Ingolfur Arnason, one of the first permanent settlers and the one who named the place "Reykjavik," or Smoke Cover after the hot springs.

Our trip continued past the public high school (built in 1846). He first showed us the school parking lot -- a rare free parking lot in the city. Students leave notes on their cars with their schedules so other students can find them if they have to move their cars. It is the oldest school in the country, but has a really tiny gymnasium making it difficult to play basketball. Because education is free in Iceland, the Icelanders have a very highly educated class of unemployed people. Unemployment, though, at 1.9% is very low. There are 13,000 students at the University of Iceland, out of 332,000 people
High School parking lot

in the country. By far most of them (220,000 people) live in Reykjavik. 20,000 people left during the financial crisis to go abroad. 94% of the population is Icelandic. Six percent are immigrants. They recently took in 35 Syrian refugees. The leaders decided they would rather take in a small number and take really good care of them (giving them housing and jobs) than take in more and not take good care of them. They then moved them to the Northernmost city. Crime is very low. They have about 114 prisoners in the entire country, and only one of the six prisons is guarded. A maximum prison sentence is 16 years for murder, of which they have 1.1 a year.

The statistic Erik is most proud of, though, is that they have 3 Miss Worlds, meaning one out of every 50,000 Icelandic women is a Miss World. They have gorgeous, strong, smart women.

By age 8 students learn English. By 12 they learn Danish. Icelandic is similar to Norwegian. Our guide said by spending only a couple of months in Norway they can also become fluent in Norwegian. 
City Hall beyond the pond that is no longer frozen

The tour was fantastic. Even after reading this lengthy post and seeing my pictures I would highly recommend it. Based on the time of year and the questions asked you'll probably learn different information. Our friends learned in the winter part of this lake is kept unfrozen so the ducks can still swim. A fact that was not shared with us because by the time we went two weeks later, the pond was not frozen.

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