On the way to @icelandairwaves #airwaves15

A photo posted by Nordic Spotlight (@nordicspotlight) on

I’ll admit to anyone that I’m not a seasoned traveler by any means. Like all of us, I’ve done my fair share of weekend jaunts into some deeper portion of my home state of Oregon or a quick getaway to another place within the U.S. for work, but as far as international travel, I’m a downright n00b. And what trips I have taken outside of the country had everything taken care of for me. People directing me where to go for transportation and making sightseeing picks on my behalf. This trip to Iceland to hang out at the Iceland Airwaves Festival is all on my shoulders. That sounds a little dramatic considering we have the wonders of technology to help us navigate most any major city in the world. But for a relatively skittish 40 year old whose longest journey in the past eight years was to Chicago, it’s still a bit of a leap of faith for me to find myself braving the cold November temperatures and unfamiliar terrain of Reykjavik. That said, while most of the posts that you’ll see between now and my return trip home will focus mostly on the music and concert experience, this first one is here to talk about the travel and me getting my bearings in a new city. If you weren’t already aware, Icelandair is a fine way to fly. Their economy seats aren’t any roomier than your typical airline but they feel a little plusher. The food options are lovely (green curry with chicken? a toasty ham & cheese baguette? weighty and filling yogurt with fruit? YUM!). And the staff is unflinchingly accommodating. My first seat on the flight was way in the back, right next to a young couple and their understandably fidgety and uncomfortable 18 month old. Without me even asking, they moved me to one of the few empty seats in the roomier Economy Plus section, where they plied me with free beer and snacks.

Travel tip #1: If you can, sleep on the flight over. Don’t be like me and be overcome with excitement and slight anxiety and stay up for the full seven hour trip. You’ll find yourself landing at Keflavik International Airport at 6:45 am, wishing your legs didn’t feel like jelly. Navigating KEF is a snap and you’ll be treated to plenty of food and duty free options before you even get to the baggage carousel. That still didn’t prepare me for the realization that my luggage did not make the trip to Iceland with me and was instead (hopefully) languishing at Sea-Tac. Getting to Reykjavik takes a little bit of doing. If you’re not renting a car, your best bet is to purchase a FlyBus ticket. For cheap, you’ll get a smooth, wifi-equipped ride into the city, with a quick stop at the bus terminal where everyone either decamps for their guided tours or, like me, hops on a smaller vehicle to get dropped off at your hotel.

On the way to Reykjavik #airwaves15 A photo posted by Nordic Spotlight (@nordicspotlight) on

Once there, unless you need to get some shuteye to recalibrate your internal clock or already have plans, you shouldn’t hesitate to just get out and walk around. There’s no better way to get the lay of the land than by hoofing it about and seeing what’s what.

Travel tip #2: Comfortable shoes are a must. The streets can be a little hard on the feet. For me, I wound up all over the place, checking out the American and German embassies that are nearby my hotel; grinning the Tjörnin, the small lake near the art museum that’s home to a bunch of huge whooper swans and tiny eiders; and gawking at the many sculptures situated around the shoreline.

Sights from nearby where we are staying in downtown Reykjavik #airwaves15

A photo posted by Nordic Spotlight (@nordicspotlight) on

Lunch was a stop at Hlöllabátar, a fast-food place near the shore that is frequented by high schoolers on their afternoon breaks and which features some tasty sub-style sandwiches (though they call them “boats” here). My pick was the New York bátur, which featured some thinly-sliced beef, grilled onions, and their tangy signature sauce. I also had to make a stop at Harpa, the city’s huge and beautiful concert hall designed by Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen Architects and Icelandic architectural firm Batteríið Architects). It is primarily the home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, but will be home base for all things Iceland Airwaves for the week. It’s a pretty awe-inspiring space with a wonderful view of the ocean and marina nearby. Inside are a restaurant, a couple of gift shops, a travel agent, car rental kiosk, and more. And in and around the building are five different performance spaces of varying size and style. Can’t wait to catch some shows in there this week. After getting my wristband and Iceland Airwaves goodie bag (which this year included a can of Gull beer, a small bottle of Brennivin schnapps, and a bar of chocolate w/ toffee and Icelandic sea salt), the rest of the day was about serving my own agenda: looking for record stores. I’m a sucker for music and wanted to snap up some Nordic sounds from the source. The only spot I was able to get to on this first day was Lucky Records, a well-appointed, well-stocked spot filled with CDs, DVDs, and vinyl. Special sections in the shelves were dedicated to the work of The Sugarcubes and Björk, the vinyl on the wall skewed towards the bands playing Iceland Airwaves, and there was a back room filled with soul, funk, and hip-hop 12″s for the DJs of the area to dig through. Exhausted and a tad overwhelmed by the many bodies there to see an in-store performance by a local hip-hop crew, I only spent enough time in there to track down the 1988 debut album by Norwegian metal band Artch. I’ll be back for more, Lucky Records.

Dropped by Lucky Records and stumbled onto a hip-hop in store. A video posted by Nordic Spotlight (@nordicspotlight) on

This would have been a successful enough first day in Reykjavik, but as I was walking back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but notice all these people lining Laugavegar and looking into the night sky. And there, sure enough were the Northern Lights, bright streaks of green arcing overhead. It’s an unreal thing to see that firsthand and to wonder what the first residents of this island nation must have thought about such an unbearably beautiful and strange thing. For this modern day viewer, it was just another lovely moment in a day full of them.

NORTHERN LIGHTS!!! #Iceland #reykjavik

A photo posted by Nordic Spotlight (@nordicspotlight) on

More photos below.


Read all the Journey to Iceland posts:

A Journey To Iceland (Part Two)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Three)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Four)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Five)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Six)

A Journey To Iceland (Part Seven)

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