Hello! I apologize for being absent for so long; I’ve been busy traveling, catching up on writing, and doing a project on humpback whales. So let’s get straight to it.
Many of the students from the University of Akureyri, mostly exchange students, were offered the opportunity to travel to Reykjavik and volunteer at the Arctic Circle Conference held at the Harpa near downtown. It was a four day excursion that promised about at much play as work.
So, on Thursday afternoon, bags in tow, we crammed everything on a bus and started the six hour ride to the capitol. The ride itself was pretty uneventful, most people chatted and laughed, some listened to music or napped. A few people even read actual, paper books! While the ride itself was not super interesting, there were some amazing views along the way:
Once we arrived in Reykjavik, it was dark and had been for some time. We were all tired from sitting all day and were eager to get to our accommodations. I should mention: because we were working for the conference, our rides to and from Reykjavik and any food we got at the conference were complimentary. Rooms were not. This led to the mob of exchange students splitting into smaller tribes that were dictated by people who depended on the same set of keys to get home. In my case particular case, this was seven other people. And we had learned that in the fine print of our guesthouse, it said that if we checked in after 10 pm, we would be charged a fee. So after being delivered at Harpa to pick up our badges and t-shirt ~uniforms~ we rushed back out into the cold and wind to call for a taxi. We did make it to our guesthouse in time, and we learned that we were not staying as far from Harpa as we had thought. And so, after a dizzying twenty minutes of unpacking and scheduling, it was decided that drinks were needed.
Reykjavik, by most measures, is not a very big city. After living in Akureyri for a couple months, though, it feels massive. Downtown Akureyri occupies about six square blocks, if you’re generous. I don’t know what area downtown Reykjavik covers, but it took 15 minutes to walk from the top of two main streets, where we stayed, down to the other end near where we worked.
It was one of these streets that we walked down to find a bar. It was beautiful. Even though it was dark and freezing out, the cobblestone street was all lit up and welcoming. While half of the shops offered a nearly identical array of arguably tacky souvenirs, it was fun to walk through a totally new setting with the security of friends. We did eventually find a bar, of course. And we colonized the top floor of it, where there were no other people and the music wasn’t so loud. Because beer—and all other beverages, really—are more expensive in Reykjavik then they already are in Akureyri, we didn’t stay long. After one round, we walked back to our guesthouse, burrowed under our goose down and slept.
Well, almost. The wind in Reykjavik is brutal. It howled all night, rustling leaves, but also pounding the rain against windows and screeching around corners. I can’t speak for my roommates, but I woke up several times to the weather.
Most of us slept in because we didn’t have to be at work until 12:30. We woke up, got dressed and packed our backpacks for the day ahead and found a café around the corner where we had breakfast. It was pleasant, but after weeks of eating skyr, yogurt tastes like disappointment and regret. After eating, we moved on to the things we wanted to accomplish before work.
Warning: the next two paragraphs of this post are arguably inappropriate and/or graphic. Soooo if you’re offended by and/or don’t like science-y genitalia, maybe skip the next bit.
Reykjavik is home to one of the world’s most unique museums: The Icelandic Phallalogical Museum, aka: The Penis Museum. I and two of my roommates had various motivation for visiting the largest collection of mammalian members on the planet; my particular motivations were 1. A promise to a friend and 2. If I’m going to major in Museum Studies, I need street cred. Luckily, we were staying about a block from this institution.
It was… interesting. Firstly, I felt like I had to tiptoe through most of it for fear of knocking one of the many glass cases or jars (I’m pretty graceless, even after ten years of ballet). Secondly, while most of the museum is pretty scientific and formaldehyde-y, a fair portion of it is dedicated to various items that crafted to look like phalluses or artworks that portray them. The array in these sections was impressive. Some of the tchotchkes and art pieces were clearly designed to be crude and humorous. Others were a bit more abstract and refined. I did learn several things at this museum, but I think the most surprising is that most mammals actually have phallus bones. (Humans don’t, we’re one of two exceptions.) If you’re interested in learning more about this museum and how it came to be, I recommend watching a documentary called The Final Member. Last I knew, it’s on Netflix, and yes, I’ve seen it.
After The Phallalogical Museum, the three of us ran into two of our gentlemen roommates. One of them was eager to get to work, but we talked him into joining us to our next destination. He didn’t need to be 45 minutes early anyway.
You may remember Hallgrímskirkja from my first blog post. It caught my attention the night before when we were walking in search of a watering hole because the top of it looks slightly like a Christmas tree with lights in the dark. Also, it’s on the way from our house to work.
It’s an impressive building. It’s sloped and geometric architecture is inspired by the basalt, lava columns that can be found in many parts of Iceland. The main church in Akureyri was designed by the same person with the same inspiration. Some don’t care for the church’s design, but I personally really enjoyed it, just because it’s very unique and different from most of the churches I attend and visit. It’s sparse and vaguely Puritan (read: it’s not covered in murals, and stained glass, and iconography). The main chamber is home to a very basic altar and many, plain windows and a magnificent pipe organ.
Sadly, we went during a high point in the day and the sanctuary was basically filled with tourists that walked in, took pictures, and walked back out. And because Kev was so itchy to get to Harpa, that essentially became us as well. I admit to slightly ditching him to wander around a bit longer though.
Once at Harpa, we dropped our bags in the green room and were directed to the room we were to attend to. It was a huge auditorium that, as far as I know has no real walls, only mobile panels that you can’t lean on. Our job was to hand out pamphlets that went with the presentations, pick up trash in between talks, and answer any questions the guests asked us.
Because there were SO MANY volunteers, most of us didn’t really have all that much to do most of the time, which left us free to listen to the presentations. That afternoon I was able to sit in on the following:
- The tail end of a talk about the Swiss wanting to be involved in Arctic research because while they don’t have the incentive/resources to head their own research, they believe they could benefit from it, and could offer insight because elements of their climate are arctic.
- A talk about global warming and how it’s portrayed/talked about in the media with special attention to the challenges posed by a 24 hour, online new cycle. They also discussed why it’s so difficult to inspire attention and concern about this problem and suggestions to improve this issue.
- Very brief presentation/gallery by a photographer named Ragnar Axelsson about how and why he has made photographing the people of the arctic his life’s work. This is possibly my favorite talk of the day…
- Some gent talking about his special satellite company and how it can help people in the arctic.
- “An Economic Growth Area in the Arctic: Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, Russia”: This one I really found fascinating. First off, it was bilingual. The gentleman giving the talk would say a couple sentences in Russian and his companion would then repeat it in English. It was about the traditions of the peoples in this area in Russia, the resources there, as well as Russia hopes to work with the people to harness these resources.
This last talk was concluded by an anecdote from the Russian ambassador. He told the story of how a small Scottish village had set afloat a fleet of messages in bottles. One of these bottles had washed up on the northern coast of Yamal Russia. The note in question had been dictated and signed by a girl who was two at the time—it was written by her mother. As a gesture of international cooperation in the Arctic, the girl, now 17, was invited to receive her letter back from the Russian speaker. She and her mother came on stage and gave short statements thanking the Russian delegation for this. My retelling doesn’t do this part justice at all, and for that I apologize because it was a very cool to witness.
After a break and snack, I went to a breakout session (it’s basically a smaller, more specific talk with a bit more audience participation). It was titled “Arctic Indigenous Peoples: Business and Economic Development in the Region”. This one I was so enthralled by I took three full pages of notes on my iphone. And then copied them into my notebook. Because of the sheer volume of commentary I have on this talk, I’m gonna omit it from this post. If you’re interested, though, let me know.
When our shift was finally over, some of us headed home to eat dinner. After dinner, everyone headed out to a bar to party. I accompanied them, but the bar they picked had a sort of Americana theme. As a person who knows the history of the icons and culture that adorned the establishment, I wasn’t feelin’ it. That, paired with an aching injury led me to head home early.
Remember, there was only one set of keys per room. So I got to stay up until my roommates to let them into our room. That, or they could try to wake me up to let them in. So I stayed up and caught up on my reading and writing like the Hermione I am. When everyone got home around two we all fell asleep reeeaaal fast.
By the way, it’s cold in Reykjavik, too. Mostly because of the ridiculous wind.