Oh Reykjavik, how I loved your colourful little houses (roof included!), your incredible sculpture gardens, your tiny ceramic art galleries which creations I wanted to bring dozens back home, the murals here and there, the wonderful way your National History Museum unrolls the life of the country from the first settlers to now, the bars coming alive at dusk, the restaurants bringing traditional recipes to life again with new techniques… and Viðey island, just a 15 minutes boat ride from the capital. Even better, the trip is free if you have the Reykjavik City Pass.
In summer, the Elding Whale Watching ferry leaves from 3 piers in the city: Skarfabakki, Ægisgarður and the one right behind the Harpa cultural centre. The cheerful mosaics of the building, inspired by Northern Lights, are mirrored in the peaceful water of the marina. You will glimpse dozen of tiny jellyfish there too – half transparent, half iridescent.
It was a greyish, heavily clouded day, reminding me of a line in Asterix, the possibility of the sky falling on your head. At the front of the boat the Icelandic flag was flapping noisily, impatiently maybe, urging us to climb on board, wanting to be on its way. Just the time to sit down, look at the island map and we had already arrived.
I could tell you lots of things about Viðey’s past – the monastery funded in 900 AD and destroyed by the Danish under the religious reform of the country in 1539. The treasurer who built his house there – as well as a tiny church – in 1755. Both buildings are still there, recently renovated. The many shipwrecks. But it’s not what really matters when you get there. At first, all passengers stay close together, not really knowing where to start but as everyone walks at a different rhythm you are soon on your own in the nature reserve. At peace. No trees, just tangled grass, Reykjavik’s skyline in the background, snowy mountains too.
And the birds singing. Mermaid like – enchanting but difficult to place, close and far at the same time, taking you closer still along the path. Fulmars, greylag geese, snipes, purple sandpipers, oystercatchers… 30 species come and nest here. There is art too – Richard Serra’s basalt columns framing the landscape beautifully for example. Or Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower, with the famous words engraved in 24 languages. It lights up several times a year, becoming a beacon of hope so bright you can see it from the capital.
It’s a happy place. Locals come here as families. For a walk, of course, but also to picnic at the Viðeyjarnaust cabin, open to everyone – there are tables, chairs and BBQs, all free to use. The adults chat while grilling sausages while the kids laugh and play on the black sand beach… End of August, they will be collecting caraway seeds which will be used in baking, in coffee or even in hot chocolates. The plant really thrives here – remember the treasurer? He brought it over, together with potatoes and tobacco. And who knows, you may even see a few Icelandinc women wearing their traditional costume if there is a celebration on the island…