The mid-Atlantic venue of OEB MidSummit and the convergence of new eruptions in learning are perfectly captured in the unique Icelandic setting. Located midway between Europe and America, Reykjavik is the perfect meeting point for learning and technology professionals from around the world while Iceland’s stunning landscape promises to foster the free flow of ideas on the future of learning. June in the world’s northernmost capital city sees the sunlight stretch over twenty hours, and despite Reykjavik’s small size, there’s plenty to fill those daylight hours.
There’s no escaping the county’s unparalleled history and Viking heritage. Every area of Reykjavik has a view of the peak of Hallgrímskirkja, the church at the city’s centre. Like most things in Iceland, it’s not quite like any other European church. At the front of the building is a statue of Leif Eriksson, the Viking explorer who, in 1000 AD, putatively became the first European to make it to the Americas. It’s possible to ascend to the top of the 73-metre-high tower for the breathtaking view. Interestingly, both the statue and the tower predate the church.
The Hofsstadir Historic Park, which boasts over 300 items uncovered in archaeological digs in the contemporary park, showcases Reykjavik’s heritage. It features a long house dating back to the 900s and other artefacts of the settlement period. In 1994, the Park’s museum, to which entry is free, was recognised for its innovative use of digital multimedia. It displays all the Viking history you could ever want.
The combination of the island’s climate and active geology graces Iceland with an incomparable natural environment. Hot springs and geysers can be found near Reykjavik, and the geothermal richness provides more than just a photo opportunity.
The solfatara fields of Krýsuvík are not too far from the city and showcase steaming volcanic vents and boiling hot springs among a range of multi-coloured hills, all safely viewable from a well-kept boardwalk. More dramatic landscapes along the cliffs are not much further and can all be seen in a few hours. Landmannalaugar provides another opportunity to view the lava fields without venturing too far.
Staying closer to Reykjavik’s centre, the ambitious Nauthólsvík was opened in 2001, using sea walls to blend hot geothermal water with the cold seawater. It’s always popular, and because of its design, the lagoon provides the opportunity for a swim year round.
In few countries would a power plant be a tourist destination, but the effectiveness of Iceland’s geothermal programme means that the Hellisheiði Power Plant, twenty minutes outside Reykjavik, is more than the name lets on. Guides lead groups through the sustainable plant and deliver a wealth of information on the sustainable energy production.
BACK TO NATURE
Reykjavik’s small size is deceptive in that it covers a broad range of cultural attractions. One benefit of such a compact metropolis is that the museums, restaurants, bars and concert halls are all close to nature. Built between 1913 and 1917, the Old Harbour has enjoyed a boom in recent years that has rendered it a focal point for people seeking beautiful places to walk, partake in marine activities, and enjoy fine bars and restaurants. Videy Island is a short ferry trip from Reykjavik and boasts a large number of walking trails, as well as historic buildings and galleries with works by international artists including Richard Serra and Yoko Ono. Öskjuhlíd, in the centre of the city, is home to woodland trails leading down to the coast and around the Pearl, one of Reykjavik’s landmark buildings. On the southeastern edge of town lies Heidmörk, another popular walking and biking area that affords opportunities to take in the breathtaking Icelandic landscape.
While the aurora borealis brings celestial sights to Iceland in winter, the Midnight Sun is the crown of summer. The island’s west coast is the perfect place to watch the magnificent midnight sunset.
Whale-watching tours that leave from near Reykjavik are easily found. And if you’re looking to get close and personal with the mammals of the deep without leaving the shore, the Whales of Iceland museum features life-size cetacean models. Technology, including virtual reality, gives you a fine image of the giants of the deep.
For those whose tastes are somewhat more, ummm, “singular”, there’s also the Icelandic Phallological Museum. The collection is probably the world’s only assemblage of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal in a single country.
GOING FOOD HUNTING
One of the most highly recommended local edibles is the Icelandic hot dog. Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity – or relation to its North American namesake: there’s more than just street credibility to the unofficial national dish. The Icelandic hot dog is made of a mixture of pork, beef, and lamb, the last mentioned giving the taste treat its unmistakable flavour. A range of condiments is available to add extra zest, and it’s recommended to order one with “everything”.
Icelanders got a head start on the trend of baking bread overnight in a “breadmaker” by burying their loaves near hot springs – to be collected the next day. Hot Spring Rye Bread is a dark bread often eaten simply with butter as a side to meals of more intense savours.
For the more adventurous, there are also the traditional Icelandic dishes. The country has a history of poverty, and Svið originally developed at a time when people could not afford to let any part of a slaughtered animal go to waste. It is made of a sheep’s head that has had the fur singed away, is cut in half, and is boiled with the brain removed. Steeped in tradition and a degree of superstition, it is a “delicacy” that is probably more easily found than digested. Another traditional “treat” is Súrir hrútspungar, or sour ram’s testicles. Curing the dish in lactic acid is required to make it digestable. It has been said that many foreigners who try this nowadays uncommon food don’t order seconds – but you might be one of the exceptions.
For nonteetotallers, no trip to a country as idiosyncratic as Iceland is complete without a taste of the local schnapps, and in Iceland this is Brennivín. Translated as “burned wine”, it has an etymology related to “brandy”. The libation is frequently drunk in the winter months with traditional dishes like fermented shark, but the local food delicacies are not mandatory. Brennivín is also colloquially known as Black Death, named for the skull and crossbones label of the bottle in which it was originally sold when prohibition ended in Iceland in the 1930s. This was presumably the point when the nation realised it needed something to drink with fermented shark.
For those who prefer less adventurous paths, Reykjavík boasts numerous quality restaurants that cater to virtually any taste. The very finest feature award-winning chefs who create cuisine that is both imaginative and delicious. Of course, fish is ubiquitous, but there’s much, much more. The broad palette of what’s available can be found here. http://www.visitreykjavik.is/wine-dine