I happened to be in Reykjavík on the 17th of June this year, and thinking about what would be a fun way to spend my day. I had managed not to have to be quarantined thanks to PCR testing, as I am fully vaccinated, but at that time did not have a QR code vaccination certificate.
So I simply conducted an online search for what was happening that day in Reykjavík and, to my surprise, I discovered that it was the national day of Iceland, when Icelanders get together to celebrate their nation. And the main celebration was taking place close by at Austurvollur Square, simply two or three blocks away from my hotel. I could see that celebrations would start at 11 am so I had time to top up on coffee, stick a battery in the GoPro camera, and to go and find out what was happening.
It wasn’t hard to find out where things were happening, as I could hear a brass band playing somewhere close by. When I arrived into the square. It was rather a shock for somebody who had just arrived from Northern Ireland, as nobody was wearing a mask. Bear in mind, this was the middle of June, when all of the various restrictions were still in place in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I was facing the Althing, which is the National Parliament building of Iceland, and on a small Juliet balcony. In the centre of the building were positioned 4 members of a brass band playing a rather joyful tune, which all of the people milling around in the square seem to be enjoying enormously. Well, the humans at least!
I started to do a little filming. I didn’t really know what would happen. But I got the sense that people were waiting for some kind of event.
As it turned out there was a large choir gathered around a central monument at the centre of the square. As they did so, it was clear that people were going to emerge from the parliament building. It is a small building and you could see through one of the large windows that people were gathered waiting to walk out. A couple of Icelandic military representatives stepped forward carrying a large wreath. And they carried it very respectfully into the centre of the square. Now, I couldn’t see where they placed it at the monument in the square, because the crowd was quite big. But I’m assuming that they laid it at the base of the monument. Further songs ensued from all-woman choir, which was rather excellent before a number of politicians stepped forward, one of whom made a speech, and I’m pretty certain that it was the Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir.
Then emerged from the parliament building an older lady dressed traditionally wearing a large headdress. And I got the impression that she might be a figure like the national poet of Iceland, or some kind of a traditional poetry reader, and she stepped forward and gave a recitation in the centre of the square. As I don’t speak Icelandic, of course most of this I didn’t understand. But I was able to work out when the choir was singing the national anthem, as the people around me started to sing along. This couple were very game in their beautiful costumes, allowing me to take their photograph (something of the American Gothic about it all).
So that seemed very likely, this whole ceremony lasted maybe for 20 to 30 minutes, and that it appeared to be over, but a large Scout Troop started to gather in the street in the front of the parliament building.
And I looked up online and I could see that there was going to be a parade to the National Cemetery, where a ceremony would take place. Although it was almost lunchtime, I thought I’d like to hang around and hear a little bit of the parade music. Within 10 minutes everybody had gathered. I could see huge brass band instruments emerging from the crowd.
With a great shout, the first notes started to sound and the band started to march. It was really up close and personal, you could stand right on the side of the street, as people were marching by, and a brass band has a very visceral sound. There’s a resonance to it, it seems to vibrate with some part of the soul, and they were playing Happy Music, so everyone was joyful they were walking alongside the band and parading behind the band on this march over to the cemetery. Of course that makes for an interesting or joyful YouTube video, with lots of little bits and snippets of music and there’s a link to that at the end of this blog. So I hope you’ll consider watching this one.
I hot footed it to Reykjavik harbour, as I wanted to take a couple of photographs of the big ships that were in the harbour in that area. The water was almost like glass.
But I didn’t linger for long. Nearby there is a strip of different restaurants. And when I got there I found there was a Vietnamese noodle place, and a different kind of restaurant specialising in lamb, which is one of Iceland’s favourite meats. I decided to go for noodles, as I love the Vietnamese broth soup called pho. It really was delicious, a steaming hot bowl for a cold National Day. The full details are in the video, but it struck me that, if you were in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, you might struggle to find such variety of food on offer. Then again, places had been closed through Covid, so I guess they wouldn’t want to close when there were some tourists in town.
That evening, people were still milling about in the main square. And right outside my window was a young woman dancing to her own music, which was a mix of hip hop and Kpop. She had the loudest amp that I’ve ever heard. It was like she was in the room with me.
So I thought I better go for a nice long walk to enjoy the atmosphere, and I found myself on the rainbow street around dinner time. There are no fast food joints that you might recognise in Iceland. In other words, no McDonald’s and no Burger King. But there are independent stores. And I had read about a place called Block Burger that did a burger and fries as you might imagine, except that the burger was hand crafted individually and cooked fresh to order. And the fries were served with the local sauce that spoke to Icelandic tastes. Now I don’t mean that it tasted of Puffin, but it certainly was a tasty spicy mayonnaise blend.
All in all, I had a great national day of Iceland, despite not knowing that it was the National Day of Iceland. It just shows you that when you travel, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. And it’s great, not to predict everything. This is a relatively short video, I hope you click on it and enjoy it. And that you’re well wherever you are. Take care, Patrick, xo.