Iceland Pt1: Around Reykjavík

A few weeks ago, the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (LREC 2014) took place in Reykjavik, Iceland and I was lucky enough to get to go there 🙂

To find out more about my professional activities, check out the NewsReader page, this post is really about the extracurricular activities 🙂

I arrived in Reykjavik on Monday May 26. I first went to find my colleagues at Harpa conference centre, they had arrived a day earlier and already checked in to our Airbnb apartment. This was my first time with Airbnb and I must say I really really liked it. The apartment we had was quite affordable, spacious, and had a nice kitchen with handy basics such as tea and herbs and spices. The conference was pretty hectic so being able to have breakfast at home or just chill out in a homely kitchen with the cat was a nice break. The first evening, we just walked up the main street and had dinner at a little Balkan and Mediterranean meze place called Balkanika.

On Tuesday, I didn’t go to any of the workshops but chose to adjust to the environment. I first went for a swim at the Sundhöllin swimming pool. This is the oldest swimming pool in Reykjavik (1937) and it is designed by the same person who designed the Hallgrímskirkja, city architect Guðjón Samúelsson. The pool is one of the cleanest I’ve been to, also not much (if any?) chlorine, perhaps because they make you shower without your bathing suit before entering and provide shampoo to wash your hair and other vital parts (as designated on an informative poster in the shower area). The main indoor pool is just your regular 5-lane 25m pool, although way less busy than the pool here in Amsterdam. I reckon because most people just went for the awesome hot tubs on the sun deck (not that there was any sun) heated by natural hot spring water. Really nice way to relax after my 62 laps. It was also fun talking to the locals, and a German lady who was in Reykjavik as a stage manager to a play. Oh and the opening hours are quite generous too: 6:30 til 22:00, it’s 6ooISK to get in there, or €3.90, pretty much what entrance to a pool in Amsterdam costs, except they don’t have the hot tubs ;). You can also rent towels, should you have forgotten yours.

Most of the afternoon was spent with one of my students in a coffee shop where the first Norah Jones CD was on repeat. We managed to finish our demo after about the 4th repetition of the CD. After some chillin’ at our airbnb apartment reading a travel guide, I decided to try to find the Kringlan shopping centre and go to a big supermarket there called ‘Hagkaup‘. Kringlan was alright, quite like shopping centres you find in the US and stuff. Also lots of chains that we have in the Netherlands too. Although I did discover my new favourite shop: Tiger (and the Internets told me that they have a shop in Amsterdam too!). I bought the awesomest notebook sleeve there for less than 10 euros, I’m a happy camper 🙂

The supermarket was quite interesting too. I like hanging around in supermarkets and seeing what kind of local foodstuffs they have. In Iceland there is a lot of cured fish (which smells despite being packaged in plastic) and frozen bread. They also have a huge organic food section, where I scored some nice chocolate. Most of it is more expensive than in mainland Europe, although it is a bit difficult to figure out as there is some math involved (1000ISK is about €6.50). I did find Euroshopper oatmeal, which was 109 ISK (€0.70) and which I get for  €0.41 here. Anyway, I found some apples, ingredients for pasta, the aforementioned chocolate and some deodorant because mine had exploded all over my toiletries on the flight in and we were good for a nice home cooked meal. Without a glass of wine though, as the state off-license had already closed.

On my way back I strolled through the Klambrátun where people were practicing their fly-fishing technique on the grass (makes sense I guess) and playing football in big balloons. The cool thing I found about Iceland is that the weather isn’t amazing (3 out of 5 days there is rain) but they are quite outdoorsy, so you’ll also see terraces to sit out and lots of nice parks with cool things to see.

Wednesday was the first day of the conference. I didn’t have to present myself so I could just enjoy lots talks, which I did, all the way up until 19:20 when they ended. Then for some reason we had to wait until 20:00 for the reception to start, but there were lots of people I hadn’t seen in a while to hang out with. The reception was pretty awesome. Really nice food and a little jazz combo playing in the background. After the reception, a little group formed and we meant to go out to the Lebowski bar, since it was still light outside anyway. Sadly they had a private party going on, so we ended up in the karaoke bar. We found that karaoke in Reykjavik is a bit unorganised. You can request songs, but they will play requests in a random order without announcing which song will come up. If you hear your song, you need to run to the stage and grab the mike. If someone is already there, they can sing your song, or if the second mike is still available you and your friends can sing the same song independently of the other person(s) singing it. It’s all OK. At the end of the evening everyone will be up or around the stage (or on the floor) singing along to everything.

Thursday was a long day at the conference, since I was co-presenting one of my posters during the last poster session which was supposed to end at 19:20. However, lots of people were interested in our stuff (which is awesome!) so we didn’t get done until around 20:00. I dropped off my poster and laptop at home, grabbed my bikini and then walked all the way to the other end of town to hang out with a crew that had an even better Airbnb apartment that contained a hot tub. And a porcelain tiger and the bust of a nun on a column. Weirdness. I made it back to my place around midnight where Paul had just arrived from the airport to spend a few days traipsing around Iceland.

On Friday morning, we managed to make it to the keynote (OK, missed the beginning, but got the cool stuff, and that’s with stopping in town on the way for coffee). In the morning I got to co-present another poster, which also garnered a lot of attention so we were quite busy answering questions and listening to suggestions there too. After lunch, I sat in on a session in which a paper on which I was a co-author got presented and where there were some more super interesting talks on hip hop and narrative structure (only the latter is really relative to my work ;)). I skipped all the formal closing stuff to go drop off my stuff and grab my bikini again, because the conference dinner would take place at the Blue Lagoon with an optional pre-dinner swim session.

My travel guide says that they seriously overcharge you at the Blue Lagoon, but that in this case it’s worth it. I wholeheartedly agree. When we got to the Blue Lagoon, it was raining and super windy. So you get inside, change into your bathing suit in the warm locker rooms. Take it off again at the showers. Throw a lot of conditioner in your hair and then you run outside, like this:

But the water is so lovely! The floor is rocky but with a fine layer of sand or volcanic dust or whatever. In the corners are ‘mud stations’ where you can spoon up some mud to put on your face. Don’t face the wind when you have that stuff on your face though because it will blow in your face. There are also some steam baths and saunas. Then the guys who look like astronauts (because it’s raining) will come and tell you you have to get out, which is weird because it’s still light. But since we were getting a bit peckish we complied. We then took over the restaurant where there was some excellent sushi again, as well as lots of other bits and nibbles I didn’t recognise. I did recognise the chocolate fountain though and hung out in its vicinity for a fair part of the night 😉

On Saturday, we decided to take it easy, so we slept in until about 10 and hung around Reykjavik. We found a really nice coffee place called Reykjavik roasters (their hot chocolate was also very nice). I then slept some more in the afternoon before we had a quick dinner at the Chuck Norris Grill (Laugavegur 30). Just fast food, but it’s a fun place.


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