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The Royal Swimming Hall

The Royal Swimming Hall

Published July 24, 2012

The most popular public institutions in Iceland are probably the swimming pools. We have a lot of them in the greater Reykjavík area and if you venture to the countryside and reach a town of more than 50 inhabitants, chances are that it has a pool. But none of them quite feels like an established institution, or classic, as much as Sundhöllin (the “Hall of Swimming” in English). Not only is it Reykjavík’s oldest pool, but also it’s just really awesome.
For 75 years the pool has been located in the majestic white building standing on the corner of Barónsstígur and Bergþórugata. The building—a blend of modernist, Art Deco and Cubist styles—is designed by former state architect Guðjón Samúelsson (who has designed a number of other landmark buildings in the city, such as Hallgrímskirkja, the University of Iceland and The National Hospital). Both the building’s exterior and interior are protected, and one of the first things you’ll notice inside is the cool labyrinth-like layout of the locker room, which is made up of small cubicles that you can close yourself in if public nudity is not your thing.
The specs
The swimming pool is 25 metres long and ten metres wide. The deep end of the pool is almost four meters deep and is popular for diving exercises. There are two diving boards, the higher one about three meters above the water. On the other end, there is also a smaller pool for children with various playthings. And on the poolside there are weights for pumping iron, but none of the shiny airbrushed equipment you find in World Class and the like, just a single bench and worn dumbbells.
Outside on the balconies are two hot tubs, one at 39°C for the people who are warm at heart and the other at 42° C. There is also a small steam bath and a lounge area with garden chairs where you can cool off out there. But what about the sun, you might ask. Well, there is another large upper terrace especially made for sunbathing with lots of benches to bake on while enjoying a great view of the city. And for those who embrace public nudity, it is partitioned by gender so that one can sunbathe in the nude and get rid of those pesky tan lines.
The regular clientele is a mix of old people, 101 bohemians and tourists during the summertime. It opens at 6:30 in the morning and if you go early enough you can witness old men doing the classic Müller’s exercise routines. The atmosphere is generally relaxed and friendly but conversations between strangers about politics or gossip in the hot tub can get heated. This is pretty much a national pastime; the Icelandic equivalent of “word on the street” is actually “heard in the hot tub.”
Pop culture

The beautiful interior of the pool has been used on countless occasions for cultural events and as filming locations. One of the more notable ones is the dreamy video for “Believe,” the first single from GusGus’s debut LP. It has singer Daníel Ágúst floating through the locker room, jumping hoops from the diving board and performing mouth to mouth on co-vocalist Hafdís Huld. Another one is the final scene from ‘Skytturnar,’ the first full-length fiction film from Oscar nominated director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson. In a magnificent scene, a whaler on a drinking binge  breaks into the pool at night and is shot to a pulp by police special forces and crawls to the bottom of the empty pool, leaving a trail of blood behind him. And then a couple of years ago the pool was also the venue for a special screening of Jaws as a part of the Reykjavík Film Festival.
Sundhöllin has no fancy waterslide or modern equipment, but it is rich in history, atmosphere and aesthetic. It is the most beautiful and unique swimming pool in Reykjavík and anybody coming to the city who isn’t allergic to water should take the time to pay it a visit.



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Dirty Holidaze

Dirty Holidaze

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December is by far the darkest and spookiest month. It is also the booziest, by far. The overwhelming joy one often associates with the annual Christmas frenzy increases the longing for a nightcap, the fright that correlates with mass expenditures in gifts and other holiday nonsense calls for some alcohol, and when you intend to bid farewell to the passing year you’ll want a bottle of liquor by your side. It seems there’s no avoiding dipping your toes (or your entire foot) into the tantalizing Jacuzzi of holiday vice. For this reason, behold: Grapevine’s guide to your Icelandic holiday binge

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So What’s This I Keep Hearing About Everything Being Terrible in Iceland?

So What’s This I Keep Hearing About Everything Being Terrible in Iceland?

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In Mid-November Unnar Steinn Sigtryggsson, an Icelander who goes by the username “askur,” made a comment on popular internet community Reddit. He recounted the major news events of the last few weeks in Iceland. However, unlike most bullet point lists of Icelandic news stories, this one went viral. Has the news in Iceland been unusually full of kittens licking baby turtles? More like political scandals, strikes, vermin infestations, protests, police behaving badly, and economic mismanagement. To an audience used to hearing stories about how wonderfully Iceland had dealt with the 2008 financial crisis, this was indeed newsworthy. Hold on a

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Pagan Christmas

Pagan Christmas

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The idea of throwing a big celebration in honour of the birth of Christ is a relatively recent idea. Nobody knows exactly when he was born; guesses range from 7 to 2 BC and the date is a mystery. His date of birth was once estimated to be January 6, in an attempt to beat a competing holiday (the celebration of the virgin birth of Aion, the Hellenistic deity of eternity). In the process they borrowed the symbolism of the stables. Christianity is in the business of mergers and acquisitions. The date was later changed to December 25, partly because

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The Encyclopaedia of Icelandic Holidays

The Encyclopaedia of Icelandic Holidays

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Aðfangadagur (Ath-founga-dager) December 24, Aðfangadagur, is the day Icelanders celebrate Christmas (as opposed to December 25 in most countries). The first half of the day usually goes towards finishing off all of the last-minute preparations, making food, wrapping presents, bathing and putting on nice clothes. Children are often occupied by the television set, as most stations broadcast a non-stop programme of cartoons throughout the day. Six o’ clock marks the official start of Christmas in Iceland, marked by state radio broadcasting the traditional “ringing of the church bells.” This is when most households sit down to enjoy a pleasant holiday

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WAR ON CHRISTMAS: Finally, An Icelandic Front

WAR ON CHRISTMAS: Finally, An Icelandic Front

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Anyone who’s followed American politics, or switched to Fox News over the holidays, knows that a full blown war is raging at this very moment: The War On Christmas. On the battlefield, the godless forces of Politically Correct liberals—who want to take Christ out of Christmas and thus destroy the very fabric of American culture—fight the patriotic and pious people over at Fox. Of course nobody residing the reality-based community has ever encountered this “War on Christmas.” It exists only in the fevered imagination of loudmouths like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, who use it to fill airtime, drum up

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Wanted: The Icelandic Christmas Mood

Wanted: The Icelandic Christmas Mood

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When they stop stacking the Rjómi (heavy cream) neatly on the supermarket shelves, you know Christmas is just around the corner. The Rjómi hasn’t disappeared though. Entering the walk-in cooler (don’t forget your jacket!) you’ll see a huge container spilling over with cartons and cartons of Rjómi. Frankly, stacking it is a waste of time; soon you’ll notice the mountain getting smaller as every single person takes at least one, maybe two or maybe five. Our consumer needs are this predictable before, during and after Christmas, because almost every single Icelandic household has the exact same family traditions. This uniformity

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