From Iceland — Venturing Into The Suburban Abyss

Venturing Into The Suburban Abyss

Published April 30, 2024

Venturing Into The Suburban Abyss
Photo by
Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

Dipping into Dalslaug

Growing up in a suburb of Reykjavík, I was always extremely grateful for the times I got to visit the city centre as a teenager. Whilst a majority of loyal downtowners will do their utmost to never leave their beloved 101 postcode (can you blame them?), my feelings for the outskirts of Reykjavík have always been ambivalent.

Call it nostalgia, or even the hipster in me always wanting to go against the grain, I believe in calling attention to the positive aspects of what lies beyond the city centre.

A Case For The Suburbs

As Reykjavík grew in the late 20th-century, expansion saw the city sprawling eastwards away from the more densely populated heartlands. Though Reykjavík’s suburban districts may be lacking in amenities, they make up for it with character and population.

An often cited divide in the city’s urban landscape is the Elliðaá River, demarcating Reykjavík between the pavement-loving city-slickers to the west and the pick-up-driving NIMBYs to the east, where approximately 40% of Reykjavík’s population lives.

Putting my self-proclaimed affinity for the suburbs into action, I decided to venture into Reykjavík’s easternmost and youngest neighbourhood: Grafarholt-Úlfarársdalur.

Putting my self-proclaimed affinity for the suburbs into action, I decided to venture into Reykjavík’s easternmost and youngest neighbourhood: Grafarholt-Úlfarársdalur.

Valued for its open areas and proximity to the great outdoors, Grafarholt-Úlfarársdalur had the honour of becoming the site for the newest addition to Reykjavík’s swimming pool fauna, Dalslaug, which opened in late 2021. After hearing nothing but rave reviews, it was time to make the trip into the suburban abyss.

Home court disadvantage

I opted to travel by Reykjavík’s most despised form of transportation, Strætó. It’s a straightforward ordeal via the city’s trusted transportation centre/food court Hlemmur. Taking the number 18 bus will deliver you to Dalslaug’s doorsteps in 40 minutes.

Although Strætó receives a lot of hate for their high fares, inefficient ticket app and chronic tardiness, I relish every minute spent not driving. Bring music, a book or an entertaining travel partner, and you’ll wish that bus trip were longer.

Having zipped through town at the speed of, well, Strætó, cutting past neighbourhoods Háaleiti and ending up on the Miklabraut highway, I finally passed the distinguishing Elliðaá. I was officially out of the urban core.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

Once at my destination, I soon realised I was at a disadvantage here. In the streets above, rows of grey apartment blocks gave way to flecks of single-family homes. In the distance on the opposite side of the valley, past the flowing Úlfarsá river was Grafarholt, whose colourless houses appear to cling for dear life onto the steep hillside. My prospects of making an impromptu travel discovery waned as I couldn’t fathom which curiosities could possibly await me on the web of residential streets.

But the pool was great. An innovative building, Dalslaug is situated in a much larger complex that encompasses the Dalskóli primary school, a public library and the local sports club facility.

In fact, to get to the pool’s changing rooms you must first pass the library, quickly followed by the school’s cafeteria. It’s a shame they won’t allow you to take a book with you into the water, although it’d likely result in a sea of wet literature.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

A tale of two slides

The first thing one notices is that Dalslaug enjoys the rare benefit of not yet having been ravaged by time’s unforgiving march. Everything feels fresh and new. Though smaller than I anticipated, the layout is big enough to accommodate everything a proper Icelandic pool needs — including multiple pool lanes, a cold pot conveniently located adjacent to the warmest hot tub, and two lounge areas. It even offers two pool slides, delightfully named Úlfur and Ylfa.

Entering the premises, what struck me was the absence of the quintessential circular hot tubs. Focusing on a more open and roomier design, the Dalslaug tubs seem to encourage the democratic nature of the Icelandic swimming pool culture.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

Tucked away in the corner are Úlfur and Ylfa. Acting on my duties as a journalist, I took the time to test-run both of them. When climbing the ramps you need to act quickly, rushing to the safety of the gushing water surging from the chutes, lest the cold gets you. Still, I allowed a pair of boys to cut in front of me. After all, I’m not a savage.

Located at the extreme limits of the city, lounging in Dalslaug leaves you with the strange border between settlement and vast nature. If not for the wired fence obstructing the view, you would almost forget about the surrounding city.

A cuisine conundrum

Having finally inspected Reykjavík’s newest swimming pool, the post-swim hunger struck. I made the grave mistake of not bringing any food with me and the nearest lunch option was a KFC two kilometres away.

In the case of Úlfarársdalur, it lives up to its reputation as a suburb.

Hoping to make great new pool-adjacent discoveries on my trip to raise the suburbs’ profile, I was — perhaps unsurprisingly — disappointed. Mainly for the fact that, in the case of Úlfarársdalur, it lives up to its reputation as a humdrum suburb. Apart from the lovely civic complex, I did not find the motivation to explore the rest of the drab residential district.

Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

On my way back to civilisation, I hopped on board a bus that somehow managed to bring me further into the wilderness, passing by Reynisvatn Lake on its way. Atop Grafarholt beside the giant red cisterns, I gazed at the seemingly endless stretch of town hugging the peninsula gradually entering my field of view. At that moment, I knew I could rest easy while I saw the mirage of the humble lunch I left behind at the office.

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