Pylsuspjall: Noun: 1. hot dog chat 2. a brief conversation held with strangers holding sausages
Welcome to our second edition of Pylsuspjall, a feature in which we accost strangers at the Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand and ask them questions while their mouths are full.
Today’s Topic: Downtown Hotels
We approach two men who’ve just ordered their hot dogs and ask if they’d like to be interviewed. “Ask him,” laughs the first man. “He’s the tourist.”
What’s your name? Binh Tan
Where are you from? Copenhagen, Denmark
What do you think makes these hot dogs so good? Um, well…I haven’t tried it yet. [Pause while our subject takes his first bite.] Um, it’s got a special taste…it’s the sinnep (mustard), maybe?
Describe Iceland in three words: Landscape, weather, and…I don’t know…beautiful.
There are a lot of hotels being built in downtown Reykjavík right now—for instance, there’s going to be one built right next to Harpa [the big concert hall visible from Bæjarins Beztu]. Do you think that will change the culture of downtown at all?
I don’t really know…I’ve only been here two days.
Right, well, do you think it seems like a good idea to have more hotels downtown?
Um…It’s probably a good idea.
[Icelandic friend interjects. “No—I work right there. [Points behind him.] It’s not a good idea.”]
Well, there is a lot of tourism—like whale watching at the harbour. So it could be helpful.
Having just finished talking to Binh, we step back to survey the crowd. A group of cyclists rides up—a Reykjavík Bike Group tour with travellers from Pennsylvania (US), Newcastle (UK), Hamburg (Germany) by way of Malaysia, Switzerland, and Texas (US). “You can interview us,” the guide offers.
What’s Your Name? Stefán Helgi Valsson
Where are you from? Reykjavík, Iceland
What is the secret ingredient that makes these hot dogs so good?
Salt, sugar and fat. [Group laughs.]
Describe Iceland in three words:
Cold, safe, and…[thinks for a moment]…hospitable. [“Hospitable,” agrees one of the tour members. “Cycling!” says another.]
As you know, there are a lot of hotels being built in downtown Reykjavík right now—Do you think that will change the culture of downtown at all?
Would you like to elaborate?
Well, I’ve spent most of my life in the centre of Reykjavík and I’ve witnessed great changes—especially in the last 10 years. I wonder at what point tourists start feeling like they’re not really visiting Reykjavík, but some sort of tourist enclave which could be anywhere in the world. Many properties in town are being taken over by hotels, souvenir shops and booking offices, which has changed the character of the city tremendously.
[Interviewer—who takes pretty good shorthand, FYI—misses a bit while flipping pages in her notebook, curses self for not bringing tape recorder. “She can hardly write fast enough!” laughs one of the Pennsylvanians.]
In 1986, the Kringlan mall was built in a suburb—the Hard Rock Café opened there, in fact—and much of the trade moved there, too, because there is plenty of free parking. I feel that the city is actively alienating motorists from the city centre, and making it less and less attractive for people to come downtown during business hours because of the parking fees and lack of parking spaces. And of course, the property prices are going up.
[Stefán points behind himself at Harpa, indicating the adjoining construction site.] The National Bank of Iceland (Landsbankinn) just bought that plot of land for one thousand million krónur, which is a ridiculous amount of money for a business to pay only a few years after going bankrupt. I think five buildings will be constructed in the space between the hot dog stand and Harpa. One of the buildings is supposed to be a five star hotel. And some of those buildings will cast a shadow over Harpa. You won’t be able to see Harpa from where we’re standing once the buildings are finished. [Group collectively sighs.] And there are three restaurants in Harpa, and all of them face the city. Why didn’t they make them face towards the sea and the mountains?