A Flying Visit to Akureyri: A Day Trip To Iceland’s Second City

A Flying Visit to Akureyri: A Day Trip To Iceland’s Second City

Photos by
GAS

Akureyri provides a mix of natural wonder and small town cosiness. The lofty peaks of Súlur and Hlíðarfjall overlook the pretty port and on a snowy day in early October, a day-visit was a welcome withdrawal from rickety Reykjavík.

akureyri by GAS

After a sleepy flight I quickly scored a lift into the hub of Akureyri with a girl and her uncle, who happens to makes some of the most expensive ice cream in Iceland. I struck it lucky here, for there seemed to be no bus from the airport to the centre. The only options are to cab it or to indeed hitch a ride. I was dropped off at Kaupvangsstræti, reportedly the main art street.

It was cold. I was jaded. I needed coffee and paintings. The Akureyri Art Museum provided both. Inside, I discovered a curious mix of furniture, jewellery and fashion. It was like a warped-out retail space. I bypassed this visual junket as light gave way to sound. I heard a looped vocal refrain reeling me in like a helpless alevin. A tender male voice lamented the line “Sorrow Conquers Happiness,” over and over again. I made my way inside the installation, through the portal that was made of pink velvet curtain. In a small private booth I found artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s video installation.

akureyri by GAS

Kjartansson’s work, entitled ‘God,’ sees him fronting a chamber orchestra playing progressive, ethereal harmonies that continuously coil the same lyric around the thirty minute entirety of the piece. I didn´t stay for the whole length; an artist ‘playing God’ in such a manner tests one’s staying power. However, as I made for the exit, the allure re-emerged. Another fix was needed. I felt strangely hypnotised, looking at the artist pour his heart out into the vintage microphone. I longed to be in a different decade and this clever synthesis of 1950’s attire and modern video art left a huge impression hanging over my memory of the whole trip.

Another highlight was the portrait of football player and national hero Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen of Barcelona. The artist Siggi Eggertsson takes inspiration in everything from Lego art to a self-portrait by Henri Matisse. There was a sinister ambiance to the portrait that added a dark attribute to the nice guy that gave modest interviews during his days at Bolton Wanderers and Chelsea in England. A portrait with a dark twist indeed.

Just below the Art Museum was the Jónas Viðar Gallery which was showing the Tómt / Empty exhibit, a collection of multi-coloured stripey frames, displaying a white walled middle. This was an inverted take on the way one perceives a text, making the exterior the true subject, encouraging the viewer to literally “think outside the box”. Across the street in Café Karólína, I grabbed a beer and gazed into the sub-oceanic art. There were purple swirls on the wall that made me feel like the waitress could perhaps be a mermaid herself. Karólína seemed like it could double up as a decent afternoon stop-off and a late night haunt.

Continuing my gallery crawl, I then checked out Gallery DaLí, a small studio space and workshop that’s normally only available to the public during weekends. The friendly co-owner’s painting of an angry polar bear holding the Icelandic flag was brilliant. She told me it was painted in response to the controversial June shooting of a polar bear in Skagafjörður, and that her art made the covers of multiple newspapers in the area. I interpreted her painting as a reputable reaction to the unfortunate shooting and I felt like the painting deserved a permanent place in a large art museum.

akureyri by GAS

Afterwards, I decided to explore the town for myself and took a walk along the seafront to see the polychrome homes. It was zero degrees celsius and wrapped up warm, heading away from the hub, I felt absolute gratitude towards my location. Earlier on, when I stopped by an outdoor pursuits centre asking what they recommended doing during this early Friday evening, the rep sardonically mentioned a bowling alley about a kilometre away from the centre. Because it had been a while since I last played, I dutifully obliged. It was surreal, because there was not a soul in sight outdoors but at the alley was the local bowling contingent. Men with long hair were churning out strikes like a process in a factory. Mixed in with the rattling of the pins was the laughter of excited children knocking down the skittles from rebounds off the bumpers. I broke through the clatter toward the shoe hire and soon started to bowl. It started well with an opening salvo of strikes but as standard in this game, everything went pear-shaped. I managed to score 92. It was only 700 ISK for a game though and was good fun.

-Next, it was time for a steak. The magnificent view at Brasserie Strikið comes highly recommended. Located on the fifth floor of Skipagata 14, overlooking epic, snow-covered mountains, I could see their summits along with the pier in a sensational combination of the aquatic and alpine. I sat at the bar and had a glass of Italian house red and a Sirloin Steak with Béarnaise Sauce. Béarnaise is “an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar, and butter, but it takes years of practice for the result to be perfect,” said early twentieth century restaurateur Fernand Point. The chefs at Strikið were not far away from achieving this. The sauce was ambrosial in its taste and the side dish of seasoned chip-cum-wedges was mightily satisfying. The waiter didn´t ask me how I liked my steak, and just served it well-done, but today I didn´t mind because I was in my element. There were Oktoberfest prices for beer so 400 ISK was a bargain for a pint before my surprise birthday chocolate cake arrived at the bar. I was certainly happy but felt more stuffed than a turkey. I left in great spirits and waddled my way over to Cafe Amour whereby more Oktoberfest prices meant a couple more gluttonous beers before catching my flight back to Reykjavik. Miraculously, I didn´t weigh the plane down.

akureyri by GAS

Overall, I found Akureyri to be a beautiful retreat. It’s not like Reykjavík has the bustle of London or Paris, or that it causes a day-to-day headache. But such a matchless place is Iceland that you can legitimately go from the largest, to the second biggest city to be at one with nature, to seek manumission from stress and to witness a humble town at the start of autumn, free from summer tourist rumble.After a sleepy flight I quickly scored a lift into the hub of Akureyri with a girl and her uncle, who happens to makes some of the most expensive ice cream in Iceland. I struck it lucky here, for there seemed to be no bus from the airport to the centre. The only options are to cab it or to indeed hitch a ride. I was dropped off at Kaupvangsstræti, reportedly the main art street.

It was cold. I was jaded. I needed coffee and paintings. The Akureyri Art Museum provided both. Inside, I discovered a curious mix of furniture, jewellery and fashion. It was like a warped-out retail space. I bypassed this visual junket as light gave way to sound. I heard a looped vocal refrain reeling me in like a helpless alevin. A tender male voice lamented the line “Sorrow Conquers Happiness,” over and over again. I made my way inside the installation, through the portal that was made of pink velvet curtain. In a small private booth I found artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s video installation.

akureyri by GAS

Kjartansson’s work, entitled ‘God,’ sees him fronting a chamber orchestra playing progressive, ethereal harmonies that continuously coil the same lyric around the thirty minute entirety of the piece. I didn´t stay for the whole length; an artist ‘playing God’ in such a manner tests one’s staying power. However, as I made for the exit, the allure re-emerged. Another fix was needed. I felt strangely hypnotised, looking at the artist pour his heart out into the vintage microphone. I longed to be in a different decade and this clever synthesis of 1950’s attire and modern video art left a huge impression hanging over my memory of the whole trip.

Another highlight was the portrait of football player and national hero Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen of Barcelona. The artist Siggi Eggertsson takes inspiration in everything from Lego art to a self-portrait by Henri Matisse. There was a sinister ambiance to the portrait that added a dark attribute to the nice guy that gave modest interviews during his days at Bolton Wanderers and Chelsea in England. A portrait with a dark twist indeed.

Just below the Art Museum was the Jónas Viðar Gallery which was showing the Tómt / Empty exhibit, a collection of multi-coloured stripey frames, displaying a white walled middle. This was an inverted take on the way one perceives a text, making the exterior the true subject, encouraging the viewer to literally “think outside the box”. Across the street in Café Karólína, I grabbed a beer and gazed into the sub-oceanic art. There were purple swirls on the wall that made me feel like the waitress could perhaps be a mermaid herself. Karólína seemed like it could double up as a decent afternoon stop-off and a late night haunt.

akureyri by GAS

Continuing my gallery crawl, I then checked out Gallery DaLí, a small studio space and workshop that’s normally only available to the public during weekends. The friendly co-owner’s painting of an angry polar bear holding the Icelandic flag was brilliant. She told me it was painted in response to the controversial June shooting of a polar bear in Skagafjörður, and that her art made the covers of multiple newspapers in the area. I interpreted her painting as a reputable reaction to the unfortunate shooting and I felt like the painting deserved a permanent place in a large art museum.

Afterwards, I decided to explore the town for myself and took a walk along the seafront to see the polychrome homes. It was zero degrees celsius and wrapped up warm, heading away from the hub, I felt absolute gratitude towards my location. Earlier on, when I stopped by an outdoor pursuits centre asking what they recommended doing during this early Friday evening, the rep sardonically mentioned a bowling alley about a kilometre away from the centre. Because it had been a while since I last played, I dutifully obliged. It was surreal, because there was not a soul in sight outdoors but at the alley was the local bowling contingent. Men with long hair were churning out strikes like a process in a factory. Mixed in with the rattling of the pins was the laughter of excited children knocking down the skittles from rebounds off the bumpers. I broke through the clatter toward the shoe hire and soon started to bowl. It started well with an opening salvo of strikes but as standard in this game, everything went pear-shaped. I managed to score 92. It was only 700 ISK for a game though and was good fun.

akureyri by GAS

Next, it was time for a steak. The magnificent view at Brasserie Strikið comes highly recommended. Located on the fifth floor of Skipagata 14, overlooking epic, snow-covered mountains, I could see their summits along with the pier in a sensational combination of the aquatic and alpine. I sat at the bar and had a glass of Italian house red and a Sirloin Steak with Béarnaise Sauce. Béarnaise is “an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar, and butter, but it takes years of practice for the result to be perfect,” said early twentieth century restaurateur Fernand Point. The chefs at Strikið were not far away from achieving this. The sauce was ambrosial in its taste and the side dish of seasoned chip-cum-wedges was mightily satisfying. The waiter didn´t ask me how I liked my steak, and just served it well-done, but today I didn´t mind because I was in my element. There were Oktoberfest prices for beer so 400 ISK was a bargain for a pint before my surprise birthday chocolate cake arrived at the bar. I was certainly happy but felt more stuffed than a turkey. I left in great spirits and waddled my way over to Cafe Amour whereby more Oktoberfest prices meant a couple more gluttonous beers before catching my flight back to Reykjavik. Miraculously, I didn´t weigh the plane down.

akureyri by GAS

Overall, I found Akureyri to be a beautiful retreat. It’s not like Reykjavík has the bustle of London or Paris, or that it causes a day-to-day headache. But such a matchless place is Iceland that you can legitimately go from the largest, to the second biggest city to be at one with nature, to seek manumission from stress and to witness a humble town at the start of autumn, free from summer tourist rumble.

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