Being in love allows the celebration of all that you appreciate and requires the acceptance of that which grates. Reykjavik, I love you. It’s true. appreciate you more each day. And, yes, there is that which I will just have to come to terms with. It’s not your high prices or your endless light. It’s your rúntur.
It was an early, early morning here at Storholt 1. We had a flight to catch to head to Heimaey, a small island in the south (not tropical.) We made a good effort to get to bed early. But an old tradition mixed with modern prices killed any hopes we had of a long, langorous sleep.
The rúntur. The “round tour." It doesn’t need italics because unlike other Icelandic words, it’s easy to spell and it is now, crankily, part of my vocabulary.
Historically, the rúntur was a time for teens to cruise around a pre-determined route at mildly obnoxious slow speeds. They are teens, it’s their duty. No honking, no wheel squeal. So in many ways a civilized coming of age which feels very Icelandic. Each town had its own rules and traditions. It gave the kids something to do on long, dark, winter nights. I can get behind that.
In Reykjavik now, however, the rúntur is a whole other beast. The “round tour” here is a pub crawl.
Iceland experienced a similar period to Prohibition in the states, starting in 1915. However, while wine & spirits were allowed in 1922, beer was banned until 1989. Today alcohol is expensive, and prohibitively so if your goals are rúntur-oriented. Because of those high high prices folks don’t even head to bars until 1 or 2.
The alternative, I’ve gathered, is to stand on the balcony outside our apartment from 11-2 and be loud. Not that everyone in Reykjavik was on that balcony, but they might have been. Then the crowds spill down to Laugavegur, the main commercial street in town. Bar hopping commences, with few actual drinks purchased (see loudness on balcony above). Cafes become bars. Restaurants become bars. I wouldn’t be suprised to learn the post office become a bar. Then you go eat hot dogs (we’ll get into this another day) and hang out at the square. Then repeat loudness outside our apartment as folks are getting home around 5.
No, we didn’t lose sleep because of our wild night. We lost it because of others’ rúnturing. I don’t want to be a stodgy old git, unable to enjoy a good night out when I travel. And I respect that Icelanders enjoy their nightlife and like having the reputation for weekend revelry that they have. I do believe in being me even when I travel. I am not transformed into some new Julie, hipper or wilder. I will try unusual foods and the like but there is no chrysalis from which I emerge. And so, we’re (as Brett is also Brett when he travels) probably not rúntur-type. We are not big club goers. I don’t like ‘party’ as a verb to begin with (I don’t know how Brett feels about ‘party’ as a verb).
I don’t begrudge the nightlife. I think what grates me slightly is that it is written about in every guide book with a “GET READY!!!” attitude. It’s mythologized with language like “let loose," “get wild," etc. Blogs give slightly manic preparation tips and tell you to keep up. I don’t mind Icelanders doing what they do for the reasons they do it, but we saw many American tourists rubbing their hands together at the though of getting “wild” in Iceland (and lots of references to hot Viking chicks). Clearly, I am more of hand rubber for museums. And bakeries! Ice cream! And cultural interactions of a more, ahem, sober bent.
That’s not meant to be superior and in fact sometimes I wish I were more cut-loose-y. It’s an acknowledgment that we travel as who we are, perhaps unless we are actively trying to escape who we are. There are folk for whom a wild nightlife is integral to a travel experience. And clearly, Iceland is good for that. Perhaps if it had not been on the one night on this trip we knew we needed to get up early. We had a true need for sleep. Seeing Brett make earplugs out of wet paper towels was pretty awesome though.
Till next weekend rúntur, when we battle again. And, Reykjavik, you’re still my dog.