My return ticket brought me back to Iceland the morning of Menningarnótt, a city-wide festival that loosely serves as a farewell to summer, welcome to autumn, and a general celebration of the lively cultural life at the heart of this city (and this year happened to mark 20 years of Menningarnótt). I can’t remember whether this was intentional or not, but I was happy not to miss it, even though I knew I’d be tired.
After a few hours of not-so-deep sleep, I went with Ásta to meet the Snorri Plus group, who had just completed the 3 k fun run of the Reykjavík Marathon. We headed over to Bæjarins Beztu for post-race (or, for me, post-flight) pylsur. After the Snorris scurried away to have their own Menningarnótt fun, Ásta, Erin and I hung out near Bæjarins Beztu for a little bit. Within the span of about ten minutes, several friends walked by, including my Irish friend Kevin, who gives walking tours around the city, and my Seattle friend Mark, who just bought an apartment a stone’s throw away from our house. Being there with friends old and new and running into people I know really made me feel very quickly that I was home. It was a warm and fuzzy feeling that helped drown out the cold exhaustion.
I met up with my friend Steffi and we got in line for vöfflukaffi. Vöfflukaffi (literally “waffle coffee”) has become a tradition on Menningarnótt. Residents of a certain downtown area open their homes to friends and strangers for free waffles and coffee. While there were at least seven or eight homes to choose from, we of course went for vöfflukaffi at the home of Reykjavík’s most beautiful head of hair, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson.
This being the third time I’ve seen him at a public event this summer, and having chickened out on getting a photo with him the first two times, I was determined to get a photo this time around. But… I didn’t. It was insanely crowded and terribly hot and Dagur was busy cranking out waffle after waffle.
It should be noted that while the weather was fine in the morning, it got progressively worse throughout the afternoon. Having come from five weeks of hot, dry weather in Washington, though, I was actually thrilled to enjoy a legitimate downpour, especially because for once it was not windy, allowing Icelanders and visitors alike to make use of umbrellas – something very rarely seen in Iceland.
Steffi and I made our way down Laufásvegur to a backyard singer-songwriter concert. We stayed to hear Svavar Knútur and Hafdís Huld, but poor Steffi was not dressed for a downpour, and with her shoes soaked through, she wanted to get somewhere warm and dry. So we walked across town and camped out at Stofan for a few hours.
One of the big attractions on Menningarnótt is Tónaflóð, a big outdoor concert at Arnórhóll. Since I wasn’t terribly excited about any of the performers this year, I opted to watch it from the comfort of the couch at home with Ásta’s pabbi. This not only meant that I didn’t have to be cold and wet, it also meant that I got a running commentary from a real live Icelander, which always makes these things more enjoyable. Watching just about any Icelandic show, be it a news program, documentary, sitcom, or a live stream from an event like Tónaflóð, with an Icelander means that you will get to find out all the details of who’s who and who did what and who was married to whom and who got arrested for this and who is famous for that.
Shortly before 11.00, I headed back out and made my way down toward Arnorhóll to meet up with friends and watch the fireworks show. Last year, tired and overwhelmed, I stayed home and watched them on TV, so this year I wanted to make an effort to go see them in person. The show was only about 10 minutes long, but it was spectacular, with fireworks shooting off near Harpa and from a couple other locations along the water. I read a horrible rumor recently that this may be the last year that fireworks are shot off for Menningarnótt, or at least so close to downtown. I hope that’s not true. There’s some kind of magic to watching fireworks burst in the night sky in the company of thousands of other spectators. (And, I have to admit, I much prefer this type of orchestrated show to the free-for-all madness of New Year’s Eve here, but I know I’m probably in the minority on that.)
A fun fact about the name: “Menningarnótt” translates to “Culture Night,” and I’ve always wondered why an event that takes place all day long bore this name. Well, while watching the live broadcast of the Tónaflóð concert, I learned that twenty years ago, when Menninarnótt began, it was in fact an evening program, running from 10 PM – 3 AM or something like that. Over time, it has grown and evolved into a full day festival with events for people of all ages, but by that point the name had stuck, and so it will forevermore be Culture Night.
Takk fyrir frábæran dag, Reykjavík!