So I guess you could say that my third trip was always going to be a matter of when as opposed to ‘if’ I was to return. I decided to give the summer period a miss in 2011 mainly because my passport would be away with the Home Office as I finalised my British citizenship. By the time it had arrived back and I had finally (after six and a half years) achieved British Citizen status I was well and truly ready for the trip back to the place that was slowly beginning to really feel like home. It would also allow me to stay longer as the accommodation rates drop dramatically later on in the year. As the Airwaves Festival falls in October over five nights I decided that this would be a good time to go. A pass for the five nights cost 13,500 ISK which is a pretty sweet deal and would be a great way to get to know more of the town’s venues.
Having had an uncomfortable experience going through Heathrow last time around I decided to try a different approach. I booked with Iceland Express who had attempted to set up a direct route from Belfast in 2011 but wound up putting it off for a year. This time I would transfer through Gatwick and see how that went. Going in October allowed me to book eleven nights at the Hotel Cabin for £252. This would give me the five nights of the festival and plenty of time to do whatever else I wanted to get up to. Visiting Harpa would be on the agenda which I would do as part of the festival as would a day doing the South Shore Adventure with Reykjavík Excursions. Shopping would also be necessary for some new cold weather gear. There would also be a lot of photo taking and a little writing to be done this time around.
Finally the weather has turned up as I have always expected it might. The first night in town was peaceful enough but the following morning I woke up to an outdoor sound that reminded me of the road works back in Belfast that had been going on up and down the Lisburn Road for a week before I left. It was the wind. Wales were winning against the Irish in the World Cup Quarter Finals and France were just about to beat England, with or without the wind.
The Iceland Airwaves festival proved to be a revelation, I had no idea that such a small place could have so many great bands. Vicky, Skúli Mennski, Cliff Clavin, Endless Dark, the talented Valgeir Sigurðsson, the enormously likeable Dikta and the fucking incredible Norwegian outfit Honningbarna.
October in Iceland; the ground is nearly always wet and the girls are impossibly beautiful. If the wind’s not knocking you off your feet then they most certainly will. Speaking of beautiful sights, one night walking home the Northern Lights gave a brief, green display over the harbour. It truly is a magical place.
After the wind had died down the two days leading up to the festival were beautiful weather-wise and I decided to take full advantage of them. The Monday I did the South Shore Adventure which took us to Skógur, past Eyjafjallajökull all the way down to Vík and the incredible black sand beach nearby with its basalt columns and other-worldly surf. On the way back we visited Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, both stunning waterfalls and we also walked up to the base of a nearby glacier. On the way down we passed through Selfoss and Hella and on the way back the guide pointed out the final resting place of Bobby Fischer my favourite, crazy chess grandmaster.
The Tuesday I went horse riding at Íshestar Riding Tours near Hafnarfjörður. The day was another stunning afternoon and I can now fully appreciate the attraction that people have towards horses. The connection between horse and rider is a truly beautiful thing. My horse was called Hoppiloss. The trail took us through the lava fields weaving in between people’s little summerhouses. One of the guides was one of the most stunningly pretty women I’ve ever met. This trip would be the one when I would fully appreciate the intense appeal of Icelandic women.
Before the festival kicked off I checked out Bíó Paradís and saw ‘Carlos: The Movie’. The theatre reminded me of Charlie Gray’s from the 1980s in Auckland. The first festival moment was seeing ‘Everything, Everywhere, All The Time’ which was a great insight into some local artists and introduced me to the work of Valgeir Sigurðsson who composed one of the pieces that I would see performed at Harpa the following night. The Wednesday night I waited patiently (too patiently as it would turn out) for the wind and the rain to die down before heading down to NASA to see Sykur. By the time I’d arrived there was a huge queue around Austurvöllur Square waiting to get in and I gave up and went to Harpa instead. As I was getting there the crowd from Björk’s first gig was getting out and this would be the night that I discovered Dikta who are still quite possibly my favourite Icelandic act (still).
The next night was in the concert chamber at Harpa which was even more incredible than the photos had led me to believe. The place is spectacular to look at, sounded great and had a really intimate feel to it despite being so big. All of a sudden the Ulster Hall in Belfast looked really sad.
Out the back of Harpa in the exhibition space I discovered a series of documentaries on Nick Cave and the making of three of his albums which had recently been re-mastered being played around the clock for anyone to watch. Interviews with band members, producers and friends about the making of The First Born Is Dead, Tender Prey and The Boatman’s Call were an incredibly unexpected treat about a truly inspirational man.
The Friday I decided to go see Dikta again at Hemmi og Valdi’s, a tiny Café on Laugavegur before heading down to Gaukur á Stöng nice and early to settle in for a night of rock ‘n roll. The bands started with the incredibly sexy Vicky and then continued with the weird and wonderful Cliff Clavin. Then came the almighty Honningbarna and the night was finished off by Endless Dark.
I managed to get all my location photos done for my first novel while I was there and can now see all the places where the story takes place which is a great help. I went back to Bíó Paradís one last time to see ‘Midnight in Paris’ which completely rekindled my passion for Woody Allen. The overwhelming feeling as I left once again was that I already missed the place and despite the terrible weather I wanted to live there. Badly.