diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's not easy to go up things in Reykjavik. There aren't any handy volcanoes, and most buildings are fairly lowrise. But there are a few tall things to go up, from which to look down, and I've been up three.

Harpa (Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre)
It sounded like a good idea at the time. Build a massive concert hall complex on the harbourside, fund it with bottomless bank funds, and give the cultural elite somewhere to socialise. It didn't seem such a good idea when Landsbanki went belly-up in 2008 and a half-finished eyesore was left by the harbour. But the government reluctantly picked up the bill, and last month the huge glass building on the foreshore finally opened. The facade does look stunning in the sunlight, with glittering windows arranged in pseudo-crystalline formation, but also terribly out of scale with the rest of downtown Reykjavik. Workmen are still finishing bits off inside, but the cafe and gift shop are ready, as are the main halls and the restaurant on the fourth floor. Jamie Cullum played last week, but mostly it's proper classical stuff as played by the Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands. Even if you haven't got a ticket, nip inside out of the biting wind and enjoy the architecture from within. The view out back across the harbour's nice, but better still is the low-slanting staircase suspended across the front window, climbing which is like entering a glittering cave full of shining treasure. From the terrace at the top, look out through the geometric panes for a half-decent panorama of downtown Reykjavik.

Reykjavik's tallest church is a landmark across the town, standing 75m high on a hill overlooking the main town. From the front it looks like a rocket, with two low wings spread out across the grass like basalt columns. The tower shoots up to a serrated spire, containing bells which ring out across the capital every quarter hour. After investigating the church's lofty interior, visitors can take the lift up to an observation deck at clock level, then one staircase higher to peer out across the city. Rolling down to the shorefront are brightly painted roofs - mostly red, blue or white - a mixture between a border town and a model village.

Perlan (The Pearl)
On a hill surrounded by grassland to the south of the city, a collection of five water tanks has been converted into a landmark structure and visitor centre. It's easily spotted from a distance thanks to the silvery dome erected on top, which contains a fine restaurant for those with several thousand kronur to spare. Non-diners can rise as far as the storey below, where there's a 360° observation deck, a much-less-cordon-bleu cafe and a Christmas gift shop. That splattering noise you can hear every five minutes isn't rain on the roof, it's an artificial geyser firing up the side of the central staircase. A more impressive (but equally fake) geyser springs forth from the parkland below, mainly for the benefit of tourists who can't be bothered to take a coach ride to see the real thing.

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