Reykjavík Rúntur – My 23rd Birthday

My 23rd birthday had finally come, but I wasn’t crazy pumped up for it. I don’t mean to say that I was dreading it or anything. I just mean that the prospect of being in Reykjavík for the first time excited me more than my birthday did.

Maybe it’s because there’s nothing special about 23, except when you’re singing What’s My Age Again by Blink-182. Maybe it’s because I was going through a stage where I didn’t see the point in celebrating a day that I hadn’t achieved anything notable on. I mean, doesn’t my mother have much more to do with the day than I do? On September 24th, she brought a new person into existence, and I just happen to be the guy that showed up. I didn’t win anything on September 24th. I didn’t invent or discover anything. No extraordinary feats of strength or intelligence have been performed by me on my birthday (yet). Why don’t we celebrate me on a day that I did do something impressive or remarkable? What’s so special about a birthday?

Anyway – that’s what I used to think about birthdays for a little while. But now I’m like hey, life’s kinda crazy, let’s party! In a wacky world that you could be forced to abruptly leave due to any of a million reasons at a moment’s notice (via untimely death, if that’s unclear), we should be looking for more reasons to celebrate the simple fact that we’re alive, not less.

So yeah. I ended up having a pretty wild night out in Reykjavík. Let’s party!

Conquer Fear Reykjavík
This is one of those photos where you should be able to tell how cold it was just by looking at it.

My morning started very early. Again. I woke up to try and catch the sunrise out by the harbor, but the clouds had other plans. After a nice blue sky yesterday while exploring the Golden Circle, the dreary overcast skies were back. It was a bit rainy, but I wasn’t going to let that get me down. I wanted to get active, so I used good old GoogleMaps to find somewhere I could take a little hike.

I settled on Elliðavatn, a lake just outside of Reykjavík.

The lake wasn’t easily accessible. I wandered around a bit, trying to find a good way to get to the water’s edge. Unfortunately, most of it was private property. Eventually I found a trail worth exploring.

I walked a horse-riding trail through some wetlands. The path bridged this slow-moving stream.

There was nobody else out in the area. It was around 8:00 or 9:00 am on a Saturday morning, and it was rainy. I’m assuming everyone was nursing Friday night hangovers indoors. Having the whole place to myself was pretty great. It was very quiet – the only sounds were made by wildlife or the raindrops on the water. It was very relaxing to be alone by the stream. The temperature had warmed up a bit in the couple hours since I’d been at the harbor.

It was definitely still a bit chilly.

But I had dressed appropriately and was feeling snug and warm inside my rainjacket + windbreaker pants + sweatshirt getup. I was walking the trail for a while, when finally the trees got out of the way and I could see the lake.

Suddenly, I had the unmistakable feeling of wading around rainy parts of Riften Hold in Skyrim. It was as if I’d gotten sucked back into the game, Jumanji-style. Nostalgia attack!

Conquer Fear Reykjavík
I feel like I’m about to assault Goldenglow Estate over here for goodness’ sake.

Getting outside bright and early had me feeling good, so I left after only a short while to ditch the rain. That’s enough exercise to justify a whole bunch of birthday beer later, right? It was time to get dry and find some grub.

When I was munching on some lunch in my hostel room, I looked out the window to see a familiar sight. A rainbow making a glorious landing in Reykjavík’s harbor. Another rainbow? Yawn.

Conquer Fear Reykjavík
Another one (DJ Khaled voice). I think I’ve become desensitized to rainbows.

It was just after noon at this point, and I was having the most relaxed birthday ever. In fact, I wasn’t even planning on having any birthday beers at this point. At most, I was going to go down to the bar on the first floor of the hostel and just a have a few before hitting the road north early next morning. After all, nobody in Reykjavík knew it was my birthday and I had no plans to spill the beans. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I just decided to sleep early and wake up to drive before 6:00 am.

In any case, I still had some time to kill.

As it turns out, my hostel had a Jacuzzi on the roof of the building. That’s just not something I could say no to, despite the frigid temperatures of Icelandic autumn. It was in that Jacuzzi that my nocturnal plans would begin to take shape.

Conquer Fear Reykjavík
Boiling my legs in the afternoon (left), and my first ever Pisco Sours later that night (right)

This Jacuzzi was the hottest that I have ever been in. But the air on top of this Reykjavík hostel was polar. I’ve never been so cold. Or so hot. At the same time. I was constantly in a state of flux. Whatever parts of me were under the water slowly boiled, and whatever parts of me that were above the water slowly froze.

I would slide in all the way up to my neck and boil for bit. Then I would get all the way out except for my shins and down, and freeze for a bit. Rinse and repeat. It was interesting, and strangely therapeutic.

I was doing my little routine when someone from the hostel came out for a smoke. He’s still in my phone as “Spence from Austin,” and that’s all I really know about him. We chatted briefly, and found out we were both from the US. He told me that him and his buddy had met a few girls and they were going to have drinks down at the hostel bar later, and invited me to join. That sounded like a fun time, so we exchanged numbers.

After my soak, I made dinner in the kitchen, and then found myself sitting around with nothing to do. I figured, hey, maybe I’ll head down to the bar and have a few drinks and wait for Spence from Austin.

The funny thing was, I would never hear back from him.

But if I hadn’t met him at the Jacuzzi, I might not have gone to the bar at all. And that’s when I met Raymond, another American from L.A. He had just arrived, and with a list of bars written down that he’d been told would be great that night. It was Saturday night, it was my birthday, and I was in Reykjavík. What the heck – let’s do it! Let’s start crossing bars off the list!

We walked to the most popular strip of Reykjavík. It’s true, the city gives off a kind of small-town vibe. I think it’s the lack of skyscrapers. The first bar was empty. Except for the 25 other guys that were there. We ordered (my very first ever) Pisco Sours, pictured above, as our first drinks. This was when we learned the truth about Reykjavík nightlife from the coat check girl with the American accent. 11 pm is early. It’s extremely early.

The real party doesn’t start until after 1 am.

Conquer Fear Reykjavík
Hanging out in the English Pub (left) and – can you spot the local? (right)

The funny thing about Reykjavík is that nobody refers to the bars by their names. It’s the English Pub, or the Irish Pub, or the American Bar. Though to be fair, that is the actual name of 2 of those 3. We had a few beers in the English Pub, and left to find somewhere a bit less crowded (so we could drink more).

After a short walk down the street we happened upon The Drunk Rabbit, a.k.a. the Irish Pub. This place was much smaller than The English Pub, but no less raucous. There was some fantastically fun live music going on, and I recorded a little bit of it. This was when we met another American, Freya from Georgia. She was the one that enlightened us about the Reykjavík rúntur.

Reykjavík rúntur – what a great name. It really rolls off the tongue. The rúntur is a very interesting holiday. Everyone in the capital goes on a city-wide bar crawl that lasts until the sun comes up! Usually pre-parties go until 12-1 am, and then it’s party-time downtown on Laugavegur Street.

Only it’s not a yearly holiday. Not even close.

It’s every Saturday night.

Good heavens, these people are legendary.

Freya joined our group and we set off into the drinking celebration. I’ll be honest. The next 5 hours have definitely blended together a bit in my memories. Everything after the Irish Pub is a haze of pubs and clubs, drinks and dancing. We must have visited a dozen different venues, all with differing music and drink specials.

I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it all the way to sunup. But somehow, I made it through. At about 5:30 am, I finally found my bed back at ODDSSON hostel. I only had 3.5 hours until checkout! Great!

My 23rd birthday turned into one of the most difficult-to-remember memorable nights in my young life. It was a reinforcement of the idea that many of the best times you’ll have are unplanned events that you explore as you go. I had a blast, and this trip and this night started my birthday celebration tradition – exploring a new country for each one (like maybe New Zealand).

Reykjavík is an amazing city and I want to go back to spend some more time there. I can’t wait to return. If you ever go to Iceland (and you should), then make time for a few nights in Reykjavík. It’s worth the effort.

And for the record, I absolutely missed checkout time by an hour and was woken up by the impossibly polite cleaning staff… Oops.

P.S. Reykjavík Rúntur – My 23rd Birthday was Iceland Part 4. Read on!

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