27 August 2010

downtown love

I'm in my third month of being a downtown girl again, and after this last weekend, I think I'm a fan. My brother was in town for the weekend, one of the best in the whole Reykjavík activity calendar. First on the program, the Reykjavík marathon, a great race that offers distances for all types of runners- 3k for the kids and purely recreational folks, 10k and half marathon for the more ambitious, and the full marathon for the hardcore folks.

After much encouraging from S last year I'd done the half and had enjoyed it enough to decide to go for it again. We convinced my bro to sign up for the 10k on the spur of the moment as we were picking up our race packs on Friday evening, so when Saturday morning dawned, we all were suiting up in our race gear. We drank the special German dissolving mineral tablets for extra energy, and then moseyed down to the starting line (see, bonus feature of living in 101!).

This race is great for the scenery and fresh cool temperatures, because it's almost completely flat, and because the course offers plenty of viewing and cheering spots for spectators. We all start off by running over the bridge across Tjörnin, then out towards the university and down a street that seems to have made a reputation for being the pots-and-pans cheering street. From there it runs along the southern side of the peninsula out to Seltjarnarnes before crossing to the northern bay view. Along the street heading north, an old group of dudes had set up a band on the street and were playing cheerful blues tunes as we ran by (applauding them, of course). The course then turns back to the center of town, passing downtown to follow the edge of the bay to the working harbour area where cruise ships, grain ships, cargo ships are all lined up. Then, there's the one gentle uphill in the course before turning back and running the last painful kilometers to the center of town again.

My friend H had her rollerblades out that day so she popped up a few times to cheer, along with our friend S who cycled along the course to provide much-needed encouragement in the long stretch after the halfway mark. This, combined with a beautifully sunny day and only a smidge of breeze made the race really an amazing experience and I finished with the determination that I will definitely do this race as long as I'm living here.

After the race we all toddled home slowly to grab swim gear and go laze in the rooftop hotpot in our local pool, along with all the other runners- my locker room was full of women bearing the telltale red marks of sports bras rubbing shoulders and ribcages raw over long distances. Next, the traditional post-race hamburger & beer at Vegamót before we hobbled home to rest.

One of the few unfortunate things about this marathon is that it's on the same day as the most thrilling day in Reykjavík, a full program of cultural events of every sort imaginable- music to suit any ear, food, art exhibits, theater, historical walks, and street markets of all flavours. My brother and I lazed in the sunny living room for a few hours, listening to the thrum of activity outside before we worked up the energy to climb the hill to Hallgrímskirkja where a massive choral festival was in progress. Choirs from countries ringing the Baltic sea were in attendance, and we arrived just in time to hear an incredibly skilled Danish choir perform. Sitting in a late-arriving shaft of sunlight, tired from the race and in cozy family companionship while perfectly executed music washed over the audience was exactly the right way to spend the hours approaching evening.

We listened to a few more acts until a shy Greenlandic choir took the stage in their traditional costume, embroidered leggings and all. They seemed new to the traveling performance experience, a directorless choir with a minimal repertoire, so we stayed for a few songs in encouragement, then departed for other venues. My brother had mentioned wanting to take home some local music so we stopped at 12 tónar on our way down the hill where he dove into the experience of this great shop with enthusiasm. Sipping on red wine while tucked into their snug basement listening corner, we swapped discs back and forth until we'd found just the right CDs for him to take home.

Then, we wandered down the street a bit further, past the discarded trousers and shoes that were apparently installed to test our preconceived notions (of what, I can't say), through the crowd listening to a typical girl-with-a-guitar sound, down to where 2 extremely young DJ types were mixing some infectious rhythms. Some kind of performance was happening on a balcony so we paused before returning up the street via one of the noodle soup shops there. I'd heard this place was good and the crowd inside seemed to support it so we ordered 2 bowls of the beef and weren't disappointed. The meat is tender, the broth rich, the sprouts nice and crunchy, and the hotness the right temperature to warm you up on an August evening as darkness descends over town.

And then, home. We passed the streets full of illegally parked cars that were getting thoroughly covered with parking tickets, just like they'd threatened to do in the news. It was good to be able to walk home, and also avoid what was probably the biggest traffic jam of the year as everyone tried to leave after the fireworks were over. At that time we were all sitting in a row on the couch with wine and specially imported Reese's Pieces (note: do not go well with wine but are still deeeelicious when not having had them for a year). Yes, life downtown has its great days.