Menningarnótt, Culture Day in Iceland

With only a few days in August spent not on horse back, every time I went back to Reykjavik I had this weird culture shock of not being in the middle of nowhere. What’s good for culture shock is probably culture overload, and I got just that. Menningarnott is literally translated as Culture Night in Reykjavik, but its actually an all day festival where the entire downtown area of Reykjavik is a big street fair with concerts and markets lining various neighborhoods. All ages walk around, kids, party people, adults and seniors, and you can see balloons and streamers and hear live music from almost anywhere. People have garage sales on their doorsteps and restaurants make temporary street food stands to sell delicious hot dogs and hamburgers in all the major squares.

Lost shoes

There is so much going on in a day that the schedule is just crammed with event listings in hundreds of different locations and venues that its impossible to even pick what you want to do or see everything you want to see. I decided just to spend the day wandering around following my senses. I started by walking with the direction of the wind since it was a bit chilly, and ended up at the National Art Museum by the pond to see some classical music. Then I followed my cousin to a street fair where all the neighbours were trying to sell old treasures.

I ran into a famous actor from Iceland there and couldn’t help but stare since he looked like he was stuck in this surreal movie scene of an antique craft market in the middle of modern day Iceland. Next I followed a black and white cat through an alleyway, and he would never let me get close enough to pet him so after rubbing his furry self on all the doorways and doorsteps, led me towards the Norwegian embassy where Retro Stefansson were giving a live show. I bobbed my head to some great music there, ran into a friend who has the most beautiful, long red hair that you could never miss seeing him in a crowd, and then continued on past a fire-roasting naan bread food stand. Random, no?

I then passed a pair of leather shoes on the sidewalk, politely placed beside each other as if someone were to step in them any minute. Everyone kept walking past them taking no notice so I decided to do the same. Then I walked past the same scene, this time also with a pair of pants, and I looked around for the pantless, barefoot owner and saw no one. Again no one seemed to care so I didn’t think of notifying any sort of lost and found. Shortly after I saw the same thing again, a pair of mens dress shoes and pants on the sidewalk, and two blocks later passed just a pair of pants crumbled on the floor. They must belong to the first pair of shoes… but who knows.

I stumbled past many other entertaining scenes and colourfully dressed people. The young women have such incredible, individualistic style, and I love when they paint their lips in the brightest shades of pink and red with their porcelain pale skin as contrast. Everyone has style and looks super cool as if advertising some personal culture on Menningarnott. The actual night time gets even more crazy and ‘cultural’ with public drinking bringing out everyones true selves.

Aerial view of menningarnott

Headliner bands play in the main square and another stage beside the famous hotdog stand also gets a full crowd. After nudging shoulders every step of the way to get anywhere, me and my 6 friends visiting from Canada went between stages and ate a couple hot dogs, and then took in the firework show that my British friend Evelyn swore were the best fireworks she had ever seen in her life. The party continued on the streets as one third of Iceland could never fit into all the bars and nightclubs even with every single one filled to capacity. Its basically like new years night but with better weather, but still imagining how busy it was didn’t compare to how crazy it actually was. We made it into 2 different venues after waiting in moderate line ups, but when we left to go home at 4 am, we realized why – the true Icelanders were just getting started then, and all the line ups were full of people prepared to be out til broad daylight.

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