Sunday, July 17, 2016

Afmælishátið í Ísafjarðarbæ

Open water swimming
This weekend the municipality of Ísafjarðarbær – which today consists of the town of Ísafjörður and the smaller villages of Suðureyri, Hnífsdalur, Þingeyri and Flateyri – is celebrating its 150-year anniversary with a whopper of a festival.  
Remains of the shrimp feast
It is combined on the same weekend with the annual Runners’ Festival “Hlaupahátíð”, which includes various running events (45k, 24k, 10k and fun-runs),  open water swimming (500m, 1500m) and a mountain bike race (55 km). This event in itself is packed full of excitement, but topped with the anniversary, it’s really a special weekend that I don’t want to miss.  

Cute kids in national costumes
The fun begins even well before the weekend, with Svavar Knútur performing already on Wednesday together with Kristjána Stefáns in his hometown of Flateyri and I am a joyful witness. Although the show begins quite late at 10pm, the night is so clear and beautiful that it‘s almost a shame to sit indoors in a stuffy bar. But the venue is packed and the mixed crowd of Germans and Icelanders creates a warm atmosphere. Driving home after midnight, the sun illuminates only the highest peaks of the mountains reflected in the calm water, painting the fjord in a yellow afterglow. 

The President & Mayor


On Thursday, Ólöf Arnalds and Lára Rúnars perform at the avalanche wall in Flateyri, but I unfortunately miss this event due to the disadvantage of not having a car. On Friday afternoon, the serious fun begins with all kinds of events, including a shrimp feast, circus acrobatics, and other events for young and old. The evening is rounded off with free live music at various locations.

But Saturday is the big day, beginning at 10am with is a historical walk around town. At noon well over 150 ladies in the traditional Icelandic costume (Þjóðbúningurinn) gather in front of the library to strut their stuff. There is even a national costume authority in existence since 2001 to preserve the correct techniques of making them and instruct people how to make their own. One of the more entertaining aspects is the hat that is worn by some women, in particular the spaðafaldur which I feel resembles a small gardening tool. I guess the regulating authority isn’t responsible for shoes, since the most modern creations can be seen peeking out from under the costumes. The children are particularly adorable in costume and on their best behavior for all the photographs. 

Very pretty in the national dress
Good live music

The excitement then shifts to the town square Silfurtorg, with speeches from the mayor and President of Iceland, who is originally from here, and a parade with music. There are more fun and games for the kids in the afternoon, the opening of an exhibition at the museum, and the cafes are flooded with people enjoying coffee and cake. 

At 9pm there is live music outdoors in front of the bank and the weather couldn’t be better for it. Two cover bands warm up the crowd and bring plenty of townsfolk to their feet, and a modern band of youngsters caps things off later in the night. In between, people are relishing a late night snack of pizza or hotdogs, ice cream and cotton candy and even I succumb to the pressure of feeding on junk food in the middle of the night. At midnight there is a perfect sunset over the ocean and the day is over for me, but for those who feel like partying longer, there is more live music at three different venues in town.