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25 Things You Should Know About Reykjavik

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The flight to Iceland is less than six hours from New York City, but as soon as you touch ground, it’s apparent you’re in a different world. The roads are almost always clear, with breathtaking views stretching in every direction. And it’s common to wander for blocks in the island’s capital city of Reykjavik before seeing another human being. Once you grow accustomed to the serenity on the surface, the beauty of the culture—shaped by its storied history and natural wonders—emerges. Chisel your way through 25 facts about Iceland’s waterfront metropolis.

1. Just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle at a latitude of 64 degrees and 8 minutes north, Reykjavik is the northernmost capital on the planet.

2. The Icelandic city’s proximity to the North Pole means that it gets as little as four hours of sunlight in the winter and as much as 21 hours of daylight in the summer (making the summer months the perfect time to revel in the midnight sun).

3. A fugitive from Norway, Ingólfur Arnarson became the first Icelander when he settled on the island in the 870s, around where Reykjavik is now. Just how official is he? He’s listed in Landnamabok, a medieval book of settlements.


4.
The steam rising from the area's hot springs gave Reykjavik its name, which literally translates to “Cove of Smokes,” or more eloquently, "Smoky Bay."

5. Iceland holds the honor of having the world’s oldest parliament, which was formed in 930 in Thingvellir. Although it was discontinued for a period in the early 1800s, the national parliament, Althingi, was reestablished in 1844 in Reykjavik, where it’s still housed next to Austurvöllur Square.

6. Towering over the Reykjavik skyline is Hallgrimskirkja, a 240-foot tall Evangelical Lutheran church. Resembling volcanic basalt lava columns, the structure, which opened in 1986, took 41 years to build and is the tallest building in the city—as well as the second tallest in the entire country. The church is home to a 25-ton, 5275-pipe organ, installed in 1992.

7. One of the most popular foods in Iceland? Believe it or not, hot dogs! And there’s no better spot to get the wieners than Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a local stand. The kiosk has been in the Reykjavik harbor since 1937, but President Bill Clinton’s 2004 visit solidified its constant long line of locals and tourists waiting for the lamb-based frank doused in ketchup, mustard, remoulade (mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish), and both raw and fried onions, which give it just a bit of a crunch.

8. Of Iceland’s 332,750 residents, 64 percent, or 213,760, live in the Reykjavik region—with 37 percent, or 122,550, within the capital's city limits.

9. Perched atop the Öskjuhlíð hill is Perlan, or The Pearl—a dome sitting atop six water tanks each holding more than a million gallons of water at a temperature of 185°F. While the tanks provide the water for the greater Reykjavik area, the dome above it, featuring 1176 window panes, holds a rotating restaurant revealing a sky-high panoramic view of the capital. And hear this: The Winter Garden performance space inside the structure won the Golden Ear award in 1993 for its sound design.

10. The Saga Museum, which features 17 exhibits tracing Icelandic history from the Norwegian exodus to the Black Death, used to be in the Perlan as well, but in April 2014, reopened in a larger space in a historic home on the Reykjavik harbor.

11. Dionne Warwick, Cyndi Lauper and Tony Bennett’s concerts join Shakespeare's Globe Theatre’s Hamlet and St. Petersburg Festival Ballet’s Swan Lake as some of the most notable performances to take place in Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre. The venue has welcomed more than 5 million guests since it opened on May 4, 2011. The waterfront home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera was designed by Olafur Eliasson, Henning Larsen Architects, and Batteríið Architects and racked up numerous architectural accolades, including the Mies van der Rohe honors in 2013.

12. The country’s biggest flea market is Kolaportið, located near the Reykjavik Harbor. From vintage records to shark meat, the indoor stalls, which started selling their wares in 1989, are open on weekends from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

13. On what would have been John Lennon’s 67th birthday on October 8, 2007, Yoko Ono revealed an outdoor beam of light called the Imagine Peace Tower on the city’s Viðey Island in honor of her late husband. “I hope the Imagine Peace Tower will give light to the strong wishes of World Peace from all corners of the planet. And give encouragement, inspiration and a sense of solidarity in a world now filled with fear and confusion. Let us come together to realise a peaceful world,” Ono said. Now it is lit annually from October 9 to December 8, December 21 to December 31, February 18, and March 20 to 27.

14. Prohibition in Iceland started in 1915, but red wine was legalized less than 10 years later, and spirits followed suit in the 1930s. However, beer was illegal in the country until March 1, 1989—on a day when the high was only 23°F. Now the landmark date is celebrated annually in Reykjavik as Bjordagur, or Beer Day.

15. Raise a glass ... or three? Perhaps because they were deprived for so long, beer now accounts for 62 percent of the alcohol consumption in the country. That even tops brewski-loving Germany with 54 percent and the United Kingdom with 37 percent, according to the World Health Organization [PDF]. Most of the city’s nightlife is centered around the main shopping street, Laugavegur, where the bar scene really kicks in after 1 a.m. Closing time at most pubs is around 5 a.m.

16. Spot a seemingly-abandoned baby napping outside? Don’t panic! For generations, Icelanders have believed in letting infants sleep in the fresh air—even in cold temperatures—and routinely leave their precious cargo in their strollers while they run errands.

17. There aren’t any McDonald’s restaurants in the country, but there is a burger from the fast food chain in Reykjavik. The day before the last Golden Arches closed in Iceland on October 30, 2009, Hjörtur Smárason bought a cheeseburger and fries, which is currently being left to rot live on webcam at the Bus Hostel.

18. Singer-actress Bjork was born and raised in the Icelandic capital. “I used to walk outside on the outskirts of Reykjavik—it was a 40-minute walk to school through winter in the dark, and in blizzards sometimes. This is where I started writing my melodies,” she has said. “This is where I come from, what I’m made of.”

19. Although the manmade Blue Lagoon is known as one of Reykjavik’s most popular attractions, it’s actually 31 miles away from the city, closer to Keflavik Airport—the country’s international hub.

20. As an alternative, visit the lesser-known geothermal bathing beach, Nauthólsvík, right in Reykjavik, which opened in 2000. In the winter, the facilities are only open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays for less than $5, but in the summer, it’s open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. … and admission is free!

21. In 2011, Reykjavik was the fifth city named a City of Literature by UNESCO, thanks to its “invaluable heritage of ancient medieval literature” and “the central role literature plays within the modern urban landscape.”

22. More than 40 species of birds—including graylags, eiders, and arctic terns—spread their wings at the lake Tjörnin, which means “The Pond,” right in the middle of town.

23. Festivals galore! The Icelandic city has become a hub for annual events, including the Winter Lights Festival, the International Festival of Children’s Literature, the Reykjavik International Film Festival, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival, Design March, and Ingólfshátíð Viking Festival—where Vikings from around the globe gather to celebrate their heritage.

24. The Swedish whitebeam tree standing in a raised flower bed on Aðalstræti street is the oldest tree in Reykjavik, planted by a Danish doctor Georg Hans Schierbeck in 1884 [PDF].

25. Although artist Jon Gunnar Arnason’s stainless steel structure, Solfar Sun Voyager, resembles a Viking ship (especially because of its waterfront location on the Reykjavik shoreline), his intention was for it to serve as an "ode to the sun."

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted

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IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars
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Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.

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8 Projects That Reenvision the Traditional Cemetery
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Globally, nearly 57 million people died in 2016. If you happen to be a cemetery caretaker, you might be wondering where we managed to put them all. Indeed, many cemeteries in the world’s major cities are filling up fast, with no choice left but to tear up walkways, trees, and green spaces just to make room for more graves.

In response to these concerns, a variety of visionaries have attempted to reimagine the modern cemetery. These plans tend to fall into one of two camps: Biologists and environmentalists have brainstormed alternate methods for disposing of bodies, some of which are said to be better for the planet than the traditional methods of burial and cremation. Meanwhile, architects have looked at ways of adapting the burial space itself, whether that means altering a traditional cemetery or creating something new and more ephemeral. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that have emerged in recent years.

1. VERTICAL CEMETERIES

As cemeteries started running out of ground to dig, it was only a matter of time before they started building up. There's been a lot of talk about skyscraper cemeteries in recent years, although the idea dates back to at least 1829, when British architect Thomas Willson proposed a 94-story mausoleum in London.

"The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence," says Martin McSherry, whose design for an open-air skyscraper cemetery with layers of park-like burial grounds was one of the proposals presented at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards in 2013. Another recent plan by architecture students in Sweden suggested repurposing a cluster of silos into a vertical columbarium (a place to store urns). Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica was one of the first places to implement this vertical concept back in 1984, and at 32 stories high, it currently holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest cemetery.

2. REUSABLE GRAVES

For much of human history, graves were often reused, or common graves were dug deep enough to accommodate multiple bodies stacked one on top of the other. “Our current cemetery design is actually a pretty new thing,” Allison Meier, a New York City cemetery tour guide (and Mental Floss writer), tells us. “It wasn’t normal for everyone to get a headstone in the past and we didn’t have these big sprawling green spaces.”

Now that many urban cemeteries are filling up, the idea of reusing plots is once again gaining popularity. In London, it’s estimated that only one-third of the city’s boroughs will have burial space by 2031. In response, the City of London Cemetery—one of the biggest cemeteries in Britain—has started reusing certain grave plots (the practice is legal in the city, even though grave reuse is outlawed elsewhere in England).

Across continental Europe, however, it's not uncommon for graves to be "rented" rather than bought for all eternity. In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Greece, families can hold a plot for their loved one as long as they continue to pay a rental fee. If they stop paying, the grave may be reused, with the previous remains either buried deeper or relocated to a common grave.

Meier says she isn’t aware of any cemeteries in New York City that have started reusing their plots, though. “That’s a tough thing for Americans to get on board with because it’s been a normal practice in a lot of places, but it’s never been normal here,” she says.

3. A FLOATING COLUMBARIUM

A rendering of a floating columbarium
BREAD Studio

Ninety percent of bodies in Hong Kong are cremated, according to CNN, and niches in the city's public columbaria are at a premium. The average wait for a space is about four years, sparking concerns that Hong Kongers could be forced to move their loved ones' ashes across the border to mainland China, where more space is available. (A space at a private columbarium in Hong Kong can be prohibitively expensive, at a cost of about $128,000.) To address this issue, a proposal emerged in 2012 to convert a cruise ship into a floating columbarium dubbed the “Floating Eternity.” Designed by Hong Kong and London-based architecture firm BREAD Studio, the columbarium would be able to accommodate the ashes of 370,000 people. Although it's still just an idea, BREAD Studio designer Benny Lee tells CNN, "A floating cemetery is the next natural step in Hong Kong's history of graveyards."

4. UNDERWATER MEMORIALS

An underwater lion sculpture and other memorials
Neptune Reef

Land may be limited, but the sea is vast—and several companies want to take the cemetery concept underwater. At Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, human ashes are mixed with cement to create unique memorials in the shape of seashells and other objects of the client's choice. The memorials are then taken by divers to the ocean floor and incorporated into a human-made reef designed to look like the Lost City of Atlantis. Eternal Reefs, based out of Sarasota, Florida, offers a similar service.

5. SPACE MEMORIALS

Not a water person? Try space instead. Elysium Space, a San Francisco-based company founded by a former software engineer at NASA, offers a couple of “celestial services.” At a cost of nearly $2500, the Shooting Star Memorial “delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star,” while the Lunar Memorial will deliver a "symbolic portion" of human remains to the surface of the moon for a fee of nearly $10,000. Another company, Celestis, offers similar services ranging in price from $1300 to $12,500.

6. HUMAN COMPOSTING

Shoveling soil
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Critics of burial and cremation say both are bad for the environment. To address the need for a memorial method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, waste resources, or release carcinogenic embalming fluid into the soil, a number of eco-friendly options have emerged. One such innovation is the “mushroom burial suit," a head-to-toe outfit that's lined with mushroom spores designed to devour human tissue and absorb the body's toxins. Another company, Recompose, espouses human composting—a process by which a corpse would be converted into a cubic yard of soil, which could then be used to nurture new life in a garden. The procedure isn’t legal yet, but the company plans to work with the Washington State legislature to make it available to the general public before eventually rolling it out nationwide.

7. DEATH AS ART

Many innovative proposals have emerged from the DeathLAB at Columbia University, including a plan to convert human biomass (organic matter) into light. The design—a constellation of light that would serve as both a memorial and art installation—won a competition hosted by Future Cemetery, a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society and media company Calling the Shots. John Troyer, director of the UK-based center, says they're working on raising funds to install a concept piece based on that design at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, but any usage of actual biomass would have to be cleared through the proper regulatory channels first. According to DeathLAB, the project would save significant space—within six years, it would more than double the capacity of the cemetery orchard where the memorials would be installed.

8. VIRTUAL CEMETERIES

As virtual reality technology gets more and more advanced, some question whether a physical cemetery is needed at all. The website iVeneration.com, founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, lets users "create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park," as Reuters describes it. In Japan, one online cemetery allows the bereaved to “light” incense, share memories of their loved one in comments, and even grab a virtual glass of beer. Similarly, an app called RiPCemetery created a social network where users can craft a virtual memorial and share photos of the deceased.

However, Troyer says he doesn’t believe technology will ever usurp the need for physical spaces. “A lot of the companies talking about digital solutions talk about ‘forever’—and that’s very complicated with the internet, because the virtual material we create can easily disappear," he told the The Guardian. "The lowly gravestone has been a very successful human technology, and I suspect it will last … I would go with granite.”

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