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This is Hlemmur, the bus terminal on the east end of Laugarvegur, the main shopping street. It looks a little spare and grey and cold, doesn't it? Contrast this with the last photo of flowers, statues and happy kids and you have a clear image of the Other Side of Reykjavik.

Yep, our pretty little city has an underbelly, just like any city, and it's centered around this bus terminal. The neglected and run-down and addicted gather here to support one another and to feel connected to some kind of hub.

When I was 19 in Santa Cruz, California, I used to hang out with the punks on the south end of the Pacific Garden Mall, just by the bus terminal. The hippies owned the north end, and our worlds never really intersected. We'd hang out all day, with the exception of going to work (for those few of us that had jobs). Some of the kids would panhandle for change for a community pack of smokes or for a case of cheap beer. Though a lot of us were just slummin' it, being from good families, there were plenty of kids who had no homes and nothing to tie them to the world. Our spot on the Mall gave them a center, a home base, and a sense of identity. There was some kind of importance to hanging out all day, and an almost romantic feeling of community. We helped each other when we could and when we couldn't, we relied on the kindness of strangers.

Hlemmur gives the same sense of community to Reykjavik's population of misfits and street people. I respect that. But it still makes me uncomfortable to stay too long in this part of town. It's only a ten minute walk from my apartment, but it seems light years away.

Moral of the story: this isn't the best chunk of Reykjavik to stay in. Or if you like to get a broader sense of the culture of a foreign country, maybe it is.

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