Thursday, March 13, 2014

The haunted hostel

After the Blue Lagoon relaxation it was soon time to drop Actor and NonSequitor back off in Reykjavik, grab some quick dinner, then head out to our new digs.

Dinner was cheap pizza, sourced from Yelp (unfortunately no pictures...my camera didn't sync them for some reason).

Our new place, researched and found by American J, was called Héraðsskólinn

I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce that. We just generally called it "the old school house" in our conversations about it. 

And so it was:


It's designed by Iceland's most famous architect (originally built in 1928 by Guðjón Samúelsson). 

Originally a school house with student boarders, it was taken out of commission in 1995, only to be bought and restored by the current owner in 2013, reopening as a hostel. They've spent basically since then renovating it and bringing it to the standard it is now. It's gorgeous...and spooky. I think you'll see why:


We arrived in the evening after a long drive from Reykjavik (it's maybe 2 hours away). The wind was blowing at a crazy 45km/hour or so, which made going outside difficult to say the least.

As soon as we checked in we immediately left to go aurora hunting because the activity was reported as being decently high that night (I'll get to that in the next entry), but we were back again around midnight to eat snacks, drink wine, and generally hang out/catch up after our adventure in the windy outdoors.

This is our experience during the times of about midnight 30 and 4am.

The wind was so insane that night it made the house whine and creak like crazy. Lots of whistling and eerie sounds emanated from all floors.

American J was freaked out and so stayed with us in the common room, even after she was exhausted and falling asleep. I first took a look around the common floors (ground floor where the lobby, kitchen, common room was, also the basement floor where the solitary shower was located).


The entire place had an interesting style - like something that had come from the 1960s or 70s and stayed exactly as it had been originally. I liked it; it reminded me of my grandparents' house in a lot of ways, with its older but beautifully reserved relics of a lifestyle now past.


The common room was filled with a library of books, small children's play area, and several couches and armchairs. This is where we made our night time discussion camp.


I should point out now that we were the only inhabitants other than the owner (who runs reception) and two painters who were helping with the renovation.

Literally, it was just the six of us, total. In the entire building. For about 12 hours.


We were all staying on the same floor (the top floor) since that's where the owner could have us nearby even though we were only staying for one night. It's clear that business has not yet picked up for them, though they had rave reviews online.

You could clearly see all of the schoolhouse items that still remained in service - the cafe area with its wooden chairs and formica tables,


numerous clocks along the walls, none of them working.


Even a card catalog system for the books that were everywhere (including in small piles in our individual rooms, which I thought was odd but interesting for someone like me).


I used to love card catalog systems when I was a kid. I paid special care in elementary school to follow exactly as the librarians had dictated: finding the right card, writing down the information (not taking the card out), finding the right book on the appointed shelf, putting in my "book stick" (really just a clean paint stirrer) to keep track of its place on the shelf, and only after determining that I wanted to check it out, removing my stick and bringing it to the front counter.

I can still hear the pleasant crackling of the clear plastic they wrap library books in, protecting the covers from grubby hands, spines flexing to reveal their secrets to me.

There's just something so nostalgic about an actual physical card catalog system instead of an online tool, useful as they are.

I delighted in this one as well, despite the fact that it was awkwardly placed away from the books, and it was likely not all the books in the catalog remained, given its size and the number of books we could easily see in the common areas.


The wind continued to be fierce that night into the next day, when we were getting ready to leave. This photo was taken of the surprisingly dark and creepy lands that surround this renovated schoolhouse.

It is located next to a lake called Laugarvatn. It's basically the only thing around except a lot of exercise clubs, which mostly looked abandoned - at least we didn't see anyone coming or going from them.


Despite these things we all slept well (or as well as you can going to bed at 4:30am and waking up around 10am). Two and Olive braved the scariest basement showers I've ever seen while I decided I'd just wait until we were at our next place (yes, sacrificed the good ole hygiene for the sake of not feeling like I'm going to be chased in an old empty schoolhouse by god knows what).

Even though we were a bit late, the owner was still happy to make us breakfast at 8euros a person (totally reasonable).


The breakfast he brought was incredible: sliced apples and oranges, hard boiled eggs (with the yolks still slightly runny...so good), skyr with granola and raisins, fantastic crunchy crusty bread with soft innards, sliced Swiss cheese, and a selection of jams.

We ate basically everything. We were so stuffed after it wasn't even funny. But it was one wholesome excellent breakfast, I'll tell you that.

By the time we were finishing we saw the first people arrive who were not us, the owner, or the painters (who were mysteriously painting until we were up as well...4am...and were still up before us to continue painting...I can't imagine this schoolhouse, given what we saw, needs this kind of painting that fast...). It was a couple who stopped in for lunch. The woman was pregnant. They didn't stay - just passed through for some food and were off again.

Admittedly I enjoyed its creepiness, though it kept me from showering. The owner was very interesting and stopped by to tell us a few stories from his life while we were camped out in the common room.

Apparently he'd been living it up large in Amsterdam when one night he was so drunk he locked himself in his own apartment (you needed a key to unlock the front door, even from the inside). In his extremely intoxicated state he decided the only way to get out was to jump from his window to the bushes below. He broke both of his feet and was in intensive care for months.

Since then he's completely given up alcohol (I think it's not hard to see why) and has become a monk living in the abandoned schoolhouse. He devotes all his time to getting it up and running as a business, despite being married (we never saw the wife and got the impression she didn't live there...nor was she ever mentioned when he talked about his life, other than to say his then-fiance-now-wife visited him in the hospital when he was recovering from the jump). He was definitely wearing a wedding ring. He's extremely spiritual and thinks that the spirit and essence of Iceland lies in the quiet unvisited places, like a geothermal hotspring that is a 40 minute walk from the road in the middle of nowhere that tourists don't hear about. I'm guessing he now lives a very simple life.


And that was our stay in the haunted hostel.

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