June 18, 2009
The flight from Toronto to Reykjavík was only about five hours, so we didn’t sleep very well. About 6 am we started to descend towards Keflavík airport; the cloud below us was solid, but as we approached land it started to break up, and by the time we landed there were only scattered clouds. The airport was in a barren-looking lava field, but upon closer inspection there were large patches of purple flowers which turned out to be lupines.
We went through security (yes, we had to go through security to get into the airport) and cleared customs. Getting our baggage went quickly and soon we were on the Flybus on our way to the city. The trip took about an hour and eventually we were dropped off in front of Reykjavík’s new Downtown youth hostel. We checked in and paid the bill, but we couldn’t access our room until after 2 pm, so we left our packs there and off we went to explore.
The location of the hostel was perfect, as we could walk to downtown in a matter of five minutes. Not far away was Laugavegur, the main shopping street. As it was only 8:30 am nothing was open and there weren’t many other people out, so we looked in windows and generally got an idea of where things were. One of our main objectives was to get some cash, but the bank we found was not yet open and didn’t have an outside ATM. The tourist information centre opened at 9 am, so we stopped there and picked up numerous brochures to help us plan our days.
We continued our exploring along Laugavegur then headed down to the shoreline where we noticed a metal “Viking ship” sculpture. Its name was “Sólfar” (Sun Voyager) and was supposed to represent the arrival of the original Norse settlers. It must be the most-photographed sculpture in Iceland. From there we could see back to the top of the hill we had just walked down and a statue of some guy, so we walked up to have a look at it.
The “guy” turned out to be Leifur Eiriksson, Iceland’s favourite explorer. He was standing outside the Hallgrímskirkja, a towering church which stands atop the city and can be seen from everywhere. Unfortunately it was undergoing a renovation and so it was swathed in scaffolding and plastic wrap. The interior of the church was very large, with the roof looking like an upside-down Viking ship. It had an enormous organ with thousands of pipes; it would have been quite something to hear it in action.
As we still didn’t have any cash, we couldn’t pay the price to ride the elevator to the top of the tower to see the views over the city. And we didn’t want to use a credit card to pay the small amount, although probably they wouldn’t have minded. So off we went down the other side of the hill. At the bottom we came to a little park, with school children playing.
Just up from there was Tjörnin, the Pond, which was right in the middle of the city. Here there were Arctic Terns, shrieking and diving, and then farther up the usual city-pond culprits. Besides the Mallards and geese, though, there were Whooper Swans, Tufted Ducks and Common Eiders, complete with families of chicks! It was fun watching the children feed them.
Nearby there was a bank, with an ATM outside, so we got out 1,000 krónur for small transactions. By now we were hungry (no breakfast from Icelandair) and luckily for us there was a bakery/coffee shop nearby, so in we went. It was lovely sitting there drinking our tea and coffee and having a very good cinnamon bun. We took our time because it was still only 10 am!
Still not time to go back to the hostel, so we went back along Laugavegur again. At a woollens shop Rosemary saw some cross-stitch patterns. They didn’t have any Icelandic patterns, but the woman there suggested we should ask at the National Museum. That was on our map, and of course not far away, so off we went. Past Tjörnin and through the City Hall – which housed a large three-dimensional map of Iceland – then across the main highway, and there it was. But the gift shop didn’t have any cross-stitch kits. However from the books there it looked like Icelandic cross-stitching was mainly based on repetitive blocks, so it might not have been very interesting.
A little bit farther down the road was a building which looked sort of like an arena. We walked down to have a look, and found it was attached to what turned out to be the Nordic House, which is a cultural exchange place for the Nordic countries. Not much for us to do there, so we went back past Tjörnin again.
By now it was getting close to 2 pm so we headed back to the youth hostel. Checking in was very quick and once given our room card we climbed up the four flights of stairs to room #41, a private double room. We had been told that the view from the double rooms was good and right they were. Our room overlooked some roofs then down to the old harbour and over to Mount Esja. Both of us were quite tired so we actually had a nap for about an hour. Feeling marginally refreshed, we headed out to the Bónus supermarket on Laugavegur to buy some dinner and tomorrow’s lunch.
But before that we stopped at the front desk to book a rental car for tomorrow, having decided to drive the “Golden Circle” tourist route by ourselves. We were surprised to find that the price was even cheaper than what we had been quoted by car rental companies on the Internet a couple of weeks earlier.
The supermarket was very full, so we squeezed through and bought the usual fixings – pasta, sauce, red pepper, salami, cheese, bread, and some margarine – and then headed back to cook our dinner. The kitchen at the hostel was in a separate little building around the back and was definitely furnished by IKEA. Luckily there was only one other person cooking his dinner, so we did not have to wait. After a minor glitch that occurred when using the stove and microwave at the same time (power goes off!) and having to wait till someone from the front desk arrived to reset the breaker which we hadn’t been able to find we had our dinner. The breaker was in the white box above the door.
Our pasta and sauce turned out all right in the end, and we had skyr afterwards. That’s an Icelandic specialty which is a lot like yogurt but thicker.
After cleaning up we went back to the room. We noticed that the botanical garden stayed open until 10 pm, and since it was only 8:30 pm we impulsively decided to walk over there. So off we went, but after a while we still weren’t there and it was getting on towards 9:30 pm. But nearby was the Höfði house, a lone white house on the road by the bay. It was built in the early 1900’s and changed ownership numerous times because it was haunted. In 1986 it was where Reagan and Gorbachev met to talk about disarmament, and now it is private property and closed to the public. But you can read the Reagan-Gorbachev plaques in the adjacent parking lot.
On our way back home we walked along the seacoast path, past a lot of abandoned half-built glass high-rise buildings, and arrived back at the hostel at 10 pm. The sun finally set at midnight, but by then we were asleep. It had been a long day.