Iceland Day 1: Reykjavík

Iceland Day 1: Reykjavík

Wednesday afternoon someone asked me whether I was heading home for Thanksgiving. No, I explained, we were headed to Iceland. “Oh,” she asked, “is there anyone good there?” She was asking whether we have family there, but the obvious answer to her literal question turned out to be easy: yes. Iceland is full of friendly, casual people, and we had a terrific mini vacation (or belated honeymoon, if you prefer).

We left Boston Wednesday night, which happened to be not only the busiest travel day of the year (I think?), but also the same day a terrific wind and rain storm was making its way up the East Coast. Everyone at work kept advising me to leave early, and in the end I headed home about 3. We got to the airport a little late, but discovered the international terminal wasn’t any busier than usual. What was strange was that two Icelandair flights were leaving for Reykjavík within 20 minutes of each other, and both appeared to be full. Later the Border Protection woman asked us why the heck so many people were coming from Iceland, and that makes me think one of the flights was a special one to accommodate all of the Thanksgiving traffic. It’s unfortunate that other people are discovering our secret of traveling internationally over Thanksgiving.

But I digress. The flight from Boston to Reykjavík is ridiculously short at just 4 hours. We napped and suddenly found ourselves landing in the complete darkness of 6am. We found our rental car, drove to the hotel, woke the innkeeper, and settled in for a nap.

At 11:00, my alarm went off and we discovered that the Arctic winter sun is no joke: it was still dark as twilight out there. But just the same, we put on clothes (lots of them, as you’ll see) and headed out to see this teeny capital.

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You can’t go to Iceland not visit Hallgrímskirkja. It’s much more modern than I realized (built in the 40s, then added to and renovated as late as the 80s), but it seems so ancient and exactly right for the land of the Vikings. It’s brutal, efficient, and austere, but also beautiful. Later you’re going to see the waterfall that inspired this cathedral, but the hexagonal basalt columns can be found throughout the southern part of the country. I promise all of those words will make sense after you read the rest of the posts for this trip.

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An organ concert had just ended before we arrive, and then everyone went into the next room to have bread and soup. The whole thing cost $7. Not a bad deal, right? It happens every Thursday at noon. It smelled fantastic.

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I was all set to climb a lot of stairs to the top, just like at the Duomo. But surprise! There’s only an elevator. We paid $6 each and pressed the “up” button. We did not rat out the girl who slipped in with us without paying. We’re nice like that. Up at the top, it was very cold and very loud when the bell tolled. But what a view!

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I was so very hungry after all that, so we headed back down to find me something to eat. We couldn’t resist a tourist-friendly restaurant across the street, Cafe Loki.

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What am I eating? Well, it’s Icelandic Plate I: mashed fish (mashed with potatoes, that is), smoked trout, and sheep head cheese all served on house-made bread. The pile on the right is mashed rutabagas, and the white pile on the left is a bean salad. Not much in the way of vegetables in Iceland. The food was good, but extremely rich. I couldn’t make it through all of the head cheese.

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Yen had the special for that day, lamb curry. It was very good. And look! A salad! It’s the last on we saw until we returned. Poor Icelanders must eat a lot of bran flakes.

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As we enjoyed our meal surrounded by Japanese tourists, we enjoyed this view.

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Yen got a kick out of the picture on the restroom.

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Here I am full and happy after lunch. As you look at this photo, let me pause to tell you about our strategy for dealing with Iceland’s weather. See how festively plump I look? Well, of course I am. But the effect is heightened by the fact that I’m wearing two shirts and a heavy pullover under that down jacket. Don’t judge.

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Yen laughed out loud when he saw this excellent reuse going on.

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Is Baldur’s Gate Icelandic?

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All the houses had sweet little backyards. People don’t have a lot of space in town, but they make the most of it.

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Yen has been practicing his street photography skills with his new lens. I’m so happy with the results. I hope he is too. He really captured the spirit of our walk.

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In case you’re wondering, it was about 2pm here. Overcast, rather dark, wet. And not a lot of people about.

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Joe, we took this one especially for you.

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I’ll tell you right now that we didn’t see any puffins on our trip. My understanding is if you want to do that, you need to visit during the summer.

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I totally snyrted in the snyrting.

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This sculpture is called “The Unknown Bureaucrat,” a play on the Unknown Soldier monuments that are so ubiquitous.

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After roaming town, we stopped off at the new opera house. Yen absolutely loved it (as you’ll see). Watch for me, the pink dot, in most of the photos.

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The sun was beginning to set (it was nearly 3:30pm!), so we rushed out into the howling wind to see the sun sculpture before heading back to the car.

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We stopped off for one last look at the church so Yen could capture it at night.

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And then we headed to the store for a light dinner and lunch to pack in the morning. Food is awfully expensive there, but we stocked up: ham, rolls, cheese, yogurt, Oaties, and the dried fish that’s just everywhere. I sure hated the fish.

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Here I am getting ready to make some sandwiches.

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Ah, and Yen snuck in a little photo of the hallway in the hotel.

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We got to bed awfully early because, frankly, there wasn’t anything else to do. I don’t know that I could live in that dark all the time, but I suppose the summers make up for it. Anyway, we needed sleep for our journey, which I’ll tell you about in the next post.