I’m usually pretty good with maps, but when I planned a trip to Germany we ended up in Iceland. Was the pilot off course?
In my quest to save money on a flight from Chicago to Munich, I came across one with Icelandair. All flights from dozens of US/Canadian cities pass through their hub in Reykjavik on their way to dozens of European cities. And, they offer an Icelandair Stopover, which allows you to get off in Reykjavik and stay for up to 7 nights before continuing on to your destination. So, we rearranged our plans a bit. Our 7:30 PM departure from O’Hare gave us sunset over Lake Huron, sunrise over Greenland, and arrival into Keflavik Airport at 6:35 AM. Germany had to wait while we wiled away two long days and two short nights in Iceland. By the way, there’s no fee to check a bag with Icelandair, but there’s no free meal. Since it’s an overnight flight, however, that wasn’t a problem.
Reykjavik is not a big city (~120,000), so renting a small apartment in the heart of town made it easy for us to walk around and explore without having to rent a car or use mass transit. We checked into our apartment after breakfast and then decided to walk over to the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. How do I describe it? Very interesting? Too mild. Awesome? Too banal. Far out? Too sixties. Some selected photos will have to do. Choose your own favorite adjective.
Tours were not being offered that day because they were preparing for a conference. Fortunately, we were still allowed to wander around staring at the multifaceted windows and ceiling. Is this how the world looks to a fly? The person at the desk suggested we take the elevator to the fifth floor and work our way down on the stairs. From one of the upper floors I could see a man doing something to the main stairway below. When I made it back down I saw that he was installing an image on the stairway by attaching a narrow section to the front of each stair. From a distance it was easy to see how it would eventually be viewed as one large image.
Another interesting and hard to miss structure in Reykjavik is the Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish church. It’s 244 feet tall and can be seen from almost anywhere in town. As a 20th century protestant church, the Hallgrímskirkja is not ornate and the altar holds an empty cross instead of a crucifix. There is, however, an impressive pipe organ inside. When we were there the organ was being tuned so we got to hear a lot of one-note hymns! In front of the church stands a memorial to Leif Erikson, which was given to Iceland by the US in 1930 to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s parliament.
Although it’s nice to see some of the places that are in the tourist brochures, when I’m in a new city I like to wander around looking at buildings, window displays, signs, graffiti, people, cars, and anything else that comes into view. There’s a lot of graffiti in Reykjavik. Much of it was made up of the same kind of fat overlapping letters that you see everywhere. You’d think by now graffiti artists would come up with a new font or two. Some of the paintings covered entire walls and were quite interesting.
We passed a gate with single gloves hanging on it. People walking around with one cold hand might be able to find their lost glove there. Or they could just grab one and have two warm hands in an unmatched pair. We only saw one street musician. His dog was too cute to pass up so we tossed a couple dollars in his bucket and I took a couple photos. Note that we made no attempt to obtain Icelandic Króna. During our stay 1 krona was equal to 1 cent. Credit cards are used for almost everything there and tour bus drivers as well as buskers were happy to receive tips in dollars.
When you’re out for a walk and you spot a place that sells ice cream, you just have to go in. So we did. This was an ice cream experience like I’d never had before! There were no buckets of various flavors of ice cream sitting in a cooler. You have to choose cow’s milk or coconut milk, then one of their flavours (that’s how they spell it), and finally the size. After they mix up your choices, clouds of vapor emerge from the counter as they use liquid nitrogen to flash freeze that order just for you. It was the smoothest, creamiest and most expensive ice cream that I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Reykjavik and find yourself at the intersection of Njálsgata, Klapparstígur and Týsgata, I highly recommend that you stop in at Joylato.
Since our apartment was only a few blocks from the ocean, we walked down to watch the sunset. A sculpture known as “The Sun Voyager” looks out over the North Atlantic and people sit along the waterfront to watch the show. The image at the top of this page was taken from this location. Though not spectacular, there was very nice color in the sky and I can honestly say that it was the best sunset that I’ve ever seen north of the 64th parallel! As you can probably guess, the nights aren’t very long this time of year in Iceland. On this night the sun set at 11:58 PM and rose again at 2:57 AM. Technically, the time between is all considered twilight, so it never gets very dark this time of year.