Disembarking the plane we cruise through immigration, and, since there isn’t even a Custom’s area, walk through to the airport proper. Easy peasy.
It is 6:30 a.m. here in Kevlavik and dark, dark, dark. We retrieve our luggage; much more luggage than we normally travel with because of our bulky winter clothes. This trip is definitely not a winner in the “light packer” award category!
We have reserved a car from “Nu”, an Iceland car rental place and we figure out where the shuttle guy will pick us up. When he arrives, he tells us that we’re early for our 8am rental. If he takes us to pick up our car now, it will cost us more money! Seriously? We make arrangements for him to come back for us and another couple before 8; Jeff, Tom and I, all in dire need of coffee, see a Dunkin Donuts right in the airport lobby. Too funny! We manhandle our luggage, claim a table and sit for the next hour sipping our very hot coffee.
Finally we get to the car rental place. You can have one driver and need to pay for additional drivers; we agree that Tom should be our second driver as he’s really looking forward to driving in a foreign country, and I make such a good backseat driver!
It is a 40 minute drive to the hotel in Reykjavik and we’re starting to get a little anxious because we have a walking tour of the city scheduled for 10am. Tom drives, in the dark, navigating approximately one million round-abouts and we arrive at the hotel about 9:45. Yikes! Naturally we are too early to check in, but we check our luggage, pull cameras, sweaters, hats and gloves out of backpacks and run back to the car. Thank goodness I printed the directions from the hotel to the tour meeting place before leaving Colorado!
As we drive through old Reykjavik we see the steeple of the gigantic church where we are to meet…but every street seems to be a one-way street in the wrong direction. Jeff is going to sneak up on it, I think.
Success! Jeff finds a parking spot and Tom runs to the little machine to get our permit. He is there several minutes and seems to be challenged. Just as Jeff starts up the hill to see if he can help, a woman passes by and tells him that you don’t have to pay for parking on Sunday. Good thing because the machine was in Icelandic and we never would have figured it out!
WOW! It is cold and windy! We are prepared for the weather, but all our good windproof stuff is still in our suitcases because we had to leave in such a rush. Brrrr…
The walking tour is wonderful! We start in the town’s main square, anchored by Hallgrimskirkja, an immense white concrete church with a 74.5 meter high towering steeple.
The church is visible from up to 20 kilometers away. There is an elevator to the top of the tower and the view is supposed to be spectacular. (We’ll come back later do that.)
In front of the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, the first European to stumble across America.
Next, after a short stroll, we learn about Einar Jonsson, a famous Icelandic sculptor, and walk through his sculpture garden. Jonsson was afraid of the dark, and somewhat surprisingly many of his sculptures are dark themes;
He was also terrified of earthquakes which makes me wonder why he lived on the second floor of his house and why there are only a few tiny windows. He designed the house himself and you’d think that he would have lived on the lower floor and filled the building with windows!
Just so you know, Reykjavik is very hilly! VERY hilly.
There are many colorful houses in Reykjavic.
These bright houses are constructed of corrugated tin over wood. The tin needs to cure for two years before being painted, but once the curing has finished, people paint their houses bright, happy colors which gives the streets a friendly feel. And personally, I think the colors are to offset the gray winters.
Our guide, Audher, is great. A native Icelander she points out tiny figurines, like those little green Army men that kids play with, super hero action figures and even Bart Simpson’s head (!), on top of signposts, walls, and building awnings. She said that the figures simply appear overnight and no one knows who is doing it. Some of the figurines with movable parts have different poses on different days. They are very difficult to spot so we are looking for them the rest of the day. We stumbled upon this little wooden elf house in someone’s garden.
Funny little figurines are not the only interesting street things in Reykjavik as there is a LOT of street art. Apparently, graffiti was becoming a problem and the city took action by commissioning murals to be painted all over. Gorgeous and diverse, these street murals are very impressive. And some of them are too intricate to be nicely photographed – but that didn’t stop us from trying.
Because neither Audher nor her company, “I ‘heart’ Reykjavik” receives any compensations, free meals or such from any merchants she freely recommends and give her opinions about restaurants, etc. It is very windy and cold so our small group pops into a bookstore/coffeeshop (think Barnes and Noble, but not) to warm up and some folks do get hot drinks. I am hoping that my big toe will thaw….
And, we’re walkin’…
I am thrilled when Audher points out the “Icelandic Hand Knitting Association” store. Here Icelandic wool sweaters, hats, gloves, scarfs, blankets, etc., that are knitted by the locals are sold AND they sell yarn! Jeff, Tom and I make a note of the street corner so I can come back here.
Our tour started in the heart of old Reykjavik and we are heading for the harbor and the oldest part of the city. Audher tells us that before Iceland had a written language, there were “law speakers” or men who had memorized the country’s laws and would recite them for all to hear. As we near the end of our tour we come to the Prime Minister’s office.
We are speechless! It is an unassuming one-story building right off the street. There are no guards, no military presence at all. Audher tells us that there IS a camera. Yup, a single camera!
There is a large construction project going on right by the harbor…turns out that this area is very rich in artifacts and when this construction was started the excavators came upon a nearly intact Viking Long House. Naturally construction was immediately halted and the archeologists went to work. The long house was saved and is now reconstructed in the National Museum. Jeff mentioned how neat it must be to know that under this city is probably evidence of an ancient civilization.
Our tour ends on a hill overlooking the harbor. A 2 hour walking tour on little sleep and clothes that are NOT warm enough, we start walking back and realize that we’re starving. We don’t even get lost as we retract our steps and end up a Babalu, one of the restaurants Audher had mentioned.
The restaurant is small and cozy. Jeff and I have the vegetarian chili and Tom choose an egg and cheese panini. Everything was yummy!
All three of us are surprised that we find our car easily and we head back to the Hilton. I’m not sure I will ever be warm again!
At the hotel we retrieve our luggage and get our rooms. We are so lucky! Our rooms are conveniently right next door to each other. And we have an incredible view! We say a brief goodbye and go into our rooms to unpack.
Remember, we got off the plane, waited an hour before getting our rental car, drove 40 minutes to Reykjavik and rushed off to a 2 hour walking tour….we are tired and cold, but mostly tired.
Finally, at 3:30 in the afternoon, I decided to lay down. Jeff and I slept for about 4 hours.
We weren’t up for navigating narrow little streets in the dark and didn’t know where to go for dinner, so the three of us decided to have dinner in the hotel. Our waiter was delightful, and when we asked how he learned to speak English, and he said “from the television!” Turns out he is dyslexic and could only learn English by listening.
(Tidbit: in Iceland school children are required not only to learn icelandic, but also either English or Norse.)
The first thing he brought to our table was bread and butter. “Butter on a rock,” he said, and that’s exactly what it was!
I asked him what the significance of the butter on the rock was and he said “It’s for the tourists” Hahaha! Our dinners were very good: I had vegan lasagna onto which was sprinkled parmesan cheese (oops) and it was delicious. Tom had fresh fish and chips and Jeff had a salad with smoked salmon.
Finally, it is time for bed (for real!) We have a fun day planned for tomorrow and hope you’ll come along…