Wow! Has it been a whole year since I’ve gone on vacation? It sure felt like it. Especially the last few weeks leading up to our departure. Marc had set a goal of one new country a year and when I heard that you can fly to Iceland in about the same time it takes to get to the west coast, I was in!
Our flight was relatively easy although the cabin itself was freezing! Marc was kind enough to jump up to snag my coat from my carry on shortly before we departed, only to get yelled at by the crew. ” I’m sorry, it’s my fault! ” I yelled loudly to defend him , ” I thought I would only be cold once we got there!” That seemed to defuse the situation and I wore that coat half the way there. I think WOW airlines likes to acclimate people to their destination as on the way home, it was really warm.
We landed in Keflavik at about 6 am on Sunday morning to a surreal world of rain and foggy mist hanging in the air. The time change is just four hours ahead of the East coast, but when you leave at seven pm, you kind of miss a nights sleep. This probably contributed a bit to the alienness we experienced our first day there.
We drove about 45 minutes to get to Reykjavik through a green and gray landscape of rocks and moss with the occasional seagull flying by. I think we passed one small town, but it was almost a ‘blink and you missed it’ kind of deal. We were more entranced with the radio and seeing what Icelanders are listening to. Turns out they are big into 90’s nostalgia and I know I heard a Brittney Spears song followed by a reworked version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. Heavy metal style!
Once we found our digs for the night, we parked the car and started exploring. At 7 a.m., not much is open yet, but we found the Einar Johnsson grounds open to the elements and to visitors. He was Iceland’s first sculptor and died in 1954, at which time his home and grounds were turned into a museum and sculpture garden. His work is very powerful and found in several parts of Iceland. Neat to see the rain on the sculptures too!
We had heard that Iceland is big on pastries and breads and it didn’t take us too long to find a good spot for breakfast. The cinnamon roll was fabulous and it was so neat to hear the polyglot of languages swirling around us as we savored our meal.
The rest of the day was broken up by short naps; stolen wherever and whenever we could, a trip out to a lighthouse, hunting for a natural hot spring that someone had pointed out to Marc on a map (found it too, but it was more for feet than anything else), and soaking in a nearby spa that was recommended to us as a good place to meet locals. They had much to say about immigration and tourism, not all of it positive, but it was good to get some different perspectives, and to ride a water slide again! A great way to wind down after a crazy first day.
Our second day in Reykjavik was cool and sunny. After an early morning cup of tea, and an apple, we went out to do some more exploring around town. Iceland has about 320,000 people and 200 thousand of those live here in Reykjavik. We headed up the hill and turned in at the sculpture garden again to get a different perspective in the sunshine.
As we were strolling the grounds, we started chatting with a young woman enjoying the sunshine. Birna was sitting on the grass enjoying a cigarette and, as she told us later, waiting for her class to start. We all sat in the sun, warm enough to take our jackets off and have a cross cultural experience with this cool artist! She’s a painter and does the most beautiful tatted lace. We also talked about the music scene and she showed us a music video of one on her friends. Olafur Analds featuring her friend Nanna Byndisilmards. The song is called Particles.
Birna showed us a couple of her favorite streets on the way to a coffee shop close to her class. We parted in brightly lit square after sipping tea and being harassed by a some opportunistic bees.
We continued down to the waterfront, and found the spiffy cool sculpture honoring the Vikings.
As we continued to walk the streets, we got a sense of how accessible and sensibly laid out everything is and that you can pretty much walk everywhere you want to go if you have several hours available. We got to Harpa for a neat little four wall and a ceiling nature movie experience before turning inward again towards our hotel. That’s when we found the coolest little gem of a cemetery. Hollavallagardur is the oldest cemetery in Reykjavik and was opened in 1838. Amazing to walk through the narrow, lanes between graves green with moss and age. Mature trees sometimes growing directly above.
We found embassy row and a nice park by the lake, and more amazing art work.
There was some relaxing back at the hotel before we went out for dinner. The lateness of the sunset meant that we could go have dinner, and then head to a prime viewing spot. The summit of the little park boasts a sculpture of the first settler to Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson. Who did the statue? Einar Jonsson. Of course. A great way to end the day.