(After we spent 2 fun weeks in Amsterdam, we flew home via Icelandair and took advantage of their option to stop in Reykjavik for 5 days. This is the story of that part of our trip. It includes the narrative and details of what we saw, how we got there, etc. and also some of the photos. To see the rest of the Iceland photos, with identifying captions but no explanations, please go to the Pictures Without Comment sections here.)
(If you want to see larger images for detail, all of the pictures in the trip log can be enlarged by clicking on them.)
Friday May 29 was our checkout and travel day from Amsterdam to Reykjavik. Thankfully it wasn't raining while we walked from our B&B to Amsterdam's Central Station. Train tickets were 5.1 € each – we had a longish wait while a family ahead of me figured out where they were going and how to get there, but we had plenty of time. We had no problems finding where to go at Schipol; the checkin line was long even at 3 hours early so I'm glad we had plenty of time. We bought the FlyBus ticket on the plane (per Katie's advice - she and Tyler did this trip a week earlier). That way we didn't have to stop at another ticket booth when we arrived; we just collected our luggage, stopped at an ATM to get some Icelandic Krona and then got directly on the waiting FlyBus that took us to their central terminal in Reykjavik and then we dispersed onto smaller buses to deliver us all to individual hotels or guest houses.
The trip from the airport is about 45 minutes and, though much of it follows the coast, it's pretty desolate - I think a lot of that area is still volcanic and just gradually returning to soil.
The House of Spirits (as the apartment building - at left - is known) is, well, interesting. Gunnar (owner) didn't seem to know who we were even though I had just corresponded with him a couple days ago. But, once he checked his list, he saw that he did have a studio room ready for us and found his record of what he had quoted us. We saved a bit due to currency fluctuations – our cost was 630€ for 6 nights which is quite cheap for Reykjavik.
is old but there has been a lot of updating: the floor
seems almost new,
the plumbing is recent; in our kitchenette we
have a microwave, refrigerator, electric kettle, toaster, coffee pot
and 2 burner
electric stove. The bathroom
is modern but teeny tiny and the only outlet in there was hanging out
of the wall (a little scary and we decided not to use it). The
shower is small but is the kind that you
can also use as a hand-held so we managed fine in the tight
quarters for our few days. The bed was comfortable and the bedding
old and worn in appearance.
The building is old but there has been a lot of updating: the floor seems almost new, the plumbing is recent; in our kitchenette we have a microwave, refrigerator, electric kettle, toaster, coffee pot and 2 burner flat-surface electric stove. The bathroom is modern but teeny tiny and the only outlet in there was hanging out of the wall (a little scary and we decided not to use it). The shower is small but is the kind that you can also use as a hand-held so we managed fine in the tight quarters for our few days. The bed was comfortable and the bedding adequate, though old and worn in appearance.
Since it was almost 5 PM, we went to the grocery store right away (the nearest Bonus store, about 5-6 blocks away, closed at 6 PM) and got fruit, bread, lunch meat, pickles, yogurt (Skyr). Roughly $45, which seemed high at first but we knew that food was expensive here and the things we bought were among the most expensive – blueberries, oranges, meat. Gunnar provided some basic staples which were very helpful – muesli, coffee, milk, sugar and a whole cupboard of misc things like pastas, oil, etc.
The monument to the right, very near the grocery store, should have been our first clue about Reykjavik's quirky art and culture. It is titled "Worlds Within a World" by Sigurður Guðmundsson - but I didn't find out until we were back in the US that this is a monument to the role-playing game EVE Online!
After shopping we went to eat at Fish n Chips near the Old Harbor (left) next to the Volcano House. It was good food – fried but very light and with a spelt batter. In some ways it was the best meal we had all week. John had salad and beer along with the fish and chips and it all cost about $40 which appears to be very reasonable for here.
We went back to the apartment and unpacked; talked a little about what we wanted to do the next day, reserved a spot for a walking tour the next morning and went to bed around 10 PM local time (midnight by our bodies' Amsterdam time). Our only sleeping problem was that the sun doesn't set until after 11 PM and is back up at 3 AM! Fortunately I have a sleep mask and ear plugs (there are odd noises in old creaky houses) so it worked okay.
Saturday May 30 -
This morning we had muesli, fruit, yogurt and toast for breakfast. Trying to toast, boil water and turn on the stove at the same time, we blew the circuit breaker. Fortunately, the box is in the public lounge right outside our door so John easily reset it and from then on we remembered not to try to do everything all at once.
It was cold and windy today, but not much rain – just sprinkles here and there. We had a walking tour this morning with Erik from City Walks. We met at Austurvöllur (pictured at right) - a plaza just across the street from the Parliament building (at left). The statue is Jón Sigurðsson: a hero of Icelandic independence.
Erik was an excellent guide! He included lots of history, stories and insights into Icelandic culture. We walked around the downtown area and ended up indoors at City Hall. Below are a few of the places he took us (lots more pictures in the "Pictures" section).
From left to right: Arnarhóll, a grassy hill capped by a statue of Ingólfur Amarson, said to be the first settler in Reykhavik (circa 874); in the center, Erik is explaining to us about the memorial to Women's Rights designed by Ólöf Nordal and dedicated to early suffragette Bríet Bjarnhédinsdóttir. Finally, on the right is a view of City Hall sitting over the end of Lake Tjörnin. Because of its position near the center of town, we walked by and around the lake almost every day so there will be lots more pictures of that area!
One of my favorite sculptures is the one to the right - near the bridge that crosses to City Hall. It is honoring the "anonymous bureaucrat!" The walk ended in City Hall where we viewed the topographical map of the whole island and took advantage of the very nice restrooms. It was shortly after noon so we stopped at the hot dog stand in the square downtown (picture at left) and had famous Icelandic hot dogs (which honestly, were much like any other hot dog from our point of view) for 350 ISK (about $2.75) each, then went to the local weekend (indoor) flea market and mostly browsed, though we did get some sweets. Pictures below show the mural on the side of the flea market and a couple of pictures inside. The speckled green eggs are guillermot eggs. We've seen the sea birds around but never realized their eggs were harvested! We stopped at the Tourist Information Bureau, but it was fairly useless for our purposes.They are not allowed to recommend anything in particular, so when we asked about various things, they just gathered all of the brochures and handed them to us. I guess if we had more specific questions like "where is xxx?" or "When does xxx open?" they would have been more helpful.
We grabbed some more lunch at the apartment (fruit, yogurt and some of the sweets from the market), then went out walking. We started at Laugavegur – the main shopping street pictured at left – just browsing; and saw the Tweed Ride go by (picture at right). This is an annual event - described as a group of people "well-dressed from a bygone era" biking about town then ending with high tea at the Kex Hostel.
We had some very good ice cream – creamier than we typically get in the US. Walking down to the harbor, we saw the Sun Voyager sculpture, appreciated the modern Harpa Performance Center and also gawked at its interior, then continued along the harbor walk.
Sun Voyager by Jón Gunnar Árnason Harpa Performing Arts Center Interior of the Harpa
On the way back to the apartment we passed a number of sculptures along the harbor (they are truly scattered all over town) including a memorial for lost seamen ("Looking Seawards") at the left; and also another mural at the right. We had supper at the Forettabarinn – a tapas sort of place that's just a few blocks from us. We each had 2 starters for a meal: John had lobster soup and a smoked duck breast salad; I had a teriyaki chicken skewer and a rock crab/prawn salad. It was all very good and our total was about $50. Although that seemed like a lot, by the time we left the country, I would decide that it was really "cheap" for Reykjavik.
Sunday May 31-
John went to church at the Hallgrimskirkja this morning as he was anxious to hear the music in that beautiful arching sanctuary (at right). He enjoyed it very much even though the liturgy was in Icelandic! I chose to walk around town some more starting with the Domkirkjan - the "cathedral" - mother church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. Construction began in 1788 but repairs and reconstruction continued and it wasn't consecrated until 1796. Across the street from the church, I wandered through the small garden behind the Parliament building, where Tryggvi Gunnarsson, former Prime Minister, is buried and finally spent some time walking around the lake, enjoying some of the art work and the water birds. There are dozens of statues and sculptures around the lake and all over town actually. And I saw Whooper Swans and an Eider Duck for the first time.
On the left is the Domkirkjan and then two pictures of the public garden behind Parliament.
Four of the many, many works of art around the lake are shown below: The Mermaid (adorned by a gull), by Nína (Walker) Sæmundsson, based on the tale of the Sirens' song; The Settler Woman by Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir; Boy and Girl (aka Kelly and Steven) by Þorbjörg Pálsdóttir and the Peace Stone, a gift from Hiroshima. The first three are part of a collection recognizing female sculptors.
Below I show a view across from the south west side ofthe lake including the Fríkirkjan (Free Church of Iceland, established in 1899), an eider duck and two Whooper Swans among other floating friends.
After lunch we went on a Puffin Express tour out to one of the puffin islands. Everybody locally is saying the spring is about a month late this year, and that the puffins are also about a month late – but they have finally arrived and we saw plenty of them! It clouded over by afternoon, but the birds were still out. A few pictures from the boat ride: my favorite view on the way out, Engey Lighthouse (yellow) and Grotta lighthouse (white). Below that are puffins in the water, puffins on their island and the Reykjavik skyline coming back into the harbor.
Back at the apartment I created some hot cocoa to warm up. Gunnar had cocoa powder in the staples cabinet and we had milk and sugar in the apartment! It was very good.
We had supper at Fjalakotturinn. I should have paid more attention since there were signs up saying "New Menu!" But Trip Advisor had rated it one $ (that is: very low priced) and reviewers spoke of how reasonable it was, especially for right downtown, so we thought we knew what to expect. Not! Our 1 appetizer (seafood soup), 1 dessert (chocolate raspberry tart), 2 entrée (blue ling and salmon), 2 beer meal cost about $112 (+ tip)! It was great food and great service, just not the "cheap eats" we were expecting. Again, my own fault – I just didn't read the new menu carefully before we went in and, for the quality and in Reykjavik the price was about right.
Tomorrow we have museums and art galleries on the agenda – I think we're going to get Reykjavik City Cards and see how much we can fit into one day. Tuesday is our Golden Circle day; then Wed we'll pick up whatever we didn't get to Monday.Monday June 1
of opening and closing times change as
of June 1, as that is considered the start of tourist season.
we didn't have a copy of the
current "What's On" before this afternoon. So, e.g. we thought the
opened at 10 am but as of today it opened at 9 am.
We started at the Hallgrimskirkja church because it opened at 9 am. We retraced some of our route through the downtown area to get to the church. The picture above left shows Laugavegur blocked off for pedestrians only and also providing entertainment and photo ops for kids! Along Skolavorthustigur there was an enhibit of children's pictures of superheroes shown at the right.In front of the church is a statue of Leif Erickson done by Alexander Calder - a gift from the US on the 1000th anniversary of the innauguration of their parliament in 1930. We bought a couple of CD's of music in the church then took the elevator up to the viewing tower. There was a very nominal charge (around 2 dollars I think) and definitely worth it!
Obviously it was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for views! The Einar Jonsson museum and sculpture garden is just across the street from the church (left, below). The gallery was closed but the sculpture garden is open and free so we walked through. Here are a couple of the sculptures: the Wave of Ages in the center and the Crucible on the right. Then we walked back down Skolavorthustigur so we could stop at a music store (that was closed when we came by the first time) where John bought two CD's of Iceland music.
The National Museum of Iceland was the last stop for the morning. I actually liked this better than the various galleries that were, in my opinion, filled with mostly "weird" stuff! The museum exhibits start back pre-1000 AD and come up to the present day. Interesting to me was that virtually all cultures around 1200 AD or so started going through the same stages of art and development. I enjoyed the older things more since they were "different" and more specific to Iceland culture; once they got into the medieval years it was very similar to other Eurpean countries.
On the left above is the outside of the museum, in the center an example of a warp-weighted loom from pre-1000 AD. I was interested in how similar this is to current-day looms (I have a daughter who is a weaver, owns numerous looms and also does medieval demonstrations, so I even understood what "warp-weighted" meant!) And, on the right, is a model of a typical settler house, made from the boat that they arrived in, hence the curved ceiling.On the way back to the city center, we walked by the pond and saw loads of arctic terns flying about. They flit around very quickly like large swallows but I did catch one sitting still for a photo (at left). We went to the Uno for lunch, on the main square. I had risotta balls with chili jam (not hot) and John had chicken salad. They told us the meat distributors are on strike so restaurants will be hurting for beef and lamb over the next few days. It was definitely not cheap but good food, good service and nice to sit at the window and people-and-pigeon watch.
After lunch we went to the National Art Museum – Hafnarhus. I should have caught the code: "contemporary art, new developments explored through diverse exhibitions." Which meant that there wasn't much I would call "real" art! It was mostly installation type of art - my favorite thing was the Lego model of the Hallgrimskirkja! Also pictured is a room that purports to show where dead Teddy Bears go; and a sample of the many works by Guðmundur Guðmundsson, known as Erró, that were housed here.
Next we stopped at the Settlement Museum (827+/-2). The name comes from the fact that the excavation there has been dated at 827 +- 2 years. It's an interesting history of early settlers around an actual excavation of an early long house. We also saw the Saga exhibit in the same building – folk tales, stories passed down through the ages. A couple of stories were written out in English but mostly it was an exhibit of original documents which made it not very interesting to us.
Finally we went to the Culture House (pictured at left) which houses "Points of View" - an interesting concept. It purports to take the visitor on a journey through the "visual world" of Iceland, past and present. It's a collaborative production of six Icelandic institutions; the exhibitions in each area are arranged around a theme: Up (looking up towards a God, e.g.), Down (relationship with earth), Again and Again (patterns), From Cradle to Grave ( stages of life), Mirror (personal reflection), Outside (looking outwards), Inside (looking inwards into yourself). I really liked the concept, but again, mostly it was odd stuff that I had trouble grasping. In the various conference rooms, however, (just wall art, not part of the exhibition) we did finally find some example of more traditional Icelandic painting - example at the right. Afterwards, we stopped at their café and had a delightful high tea: tea for John and a big piece of chocolate cake for me (I did share it).
We made a stop at the smaller, downtown grocery store for some basic supplies and food to "eat in" tonight. First, we just had a huge snack and secondly, I'm still reeling from the $112 supper last night! So John got some meat to go with his cheese and bread; I bought a microwave penne dinner that was more than enough for tonight and a wrap to take on our tour tomorrow or save for Thursday at the airport. When we were in Amsterdam, we observed that there were "pissoirs" on many street corners so that men could relieve themselves but there was no provision for women! So, when we ran across this public WC in Reykjavik I had to take a picture to demonstrate that Iceland believes in "potty parity!"
Tuesday June 2 was Golden Circle Day. We went with Iceland Horizon in a comfortable Mercedes van. There were about 15 people and we were last ones picked up (right around 9 AM) so didn't have seats together, but that was okay since Dooley, our driver and guide, entertained us the whole time telling stories and pointing out what we were seeing. Then he quizzed us! He was a great guide and knew how to detour around a bridge that was out - as far as I could tell there was no alternate route marked. We enjoyed being able to see more of the countryside: lava fields (at left) and numerous rural areas showing lots of geothermal activity (example at the right).
Our first stop was at Hveragerdi, mostly for a bathroom break but they do have a pretty nice "Quake 2008" display as well as an "earthquake simulator" - you get into a small room and experience a 6.0 earthquake. The screams tell me that it was pretty realistic! This is also a point where you can see (through glass insets on the floor) a fissure between the continents of Europe and North America.
The next stop was a photogenic waterfall, Faxifoss (at the left), with a salmon ladder at the side. And finally we came to Gullfoss. It was COLD and WINDY, but a very awesome waterfall with lots of spray. We walked all the way down to the edge but the spray was so heavy that it was hard to get good pictures. The one at the right was taken from up the hill near the visitor center - you get a better view and no water droplets on the camera lens. There was a restaurant and (of course) a gift shop so we could stay warm after we had seen all we wanted to. There are lots of trails to hike in the area which would be lovely in the summer time.
Next we went on to Geysir, though the one that erupts regularly now is named Strokkur (left and right photos). The cloudy day meant the pictures weren't as good since there was little contrast, but I did take several of one of Strokkur's eruptions and some of smaller boils (not here, but in the "Photos with comments" section). We had a fast food lunch at the food court that was reasonable. There is also a full buffet that looked good but not $40 worth of good!
As we got back on the road, we made a roadside stop to visit some Icelandic Ponies who were hanging at the fence, and passed some Icelandic sheep, famous for their warm wool.
Our last stop was Thingvellir National Park. Thingvallavatn Lake is beautiful and I went crazy trying to take pictures of it while on the bus, only to find out we had a perfect viewpoint after we stopped! The picture at left is of one of the rivers and a small falls as we approached the lake area. We walked through a fault, created by a tectonic plate shift, that separates the America and Eurasian continents, shown in the center. And at the right is one of my many, many of photos of Thingvallavatn Lake.
We saw the site of the first parliament, Althing, from 930 AD (the white pole just to the right of the center) and the national cemetary, behind the church at the left in the panorama below. The first church was built around 1000 AD, soon after Christianity became accepted in Iceland; some of the timber and the bell were donated by King Olaf of Norway. The current church was consecrated in 1859. From the viewpoint where I took the panoramic picture, there were gorgeous views of the lake (the largest natural lake in the country) and surrounding area.
After stopping in the visitor center, we headed back to Reykjavik. Again, I enjoyed seeing more of the countryside. At the left is another earthquake fault and the view at the right reminds me a lot of some scenes in Wyoming! We were all delivered, cold and tired, back to our hotels or guest houses. We stayed in tonight and had leftovers for supper. John did some laundry (in the basement laundry room) while I made a first pass in deleting some of my hundreds of pictures!Wednesday – June 3
Another beautiful sunny day! We slept til we woke up and took our time with breakfast then walked around the lake where we "met" Powerbocks for the first time and had fun watching several teens practice on them. Then we went on to our first destination today: Perlan. Reykjavik is a very walkable town, so we took the trails and pedestrian walkways (including the overpass over the highway - also ramped so it can be used with bikes) until we got close, then walked through the woods that surround Perlan. It was a very nice change of pace from the city environment.
At left is what I am calling "mobile art" that we passed on the road; then at center is John walking along the trail in the wooded area around Perlan and to the right, the approach to Perlan from the back. Perlan is an easily-recognized landmark in the city as it is perched on top of a hill (Öskjuhlíð) where the large, round, hot water tanks had stood for years. In 1991 the tanks were updated and a domed building constructed around and on top of them. It is an event venue and also houses several gift shops (including a Christmas-themed one), a casual cafeteria on the observation deck level (you can see "observers" in the picture), as well as a formal, revolving restaurant and bar on the top floor.
we mostly wanted a walk today, after sitting in the bus most of
yesterday, and also to see the view from the observation
actually enjoyed the art throughout the Perlan more than we had any
at of the various galleries, including the big fountain (left) that is
reminiscent of Geysir as it swoops up then collapses. After
spending some time with some works by Grímur Marinó Steindórsson (I'm
not sure if this was a temporary or permanent exhibit), we
climbed up to
the observation platform (only 4 stories and there was an elevator if
wanted to use it) and took lots of pictures of the beautiful views. We
met a group of high school students from the
Chicago area in
the restaurant and talked with their adult chaperones a bit about how
they chose Iceland for an end-of-the-year
It wasn't an official "class trip," just an
adventure offered to anyone who was interested and could pay
On the way back to town, we passed the Reykjavik Excursions depot so stopped to reserve our Fly Bus pickup for tomorrow afternoon. I asked for the pickup time that connected with the 1:30 PM bus to the airport, which should give us extra time to scout food! It's a 6 hour flight over supper time and they don't feed us.
While I was talking to the ticket lady, John scouted the cafeteria and decided we should have lunch there. There was an entirely different type of clientele there - no tourists. I suspect many are drivers; and others are just seeking carbs or a low-cost meal. The portions were huge with lots of potatoes, gravy, meat. We should have just gotten some soup because neither of us could finish it all. Probably a good value if you're looking for calories per krona.
So, next we stopped at the National Gallery and discovered that it was full of the same contemporary stuff we saw everywhere else. We found no "classic" Iceland art – it was all new, experimental stuff. There was a statement posted (I forget the author) that said contemporary art is "performance, installation art and video." Classic art like drawing and painting has some impact on it, but is not what current artists are working on - at least in Iceland.
One thing that at least made me smile is at left! (If you can't read it, click on it to enlarge.) There was what I would call a weird "saga" installation about a tent on a beach with a running video and someone telling a long, complex story. The basement was full of video and I watched an interview with Steina and Woody Vasulka - artists who work with music and video. That helped me understand a bit – he spoke of the "signal" (meaning the digital signal) as being his medium for art. He started as a filmmaker but felt limited by film; she was a musician. They both have stretched each other and it helped me see that these "non-static" art forms can be just as valid as painting, sculpture etc. I still don't enjoy them as much – for one thing they are time consuming. You can't take a quick look - many videos or other performance pieces require 5, 10, 30 minutes. But I can understand how working in the additional dimensions and combining media like video and music, e.g., is a valid form of expression. I'm still not impressed with it but I can allow it has validity now.As we went by the lake one more time, we stopped so I could pose (at the right) with poet Tómas Guðmundsson (sculpture by Halla Gunnarsdottir in 2010) who has a permanent seat in the park looking across the lake. We hung out at the pond a bit and took a few more pictures. The picture at the left is a group of gulls lined up on the top of City Hall. John dubbed them "The bad boys of City Hall." At the right is the "other" side of City Hall - an interesting ecosystem growing on rock walls in a pond. Then we went back to the apartment to copy pictures and check email. Supper tonight was at the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant. There are so many fish places it's easy to mix them up. This one is right across the street from the harbor, on the corner of Northurstigur and Geirsgata. It has a red door and an outline fish emblem, says "Fish and Chips" on the side of the building. I can't find a web site for it, but here is the Trip Advisor entry - looking at some of the pictures and the map (accurate at least as of Fall 2015) should help you find it. Menus are on chalkboard. Fish and chips was only 1980 krona (about $15); John had the catch of the day (arctic char) with some kind of salsa. It's an informal place – you order at the counter, get your own silverware, water, glasses, napkins. They bring out your food when it's ready, which was very very fast! And it was VERY good. Tonight we started on packing. So sad. But really, I am tired of eating out and sleeping in other places so I guess I'm about ready to head home.
Thursday June 4
We had a lazy start since we weren't getting picked up until 1 PM and Gunnar had no problem with us being in the apartment for that long. John browsed the harbor area one more time; I walked to the grocery store after it opened at 11 am, and got some apples for eating on the plane and skyr for John’s lunch. Then I just walked around the area one more time, passing this small park housing the "whale's tail" sculpture that was given by Latvia on the occasion of Iceland's independence.
The bus picked us up promptly about 1:15 and delivered us to the terminal. But the second bus was late – we didn’t leave until almost 1:40 and then ran into a closed road and had to take a detour, making us about half an hour late. I had scheduled an extra half hour so we were okay, but others may not have been. I was somewhat annoyed at the lack of communication from the driver – no explanation, no apology for lateness, no comment about the closed road, just arrived half an hour late! So my advice to anyone using Fly Bus is to be sure to allow more time than they advise.
The Reykjavik airport was a zoo and I'm told it's like that most afternoons. We finally made our way past 3 layers of security to the gate where we met total chaos. It was at a deadend hallway where there were FIVE gates (2 left, 2 at the end and 1 on the right) that all had flights leaving within half an hour. So we have 5 planeloads of people all vying for a spot at the end of this hallway. They don’t announce flights; they just change the status on the board to “Go to gate” (when it gets close) then “Boarding” and you’re supposed to be watching and know when it's your turn. And when they open the gate it’s just first come, first served so more pushing and joggling for position.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a full flight so, after battling our way through the crowd, I had a whole row to myself! That didn’t make it possible to sleep since the arms didn’t fold up, but it was nice to have the extra room. Last picture is the Mississippi as we approach MSP. A very fun trip but still good to be home!