Saturday, March 9, 2013

Icelandic saga, part 1

Reykjavik as seen from the top of Hallgrimskirkja

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to visit Iceland. It always seemed so lonely-looking up there on the map by itself. Well, except for big old white-capped Greenland to its west. I'd see photos of Reykjavik and it seemed so quaint, with its colorful buildings and red rooftops next to a blue sea. And then there's the otherworldly landscape. Iceland is one of the newest and most geologically interesting places on Earth. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs through it, separating Eurasia from North America. Every day the earth is moving. Iceland has earthquakes every day. It also has geysers, volcanoes and glaciers. No wonder they call it the Land of Fire and Ice.

Last December, we found a great package deal: airfare, four days/three nights, and a glacier hike/northern lights tour for a very good price. We just had to get ourselves to Boston. From there, Icelandair would take over. So last Thursday (28 February), we set off on this adventure. We arrived in Reykjavik (a 4 hour, 45 minute flight from Boston) early on Friday, but it seemed earlier because at this time of year the sun doesn't come up there until 8:30-8:45AM. It was still dark when we arrived at our hotel, the Reykjavik Natura. Fortunately, you get to check in early on the package deal, so we were able to quickly get our room and then crash for a few hours as by then, jet lag had set in.

After a quick nap, we grabbed a free bus pass from the hotel and headed to downtown Reykjavik. We probably could have walked it, but due to the chilly weather and our unfamiliarity with the city, we decided to take the easy way. By the way, the buses are on time in Reykjavik. :)

Our first destination was the gigantic concrete Hallgrimskirkja or Hallgrim's Church. On the flight over, we'd watched a couple of short tourist videos, and it was recommended to visit the church first and take the elevator to the top to get a really great view of the city. The photo above is one of those views. Hallgrimskirkja is an example of expressionist architecture and was designed to represent the flow of lava. To see what the church looks like from a distance, click here. It really does stand out.

 
Hallgrimskirja and the Leifr EirĂ­ksson statue

In front of the church is a statue of Leifr EirĂ­ksson (that's the Icelandic spelling of Leif Ericson, the Norse explorer who's considered to be the first European to visit the North American continent). The statue was a gift to Iceland from the United States. The backside of the statue has the following inscription:


Leifr 
Eiricsson
Son of Iceland
Discoverer of 
Vinland
The 
United States 
of America to
the People
of Iceland
on the One
Thousandth
Anniversary
of the
Althing
A.D. 1930




(Read about the Althing here. I'll mention it in a later entry, when I write about our visit to Thingvellir.) 

Eventually, we took a random street down to the harbor, not really having any idea where we were headed. As luck would have it, we ended up exactly where we wanted to be: The Sun Voyager statue, which for some reason I insist on (affectionately) calling The Viking Bone Ship. 


The Sun Voyager

I guess you can see why I call in the Viking Bone Ship. :)

We made our way to Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik, where we found a nice (if touristy) shop where they sell Icelandic woolen goods and other souvenirs. I really wanted to buy a handmade Icelandic sweater, but honestly, I knew I'd probably never wear it since it doesn't get that cold here in North Carolina. So we both settled for Icelandic woolen hats. I got a black one, S got an off-white one. (See Icelandic saga, part 2 for a photo of said hat.)


Beautiful Icelandic wool sweaters

We walked up and down Laugavegur looking for the perfect place to have dinner. There were lots of choices, but we both kept thinking about a certain soup shop we passed earlier. The restaurant was quite crowded with people eating soup in bread bowls and drinking beer and having apple cake for dessert. (Best. Apple. Cake. Ever.) There were a few other tourists in the soup shop, but we also got to listen in on some Icelandic language conversations. This was interesting to me because I'd read that Icelandic is the most like the old 'Viking' language than any other modern-day language. This appealed to my ancient 'Viking' heritage. I didn't understand any of it, though! :)

Speaking of language, almost everyone in Iceland speaks English, so language was never an issue. We were told that Icelanders start learning English very early (in elementary school) and most also study Danish, since Iceland was formerly a part of Denmark.

That was our first day in Iceland. My next entry will be about our second day -- the glacier hike, and our tour of South Iceland. I'll write it as soon as I can!