Shawn was sitting last night at the computer the hotel has setup for guests because our electricity converter doesn’t work with his laptop charger:
“OK, this keyboard it freaking me out. It’s got extra letters or something.” Truth is, it’s got 10 extra letters, including Á, Ð, É, Í, Ó, Ú, Ý, Þ (which is pronounced “th”), Æ and Ö.
We spent the day yesterday in the capital city of Reykjavík, which is best described as a small city (approx. 200,000 people) that may very well represent the Great European Melting Pot, Vacation Edition. Europeans of every stripe find themselves in Reykjavík as tourists, most of them being other Scandinavians and Russians, with a healthy number of Flemish, Poles and Germans scattered throughout. Not many Americans as far as we can tell, though it can be difficult to figure it out since many Icelanders speak English with a near flawless American accent.
As the northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavik is quite a sophisticated city, with a central street for international/high-fashion shopping (the Laugavegur) and lots of public spaces that fill with locals and tourists alike during the brief summers. We sunned in the square across from Parliament House (about 1/8th the size of the State House in Vermont, which is the smallest I’ve ever seen) and wandered through the city’s Botanical Garden.
I’ve never seen flora quite like that in Iceland, with forests of trees no higher than your car (there’s an old joke here: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? You stand up.). According to the Landnámabók, another of those ancient manuscripts that details the earliest settlement of the island, all of Iceland was once covered with the forests of that joke (what we would call dense, scrubby brush). There was so much “forest,” in fact, that the settlers could only navigate along the coast and major water ways because trips inland were simply impossible at the time.
The architecture in Reykjavík is as charming as any 200-year-old European city, with brightly colored boxy homes nestled tightly together along the narrow streets. Outside the Centrum, there are dense neighborhoods where space is used with maximum efficiency (not unlike the design of a modern cruise ship’s bathroom, which has to be the single greatest example of Scandinavian design ingenuity ever).
Dominating the skyline of Reykjavík, and visible from nearly every point on Faxaflói, the huge bay on which the capital sits, is the Hallgrímskirkja, a massive church that, from a distance, looks as if someone dropped a Monopoly game piece in the shape of a house of worship down on top of the city. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, a federal architect, the church was built over a period of 38 years, opening in 1986.
Despite the imposing facade, the interior of the church is strikingly simple. The 150-foot-high narrow windows are clear — no stained glass in this Reformed house! From the nave, worshipers can see the Reykjavík suburbs (including the mosque-like Pearl restaurant that looks like half a disco ball sitting atop hot water storage tanks) because the glass behind the altar is also clear.
The church is a popular stop for amateur and professional photographers who like to play with Iceland’s unique sunlight to shoot the exterior of the building, which towers above everything in the city. The light during summer actually seems to be bluer than sunlight in our part of the world, if such a thing is possible. The designer of the glass windows at the church in Reykholt, which we visited at the start of our trip, took advantage of the annual cycle of sunlight here by creating panes that actually change color between white, brown and gold, depending on the position of the sun in the sky.
Speaking of the sky, I have to mention that satellite dishes here (both the kind you would have at home and the kind a business would use) all point to the bottom edge of the horizon, which means they look as if they are pointed at the ground. My guess is that Iceland is so far to the north and that dishes are practically pointed at the North Pole.
We lazily made our way back home to Hvalfjörður last night to spend part of the evening in the hot tub, which several travel publications have rated as the #1 vacation hot tub in the world because it’s perched on a hillside over one of Iceland’s most dramatic fjords. Afterward, we had another great dinner here in Hotel Glymur, which, I found out, is not a converted farmhouse, but only looks like one in photos.
For our final day, we’ll make our way back down to the capital and the airport in Keflavik, which is about 45 minutes to the south of Reykjavík. Our plan is to stop by some hot springs or a couple of geysers on the way. Once we get settled back at home tonight after the six-hour flight, I’ll get some photos uploaded for this blog entry so you can see the sights in Reykjavík.
Check back late tonight!