Iceland Part 1 – A Day in Reykjavik

An unusual combination of destinations
An unusual combination of destinations

Husband J, friends M and S, and I arrived at Sanford-Orlando International Airport on a Tuesday afternoon still not quite believing that one could board a plane there and step off in Reykjavik, Iceland. Yet that’s exactly what happened. After a fairly smooth flight on budget airline Icelandair we arrived in Reykjavik just after 6 am.

For some reason both sunrise and sunsets are late this time of year in Iceland, so we made our way in near total darkness to the Icelandair Hotel Natura. Icelandair seems to be as much a hotel and tour operator as an airline and Icelandair hotels are scattered throughout the country.

Although the Hotel Natura is one of those blue paneled, five-story 1970s style buildings, the inside is warm and wood and dotted with sculptures of people made out of wooden boards who sit at various points throughout the lobby. We arrived just in time for an incredible buffet breakfast. One side was English (eggs, bacon, baked beans [except they were chickpeas]); the other Scandinavian (two sorts of herring, salmon, fish salads, and dense, grainy breads). We had arrived in Iceland expecting nothing but fermented shark or its ilk. The food we encountered almost everywhere turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was also a pleasant surprise that we could check into our rooms at 9 a.m.

View from Hotel Natura
View from Hotel Natura

After we crashed for an hour or so, we decided it was time to explore the city. We took the number 5 bus from right outside the hotel to the Hlemmer bus station, braving sleet and rain. Apparently this has been one of the worst winters in Iceland in recent memory. The bus station was like all bus stations – but I loved the table in the center with books available just to be picked up, read, returned or donated. We started off down the main drag, Laugarvegur. Even touristy souvenir shops were filled with interesting, tasteful items. Marvelous design in Iceland, clean and bold and modern, both jewelry and clothes.

But the weather was getting progressively worse, which turned out to be a theme of the whole trip. We staggered our way to the end of the street toward the harbor in the belief there was a Viking Saga museum that had looked interesting. Eventually, soaked and with a disintegrating wet map we found it – only to discover it was some sort of Disney-esque Viking wax museum. Being from Florida, we felt very little need to pay the equivalent of $15 each to go in. But there was a very nice cafe where I ordered mead – which seemed like a sufficiently Viking thing to do, and the young waiter who looked like a red-haired Viking himself, told us how to get to the National Museum, which was the one we’d really been aiming for.

Mead in Reykjavik
Mead in Reykjavik

After another half hour of fighting our way through wind gusts and snow, some which were strong enough to lift me off my feet, and with our poor map literally in tatters, we arrived.  I have no photos to speak of because the weather was such I didn’t want to take my gloves off nor did I think my phone would survive the elements. I think we walked through a very nice residential area – the houses are sided with corrugated metal, painted as though it were wood, with gingerbread moldings. The museum was worth the snow and sleet – the history of Iceland from its first inhabitants on, and it gave us a good background for what we would see on the rest of the trip. Not only were there Vikings on this previously uninhabited land, but Irish monks paid a visit. I am convinced Irish monks were the international tour guides of their time as they seem to pop up everywhere.

By then we realized we had practically walked back to the hotel, which was just on the other side of the municipal airport – but which was also a long and exposed walk around the tarmac. After debating a bit, we rejected M’s suggestion we walk and brave more pelting snow – and by then hail – and slid our way across a parking lot to get a taxi. That walk across the icy parking lot ranks as one of the more treacherous aspects of the trip.

That evening we had scheduled a boat tour to try to see the Northern Lights from the Reykjavik harbor. Needless to say, the trip was cancelled, but as a substitute we were able to opt for a nine course sharing menu at the Kopar Restaurant on the waterfront. The weather, which truly does change every 15 minutes (but sometimes only to get snowier), cleared just enough to see the moon against deep blue sky.

Moon Over the Reykjavik Harbor
Moon Over the Reykjavik Harbor

Next up – exploring the Golden Circle and the valley between two worlds: Pingvellir – the meeting place for Iceland’s ancient Parliament, on the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. More summits to come.

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