24 hours in Iceland

Greetings, all. I am back doing my favorite kind of blogging – while traveling! I do these posts mostly for me, so I can recall, despite the forces of jet-lag and fading memory, the moments, people, and places that make traveling so much fun. So if they aren’t my best prose, well, you’ll just have to live with it!

So let’s set the stage. Long time readers will remembering following the 2010-11 adventures of Jenn and I in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, and Jenn/Sarah/me as we ranged all over Paris and France a couple years back.

Well, a lot has changed since then. Jenn has left Paris and moved to Berlin with her fiancé, I’m in Boston, and Sarah’s been to Dublin and Quebec City without either of us! Harrumph. 🙂

Speaking of Jenn’s fiancé, her impending nuptials is (are?) the reason that Sarah and I are here in Berlin. More to come on that as the week plays out.

But first, to one of my more convoluted travel ideas – I decided that, while booking discount flights to Berlin via WOW airlines, which connects most flights through Rekyjavik, I would give myself a day to see Iceland before heading to Berlin. Because EVERYONE is talking about Iceland. It also, incidentally, saved quite a bit on flights.

So, the first thing to note about Iceland at this time of year is that it’s dark about 20 hours out of the day. My overnight flight landed at 4:00am, and I was greeted by spitting snow/sleet which caused me to immediately cancel my planned rental car (seriously, what was I thinking?) and hop on the FlyBus, which takes travelers from Keflavik airport to Rekyjavik. By the time I figured out where the bus station was and how to get a cab, it was 7:30 AM, still pitch dark, and I was exhausted and starving.

A blog post led me to struggle to get a cab driver to get me to Bergsson Mathus, a warm and cozy basement cafe-type place that served me incredible fresh bread, cheese, prosciutto-type meat with a soft boiled egg and a fantabulous hot chocolate. It was probably the best food I’ve ever had while jet-lagged in Iceland. Seriously, it was incredible.

Side note: I asked the lady at the counter how to say “Good Morning” in Icelandic, and she rattled off a bunch of syllables and gave me a smile as if to say “don’t bother.” This was what I encountered all over the city – no one was really interested in tourists trying out a few native phrases. 

Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on how profoundly unsettling it is to be a foreigner in a strange land…in the dark. I don’t recall feeling quite so out of my element recently – even when I moved to the Big City aka Boston, I never felt such a sense of being “other” as I did when I arrived at the bus station in Reykjavik. Perhaps it’s just that I haven’t traveled alone in many years, or maybe it’s how I’ve always felt slightly guilty when I visit foreign countries and don’t know any of the native language. Regardless, I needed that cozy little cafe (and the wifi) to get myself settled into my own skin again…and to figure out what to do next.

Next, it turns out, involved dragging my little suitcase all around the quiet streets of a city that wouldn’t see sunlight until about 11:15 am. I won’t lie – it was strange.

On the advice of a friend, I headed up to the top of the hill to see Hallgrímskirkja, a church with a towering…well…tower and bells that ring out on the quarter hour.

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As I headed down the hill, I accidentally found myself on the street where my airbnb reservation was, and realized there was a shed to store my bags…so I ditched the luggage, grabbed my camera (I only brought my 50mm prime lens) and headed back out into the dawning light. Well, as much light as a spitting, windy, chilly, winter day gives you.

I strolled over to see the incredible Harpa Music Hall, which features one of the most interesting facades I’ve ever seen (click the link above to see it), and is right on the water. I discovered that Reykjavik is ringed with mountains (I guess I knew this but didn’t really have a picture in my head) – we could almost seem them through the clouds. Trying to capture the light as the sun “rose” was a challenge I took on, with marginal success (and a high ISO).

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Then more wandering, because by this point I was seriously tired and unclear what time my body thought it was. After wending my way through some neighborhoods to take pictures of pretty colored houses, I visited the Volcano museum and then strolled the Old Harbor. Soon, food was needed, so I scored some yummy veggie-curry soup that I proudly did not fall asleep in, and I decided to head back up the hill to see the church in daylight.

There, courtesy of a little elevator ride, I got to see the views of the city that visitors wax poetic about – they didn’t disappoint, even on a gross wintery day.

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Then it was back to the hostel to unpack, where, I have to admit, I allowed my eyes to close for a few minutes, before I forced myself to leave the warm cocoon of my bed and strike out for a dinner with other humans. Trip Advisor pointed me to Ostabudin, where I had quite possibly the best lamb dish I have ever consumed. See a theme? Reykjavik throws down in the food department, for real.

I had about 6 hours to sleep before I had to be up at the lovely hour of 02:30 in order to haul my bags over icy sidewalks to the bus station – by this point I had my solo travel mojo back and knew my way around – to catch the FlyBus back to the airport.

So, my thoughts on Rekyjavik? Go there when there’s more light. You can take “excursions” out into the lava fields (which I never saw), mountains, hot springs, glaciers, Northern Lights, and waterfalls, then come back to the city and have a fabulous meal. That’s what I’m gonna do the next time I go. Which will be soon, for sure. I am no where near done with you, Iceland.

Next up, Berlin!

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