When I was looking at flights from London to Boston I noticed something intriguing. It’s cheaper to fly this route with a stop in Iceland than it is direct. Not only that, Icelandic Air will give you a free stop over so you can essentially have a quick holiday on the way over and pay less travel costs than if you didn’t. I knew next to nothing about Iceland but thought, what the hell? Iceland is by no means a cheap destination, so your flight savings will disappear very quickly making it difficult to spend too much time there, but it’s a wonderful country to visit, however briefly.
I only have a few days to explore Iceland, so rather than spend most of it in transit I base myself in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city, clocking in at 180,000 people. I know right? Enormous. At times it really does feel more like a fishing village than a city, but that is of course a big part of the charm of the place. The main shopping streets are delightful to wander down, even though I’m not particularly inclined to buy anything. The weather isn’t exactly balmy, but that’s what my raincoat is for. The houses in Reykjavik are adorable. All angular with white square windows and painted in an array of bright colors like something straight out of a children’s drawing. I keep wondering what’s up with the grey sky, but I guess someone misplaced the blue crayon.
Up the hill from the main shopping center is Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland and an imposing building by any standards. After Iceland and the Orkneys I’ve come to the conclusion that the Norse really know how to build impressive churches. I fork out the entrance fee to go to the top of the building, which has the best view of Reykjavik around. The view is spectacular but there’s also just something cool about being inside a giant clock. There’s artwork on transparent film inside which gives a cool alternate view of the city scape shining through the pictures on the wall.
Out the front of Hallgrímskirkja is a statue of Lief Eriksson, the Norse explorer who sailed to ‘Vinland’ in the 10th century. He’s regarded as being the first European to land in North America. Take that Columbus! The sagas don’t tell us exactly where ‘Vinland’ actually was but there is archaeological evidence of a Norse settlement in Newfoundland which may have been where Eriksson landed. The statue here actually predates the church and was a gift from the United States in honour of the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s first parliament, which was formed in 930 AD.
I spend the next couple of days in Iceland making day trips out from Reykjavik. My first trip is day hike in Landmannalaugar (try and pronounce it, I dare you) but I’ll save that adventure for another day. The next day I take a tour of the Golden Triangle, which basically takes in a variety of Iceland’s natural and historic attractions not too far from the city. The weather is pretty crap unfortunately, which isn’t so great for taking decent photographs (I’ve got a whole bunch that WOULD be good if there was slightly less water on my lens) but the sites are still worth seeing. The first stop is Þingvellir, an interesting site on multiple counts. It was the site of the original Icelandic parliament (or Alþingi as the locals call it) which was formed in 930 AD and remained at the same spot until 1798. In 1930 it became Iceland’s first national park.
The historical importance of the place is interesting but geologically it is absolutely mind blowing. It lays right where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are pulling apart. The land drifts at a rate of about 2 cm each year and there are massive rifts visible in the landscape. I’m not sure I’d want to live anywhere near it, earthquakes here must be particularly intense, but it’s certainly an impressive place to visit. Some of the cracks are full of water and are apparently a popular place for diving because the visibility underwater is so good.
Next on the list in a geyser called…Geysir. All the other geysers actually got their name from this one. It’s not my first time watching one of these but I haven’t been to Rotorua for a while so it is fun to watch it for a little while. The other foreigners seem much more excited than me and it takes me a bit to click that most countries don’t have these, I just happen to come from one that does.
The last stop is Gullfoss, a beautiful waterfall which is very impressive but unfortunately the rain and the wind blowing waterfall at me makes taking photos rather difficult so you’ll have to take my word for it. I get back in the bus smiling but very very wet. Time to head back to Reykjavik and rest up for my flight to Boston tomorrow.
Listening to: Hocus Pocus – Focus