Click”. We had booked our flight. After almost six months in the US, we are excited about the next country. To new experiences, to a new culture, and new adventures. The choice was particularly difficult for us this time because our hearts desired Australia, which has been keeping its borders closed to travelers for almost 2 years. We sorted all possible countries according to open borders, internal covid regulation, and the political situation. And so our choice falls to a country that magically casts us under its spell. A country full of stories and legends, volcanoes and glaciers, and the first country in 4 years where our coconut oil would no longer be liquid 😉 – Iceland.
"the first country in 4 years where our coconut oil is no longer liquid...."
Off to Iceland
We would fly from Portland, Oregon to Reykjavik, the northernmost capital of the world – in just 7 hours with Icelandair. Our good friends Bob and Debbie took us to the airport. We were privileged to spend the last two weeks with these wonderful people and our camper would remain in their care until we returned for our Alaska Adventure. We are proud that Bob and Debbie, who we met three years ago in Belize, are part of our family and so it was difficult for us to say goodbye.
The check-in process at the airport proved that the political situation with Covid did not necessarily make traveling easier. During our process, we had the opportunity to observe other outcomes. It was important where you were going, which passport you had, and things like vaccination certificates, Covid tests, recovery documents, entry registrations, and much more. A young family, two counters next to us, had the problem that an antigen test was only valid for 48 hours for their target country. The travelers had not calculated that their goal was “a day ahead”. The woman was cried and the man tried to explain to the person behind the counter – his only contact person – that he had done everything according to the regulations. The family had taken the test 48 hours before departure. They hadn’t read anything in the regulations about the date in the destination country. Typically American, the clerk remained helpful, friendly and was clearly on the side of the family. We wished the family good luck and success on their trip.
With the wrong clothes to certain death
A burger 🍔 (of course organic and gluten-free 😉) later we sat in an almost empty plane, which felt like a sauna at 45 C. The plane was so rarely booked that each of us could call a whole row our own for the next seven hours. It was a red-eye flight and although I tried to fall asleep for about four hours, I was lying awake and my thoughts were circling. One of the topics was the possibility of freezing to death in Iceland. The warmest thing I had to offer was a thermal shirt, a fleece jacket – which I had bought specially at “REI” – and my windbreaker over it. A surfer’s cap would theoretically protect me from the cold and archaeologists would think of me as a too big smurf if they would dig me out from the glacier 3000 years later. This is a common problem with former Austrians who came too close to a glacier with bad clothing 😉.
Nina on the other hand, with her “warm” yoga pants, a skirt from a second-hand shop, her softshell jacket, and her fur jacket on top, was well equipped for temperatures around 10 C. Everything below these temperatures would probably get too chilly. Why didn’t we prepare better or take our winter clothes with us? Firstly, our winter clothes are held in our storage room in Austin, Texas – about 4 hours by plane and 2500 miles away and secondly, what should we do with the warm cloth when we are into warmer regions after Iceland? If necessary, we would buy something warm in a second-hand shop.
Arrive in Iceland
The entry to Iceland was without problems and the weather welcomed us extremely Icelandic. It was raining from left to right, because of the strong wind. The rental car shuttle forgot us and so we got stuck at the airport for a while. About three hours later, we were on our way to our Airbnb in our car the size of an old tin can (and just as rusty and worn). On the hour-long drive, our car became a toy of the wind and I had difficulty staying on route. The Icelandic expression GLUGGAVEÐUR, which means “window weather”, came to mind as we struggled with sleep in our cozy accommodation. It means weather that is nice to look at but not to experience yourself. We had a couple of those days ahead of us. Before we went to sleep, I set the alarm because I had to attend a web meeting three hours later. That would be fun.
Reykjavik is an amazing city. A big part of the Icelandic population lives here. Which still doesn’t make it a big city. Because if all Icelandic people lived in their capital, it would still only be about 350k people.
The city that felt more like a village has an amazing variety of sightseeing spots. Here are our three highlights:
"Most visitors to Iceland tend to spend just a few hours in Reykjavik before moving on to the geological wonders beyond. We think they are missing out."
“Hallgrimskirkja” – Like most Icelandic names, the name of Reykjavik’s most famous and most photographed church is difficult to pronounce. “HALL-creams-kirk-yuh”, is probably the best approach to the correct pronunciation and means something like the church of Hallgrímur.
But the question that emerges is why is this Hallgrímur getting a church? The next confusion is that the incredible Viking statue in front of the church is not Hallgrímur but Leifur Eiríksson. Leif, as his good friends called him 1,000 years ago, was a distant relative of Naddodd, who is recognized for discovering this diverse island. Leif seemed to have been born with this, and that’s how he discovered North America. About half a millennium before Christopher Columbus. Where was I? Oh, yes – back to Hallgrímur, whom his friends probably just called Hallgrímur. If he had any. Hallgrímur Pétursson was an Icelandic poet, minister, and pastor who wrote the famous “Passion Hymns” about 400 years ago. The Passion Hymns are a collection of 50 poetic texts. The texts examine the Passion story as it is traditionally presented, from the point when Jesus enters the Garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial. If I had written this story in 50 songs, I would probably not get a church. Hallgrímur got two. These and another in Saurbær, which required far less concrete for the construction than the one in Reykjavik.
Hallgrimskirkja was designed in 1937, but construction did not begin before 1945. I understand if you take into account what was going on in the world at that time and therefore in Iceland. It took over 40 years to complete the church and during that time it was a topic of conversation. The Icelanders eventually came to love their 74.5-meter (244-foot) monumental tower – in all of its concrete glory. Today the Hallgrimskirkja is one of the most iconic sights in Iceland and certainly one of the most Instagrammed ones.
Sólfarið - Sun Voyager
Solfarid, or Sun Voyager, is a large steel sculpture of a ship that is located by the sea in the center of Reykjavík. The sculpture is one of the capital’s most visited attractions, where people gather every day to marvel at the sun reflected in the stainless steel of this remarkable monument. Not that there would be sun here every day, on the contrary. But still, stunning.
From the point of view of the artist – Jon Gunnar – Solfarid represents a dreamboat and is an ode to the sun. It symbolizes light and hope. A vessel that transports souls to the realm of death. A wonderful thought, especially when you consider that Jon Gunnar became seriously ill with leukemia and died before his soul boat was finished.
Harpa - the Icelandic concert hall
Harpa is the first month of summer in the old Icelandic calendar that is no longer used. It is also the name of the concert hall, completed in 2011, chosen from among 4000 names submitted. Berlin Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, St. Petersburg Festival Ballet, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Björk, Cyndi Lauper, Tony Bennett, Bryan Ferry, and Burt Bacharach are just a few of the well-known artists and groups that have performed there over the past ten years are. Since opening, Harpa had received more than 7 million visitors. Impressive.
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