Reykjavik, Part 1: Icelandic Daze

2013 Reykjavik

I awoke just in time to see Greenland outside my window. We were on a flight to Reykjavik, and the Mercator maps hadn’t prepared me for how close to the arctic circle we’d be traveling. From Boston to Iceland, I’d assumed our path would be completely over water, and listened for the instructions on evacuating at sea.

2013 Reykjavik

Most of it was in Icelandic, of course. The only word I learned before leaving was takk, or “thanks.” Spending a mostly sleepless flight staring at the back of the seat in front of me did nothing to increase my vocabulary. We’d left Boston at 9:30 the night before, to arrive five hours later at 6:30 in the morning. This would be my first trip to Iceland, the Gardener’s third, and I was thrilled at the chance to visit. 

2013 Reykjavik

I felt like Dorothy arriving in Oz, except in reverse. At home, things were greening. Here, barely so.

2013 Reykjavik 2013 Reykjavik

From the Keflavik airport, a shuttle bus brought us into town, where a modern day Viking oversees the station. The Hotel Holt is within walking distance and on a quiet residential street. Behind the International-style cinder block facade, we discover a trove of mid-century modern.

2013 Reykjavik 2013 Reykjavik

The hotel dates back to 1965 much of its retro glamour remains, despite several renovations. On display throughout the hotel is the Holt’s notable Icelandic art collection. Including prints, drawings, paintings and sculpture, it’s the largest privately owned collection in Iceland. 

2013 Reykjavik

After checking in, we breakfasted on skyr, the Icelandic yogurt, marinated herring and rúgbrauð, a dark rye bread, then set off to explore the neighborhood. 

2013 Reykjavik

Our first destination was the Lutheran church, Hallgrímskirkja, prominently situated on the highest point in Reykyavik. Except for the stained glass doors to the nave, there’s little embellishment. 

2013 Reykjavik 2013 Reykjavik

The light-filled interior is as austere as the exterior, and a sizable organ dominates the space. 

2013 Reykjavik

What we really came for was the view from the steeple. Unusual for Reykjavik, the day was sunny and clear, though extremely windy, a more common occurrence. We lingered as long as we could, taking in the city, surrounding sea, and snow-capped peaks, then retreated back down into the street.

2013 Reykjavik 2013 Reykjavik

2013 Reykjavik 2013 Reykjavik

2013 Reykjavik 2013 Reykjavik

2013 Reykjavik

By mid-afternoon we were ready for a snack, and ducked into the cafe Mokka Kaffi. We took a look around and ordered what everyone else seemed to be having: waffles and, instead of hot chocolate, a cup of cappuccino. We watched how the locals do it — tear off a piece of warm waffle, and slather it with a dab of jam and a dollop of whipped cream. I was already smitten with Iceland and that first bite sealed the deal.

2013 Reykjavik

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped off at a grocery store to pick up some skyr. English is widely spoken, however, most of the food packaging was in Icelandic only. Without a translation, what was unidentifiable was made even more so.

2013 Reykjavik 2013 Reykjavik

After a much needed nap, we headed to Icelandic Fish & Chips down by the harbor for an easy, casual dinner. 

2013 Reykjavik

After our experience in the grocery store, it was a relief to find the menu in English. The specialty of this organic bistro is a rotating list of freshly caught fish, fried in a crunchy spelt batter. Today’s choices were ling, cod or pollock; prices shown are in krónur, the Icelandic currency. 

2013 Reykjavik

We ordered a couple of glasses of Egils Gull lager, and had the fried ling and crispy, oven roasted potatoes served with skyr tartar sauce, and an order of garlic roasted langoustine tails. After the long travel day, the salad was particularly welcome nourishment.

2013 Reykjavik

We finished dinner around 9:30, with plenty of daylight left to stroll around the harbor and take in the northern evening.

2013 Reykjavik

We came across this building made of two shipping containers, painted a bright red and housing a bike rental agency.

2013 Reykjavik

As a bookend to our walk — this little red house across from our hotel, a figurine of Charlie Chaplin sits in the window.

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From the balcony of our hotel at 10:30 pm, shortly after sunset. It was as if night never came, the light just gradually deepened to a dark ultramarine, then returned around 4 am. We made sure to close the dark-out drapes the next night.

Resources
Gray Line Iceland – Airport Express
Hotel Holt
Hallgrímskirkja
Mokka Kaffi
Icelandic Fish & Chips
Reykjavik, Part 2: The Golden Circle
Reykjavik, Part 3: Settlement Life
• Reykjavik, Part 4: Cod Wars and Hot Dogs

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19 Responses to Reykjavik, Part 1: Icelandic Daze

  1. Don’t envy you the long, boring cattle car ride in the plane, but it sure looks like it was worth it once you got off. Great day to start you off. Have a wonderful trip.

    • leduesorelle says:

      It’s true about plane flights, I’d travel much more if they weren’t so uncomfortable, especially for an introvert like myself…

  2. Thanks for all these photos, they brought back memories of living in Iceland for nearly four years back in the late 90s. We loved that country, although I missed the warm weather. Gorgeous pictures of a gorgeous place. Enjoy the trip!

    • leduesorelle says:

      Thanks for visiting, Jane! How lucky for you, to have had the chance to live there. We had extraordinary weather and I miss having those long long days…

  3. fascinating. Thanks for sharing the photos. Great mix of architecture, art, and food. Loved it.

  4. mimi says:

    I think Steve and I stayed in the same room. That view from the balcony is emblazoned on my mind. Did you have a drink at the Holt? The bar serves as the headquarters for the single malt society or something like that. Will you really try to learn Icelandic? Let’s share travel photos soon. xom

    • leduesorelle says:

      Hi Mimi, thanks so much for the hotel recommendation, it was perfect! No, we didn’t get a chance to drink at the bar but good to know of their specialty, next time…

  5. Chris says:

    Fried Ling! Yum!

  6. allesistgut says:

    Oh wow, what a wonderful post. Can’t wait for going back to Iceland this summer and dive into the Icelandic food, people and landscape!

    • leduesorelle says:

      Gee, thanks! Nothing compared to yours, though ;) Lucky you that you visit in summer, so much was still closed while we were there. I kept trying to imagine the landscape in its more verdant state… It’s a very special place, isn’t it?

  7. Liz says:

    Fascinating. I’ve wanted to visit Iceland for a long time but the season is so short it has never co-incided with a convenient time. Your post wants me to go even more.

    • leduesorelle says:

      I can’t recommend it enough, it was everything I imagined! The exchange rate makes it shockingly expensive for Americans, but well worth it.

  8. Simona says:

    Lovely photo essay. I hope the weather stays nice. I would like to make skyr. I have not tried culturing milk with the skyr I buy here.

    • leduesorelle says:

      Thanks, Simona, glad you enjoyed the pix! The recipes for skyr vary, some include rennet, some not. From what I’ve gathered, it was traditionally made from sheep’s milk. From Elisabeth Luard: “The rennet to turn the milk was made by taking the stomach of the year’s last newborn lamb or calf, killed before it took grass. The tiny bag full of strong curd and powerful enzymes was then hung in a corner to dry. The next season, the stomach would be soaked in salted water and the liquid would be used to turn the new year’s skyr.” Or, you could just buy a carton of Siggi’s or the skyr culture from Culture for Health ;)

  9. Fig & Quince says:

    So happy for you to be experiencing and enjoying this (looks to be) epic journey to Iceland and also somewhat jealous! I’ve *always* wanted to go there. Love love love the photos – a feast! Are those (the tree and the band-aid etc) graffiti shots?? If so, very interesting.

    • leduesorelle says:

      Iceland’s a visual feast and I couldn’t help but think of you when I saw these wall paintings… I took the photos of them especially for you!

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