It’s been a minute since I’ve posted on here, and that’s because I just spent a week in Europe! I went to visit my friend Katherine in Sweden, but on my way there, I had a long layover in Iceland. And even though my stay was short, I made the most of it.
My plane landed in the middle of the afternoon, and the airport is 45 minutes away from Reykjavik, the capital and largest city. By the time I got into the city, on a bus, it was 4pm. I had to catch a 2:30am bus to get back to the airport for my bright and early flight to Stockholm. So, that meant I had 10 hours to kill in Reykjavik.
My timing wasn’t ideal. There are all sorts of excursions into the Icelandic countryside – hikes to volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs, and the like, but I arrived too late in the day to partake in any of them. Plus, most of the museums, shops, and points of interest closed at 6pm (it was a Wednesday), so there was a lot that I couldn’t see.
Luckily, the Reykjavik city center isn’t too big. The city’s population is 120,000 – about the size of my college town (Ann Arbor, Michigan) – so it’s definitely not a sprawling metropolis. It’s very walkable, and I love walking, so it was easy to get around to the stuff that I wanted to check out. Plus, it was a beautiful day, and I had done some research, so I wasn’t wandering blindly.
My first stop was the Saga Museum, which told Iceland’s history entirely through wax figures of historical figures, arranged in dioramas.
Iceland has a fascinating and violent history, and the displays depicted people burning at the stake, a decapitation, and battles. One historical figure, Freydis Eiriksdottir, is well known for holding a sword to her own breast, scaring away natives and saving her and her fellow explorers.
At the end, there was a room where you could dress up as a Viking for photos. Yes please!
From there, I walked to Harpa Concert Hall, a stunning, shimmering piece of architecture that I had seen from the bus.
Different types of angled glass and mirror reflect and refract the light, which must be cool in the summer months, when the sun barely sets.
The actual auditorium was locked, but the lobby was open, and I wandered around. I could spent all day there!
Plus, lots of stairs!
Next on the list was Hallgrimskirkja, the enormous church on the hill overlooking the whole city. The tower is open to the public, so it seemed like a great way to see the lay the land.
This church isn’t the tallest structure in town, but it’s the tallest structure, by far, in the downtown area, and I was hoping that getting up the tower would require climbing the stairs. Nope! There’s an elevator, and the stairs can only be used during an emergency. (I asked.) At least there were four flights of stairs at the top, that connected the indoor viewing area with a higher level that was open to the elements.
The views were astonishing, and worth the $9 admission.
Reykjavik, in general, is a beautiful city. It has that old, colorful, European charm, with simpler architecture. There’s not a lot of fussy, ornate buildings. Plus, the people are friendly, and you can’t throw a stone without hitting a tall, gorgeous blond man or woman. Everyone speaks English, and whenever I overheard people speaking Icelandic, I smiled, because everybody sounds like Bjork, and I’ve loved Bjork for over 20 years now.
From here I headed to dinner, with a quick stop at City Hall, a modern building built on a lovely pond. I stumbled upon a cool exhibit involving a giant map of the city on the floor, with tables featuring architectural models of all the building projects that were in development.
Oh, and I passed by a mural of a baboon!
(The baboon is on the right.)
I had selected a restaurant for dinner ahead of time, out of a guidebook. It’s called Seabaron, and it’s a tiny little place with communal tables, right on the harbor.
They’re known for their lobster soup, so I ordered a bowl of that. The masses are correct. It’s delicious.
I also ordered a trout skewer, also delicious.
But I chose this restaurant because of the blue plate on the side: they served whale steaks, and I was very curious to try it.
Before any of you fly off the handle, it’s Minke whale, which is not endangered at all, and this was legally and responsibly fished. It looks more like beef than fish (because it’s a mammal, and not a fish at all, as the waiter pointed out). In fact, it tastes like beef, too – incredibly tender and flavorful red meat, with a touch of the briny sea taste that you often get with seafood.
I learned after the fact that whale isn’t really eaten by Icelanders. Most of it is consumed by tourists, who think it’s a local delicacy, which it’s not. I fell squarely in that camp, and that makes me feel a little dumb. But I had a good meal, and I tried something new, and I always enjoy that.
I had a leisurely dinner at the restaurant, and by the time I left, it was 9:30pm. I had overheard other diners talking about the northern lights, so I walked along the water’s edge, looking at the sky. I came across about a dozen folks, with cameras set up on tripods, gathered at a public sculpture depicting an abstracted Viking ship, so I hung around there for a while, figuring it couldn’t hurt to be near people who had more knowledge on the matter.
The northern lights did not make an appearance. I stuck around as long as I could bear it, because it had gotten noticeably colder at night, and then resumed my walk.
I made it to Bravo, one of Reykjavik’s only gay bars (the other, Kiki, was directly upstairs), and hung out there until it closed. I did something I haven’t done since I started my weight loss journey: I ordered a beer. And then I remembered, after my first sip, that oh yeah, I don’t really like beer. But I had spent 12 or 13 dollars on it (Iceland in general is expensive), so I nursed that pale ale for a couple hours.
The bar closed at 1am, which meant I still had 90 minutes before I had to be at the bus stop. I helped a shitfaced guy I had chatted with at the bar get into a cab, and wandered around, watching Iceland’s youth stumble out of bars (they all closed at 1am, from what I gathered).
I found the one 24-hour market, and bought a snack: raw veggies, skyr (a thick Icelandic yogurt), a sparkling water.
I sat in one of Reykjavik’s central plazas and ate it, and when I was done, I took a scenic route back to the bus stop, passing by the parliament building and the cathedral.
Soon enough I was headed back to the airport, pretty tired from surprisingly busy day.
A few days later, I sat down with Google Maps and retraced my routes from the entire day. I walked a total of 10.6 kilometers – 6.5 miles! Not a bad workout for a layover.
Keep it up, David!
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