Our Iceland Adventure – Day 1

I’m finally finding time to sort through and edit the hundreds of images from our trip to Iceland and Scotland back in the fall.  We took the trip because I won a contest on another blog which included airfare to Iceland and a cash prize for accommodations.  We decided to add Scotland to the trip since it was nearby and held interest for both of us.  We planned the whole trip around my nephew’s wedding in Virginia since we had to fly out of an east coast hub and the timing worked for both the Hubs and I to be gone for a long stretch during that time.

Fall in Iceland is very similar to fall in Alaska – cold and often wet, but filled with amazing scenery.  We landed in Keflavík early on a Saturday morning thanks to a red-eye flight.  The airport had very modern architecture and reminded us of an IKEA store with a maze of shopping areas, resturants and gates to navigate.  We picked up our rental car and headed straight for the capital city of Reykjavik, which is about 40 minutes away, for some sightseeing.  The first stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish, which is the city’s main landmark.  It is also the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country.

It was an overcast, rainy and windy day so the church’s smooth grey basalt stone blended into the sky.  Because it was so early, nothing was open yet, so we wandered the grounds around the church noticing it’s details, like the statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of the church, which was a gift from the US commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s parliament and the modern clean lines of the clock at the top of the tower.

Iceland has seen a huge boom in tourism in the past several years so it’s often crowded at attractions like this, but the weather and early morning kept everyone at bay and we practically had the place to ourselves.  I was a little bummed we couldn’t see the inside and the massive German organ which has been used for a variety of famous recordings, but we couldn’t stay long as we had a full schedule of things to see in the couple of days we were there.

Having seen all of  Hallgrímskirkja that we could, we wandered the nearby streets taking in early morning life in Reykjavik.  A few blocks away I spotted this cute little pub with classic Icelandic style including a turf roof and rustic but modern vibe.  I wished they had been open so I could sample their fare – or get a warm drink.

Across from the pub was this public water closet, which required payment to use.  We’d never seen anything like it but thought it was a smart concept given the masses of tourists the city sees each year.

We got back in the car and drove down to the city’s waterfront in search of the Solfar Sun Voyager, a modern culture of a viking ship.  I’d hoped to catch a shot of it at sunrise, but obviously the weather had other plans. We met a Taiwanese tourist there who was by herself and obliged when she asked if I’d take a photo with her.  I’m pretty sure we both looked like drowned rats, but it was fun to experience another culture taking in the sights.

We had planned to check out a weekly swap meet where the prices were rumored to be the best, but weren’t able to locate it despite several laps of the city.  During one of those laps I spotted this church and asked the Hubs to stop for a few minutes to let me investigate.

I discovered that it is Landakotskirkja, the cathedral of the Catholic Church in Iceland.  You’ll notice that bot churches have “kirk” in the name.  We quickly learned that was a standard throughout the country, just as “foss” is part of all waterfall names.

The classic architecture make it seem much older than it’s 1929 consecration.  The only Catholic school in the city was located right next door and featured charming cottage style buildings.  I was drawn to the ornate door of the church, which had a unique handle that the door had been modified around.

Since most attractions wouldn’t open for a few more hours and we had time at the end of our trip to visit Reykjavik again if we wanted to, we decided to head out into the countryside toward our hotel for the evening, which was a couple of hours drive away.  As we left the city, the scenery quickly changed to wide open expanses of mossy landscape, dotted with structures, the occasional farm and power lines to feed the other side of the island.

We stopped for lunch along the highway at a lovely little café, where we enjoyed baked brie sandwiches, the BEST mushroom soup I’ve ever had and a wonderful hot chocolate for dessert.  We encountered several interesting vehicles on the road which we assumed were operated by the local wilderness or extreme adventure tour companies.  We’re accustomed to large vehicles accessorized for wilderness travel and the situations you may encounter doing so, but these rigs took it to a new extreme with massive tires and a variety of extra lights, even for us Alaskans.  But it’s better to be prepared when in the back country, especially in remote areas where help may  not be able to easily reach you and it’s certainly a new experience for tourists who likely only encounter small scale vehicles.

By late afternoon we arrived at Stracta Hotel in Hella, where we would be staying for two nights.  I was delighted to discover there was a small herd of Icelandic horses right across the street from the hotel.  Seeing this special breed up-close was at the top of my list for this trip and this was the perfect opportunity to spend a few minutes petting them.  They quickly realized we didn’t have any treats for them and lost interest in us, but I stood in the rain for a while longer admiring their unique features.

After checking in and getting our bags to the room, we explored the hotel’s café and gift shop before hopping on the wi-fi to check messages.  Jet lagged from the overnight flight and weather, we decided to take a quick nap to recharge.  Refreshed from our rest, we headed back to the café for a delicious farm-to-table style meal over candlelight and discussed our plan for the next day including more country side driving, waterfalls, a historic turf house and the black sand beaches and basalt pillars of Vik.  We called it a night soon after so we could further acclimate to the time zone and get an early start in the morning.  I’ll be sharing those adventures next so be sure to stop back by to see them!

Check out our other Icelandic adventures from Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.  Then see our travels through Scotland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2 here and here and Day 3.

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