The plan for the first day was to visit as much as we could, but not until we had taken care of the basics. I had a rental car reserved. Keflavíkurflugvöllur (
Keflavík International Airport) is about 50 km (31 miles) Reykjavík
where we would be staying at a condo we reserved online. A shuttle took us to the rental company and it was snowing. At the rental place I quickly got the paperwork done for our vehicle, a Fiat Panda
. It claimed to be 4x4 and was listed as a van/SUV. Any smaller and there would have been no possible way to fit 4 people in it, and while it might have been a 4 wheel drive there was no way this vehicle could get itself out of any mess with how under powered it was. We lovingly named our wimpy chariot Fettuccine. He was always the butt of jokes but served us well to the best of his meager abilities. Fettuccine's first problem was that the rear passenger door wouldn't open. The rental personal said it was probably just a frozen door. That was not the case and the door never functioned the entire trip. Fettuccine was a 6-speed manual, although who decided 6 gears was a good idea I can't say. Going down the highway at 90 km/h (56 MPH) I would end in 6th gear, but approaching a hill I saw the speed dropping and thus dropped down to 5th gear. The speed continued to drop, so I had to go to 4th gear. Fettuccine simply didn't have the power.
My first drive in a whole foreign land do its best to test me. There was a good snow fall, I was completely unfamiliar with the location, roads conditions or even the signs. Driving in metric I've done and had no trouble following speeds in kilometers per hour rather than miles. However, I had never seen an Icelandic speed limit sign and didn't even know the Icelandic equivalent to the words speed limit
. Not to worry, however. Icelanders simply post the speed as number on a blue sign with a red border with no additional text. While Fettuccine was powerless he didn't handle just fine and although the drive wasn't easy I think it went rather smoothly. We arrived in Reykjavík and made our way to the northwest side of town.
The condo we had rented for our stay commanded a view of Faxaflói (Faxi's Bay). When we arrived not much could be made of Akranes and Akrafjall mountain just across the bay as the cloud cover obscured them. The view was fantastic nonetheless. The owner of the condo explained this was his house that he stayed with his daughters when they were in town, and he rented it out the rest of the time. It was a very nice place, larger than what I had expected. One thing he explained to us was that in Iceland heat comes from steam that feeds radiators placed throughout the houses. Rather than adjust steam flow to control temperature, most Icelanders simply open windows if it gets too warm. This was clearly the norm as once he mentioned this we noticed it everywhere. Iceland is a natural source of geothermal energy and so steam sources are readily available and cheap, and as such people clearly don't think too much about venting off unwanted heat rather than trying to control it better.
Breakfast was on all our minds and it was my goal to eat everything while in the country. My first breakfast was at Kaffi Loki
(Café Loki), a little café just across the street from Hallgrímskirkja
(church of Hallgrímur). Since I was in Iceland I decided to try as much fish as possible, starting with breakfast. We were in a county surrounded by ocean and some of the world's best fisheries and I figured if there was a chance of me liking fish it would be here. My breakfast included four types of fish with rye bread. The dried fish lack flavor of any kind but the remainder of my dish was very good. It even had a small sample of Hákarl
(fermented shark) which had an interesting flavor.
After breakfast we visited Hallgrímskirkja
, a large art deco church. I am a big fan of art deco architecture and this strange merger of deco and Gothic revival was really interesting. Their pipe organ was also impressive. There was an organist playing when we went inside but he hadn't pulled any of the large stops and was mainly playing some calm pieces that didn't do much to show off the abilities of this grand interment. Still the building and organ were a sight.
Our next stop was Pönksafn Íslands
(The Icelandic Punk Museum). It was a converted underground public toilet run by a dude old enough to have hung with the original 70s punks and still sporting a punk moehawk. The display reminded me of every punk house I'd been although rather more sanitary. I followed the story of Iceland's punk history but didn't get to finish before my party wanted to move on. They did have some samples of some Icelandic punk. Several were two popie for my tastes (I've always been an 80s hardcore guy myself) but one song I heard was from an album titled Rokk í Reykjavík
. This is a documentary about the music scene and I might have to look into it further as I liked what I was hearing. While I would have loved to had chatted with the proprietor everyone was getting tired.
Although we had grand plans to explore the entire day, none of us had the strength to do so. We returned to our condo and all took a nap. I couldn't even tell you how long I slept, but it was a wonderful sleep. When we woke it was time to again find food. This time I tried a lamb dish which is also a local special on the island. Afterward we tried the planetarium but missed all the showings for the evening. However, the hill had a lovely view of the city and I took the opportunity to take several shots.
Looking into our other options for the evening we decided to try swimming in the hot springs. There were a couple of locations and we picked one near by. It looked like a public pool, the water came in from hot springs. There were several pools each at a different temperature. Some where very shallow not much more than 30 cm (12 inches) deep and the temperatures varies from 35°C (95°F) to 45°C (118°F), and one was around 8°C (46°F). One must rinse off before getting into the pools. Then there is a rather brisk walk from the shower room to the pool. I was not prepared for that and upon entering the outdoors which could not have been more than -3°C (25°F) quicken my pace to the first pool. Soon I forgot all about the air temperature and spent a fair bit of time relaxing in 40°C (104°F) water. At one point it began to snow, large fluffy flakes. I leaned back and watched the snow fall, warm and content. It was the most peculiar expense to be mostly undressed and in water during a snow storm, and I highly recommend everyone try it.
Feeling I had to represent Wisconsin and decided to attempt the 8°C pool. After all, I too have a fair amount of Nordic blood in my veins. There were a couple of Icelanders soaking in the water. I got in far enough to get my chest under water, but only lasted several seconds before I had to get out. It was an interesting experience. Even though the air temperature was around -3°C it felt warm not to be in the water, and shortly after getting our I had a tingeing sensation not all together unpleasant. Getting back into warm water was a very nice feeling, and I would repeat this a couple more times. Alas, I never did last more than about 10 or 20 seconds in the cold water. But I think with some practice I could bring myself to take such cold for longer.
The finial part of my soaking was in the 45°C pool. It was so warm I would have to take short breaks by standing up, but the temperature was wonderful. There I talked to a local man who worked at the University about cycling. He talked about how they could cycle the entire island, all +1330 km (820 miles) of it in just over 40 hours. At my best I cycled 860 miles and that took me a month. Clearly, this guy was pretty hardcore. He told me about some things to consider when cycling in Iceland and warned me against the other drivers. I had heard a couple of people complain about Asian drivers and thought it just an extension of the common stereotype, but this man explained why Asian drivers in particular have such a bad driving reputation in Iceland. Apparently, one needs only to apply and taken a written test to be granted a drivers license in Iceland, even if they have never driven a car before. Clearly, that would make from some poor drivers. Such applicants are most often form Asian countries thus giving them a bad image to the locals. I tried to be extra mindful of my own driver thereafter. Iceland is home to Icelanders, where I am just a visitor.
After our hot springs experience it was time to return to the condo where the reminder of the night was spent boasting on the Internet of where we were and what we had done thus far. What a wonderful country this is, and what a fantastic trip so far.