Peace Train A Long Time Coming
mainland Europe and North America, Iceland has always taken it's own unique path. Icelandic architecture and fashion is a reflection of it's unusual geography, the Icelandic palette is most comfortable when quality local ingredients are cured, cultured, fermented, or pickled, and the Icelandic people revel in self sufficiency and environmental sustainability. Iceland has always been deeply rooted in nordic liberal sensibilities, but unlike any other nation, they refused to bail out their banks after the 2008 recession, in 2009 they elected the world's first openly gay female prime minister and in 2010, Reykjavik elected John Gnarr, punk rock singer, comedian, and self proclaimed anarchist as their mayor. The physical landscape is as striking and unique as the culture itself; an island covered in black volcanic rock, lush green fields, geothermal vents and dramatic volcanoes. It was with this in mind, that Dennie, Henry and I boarded a plane for Reykjavik over Easter holidays, where we would spend 9 days swimming in hot pools, driving through fjords, and eating delicious Skyr (Icelandic yogurt).
Iceland is expensive. As
Hiking near EyjafjallajökullHiking near Eyjafjallajökull
Hiking near EyjafjallajökullIn a world that is increasingly homogenous, fiercely independent cultures and places are especially intriguing. Likely a result of it's geographical isolation from both
a way to mitigate the costs our plan involved renting an old, rusty but mainly reliable car from Sadcar (a 2002 Yaris with 280,000 Kms), cooking 2 out of 3 meals a day at our rental apartment with Bonus brand groceries and doing as little shopping as possible. Upon walking through customs I began to have some minor reservations about our plan to be budget oriented when we were greeted by what I assume is one out of the two Sadcar employees who took us to a quonset in a field 10 minutes from the airport. When we inquired about a carseat for Henry, they directed us to the back of the auto body shop/rental car graveyard where 3 very used and slightly broken carseats sat amongst mufflers and cooling fluids. Dennie chose the most functional of the lot, we loaded into our Sadcar and took off towards Reykjavik through a minor snow storm.
Our little Ikea apartment was perfectly located down the street from Hallgrimskirka, the spired Lutheran church that provides a compass for travellers exploring the city. This was a great location to have as home base, as most of our mornings were spent wondering the streets
Hank and I inside the HarpaHank and I inside the Harpa
Hank and I inside the Harpa
of the old town where colorful terraced houses with main floor commercial space provide a vibrant and walkable downtown dotted with record shops with comfy couches and free espresso (12 Tonar), Icelandic design and furniture stores, vegetarian cafes, pubs, clubs and curry houses. We visited all three locations of the Reykjavik Art Museum (Hafnarhus, Kjarvalsstadir, Asmundarsafn) where the post modern works of Erro and the cubist and abstract landscape paintings of Kjarval hang next to rotating exhibits from contemporary Icelandic artists. We stumbled upon an Easter egg hunt in the Einar Jonsson Sculpture Park, played cards in the sprawling lounges inside The Harpa, and took in the Reykjavik Museum of Photography (inside the public library), the Viking Saga Museum, the Reykjavik Children's Park and "zoo" (more of a petting zoo) and took the elevator to the observatory at The Pearl. The city is surprisingly cosmopolitan yet retains a small town hospitality that acts as a reminder that there are only 120,000 people within city limits.
Despite the high cost of bars and restaurants in Reykjavik's centre we managed to find a number of reasonably priced eateries serving delicious and fresh food. Here are some of our recommendations: Babalu (grilled
Easter Egg Hunt in Einar Jónsson Sculpture GardenEaster Egg Hunt in Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden
Easter Egg Hunt in Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden
Hallgrímskirkja in the background.
cheese and tomato soup), C is for Cookie (homemade soup and sandwiches with great cheesecake), Laundromat Cafe (lake trout with root vegetables was outstanding and the children's play area in the basement is something to behold!), Austur India Fjelagid (delicious vegetarian Thali), Graen Kostur (Eastern inspired fusion veggie food with two lunch options daily). For drinks, Microbar has a lot of local craft beers on tap (Happy Hour from 5-8 pm). The Labowski Bar also seemed like an amazing place but they were having pub trivia when we walked in so we didn't stay for a drink.
Our Sadcar managed a number of day trips from Reykjavik; we drove north through the Hvalfjorour (Whale Fjord), stopping for a picnic near some rapids. We drove to the geothermal town of Hveragerði and onto the famed Eyjafjallajokull volcano which erupted in 2010 causing flight cancellations across Europe. We drove the Golden Circle with stops at Geyser, Pingvellir National Park and the Gulfoss waterfall. Once you leave Reykjavik the geography is stark but majestic with green fields punctuated with black volcanic rock, rolling hills, steep mountain passes and steam rising into the air from thermal vents dotting the landscape throughout.