To say this blog post is long in the making would be a gross understatement. I apologize to the one person who’s been bugging me for months to finish it. So, onto the matter at hand, and hoping that there is a smidgen of interest left in the topic and enough memory left in my brain to serve it…
Day 2 – June 1st – Golden Circle
My second day in Iceland was spent touring the Golden Circle, the most popular day tour out of Reykjavik. While renting a car may give you freedom to explore the way you want to, and I certainly want to go that route for my next trip to Iceland, taking tours will give you more time to actually enjoy the scenery (cause, you know, you don’t have to look at the road, or maps and street signs, for that matter). Tours will also give you background information on what you’re seeing, and possibly new friends! I booked all my tours with GeoIceland and I had a wonderful time on each tour, so I would definitely recommend them. The tour guides were friendly, kind, and fun to talk to. I can proudly say that I’m friends with Oskaar, tour guide of GeoIceland and father to three young daughters.
The Golden Circle is a popular loop northeast of Reykjavik. Most tours include stops at Þingvellir National Park, Geysir hot spring area, and Gullfoss waterfall. My tour also included Faxi waterfall and a few unplanned photo stops.
The first stop on the tour was a photo-op of the largest lake in Iceland:
And then it was on to Þingvellir National Park, an important historical site for Iceland (but I’ll let you google that yourself; I’ll just give you the pretty pictures):
The view overlooking the water was absolutely stunning; definitely one of the prettiest vistas of the trip.
After Þingvellir we drove on to Geysir, but not before a quick stop to say hello to a few Icelandic horses, who ran up to the fence as we pulled up! They are very friendly and hardy creatures, and definitely not ponies. Do not call them ponies to any Icelander. Also don’t feed them Cheetos. To be serious though, the Icelandic horse is the only breed allowed in the country, making it one of the purest breeds in the world.
Onto Geysir… In short, Geysir is a geothermal area, one of many in Iceland. What makes it a top tourist attraction, though, is the Strokkur geyser which shoots water up into the air. I’ll spare you the 5 minute video I took capturing the phenomenon and trust you can imagine it yourself. Think Yellowstone (though Yellowstone is actually a different type of geyser… something to do with the length of time in between the bursts and how high they get; Yellowstone is much more consistent; the geyser here typically goes off every 5 to 15 minutes and can go off in extremely short or high bursts). If you really want to get into the Geysir action, check out this YouTube clip.
I bet you can’t guess what the Icelandic word for geyser is!
I found this beauty in the gift shop. It’s a can of air. Fresh Icelandic Mountain Air.
Next up on the tour was Gullfoss waterfall, arguably the most famous waterfall in Iceland. Sadly, the day was cloudy and foggy so visibility was low, but it was still beautiful. I’ll let the photos do the talking here.
The last stop of the day was Faxi waterfall, which was much smaller and simpler than Gullfoss, but still majestic.
Riding back into town, I finally caught an infamous site… the penis museum, at last! Is a trip to Reykjavik ever truly complete without at least a glimpse of it?
The tour was over! I got off the bus with my friend Nicole and we decided to explore the city together. We walked over to the Harpa, and I got my first good look at it – outside and inside.
I have entirely too many pictures of this building. I do not apologize.
The Harpa sits on the harbor, so naturally that was our next destination. Besides the ocean, it wasn’t all that impressive. I had my most expensive meal here, at a restaurant called Kopar. It was very tasty, but disappointing since I couldn’t eat half of it. For some reason I wasn’t expecting the duck spring rolls or the chickpea balls to be deep fried. Icelanders love their rich food!
After dinner, we called it a day and I walked back to my hostel and got a good night’s sleep (at least, I think it was good; it was a few months ago after all).
Day 3 – June 2nd – Museums, the symphony, and the best dinner
I had bought tickets months in advance to go to the symphony at the Harpa on June 2nd, so I knew I had to stay in Reykjavik that day. No way was I going to miss the Icelandic symphony performing Shostakovich and Profokiev (anyone who knows me fairly well knows I have a thing for all things Russian).
I got a bit of a late start that morning. I ate some fruit for breakfast and ran (not literally) to the Bonus grocery, by far the cheapest in town, to buy a pack of disposable razors. I shaved my lady beard on the street (no way was I walking back to my hostel just to shave a few chin hairs) and waited around Hallgrímskirkja for Nicole to show up. We had decided to meet up and go to museums together. When she finally arrived, we checked out the inside of Hallgrímskirkja and the view from the top, which we managed to avoid paying the 900 krona (~$7.59) fee to see .
We started the trek to the National History Museum and totally got misdirected along the way. When you’re in a foreign city, do not rely on an offline app to give you directions. The location trackers are not all that accurate, come to find out. Anyway, after getting back on track, we saw the Nordic House not far away. I really wanted to see it (I actually said I was going there in the cover letter of the job I applied to at the Seattle Nordic Heritage Museum, so I felt I should really do it, as an honor thing) and I knew I wouldn’t be that far out again, so I convinced Nicole to step inside. It was a sort of motley collection of a building, containing a cafe, library, and art exhibit. The exhibit that was showing at the time explored the “influence of traditions and the natural environment” (read this article!) in Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. The library contained books in all the Nordic languages (Icelandic, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, etc). I find Scandinavia infinitely interesting, so of course I wish I could have spent more time in that place. Alas, things to do, people to see…
I won’t bore you with pictures of the National History Museum, but it was the coolest museum I have ever been to (well, the Phoenix Art Museum is tough competition, what with Leonardo Da Vinci’s manuscripts and everything). I love history. I could have spent all day in that building. I could have spent all week in that building. As it was, I had about two hours. Nicole was starving, and so was I. I will say that my favorite part of the museum was the exhibition about women in Iceland. The feminist movement/scene in Iceland is honestly one of my favorite things about the country. It is beautiful to see, and to be in such an empowered environment is a grand, empowering feeling. Actually, I will bore you with a couple pictures, because that exhibit was just visually stunning, even if I didn’t have time to read almost any of the plaques.
After buying some post cards and gifts at the museum gift shop (actually, we did that first, but what are details, really?), we went for lunch at this brunch place called Bergsson Mathus. I got lamb stew with brown rice and salad; I don’t know if it was exceptionally good or if I was exceptionally hungry. Either way, I do love lamb.
So the symphony.
Oh how lovely, how absolutely perfect it was. I had never been to the symphony before. It was a beautiful live performance. I want to a see classical performances every night. It’s something that everyone should experience, at least once. I am, admittedly, a slut for classical music. I jam to that on the radio, and let me tell you, driving 80MPH to classical music is a next-level dramatic experience. Anyway….
I actually got a picture of the guy that ended up sitting by me, as a random aside. He had a cold.
Back to pertinence…
I found an official clip on YouTube from the performance. Please, listen to it:
I forgot to mention that Nicole went to the symphony with me. She sat in the chair behind mine, and sitting by her was this guy called Herbie that we ended up going to dinner with after the show.
Dinner was great. It really was. My tour guide on my last day there (Oskaar) actually said that was his favorite seafood restaurant in Reykjavik, and I didn’t even prompt him. It’s called Sjávargrillið, which is “seafood grill” in English. They made my dish two times. To keep a long story short, they made me a special version of the dish with boiled potatoes instead of mashed potatoes, grilled cauliflower instead of cauliflower puree, and sugar-free, dairy-free sauce over the fish. The service was excellent, and the cashier taught me how to say yes in Icelandic, after he noticed me pronouncing it wrong (it’s já – pronounced yow- the j is pronounced like a y and the a with the accent is pronounced like “ow” – that letter alone actually means river, something Oskaar told me later).
After dinner, Herbie and I walked down to the harbor to take a look at the Sun Voyager statue, something that was high priority on my list. We also sat down on the rocks by the water and appreciated the peaceful ocean vibes for a while. Nothing like that midnight sun!
Herbie walked me back to my hostel, which was nice. It was about 1am by this point, so I needed my beauty sleep.
The next day I toured the South Coast and took about 500 pictures of the South Coast, so that is definitely something for another day. Thank you for hanging around with me while I retell my Icelandic adventure months after the fact!
Maybe going to post soon a half-formed poem I wrote a while ago, so bet you can’t wait for that.
þar til við hittumst aftur.