Iceland February 2014
i There's a good chance this Icelandair plane gets rained on more in Seattle than anywhere it travels. Contrary to commonly held believes, weather in Iceland is often warmer and more pleasant than the Midwest. We first booked our flight to Paris with Icelandair because of their great prices....but we learned there's a major perk to traveling with the airline --- being able to take a layover (up to seven days) at no extra charge. So you're able to visit two countries with a single ticket. And what a country it is....we've fallen in love with the place and plan a longer visit soon.
Reflecting light creates incredible patterns on the new Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Center in downtown Reykjavik. The imposing structure houses three performance centers, restaurants, and other visitor facilities. And it's got great free wi-fi and plenty of places for visitors to spend a quiet hour or two just browsing around.
Downtown the streets are narrow but courageous Icelandic drivers navigate with ease. In truth, everything's within a five or ten-block walking distance and unless you plan a trip outside the city, there's no reason to rent a car. Another way to sere the country is to take a tour --- from signs in windows you'd guess 99.9% of them offer guided tours or know somebody who offers one.
Hallgrimskirkja --- the largest church (and one of the tallest buildings) in Iceland --- presides over the capital area of Reykjavik and is visible from nearly all parts of the downtown area. In front is a statue of of Leif Erickson, an Icelander, regarded as the first European to land in North America.
The inside of the church is sparse and beautiful, featuring a massive pipe organ.
Only a few steps to climb thanks to a elevator to the observation deck of the church. From there it's possible to get a birdseye glimpse of the entire surrounding area and of the city.
The Rekyjavik Airport (top photo) is only a few blocks from downtown...but it's no longer used for commercial traffic. Planes land at Keflavik, Iceland's principal airport and transatlantic hub. It's a beautiful airport --- but it's a 45-minute drive from down Reyjavik, so plan on a long slow ride to the city.
The afternoon we arrived as we wandered the downtown area, we heard a commotion and followed our ears. Turns out it was the first day of a two-day peaceful but slightly loud protest against a recent government decision to stop pursuing membership in the European Union. A previous government had backed EU membership, but current leaders decided to withdraw applications until the matter could/would be put to a vote. About 4,000 people kicked and banged on metal barricades set up by police in front of the downtown government assembly hall.
Roads have been built through volcanic lava fields in much of the country. Fifty-two percent of the Reykjavik area is covered with lava.
One of the most touristy --- but very pleasant --- experiences was a visit to the Blue Lagoon, an amazing outdoor thermal pool. Although the place would be refreshing anytime, it was especially so on a bright mid-winter afternoon with outdoor temperatures of about 36 degrees. Water from nearby Svartsengi thermal plant (top of photo) warms the man-made lagoon. Somehow we managed to visit on a slow day...and had the place to ourselves with likely only 300 or so other souls.
Our visit "package" included a meal at the Blue Lagoon restaurant. Gerry's choice was a pan-fried cod and roasted langoustines (caught less than two miles from the kitchen) with cauliflower, pear, fennel and dill. Larry had salad with grilled beef, pickled, beet root with a sesame dressing and an amazing plate of Icelandic cheese. The meal was served (as a baker would note) with a sun-dried tomato focaccia and a home-made butter with lime.
Ducks and swans don't seem to mind the cold as they await treats meted out by tourists at the lake in the popular City Park in downtown Reykjavik. We watched brave souls take shortcuts across the frozen section of the lake.