Iceland – Reykjavik

Iceland – Reykjavik

Written by: Jessica
Captions by: Diego

When we got into our AirBnB in Reykjavik, we were pleased to find parking right out on the street in front. We’d been a bit apprehensive about that, as otherwise it would be a bit of a walk in the snow with luggage. Less pleasing: the internet wasn’t working. Thankfully, that was fixed the following day.

Reykjavik, as a whole, made Diego and I think of some hybrid place—as if Portland were located in Alaska. It’s not a huge city, population and downtown wise, yet it takes a while to cross since with such a low population there is no need to build up into towering apartment complexes. There were souvenir shops everywhere, and a lot of people working at various places weren’t natives. It seemed as if Iceland has so many tourists that the population can’t support them without having travel-minded foreigners live there for a while, working at a tour company, or a grocery store.

Here’s the coastal-Alaskan side of Reykjavik.
Here’s the Portland side of the town, one street over.
“What if IKEA built a city?”
There are some high-rise buildings but those are rare and not exactly skyscrapers.
Overlooking the coast, a metal sculpture of a Viking ship.

As mentioned previously, food is expensive in Iceland. For lunch on the first day in the city, which was mostly just exploration and souvenir shopping, we went to this really neat, small, place called Icelandic Street Food.  The menu was short, a few soup dishes is all.  The food was among the best we ate at a restaurant there, though simple: a lamb soup in a bread bowl. What really made this place shine was the atmosphere.  The men running the restaurant were funny and engaging, keeping a massive crowd of (mostly) tourists entertained as they waited for their bowl of soup (unlimited refills, which made the price a bit more palatable).  Also, the owner expressed a waiver: he did not make it, but anyone who wanted to try fermented shark was welcome to do so, to the soundtrack of The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. It smelled foul, even from across the room, and we were warned: it tastes foul as well. Diego tried it, and describes it as eating sewage. Most who tried gagged.

This place was packed and the food was very good – it’s also cheap!
That bowl was so deliciously warm, it was wonderful. 
It got really crowded after we ordered our food, we had to wait about 20 minutes for a place to sit. We also met some people from SF and other places – shout out to our new friends! Also, that fermented shark is no joke, it tasted (and smelled) like death. 0/10 don’t recommend.

After that, we determined to buy some groceries.  There, we ran into our new friends, also shopping for groceries in evidence of the city being a small town.

Grocery store’s mascot. That pig was my spirit animal, I was so tired that day.

We decided to buy some souvenirs, I wanted to get an Icelandic Wool sweater, called a lopapeysa.  They are thick and very warm, made in traditional patterns. Interestingly, they are made from the wool of the Icelandic sheep. It’s not as soft, but the wool is water resistant and antimicrobial, so it doesn’t need washing often. The shop we went to had most of its sweaters made by hand by locals. The machine made ones do tend to be a bit cheaper. This shop had those ones separated into a different room, with different labeling, so you couldn’t make a mistake.

All of this is handmade. Find your size and style. Note that sizes differ based on who made them. In the bottom on the right-hand side of the picture you can see a small black horse on white. That’s the pattern Jessica chose for herself.
You could also buy skeins of yarn of the local wool.  Be prepared to spend, anything handmade is expensive enough to melt your credit card.

There were a few tourist sites we looked around, during our days in Reykjavik.  The first we went to was the National Museum of Iceland. Personally, I’m not huge on museums as they tend to be fact-based and often without much to lend a sense of what is was like for those who lived in that time period. This museum was mostly true to that form, still it told a very thorough history of Iceland and was very interesting. We had preferred to see a different museum, but…it was outdoors and it was very stormy that day. We did not enjoy the walk to or from the museum!

Not shown: the blistering gusts of wind and snow that gave me frostbite.
The museum is surprisingly big, informative, and modern.

Another place we went was Hallsgrimskirkja.  It is a massive church that towers over the city. It actually is the tallest building in Reykjavik and is shaped to be reminiscent of columns of basalt. Inside, there is a phenomenal, huge organ with 5700 some pipes.  Outside, is a statue to Leif Erikson. This was definitely a worthwhile stop.  Inside, you have the option to pay to go up the top to look down on the city, if you so choose. Even without that, it’s a very interesting place to explore, and quick, as it is right in the city center.

This church is quite large with a really nifty design. You can also pay to go to the top and see the city.
In front, there is a statue of Leifur Eiricsson, the actual first person to discover North America around 1,000 A.D.. Christopher Columbus  sailed to the Caribbean islands nearly 500 years later. It was donated by the US government almost 90 years ago.

On our last full day in Iceland, we went to Blue Lagoon.  This is a place that is advertised heavily, beautiful photos on your social media pages making you desire to go. We found the photos better than the experience. To go to Blue Lagoon, you book ahead as tickets are not available for walk-ins. You must choose which package you would like—Comfort, which provides some mud masks, a towel, and one drink, at 6990 ISK (around USD$70), or Premium, which combines the above with an extra mask, sparkling wine if you dine at their restaurant (extra fee, of course), slippers, and a bathroom at 9990 ISK (~$100). Or, you can go truly luxuriously and have access to a premium lounge, a private changing room, and a spa product set for 53000 ISK (~USD$530 – yes, it’s seriously that expensive!!).

We only paid for the towel, since we are travelling light, and that was expensive enough! We expected the day to feel luxurious. Instead, we arrive and were ushered into a line, then into a changing room. I felt vaguely like a cow being herded. Upon our arrival they informed everyone that the mineral water is damaging to hair and advised those with long hair to put it up on top of their, with conditioner left in it, to protect it. Whoops—that would have been helpful to know, so that I had a hairband with me! The water was warm, but not even as warm as I would run a bath.  Certainly not warm enough to appreciate being out in the cold (freezing, plus wind—it snowed while we were in the water) with a wet head. It was crowded and felt no more luxurious than a trip to a warm spring pool, yet we paid a lot for the experience. Neither Diego nor I recommend it. In fact, another woman I spoke to was quite disappointed and got out early as well, despite her bus not picking her up for hours. There are other hot springs in the area that are much cheaper and will likely provide the same or better enjoyment.

After the changing room, you either brace the outside weather or go through the little pool with a door on the left side. I went with the pool as I don’t need to impress anyone as I’m already married.
This was early in the morning – there were no filters in this photo, it’s really that blue this early. It’s also as cold as it looks.
It warmed up a bit later.
There are a number of of hot springs water ponds just outside Blue Lagoon. It’s still in their property so you can’t jump in.

Don’t be too disheartened. In better weather, I’m sure it’s a nicer experience. But still, save your money. There are similar, less marketed pools like this across the country at much cheaper prices. Someone recommended Secret Lagoon to us.  That, with a towel included, would have only been 3300 ISK. It didn’t work for our itinerary, as we needed to make it to our cabin the day we drove through that area and thus had limited time. Even if we’d had the time, we’d have needed to cut it anyways; the roads were getting worse rapidly and if we had stopped, we’d have gotten stuck as that was on the road that was listed as “snowed!” shortly after we got off of it!

While Blue Lagoon was a disappointment, everything else in the country was pretty amazing. Diego and I greatly enjoyed our trip there. Off to Germany!

4 Replies to “Iceland – Reykjavik”

  1. Awesome photos! Eu adoro ler sobre as suas aventuras….quem sabe, talvez voces escrevam um livro sobre a viagem, quando voltarem para casa?
    Next stop Germany (Alemanha), with beer and sausages!
    Stay safe, and enjoy your trip!

  2. Enhorabuena por el viaje que habéis programado con antelación. Me alegro que os esteis divirtiendo y que conserveis esos recuerdos para siempre. Un abrazo fraternal.

  3. Hola Diego y Jessica
    Qué lo paséis bien y recordaréis para siempre ese viaje maravilloso programado con antelación. Me alegro por vosotros. Un saludo.

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