Iceland 2005 (Day 1)
On 19 August 2005 Catherine and myself flew out to Iceland for a ten night touring holiday round Iceland. We drove round the country and saw many an exciting and interesting thing. This is one of many blog posts about that holiday – this one dealing with some introductory stuff, and details of our first night there.
What with buying a house and all that stuff, last year we hadn’t really had the time, nor money to go on holiday. We’d had a weekend in Glasgow and that was it. So this year, we wanted to do something good. And after about six months of discussing it, we finally did something. We opted for Iceland. It just sounded like an interesting place to visit. Expensive yes (the cost would make you shudder) but it sounded like it was worth it.
We booked through a company called Discover The World on their ‘National Parks and Natural Wonders’ fly/drive/lodge package – we’d drive round from hotel to hotel, seeing natural parks and natural wonders. The whole thing would follow a provided itinerary, with all hotels sorted out in advance. To save a bit of cash, we opted for the ‘simple’ accomodation – shared bathrooms and so on – and picked the cheapest car available from the hire list.
Which was why on 19 August 2005, we headed out to Heathrow to catch our Icelandair plane to Keflavik airport, near Reykjavik, armed with piles of literature, maps and guidebooks that the travel company had provided.
As seems to be part of the course when using Heathrow, the plane was late and as such, it was around half five before we’d got to the other side of customs and met our escort to Reykjavik. A nice man greeted us, and a minibus full of other customers and drove us the 31 miles to Reykjavik. Yes, 31 miles. It made Heathrow look like it’s on London’s doorstep. Apparently the cab fare would cost you around £80. Our journey was brightened by our driver telling us interesting Icelandic facts, like the fact that over 80% of them believe in elves. Incidentally the elves look like us, which is why no one knows who they are. Very convienient.
Once we’d finally got to the city, we checked in at the Guesthouse Isafold – tucked in the quiet, older area of the city, not too far from the centre. I say not too far from the centre, as at the time, it seemed like nowhere was too far from the centre of Reykjavik! This later turned out to be incorrect on our final day as we attempted to navigate around the ring road, but more on that later.
In The City
After dumping our stuff in our twin room (in the basement – well it had a window) we headed out to see what Reykjavik had to offer.
And what it has to offer is quietness.
It’s around seven o’clock in the evening, and it’s a Friday and we’re wandering around the city streets which seem absolutely deserted. Indeed at one point, the only people we could see were the three other tourists also walking around the city, who we were accidentally following.
It all seemed rather tranquil, rather serene. This is, after all, the capital city of a nation. And it’s deserted. No cars, no people. I live in London – a huge great big giant of a capital city. Bustle, people, smells, litter, and so on. The contrast is enormous. Indeed, an advert I’d read on the journey, summed it up. It was advertising one of the main local bus routes, and was extolling its virtues as a way to see the sights of the city. It had a ‘convient, frequent service’, running as it did, twice an hour.
Being a small city, it didn’t take us long to find one of the landmarks in the city – Hallgrímskirkja church (don’t ask me how you pronounce it). In a city where two or three story buildings are the norm, this 74.5m, concrete clad structure dominates the horizon for miles around. It’s design – with tubular columns – reminded me of a church organ, or at least a gross exageration of one!
Food, Glorious Food
It was also tea time so we headed towards the main shopping street – itself rather small and similarly deserted.
We were prepared on the food front – reading up, Iceland didn’t sound like it would be a great place for vegetarians but we knew Reykjavik had two vegetarian places so I had suggested we tried one of those as a sort of ‘last supper’ for Catherine.
Á Næstu Grösum, or First Vegetarian in English, was a nice little eatery, who filled us up with lasange (for me) and Bean Patties (for Catherine), complete with salad, rice and some lovely bread.
Being a cafe, you queued up at a counter where the servers would proceed to explain the various dishes on offer – thankfully in English. You then helped yourself from the fridge for water or beer, and paid at the end. A little waitress service crept in there as we were asked whether we’d like some desert. Well of course! Yum yum as we scoffed down delicious banana cake (made Apparently without sugar!) and pecan pie, washed down by lashings of tea and Icelandic tap water – which incidentally, is some of the finest water you’ll ever taste in your life, and the country seems to be very proud of it, offering it to you at almost any oppertunity.
Paying up also offered an insight into Iceland. You merely went up to the counter again, and told them what you had before they priced it up. Imagine doing that in Britain – you would have been conned out of all your profits before you could say ‘cheque please’.
A Walk Round Town
Á Næstu Grösum had been almost empty when we entered (around 8pm) but soon began to fill up with locals and tourists alike and it was getting quite busy as we paid up and left.
The weather – sadly wet and miserable – saw us head back to the guesthouse for scarves and hats – before strolling more around the town. This whirlwind tour saw us end up on the harbour front, standing in the rain reading information boards about the British and American occupations during World War II, as well as wondering why someone had left a steam train there.
The train was called Minør, and there seemed to be no explanation. At least, if there was, there wasn’t anything in English, and there didn’t appear to be anything relevant around anyway. Presumably Minør has some history or some valid reason by being based near the harbour, but it wasn’t telling us.
Minør was also very close to a tourist shop, still open at 9:30 – London take note – that’s a shopping experience (indeed all manner of shops and museums open until 10pm in the summer) for you – as we perused tourist tat, fleeces and other exciting things involving elves and trolls, before ending up back on the main shopping street, where we walked up and down the still very quiet streets (it was Friday remember) before popping into Te & Koffi (guess what they sell!) for a cup of tea (and a jug of water naturally) before meandering back to the guesthouse and collapsing in bed.
We needed sleep – tomorrow would be a busy day. Another flight to catch, a pick up of a car, and a drive across Iceland. But that was tomorrow. And this was today.