3 Days in Reykjavík

Jake and I are always looking for new ways to experience new places through travel and adventure. Living on the sailboat for the last year and a half has opened our eyes to a new way of travel; a way that is super SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOW. Or maybe it sounds better to say it like, we prefer to take our time rather than follow to a schedule.

When we planned for Iceland…wait I should rephrase this. When we decided to go to Iceland VERY last minute, like about 2 weeks before we left, we didn’t set any expectations. Our hope was to see the entire island, and determined the best, most “Jake-and-Jill-like” way of travel, would be via camper van. This way we can do/see everything on our own terms, without the requirement of planning each and every day.

Everything after life on the water seems like a breeze (maybe we’re still too fresh off the water). The best is the time-saver of flying someplace in hours that would take months on the boat (and probably a lot more money too). The hard part was the time change. We had a night-flight, and found sleep abated as we landed at 7AM local-time (what would be around 1AM our time).

Its also amazing how fast you can go through customs from airports. Again, it takes me back to boat-world of going back in time about 50 years, everything is slow, non-technological and outdated, at least when it comes to customs. It was a treat to land in Keflavik airport, which is beautiful by the way, and get all our swag (customs, bags, etc) in no time!

The first order of business was two-fold: get a SIM card for the phone and maybe some local currency. We also needed to get a bus ticket into Reykjavík [RAKE-ya-vick]. It took us maybe 15 minutes to accomplish these things…which again, brought me back to the Bahamas in my memory and how it took us 2 weeks to get a SIM card.

There is a HUGE duty-free shop in Keflavik, most of it lined with treats that looked uber-yummy. My growling tummy needed something to tide me over until we reach Reykjavík proper. I found some fun looking packaging on a candy bar (I think its coffee flavored) but it was in all Icelandic, for 700ISK, or $6 USD. This was my first ISK experience. The conversion for Icelandic Kroner & USD is about 115 ISK to $1 USD.

The airport was setup in such a way to make all of this ridiculously easy. From bags, to duty-free items, to phone card to bus ticket and then outside. The air was brisk this morning, maybe only 50 degrees. And though it was cloudy, we could see plenty of patches of blue sky. YAY we’re here!!!!

The bus took us down the Ring Road (the main road around the entire country), which was pretty cool looking. There was nothing but black lava fields covered in yellow and green mosses for miles. We read that Iceland doesn’t have many trees because they were forested when first inhabited by Vikings of old. There has been a reforestation movement for the last 40 years and by golly, we saw trees too!

Despite our complete exhaustion we were so excited. The drive was beautiful and we landed at the BSÍ Terminal, about an hour later. From here, we decided to go on foot to our “hotel / apartment” since our map said it was only 8 blocks. As we walked towards town, I snapped as many pictures as I could before hiking with this very heavy luggage. I wish I packed less stuff, this thing is a beast and difficult because one of the rollers broke.

The walk was pretty but cold. We inched up a steep incline and just when our little GPS said we “arrived” to our destination, it appeared our destination wasn’t there. This place isn’t the right place. Maybe we typed in the wrong address? I also pulled out my paper map just to double check and it seems there are 2 places with the same street: Laugavegur (or 2 roads with the same name).

We walked around in circles for awhile which was frustrating, especially for one of us (uhem Jake). Finally we figured out the correct Laugavegur which just so happens to be central to shops and restaurants of this delightful city. It was so beautiful and had a nice, quaint, almost mountain-town feel. We made a mental note of places to come back to visit, after we’ve had some rest.

Our apartment came out of nowhere. It was difficult to spot the entrance, which was under a sort of bridge in the back. This is a bonafide apartment, so there was no “check in” place. We were given a mailbox code to get the keys and elevator remote. My first impression of the building is that its ultra-modern and has a pretty swank feel. Marble and silver, streamlined design and bright orange walls.

We were on the 3rd floor, and were so excited when we walked in the place. Its HUGE and gorgeous. It has a separate mud room, laundry room, bedroom and then a huge living/kitchen-space. Even a balcony! We were happy campers!

After delighting in our digs, we were both too tired to do much else. The bed sure looked inviting too! Upon closer look, the big bed is actually two twin-beds pushed together. Thats kinda cool. We both passed out for the next 3 hours.

Sleep was glorious. I probably could have slept all night but we needed to get up so as to try to get on local time. It was around 330 PM and we decided to explore the city. So much visual interest, with extremely old, scandinavian-style homes..some very simple and rustic, others very modern and sleek. The main street has tons of shops (my fav!) and restaurants.

We strolled down the waterfront towards the Harpa building (which is super contemporary!) then worked our way back up a different block. We passed the Bónus (discount grocery store) and decided to stock up on some things. There were TONS of great looking things. We got chocolate, eggs, SKYR (yogurt) pancakes, pizza, jelly, bread, cheese, chicken cordon bleu and misc fruits and veggies. I was shocked that we walked out of there with all the food for less than $30! It seems crazy when restaurant meals are around $40 / person (if its cheap).

We’ve heard that you can save money by bringing in your own food, but I’d wager its cheaper (and more fun) to buy local. Do as the locals do!

That night we were kind of wrecked. Still jet-lagged we stayed in and enjoyed some grilled tomato and cheeses with ramen soup (or a variation of it) and some English reality TV. Apparently the only channels we get are from the UK, but thats perfect. It was so much fun to veg out for a bit before bed.

The next day came quickly & we were amped. Breakfast was a delicious eggs-frittata with toast and jam, coffee and skyr with granola. I decided to dress in my fancy clothes (a dress!) for the occasion of being in this amazing, trendy city. We couldn’t wait to get out and take in Reykjavík. Thankfully our apartment is situated in the center of everything. We walked all morning around our neighborhood, stopping off at select interests: like the Hallgrímskirkja church.

And in that time, we also stopped in shops here and there to see all the fun potential souvenirs. I most enjoyed the wold quilts and hand-made art. The architecture here is visually interesting too. Love cobblestone and brick roads. The main roads are very narrow, I’m pretty surprised to see cars drive down them (and somehow they are all one-way but its difficult to tell exactly which way is correct).

Reykjavík has tons of interesting water features scattered about in random places (it seems). It was fun to walk and shop, though we didn’t buy anything. We decided to go to the Icelandic National History Museum for about 2 hours learning all about the history of early life and settlers (which is surprising that it hasn’t been inhabited for that long).

I’m fascinated by Icelandic language. The alphabet is a bit daunting with so many characters that I’ve never seen like eð, joð, æ, Þþ. To hear people speak in native, Icelandic, is so cool – how do they roll their tongue like that? 😉

On our walk back toward “home” we stopped in a small Christmas shop nestled in-between two larger stores. Inside was so cheerful and warm despite the chill in the air. Its Christmas everyday here! Well, not really…but we did meet and chat with the owner for awhile. She taught us all about Icelandic Christmas.

So, children, gather round for this exciting tale:
The Icelandic Christmas period is a mixture of religion and folklore, beginning on Dec 23 – Jan 6. Icelandic children are fortunate enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads (instead of just one Jolly Saint Nick). The three main “characters” that you need to know are Grýla (the mother) The Yule Lads (her sons) and The Christmas Cat. Grýla lives in the mountains with her family and every Christmas she and her sons come down to search for naughty children to boil in her cauldron while her sons get into mischief. She only captures the misbehaving kids…so be good, Grýla is watching…that is unless you don’t believe in Icelandic Christmas and then maybe you don’t have to worry about Grýla. The black cat is also kind of scary unless everyone receives a new piece of clothing.

It was fun to chat with her and to learn about this super fascinating Christmas…though I think I’ll stick with Jolly Santa Clause and his presents over Grýla and her cauldron. We bought a couple of ornaments and then hit the streets, stopping off for a late lunch at Noodle Station for huge bowls of delicious asian noodle soups

We decided that it would be fun to go on a haunted tour of the city and met up with the group around 8PM. There were probably about 20 people (which felt like a lot for a tour). Our guide Óli was hilarious, which made the whole experience even better.

The city, like all older cities it seems, is haunted. There are several cursed buildings, cursed rocks, cursed cars, cursed streets…hmmm I’m getting a theme here.

There is a large stone situated on a small patch of green right downtown. It looks a bit out of place, but apparently the stone is cursed…or rather, an Elf Stone. The legend says that the stone is imbibed with elves. It used to live out in the country, right smack in the center of where the Ring Road is. And the road workers came to demolish it (or move it) but it wouldn’t budge. Nothing would deter this stone from existing. Dynamite wouldn’t penetrate. Then bulldozers came in and had no luck. So the company hired a psychic to come in and talk to the elves. The elves said that they would let them move their stone if they do 2 things:

1. Give them a week to get ready to move (pack and such)
2. Move the stone someplace in downtown Reykjavík.

And sure enough, 7 days later, they came to move the stone and had ZERO issues. They moved the stone to its new home and apparently the elves are satisfied.

We also learned about the 4 mythical spirits that protect Iceland and apparently do such a great job, Iceland doesn’t need an army. Its way more cost-effective, too. 😉

It was creepy to go through an old church and a haunted parking lot and then end up in a graveyard (of course). Óli explained to us that most people in Iceland are distantly related (similar to Tangier Island, maybe not as bad), so you could go up to a random stranger and be a second or third cousin to them (if they’re Icelandic). That might be strange if you were, say, on a date? And its common for people to take dates to the cemetery, because many locals live with their huge generations of family, and this is the only place to get some “alone time”.

After our fun tour we sauntered down the now familiar streets, enjoying the night air. It was still early, only 10PM and apparently most people don’t go out until midnight. We were still tired, so opted to go back home and enjoy some tea and crumpets before bed.

Its been fun playing around Reykjavík, but our last full day was exceptionally gray and wet. Thick clouds covered the sky, it was almost hard to see much in front with all the fog and it made streets feel extra crowded. I was already looking forward to an escape to the countryside. It was nice to take it slower today, but we were feeling anxious about transitioning from all these creature comforts to camping-mode.

We found the post office and luckily got the very last camping pass they were selling for the season. We are pretty much at the end of the season, in September, so some of the sites are already closed, while others will be closing in the next few weeks. Hopefully we won’t be hindered by that, but its too soon to tell.

It was a nice walk.

We had a few errands to run, we needed to buy a camping card and some groceries. We also decided to detour and visit the Whale Museum of Iceland, which took us to a new part of the city, by the marina and docks. This is more like our style (or the one we’ve been living in for so long now). There were tons of boats, but mostly working and fishing boats. We did see a huge cruise ship emptying its cargo of people this morning.

The whale museum was off in a warehouse in an area that you would never guess by looking at it from the outside. Inside it was so cool – life-size whales of all species filled the tall space and there were so many visuals and interactive exhibits. The blue whales and sperm whales were insane. We were sad to hear about those that are endangered and others extinct. Overall it was a great exhibit and awesome place to spend a cold, gray afternoon.

After our fun, we headed back toward the apartment. We stopped off at a clothing store, in search of a warmer jacket for me and possibly some waterproof shoes. We found some amazing gear from Icewear (a local company) and was pleasantly surprised by the cost of gear – it wasn’t too expensive for such high-quality merchandise. We walked away with some new clothes (and me a new coat).

We also learned about a VAT tax that is charged to everyone whether local or not, for up to 20%. But if you spend a certain amount, you can get a refund…just remember to save those receipts.

Our last errand of the day was to get groceries so we are ready to go when we get our van tomorrow morning. It took us hours to do something that would seemingly take only a short while, but we couldn’t decide on what exactly to buy, as we didn’t know how much room we would have in the fridge and such.

Dinner was Noodle Station again (because it is so close and so tasty) and then we spent the night in, packing all of our stuff and enjoying British TV. I hope that after tonight we feel more rested and ready for the real fun, which begins at dawn!

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