Sunday, July 15
Pam and I were on the road at at eight o’clock heading for Darlene’s In Port Coquitlam. No adventures along the way other than spotting a woman, who is apparently well known in Maple Ridge for walking and biking topless, striding briskly along. At Darlene’s, we transferred our luggage to her car and drove to her friend Maureen’s in Richmond. Maureen, who lives only fifteen minutes from the airport, had offered to keep the car in her second parking spot. She drove us to the airport and will pick us up when we return. Very kind of her!
We left at one o’clock and the five-hour flight to Montreal went smoothly. We emerged from the plane’s exit gate only steps from the waiting area for our next flight, so we were free to find a place to eat rather than wander the huge airport looking for our departure gate. Though it was only eight p.m., the restaurants were closing. Our choices were a bar serving only poutine, Starbucks or Tim Horton’s. We joined the Timmy’s rather long lineup, only to find they were winding down and no longer serving grilled dishes or wraps. The manager said they were closing soon. It was the slowest service we’ve ever encountered at a Tim Horton’s, but their young staff of two was very friendly and apparently unfazed by the limited menu and long line. As we ate, we speculated what kind of riot might ensue if the people waiting patiently at the end heard their wait was in vain. The restaurant was still open not long before we took off, so all was calm while we were there. We boarded our flight to Reykjavik going on midnight local time and after about four and a half hours, we landed find Iceland around eight thirty in the morning their time. We’d been en route over twelve hours.
Monday, July 16th
Our first glimpse of Iceland was a rocky treeless plain edged by the sea, small buildings dotted along the shoreline. As we landed, we saw fields of purple lupines here and there. A ridge of low mountains lined the horizon. Keflavik airport is a small one with only two baggage carousels so it wasn’t hard for us to find our driver Daniel who was assigned to take us to the Hotel Fron in Reykjavik, about a half hour away. Daniel chatted about many things, too many to share in this journal, but one interesting thing was that the recent boom in tourism has been a real boost to the economy - last year one million tourists visited Iceland, a country with about three hundred thousand inhabitants. The streets of downtown Reykjavik are not what we would associate with a capital city - the main shopping street, where our hotel is located, is a narrow one way street with just enough room for a line of parked cars and one lane for vehicles to move at a crawling pace. Not many buildings are more than four storeys tall and the architecture is a mix of old and modern with no particular style predominating. The tallest buildings were modern hotels and apartment towers near the water; Daniel said penthouses in those buildings were selling for three million dollars. Pedestrians cross the street wherever they want, so we too adopted jaywalking as the norm. We of course haven’t seen much of the city yet, only a few streets, so it could be quite different elsewhere, but I don’t think so.
The weather was sunny with a cool wind blowing. Daniel told us this was the first sun seen for quite a few days. Even though we had now been travelling for about fourteen hours, we decided to keep on the move by exploring the city in the sunshine. We walked down Laugavegur Street, popping in and out of shops. The predominant products in Icelandic gift shops are woollen goods, lava jewellery and soccer memorabilia. Magnets, t-shirts, tea towels, small paintings, figurines and similar touristy items featured Vikings, trolls, sheep, Icelandic horses (not ponies - our hotel receptionist was very definite that they were horses, not ponies) and puffins. We currently are suffering from sticker shock. One thousand Iceland krona equals roughly fifteen Canadian dollars. A child’s t-shirt is over three thousand krona (you do the math), our lunchtime bowl of lamb soup (lamb is a popular meat here) was thirteen hundred krona, a cup of coffee was four hundred fifty krona and a martini, which we didn’t have, was two thousand krona. Iceland is a very expensive country, but we think we’ll become inured to the prices and soon think of a thousand krona juice/yogurt drink as a good deal.
There is no language barrier. We haven’t yet encountered anyone who doesn’t speak excellent English, but of course we are in the heart of tourist country. Daniel told us the second language of Iceland is Danish, because of their historical connection with Denmark, and the third language studied in school is English. He said some of the older generation (probably our contemporaries) may not speak English but almost all the younger people do.
Our wanderings took us down to the harbour. The wind was kicking up whitecaps and streaks of cloud hung around the low mountain range on the other side of the water. It was a lovely walk along the shore as we headed towards the Harpa, a very contemporary culture centre. There we purchased tickets for Friday, the day we return to the city, for a comedic presentation in English called “Icelandic Sagas”, featuring stories and legends of the Vikings. We left the Harpa and walked up to Hallgrimskirkja, the tallest structure in Iceland. This Lutheran church, built in 1984, is very impressive from the outside. The interior is like most large cathedrals, including a huge arrangement of organ pipes in the balcony opposite the altar and a soaring vaulted ceiling. However, there is no ornamentation. It is a plain white-painted interior - no monuments except one large sculpture of Jesus and only one small stained glass window. The best view of the city is to be had from the top of the tower, but as we entered, we passed the long lineup for the elevator, which could hold only six people at a time. The game didn’t seem worth the candle.
Out we went and walked a few blocks to see a nearby geothermallly-heated swimming centre, which we thought might provide a consolation prize for missing a visit to the Blue Lagoon, a famous outdoor hot springs spa. We heard it had to be booked at least two weeks in advance. Not quite true - we learned we could book for 7:00 a.m. or 10:00 p.m. tomorrow. Considering that when we returned to the apartment after visiting the pool, we’ve been up for over twenty-four hours, an early morning start or a late night were summarily rejected. The pool we checked out was very nice but not very different from rec centres at home, so we won’t be visiting hot springs unless we come across one by happy accident on our driving tour. We’re also hoping to have a chance to see the northern lights when we’re in the countryside away from city lights.