Thursday, September 25, 2014

REYKJAVIK: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Reykjavik's skyline from Perland

After a typical Iceland cold breakfast of toast, hard boiled egg, and cold meats, we meandered along the main shopping street from our hotel, the Center Hotel Skjaldbreid. We set off at 10am when the stores opened and it was very quiet,
though I noticed it was busy at 5pm and later. Everything is expensive here. A glass of ordinary wine is over $10, as is a bottle of beer (beer on tap is cheaper). The stores were upmarket fashion boutiques and costly Icelandic wool shops. However if you buy more than $40 worth per day, visitors get 25%% taken off on departure at the airport. Sweaters run up from about $180 each, but have been knitted by professional knitters around Iceland. Along here are cafés, bistros, winebars, and coffee shops that are packed morning, noon, and night.




We took a three hour city tour with Reykjavik Excursions to get oriented this afternoon. I felt it could have benefited from omitting the industrial areas and some of the neighbourhoods and been finished in two hours. The guide was good, but no one assisted those passengers with mobility challenges. The steps into and off the bus were deep and did not have handrails on both sides. One old boy from Newfoundland was unable to get off the bus once he was on it. This was a pity as we had three stops en route to visit a museum, Perland, and the cathedral.

I did enjoy the Lutheran cathedral built in 1940 on a hill with a commanding view of the city – it's modern, airy, and graceful outside and in. The organ is astounding with over 5000 pipes, but they are fundraising in order to clean each one.





I liked the look of the old part of Reykjavik, close to the harbour, which has been operating for several hundred years. I plan to poke around and eat lunch there on Saturday. The fishing harbour is close by and today also has a lively whale-watching industry.




The two tour highlights for me were Perland and the famous Viking sculpture on the waterfront. Perland is unusual – it is built around and on top of four gigantic water tanks kept filled for the city in case of an emergency. Inside is a geyser that erupts every few minutes, but upstairs is a 360 degree view platform around the glass dome that houses an excellent café. One floor up is an award-winning resto that rotates. The skyline up here is worth seeing alone, but the architecture is superb inside and out. Brilliant design to disguise the water tanks.


However it was the steel sculpture on the waterfront that knocked my socks off. It's huge and captivating in its simplicity. Vikings discovered Iceland in the late 800s CE and you can still recognize the genes in some stocky, red-haired citizens.


Dinner was also a delight tonight. In a very French bistro we had Icelandic lamb stew served in a small saucepan. It was so tender the meat fell apart. As is so common here, it was served with potatoes and root veggies. Not much else can be grown in this climate. And so ended our first full day in Reykjavik. Not a bad one at that!!

IMAGES: Photos by Pharos 2014. All rights reserved