Reykjavik - The Return
In the bright light of summer, Reykjavik is a very different city. In fact, we were some 20 km distant when we caught our first glimpse of the city on the peninsula. At first I couldn't imagine we were actually seeing the city, but the steeple of Hallgrims was unmistakable. I didn't stop to take many pictures on this last leg of the trip. Reykjavik, being directly south of us was also directly into the sun, which rarely makes for good photographs anyway. We were on a mission to see Þingvellir with a little less rain and wind than we had experienced the week previous.
As we approached Reykjavik we were in Friday afternoon traffic. As stateside drivers we saw a number of road signs that ranged form the clearly descriptive to the totally indecipherable. The one we saw as we approached downtown on the main freeway was a sign with a tractor icon and the universal red circle with a slash through it. That amazing little sign says volumes! Primarily, though, it says to me that Iceland's current rise to world sophistication is very recent. I live in a region that is surrounded by rich farmland and tractors are as common as pickup trucks, yet no one would ever dream of driving their tractor to town, even though there are no signs forbidding it.
Our agenda for our last few hours in Iceland included dinner at Perlan, visiting Hallgrimskirkja and spending a little time walking around the older part of town. As you look at the Reykjavik skyline there are two obvious landmarks - Perlan and Hallgrimskirkja.
Perlan is a most interesting place. On the surface it's a grouping of six water towers on the top of a hill with a glass dome on top. I won't go into detail about its history etc. but it currently houses a museum of Icelandic History, an amazing 40 foot fountain that simulates an active geyser, a snack shop and gift shop, banquet and event facilities, and in the top under the glass dome, a top rated rotating restaurant. We did make our 7pm Friday evening reservation time, in spite of being shuffled off to another hotel. The rotation of the floor is almost imperceptible, taking almost 3 hours to complete one revolution. This is in contrast to the Fernsehturm in Berlin that rotates so fast you almost get motion sickness - about 20 minutes per revolution. Dinner was a most leisurely and elegant affair - several courses, live music, attentive but unobtrusive service, and exceptional food. Altogether we were there about 3 hours, or one revolution of the floor. It was hard to believe it was well after 10pm when we finished, as the sun was still shining as brightly as when we entered. We strolled around the grounds briefly (it was cool and windy) before returning to our hotel.
Hallgrimskirkja - what can you say? It's BIG! But not big in square footage, overall height or seating capacity. It exerts presence. It says "This is Iceland. Deal with it." Inside it is actually quite beautiful and very Scandinavian in its clean lines and uncluttered design. This would have been another great opportunity to take in some music, but our time was pretty much scheduled for the rest of our stay. We did manage to hear the British organist Thomas Trotter rehearsing for his evening concert. He was playing a transcription for organ of Stravinsky's "Petrouchka" which is, of course, one of my favorites. I was sorry we were not going to be able to attend the actual concert. We bought tickets and rode the elevator up into the bell tower, arriving just in time to hear the carillon ring 11am. When you hear the bells gently ringing from across town you don't usually think about what a jarring experience it is to actually be standing next to the bells. My ears are still ringing!
Then it was off to Vestmannaeyjar for the afternoon and evening. After our return we wandered around downtown for a bit. We're not into the club scene, so much of what Reykjavik is famous for just kind of escaped us. We were there more I think just to soak up every last minute of our Icelandic experience. We knew by this time the next evening we'd be home and it would be dark, even though it was late June. For now, we just basked in the midnight sun.
Don't forget to visit Vestmannaeyjar if you haven't already! Otherwise - conclusions...