I tore the walking tour pages from my Rick Steves Iceland guidebook and played tour guide today. We’re just 10 minutes from downtown, so the drive was short. We started at Ingólfur Square, which commemorates the settling of Iceland in 874. According to legend, the Scandinavian explorer, Ingólfur Árnason, sighted the island and as was custom, he threw the wooden pillars from his best chair overboard, vowing to settle wherever they washed ashore. He temporary located on the southeast coast, where he sent a few slaves looking for the pillars. Just three years later, the poor slaves found the pillars, and the settlement was established in what its now Reykjavik. In 2001, while excavating for a hotel, construction workers happened upon, what archeologists believe to be, the longhouse of the first homestead. Although they proceeded to build the hotel, they created a small museum in the basement, preserving the longhouse and displaying other artifacts.
Oddly, several blocks from the water is the “old harbor.” Although the area on which we stood was once the harbor, the city reclaimed a bunch of land, and now the harbor is several blocks away. Rick Steves directed us to the site of an old harbor front building, where a small tide pool still forms, connected to the ocean via an underground channel. We wandered through a quaint residential area, passing the oldest home standing in Reykjavik. We stopped at City Hall for a quick bathroom break, before strolling around “The Pond”; a lake ringed with a walking path of about a mile and highlighted by intermittent sculptures. My favorite was the dragon slayer, as it required walking around the entire sculpture to understand what the artist was getting at. As we came around the other side, several young kids were running and jumping onto the ice, sliding out as far as they could go. Younger kids had drug there scooters out to the ice and were trying to navigate to a small island protruding in the middle. Standing sentry over the water was a large church, flanked by other smaller buildings, while up on the hill stood Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church. More on that in a minute.
We visited the Parliament building, or Althingi, which has a statue of Ingibjörg Bjarnason, who was Iceland’s first woman elected to parliament in 1922. In case you are wondering, the first woman elected to the US Congress was Jeannette Rankin, who was elected to the US House, in 1916. However, Iceland became the first modern democracy to elect a female president, when Vigdis Finnbogdóttir was elected, in 1980.
Outside the parliament building is a square that is full of Icelandic history. Although I remember the protests in the wake of the financial collapse in 2008-2009, I learned that it was here that the local people protested and called for the government’s resignation. Thousands of people came here, banging pots and pans, whilst throwing tomatoes and eggs at the parliament members. Apparently, this episode has been nicknamed “The Kitchenware Revolution.”
A few sites later brought us to a lunch stop. I couldn’t resist more fish and chips, with locally sourced fish. We stayed a bit longer than necessary to warm up and use the loo, as well as avoid a brief sprinkle outside. As we turned left out of the restaurant, the Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church dominates the view at the top of the hill. I read that the Catholics built a church on a hill west of here in 1929, so the Lutherans (the state church) decided to build a larger, more prominent church. Construction began in 1945 but wasn’t finished until the 80’s. The exterior recalls the basalt columns that we saw outside of Vík; tall, rectangular columns line the side of the building from its highest to lowest points. The inside, as described by Rick Steves, is austere. I’m not sure what the word is that is more austere than austere, but please insert it here. It reminded me of the mosques in Turkey; architecturally beautiful buildings, with blank walls. Here, there was just one small stain glass, mostly hidden from view, and the other windows were clear glass. Interestingly, the end of the pews were pointy, carved wood, resembling the exterior shape of the church. As our backs faced the altar, the pipe organ crowded our view. With 5,275 pipes, it’s a lot to see. There are rows and rows of pipes, and someone was getting in some practice, playing long groaning and squealing scales. Outside of the church is a large statue of Leif Erickson. It was a gift from the US to Iceland to celebrate there 1000th anniversary of the first Althingi. It doesn’t go as far to say that he discovered America, it recognizes him for discovering Vinland. Uh, Vinland is the coast of North America, so when you make sense of that, let me know. In
We wrapped up our day at the Blue Lagoon. It is a geothermal spa that is overpriced, touristy, but a fun experience. If I understand it correctly, the water is the byproduct of the nearby geothermal power plant. After using the 474 degree water that it pipes up from below the surface, the plant releases excess water, high in minerals and not useful, into the nearby lava field. Locals noticed that bathing in the water had health benefits. Eventually, in the early 90’s, the Blue Lagoon was opened. It now has a high end spa and several amenities. We floated around for while, tried a silica mud mask, and stood under gushing falls. Our visit came to an end too soon, and we had to return to the cold car and call it a night.Read more