Friday, June 21, 2013 (Day 3)
– errands and getting settled
– walk around Reykjavik
– Þjóðmenningarhúsið and Þjóðminjasafn museums
– book store (Eymundsson)
– sandwiches for lunch (Hl llab tar)
– Sun Voyager sculpture by Jon Gunnar Arnason
– Thai dinner (Krua Thai)
– tv and bed
– wake for sunset, but determined too cloudy and back to bed
Saturday, June 22, 2013 (Day 4)
– Bike Tour at 10am – 12:30p (Reykjavik Bike Tours islandbike.is)
– Lunch at BurgerJoint
– Whale Watching tour (Special Tours) 2p – 4:30p
– dinner at lobster soup place (The Sea Baron – Sægreifinn)
– Hallgrimskirkja church with views from the top
– sunset photos at Sun Voyager
On our first real days of vacation, the weather was absolutely superb! The sun was shining all day long, there was no wind, and the skies were blue with pretty clouds here and there. We were very impressed with the weather. (as were the locals, we heard.) I believe we were able to spend most of the day in tshirts, though adding a fleece towards the evening. This was definitely not typical Iceland weather, so we told people to thank us for bringing it in. =)
Friday was our first real day in Iceland as we had arrived at 11:30pm on Thursday night. The first part of the day was all about getting settled. Our apartment was perfect (A Part of Reykjavik Tysgata Apartments). The apartment was easy to find and the key was in a lockbox at the front door, so we didn’t even meet our host at all. The door opened into a hallway, with a decent-sized bathroom off to the side. (Decent sized for European standards, at least.) We are always impressed to see a shower curtain, for instance. =) The hallway lead to a kitchen, though a little tight, was big enough for our needs with a full-size fridge. Then, came the living room which was comfortable with a corner couch, table, and tv. And finally, around the corner was the bedroom. We really like staying in apartments on vacation because it feels more homey for our longer stays.
In the morning, getting settled entailed things like unpacking, doing some grocery shopping, getting the lay of the land and planning our the next few days, and stuff like that. In the afternoon we headed out to walk the town. Our apartment was about 20 minutes walking distance of everything, and the whole center of Reykjavik was about 20 minutes walking distance from anything. It had a very small town feel for the largest city on Iceland with just over 200,000 people.
Our most amusing part of the day was when we set off for the National Museum of Iceland, the Þjóðminjasafn. We located it on the map, walked over, and went in. As we were touring it, it didn’t seem to match our guidebook description at all, and only after we had gone through most of the rooms, did we realize we were actually at the Þjóðmenningarhúsið which is the National Museum for culture heritage. It was interesting enough, though I wouldn’t really recommend it if you have a shorter stay. Mostly there was some information on the vikings one one floor, though it was a small exhibit and then on upper floors, there were only very small artsy exhibits. I guess we need to look at more than just the first 5 letters of a location to make sure we end up in the right place!
On our way to the Þjóðminjasafn, we walked around the “big lake” which looked rather small to us. The duck followed us around at various points hunting for bread crumbs, but all I had to give the was a click of the shutter. The National Musuem was definitely worth it and we both enjoyed it as a good intro to the area. They had a great photography exhibit on the first floor from the very first photographers in Iceland. The images were all printed from faded and water-damaged negatives, but it just added to the charm. As it turns out Iceland was always a great photography destination and the early photographers were recognized and sent out to document it all. The top levels of the museum had a wonderful history of Iceland from “the settlement” (when the Vikings first came over in 871-ish) until about 1970 or so. The exhibits were laid out very well in my opinion, too.
For the rest of our Reykjavik walk, we toured the lake some more, found a sandwich place for lunch, found a bookstore to get a good road map guide of Iceland (Iceland Road Guide) and found the famous Sun Voyager sculpture by Jon gunnar Arnason. This is a large steel creation made to resemble a Viking Ship and is very popular to the photographers. After some Thai food for dinner, we just went back to our apartment and watched some tv shows that we brought with us and headed to bed early. I set and alarm to wake up at 11p to photograph the midnight sunset, but when I looked out the window it was cloudy, and almost starting to drizzle, so I easily went right back to bed. =)
On Saturday, we had booked two tours to get us through the day. First, we had a bike tour in the morning and a whale watching tour in the afternoon. This pretty much filled the day.
The bike tour was only 7km long, but we did it in 2.5 hours with about 20 stops. It was a nice way to see the area and always nice to do something a little different. We got a good introduction to Reykjavik from a local point of view. Our tour guide, and the owner of the company loved to tell stories and also loved giving elaborate metaphors that ended up being rather amusing, the longer they went. I wouldn’t say that we biked by the biggest sights in Reykjavik, but we did get some good recommendations on food, including a place that served whale meat. We had a chance to see it raw and it is very dark meat…darker than a steak. We toured around the lake again, and headed to the university with a good view of the area where our guide could point out buildings and tell stories about them. Our tour started and ended at the Old Harbour and right next to the whale watching which was convenient, because we had about a 1.5 hour break between tours for lunch.
Lunch was at a place called BurgerJoint on the dock and we enjoyed our burgers before headed out with Special Tours for our whale watching 2.5 hour cruise. There are about 15 whale species that frequent the area at different times of year, however, there are three that are more common. The minke whale, the fin whale, and the humpback are more common around this time of year. We did learn on our bike tour that there is a strict limit on whaling and last year they didn’t even make the yearly quota. Still, the whale hunting is a hot topic. Even with the hunting, though, we still found several whales to watch from our tourist boat. We bypassed a fin whale and headed out where we found probably around 10 or so minke whales at various times during the cruise. I had a fun time the front of the boat chatting with an aspiring photographer from New Jersey as we both tried our best to actually get a photo of a whale. We only ever saw the backs and small fins of the minke whales, and with just a back view like this, they looked like dolphins, even though we were told they were whales. =) By the time someone spotted the whale and I turned to look at it, it had already gone back under the water, so I have a hundred photos of water. But, I did managed to catch the backs of a few whales. We also went to a puffin island, but we couldn’t get all that close to the puffins for photos, so I’m hoping to find a better puffin colony later in our trip. We were highly impressed, though, by the northern gannets that went fishing by flying high overhead and then literally dive-bombing into the water and with a huge splash diving down to catch their prey. It was more impressive than the whales. 😉 almost.
After whale watching we went back to the apartment where I took a dramamine-induced nap before dinner at Sægreifinn – The Sea Baron. Here the lobster soup comes very highly recommended and the rest of the fish entrees are pre-prepared skewers located where we could see them and pick out which fish we wanted to eat. The lobster soup was indeed fabulous, as was the fish skewers, however, the wait time to actually get the food after we ordered it at the counter was over an hour and the seating was outside where the wind slowly froze us. But, we still highly recommend the place as the food really is fantastic.
Actually, before dinner, we visited the Hallgrimskirkja church which was just up the road from our apartment and looks a bit like a rocket ship. We were lucky to come in during an organ rehearsal, so we could sit and listen to the music without paying for admission for a concert. Also, there is an elevator to the top which provides 360-degree views of Reykjavik.
All that was left for the day was a sunset showing at the Sun Voyager sculpture again and we found the place littered with photographers and their tripods. I waded through to get a spot for photos as the red sun dipped below the horizon line and then it was off to bed.
Tomorrow we are touring the Golden Circle just outside Reykjavik and then we are off on our ring road drive around the country.