Europe

4 days in Iceland – Day 1 : Reykjavik

Iceland… The land of fire and ice !

For a long time, tourism wasn’t very developed in Iceland, which meant it was quite expensive to get there. But in the last few years, tourism has grown massively and it has become relatively affordable to travel to Iceland, with return tickets from London around £100 or less.

I had dreamed of visiting this mysterious land for years, and back in 2014, I decided to go ahead and book a trip. I really wanted to see the Northern Lights, so I had planned the trip to be in late February 2015. It made sense because you maximise your chances to see the Lights when it’s cold and there’s little light pollution. I had checked a lunar calendar to make sure I’d pick a date with no moon, and late February was ideal because it would still be cold but there’d be a good few hours of daylight (as opposed to, say, late December, where you get just about 4 hours of daylight, which isn’t great if you want to visit places during the day).

I had done a lot of research about the country, going through guidebooks, websites etc, but none of them really prepared you for what it is to travel in Iceland during winter. But I’ll come back to that.

So here I was in February ’15, boarding a WOW air plane with my good friend Heny, en route to Keflavik airport. We were gonna spend 4 days in the southern part of the island, as we didn’t have the budget nor the time to tour the whole country, and the southern half concentrates quite a few sights anyway.

I was gonna write just one post about this trip but then realised it’s far too much text, so I’ll do a post for each day.

So here we are : day one ! We landed early afternoon and took a bus to get to central Reykjavik, so we could check in at the hotel which was right in the city centre, drop our bags and start visiting the city. We were welcomed by heavy snowfall, which would kinda set the tone for the rest of the trip.

Colourful building in Reykjavik

Straight away, I really liked Reykjavik. All the colourful, quirky buildings or shops, the snow everywhere, the relaxed attitude of the people… All of this gave a special atmosphere to the city, and I knew I was gonna have a great time there.

I love unusual attractions, and there was one particular curiosity that I wanted to check out: the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, you read that right, that’s basically a dick museum. It boasts a collection of 280 penises from 93 species of animals, but also a human one. Their collection even has penises from elves and trolls ! In all seriousness, elves are quite a thing in Iceland; in a survey from 1998, over 50% of Icelanders said they believed in the existence of elves. Also worth mentioning, the museum is not quite happy with their human specimen, so any volunteer donor can get in touch with Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson, who runs the museum. Penis posterity anyone ?

A whale penis proudly displayed at the Icelandic Phallological Museum

As we entered the museum my friend Heny was feeling kinda distressed, and told me “Dude, why did you even take us here ?” I found his discomfort hilarious. In the end the museum wasn’t really passionating to be honest, but at least I can say I’ve seen an elf’s penis in a jar.

An elf’s penis in a jar. Yes, elves are invisible, and so are their penises !

After this most enriching visit, we set out to visit the Hallgrímskirkja church, which has to be one of the best pieces of architecture I’ve been given the chance to see. Its design isn’t anywhere near as complex as the churches you find in France, England, Italy… etc, that are covered in all sorts of carvings, with interiors full of statues and paintings. This is probably what I liked about it, its size and simplicity gave it an aura of sheer power and beauty.

Hallgrímskirkja Church in snowy weather, with the statue of explorer Leif Eriksson.

Hallgrímskirkja Church viewed from the rear

We couldn’t visit the interior as the Church was closed after 5pm, so we agreed we’d come back another day.

After this we had dinner in a restaurant called Grillmarkaðurinn, which works with local farmers to serve fresh produce. It’s not exactly cheap, but it has a really cool atmosphere and the food is great. A notable dish I had was their trio of mini burgers : lobster, whale and goose (they replaced the goose with puffin now). At the time I assumed whale was a traditional dish, and that they wouldn’t serve it if it was an endangered species. Well, I was wrong, as Icelanders don’t eat whale meat, and the whale species hunted are indeed endangered (Iceland has been internationally criticised for their whaling). I felt kinda guilty when I realised that, but at least now if you go, you’ll know. Despite that it’s still a great restaurant, and you can check them out here: http://www.grillmarkadurinn.is/en/

After dinner we checked out the Micro Bar, which as its name indicates, is quite tiny, but has a rather large selection of beers. We ordered a platter with 10 different Icelandic brews. If you’re a beer enthusiast, I definitely recommend trying this out!

Me wondering which Icelandic beer I’m gonna try first !

This marks the end of day one ! More adventures await on day two, including a special Icelandic winter surprise.

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4 days in Iceland - Day 2 : Stranded in Reykjavik and hunting the Northern Lights

Tom Davidson

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