Europe

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

Here we are on day two, bright and early, excited to go on a coach tour of the Golden Circle, which comprises the Gullfoss waterfalls, Geysir and Þingvellir. Well, that did not happen, as a snowstorm made the roads unsafe… So we were stuck in Reykjavik for the day, and went on to do a more in-depth visit of the city.

We took the opportunity to visit the interior of the Hallgrímskirkja church, which was no less impressive than the exterior.

Interior of the Hallgrímskirkja church

You could also take an elevator to the top, which gave 360 degree views on the city. There are no windows up there, so expect it to be really windy.

View on Reykjavik from the top of the Hallgrímskirkja church

We then checked out the Sun Voyager, or Sólfar in Icelandic, which is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason that represents a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. It’s one of Reykjavik’s landmarks, and you can understand why. It’s quite a beautiful piece of art.

Sólfar sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason

We kept walking around the city, which was a bit of a struggle as we were advancing under a strong blizzard. Seriously, the wind was so strong we couldn’t even walk straight ! No wonder the authorities had advised not to drive on the roads… One thing we started noticing was the omnipresence of 4x4s, and their enormous size. We would soon understand why.

A typical 4×4 in Iceland. My friend on the picture is 6ft1…

We visited the National Gallery of Iceland, which I didn’t find exceptional but it was a much welcome break from being outside. I had made the mistake of not taking waterproof pants, and by then they were soaking wet. Possibly what didn’t make me so receptive to the art in the gallery !

After this we went to the National Museum of Iceland, which featured all sorts of items from different periods of Icelandic history, with of course many viking artifacts.

A viking brooch at the National Museum of Iceland.

We then had lunch at a place called Café Loki, with terrific views on the Hallgrímskirkja church. They serve typical Icelandic platters with different types of fish and rye bread. One of the local delicacies was fermented shark. As I looked at the odd cubes of white meat, the waitress commented “Don’t smell, just eat !”. I thought “Oh right, just like French cheese then.” Well, to be honest with you, the taste was as bad as the smell. And don’t you dare say it’s the same with French cheese !

After a bit of shopping in the afternoon and a much needed hot shower, we collected a rental car so that we could venture out of the city, as the snowstorm had eased off. We had dinner at a funky place called the Chuck Norris Grill, which was obviously decorated in honour of the great Chuck, and actually served one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

Chuck Norris Grill

We ventured out of the city after midnight, and set out to find a spot with no light pollution in hope of seeing the Northern Lights. We had checked the Icelandic weather website, and had identified an area with a lake above which there would be almost no clouds, which seemed perfect. The annoying thing however, was that we didn’t know how to search by coordinates on the GPS, and the lake was literally in the middle of nowhere… We took note of the directions before setting off, but didn’t account for the fact the signs would be covered in snow, and the side roads would be uncleared and easy to miss at night. So, basically, we got lost three times before admitting we had failed miserably, and we returned to the hotel. Navigating the roads in Iceland in winter is no easy thing, and next time I’ll probably book a tour with a driver that knows where he’s going. Might save some hassle and disappointment.

That’s it for day two. It wasn’t the most amazing day in terms of the things we saw, but it was still a lot of fun to explore the city under a raging blizzard. I know, that probably doesn’t sound fun to most of you. But I’m weird.

 

 

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Tom Davidson

Tom Davidson

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