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July 15, 2013 / Jim Fenton

Iceland Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavík

ChurchViewJuly 1, 2013

My first interaction with an Icelander:

Me: Góðan daginn!
Immigration inspector: [unintelligable stream of Icelandic]
Me: Uh, you just heard all the Icelandic I know.
Immigration inspector: [big grin] Yes, I knew that. [stamps passport] Have a good visit.

A nice start to the trip.

We were met at the airport by Torsten, a taxi driver sent by Iceland Unlimited for the 40 minute drive to Reykjavík. He told us a bit about the country, particularly the fact that all of their power is renewably generated, a mixture of geothermal and hydroelectric. We passed an aluminum smelting plant on the way; they ship bauxite from South Africa to refine because aluminum refining requires huge amounts of electricity, which is relatively inexpensive in Iceland. Other companies are building data centers here for the same reason. But for some reason, they don’t seem to be early adopters of electric cars.

We checked into our hotel, which had a two-bedroom apartment for us about a block away from the hotel itself. What a beautiful apartment it is! It features a full kitchen and dining area that we are under-utilizing, and a large living room. It also has a perfect view up Skólavörðustígur to the front of Reykjavík’s landmark church, Hallgrímskirkja.

After dropping our stuff, we set out on foot in a bit of a shower to explore the downtown. After finding an ATM, we stopped at the Café Paris for lunch; I had an excellent Icelandic stew featuring delicious chunks of lamb.

We then went to the Iceland Unlimited office for our scheduled orientation briefing.  One of the travel advisors went over the itinerary and pointed out other things we can visit if we have the interest (and time) along the way. I’m glad she wrote lots of notes on our map, because the jet lag was catching up with me.

Hallgimskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

The rain having stopped, we continued our walk in the direction of the harbor, down a street that looked to be part of Iceland’s Embassy Row, then to Hallgrímskirkja. When we entered, an organist was practicing, and we were treated to a short organ recital.  The combination of the modern pipe organ and the large interior of the church was acoustically very impressive. The architecture was similarly notable, drawing from the Gothic cathedral style but with a Protestant simplicity to the decor.

Following the organ practice, we took the elevator to the observation area in the steeple and got panoramic views of Reykjavík. When the clock chimed at close range, it startled us quite a bit!

On the way back to our room, we stopped for a snack at one of the many cafés in the area. We set out for dinner with a particular pizza place in mind, but one of the locals on the street discouraged us, saying that it is overpriced for what you get. So we wandered a bit and settled on a somewhat touristy restaurant that was at least reasonable. Then we finally let ourselves get some much-needed sleep.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in Iceland. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

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