Iceland Viewpoints

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Reykjavik is a big city by Icelandic standards — as there are only 375,00 in the whole country and 140,000 people in Reykjavik.   And then consider a tourist population, concentrated in the summer by extending all year round of almost 2,000,000 pre-Covid in 2019 and climbing once again now with almost everyone spending a few days in Reykjavik, you can imagine that almost every local services the tourist industry.  The old part of town is attractive with mainly new homes in an older style, corrugated metal siding and roofs and a wealth of restaurants and bistros.  

Central Reykjavik

I met Bill at our nice hotel near the port side and we miraculously found an all vegan restaurant only a short walk from our location.  It is cool but not very cold with the ld wind being the main chill factor. 

Our free day is occupied with a visit to the Laundromat Cafe, a place where I could do a load of wash from my previous 10 days in Norway and Bill and I could share a “Vegan Breakfast Special”.   It seems that veganism is more common and accepted here, perhaps due to requirements of the monied tourists.  And then a visit to The Culture House, a beautiful old building, originally the city library and now used as an exhibit of the art and culture of Iceland, arranged by the elements, air, water, stone, and ice, highlighting the experience of contemporary artists.

The hotel overlooks the new and ultra modern Harpa Performance Center where the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra plays each week in season and opera, ballet and other events take place.   Bill is intrigued by its architecture with hexagonal glass elements that form a shimmering facade with changing colored lights and we saw that guided tours are given of the building, .   So we attend a group 1 hour tour to learn about its many unique construction designs.  Bill is aghast to find out the cost of the tour was $45 each, whereas the tours by docents at the Marin County Civic Center cost only $10.

The Harpa Center – with sculpture of cellist on the water on the right.

I had read and been warned about costs here and to expect to spend about $80/day for lunch and dinner but the reality is still a shock.  One vegan entree (dahl + rice or Jamaican peanut stew + rice) cost $24 each.  I note the in other places a small pizza for one person or fish and chips or a burger (meat or vegan) all cost about the same of $22 and are basically made from frozen ingredients.  The minimum for a fish entree is about $35-45.  We did figure out that this includes tax of 10% plus tip so that makes the total not that much higher than a good meal at home — but this is not high quality.

The Golden Circle:  Tour Day 1

We are picked up at a bus stop near our hotel by our tour operator, Arctic Adventures, in a new Mercedes minivan with capacity of about 20 people — to find out our group for the next 6 days comprises only 5 people — two retired women from Bulgaria (only one of whom speaks English), a young tech woman from China who currently works in Silicon Valley, and Bill and I.   Our driver and guide is a Polish immigrant (one of 35,000 in Iceland) who has lived here for the last 7 years with a strong but understandable accent and who is very eager to be helpful.

The places we visit are indeed interesting — but it is difficult to experience the true majesty of what we are seeing when surrounded by throngs of other tourists.   Everyone who comes to Iceland goes on this tour in one form or another, either by rented car or one day tour.  So it Is crowded everywhere.  

The Thingvellir National Park, Iceland’s only Unesco World Heritage Site, includes the Mid-Atlantic rift where the teutonic plates between North America and Eurasia have pulled apart.  They are continuing to drift apart and to walk near them is memorable.

The Mid-Atlantic Rift at Pingvellir National Park

The Geysirs are a group of bubbling hot springs one of which spews out like Old Faithful every 8-9 minutes and are also on the required viewing list.

Geysir Hot Springs

And then there is the most impressive of Icelands natural formations, the waterfalls.   Today we saw 3, the roaring magnificent Gullfoss and then the exciting Seljalandsfoss Waterfall which we could walk behind and last the high-spraying Skógafoss Waterfall.  I was glad I wore my waterproof ski pants and almost slipped on the rocks going behind the falls.  It is interesting that there was no developed path for that walk although it is widely advertised as a tourist experience. It required climbing over some slippery rocks and wet mud to get there.   In fact our guide told of of one of his earlier tour members who did fall there and badly cut her leg requiring a trip to the hospital, which was not at all nearby.

Varya and Bill in front of Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Approaching the rear of Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Last, a trip to a very black sand beach where startling hexagonal basalt formations sit on the sand and unreal shaped lava rocks stand in the water near the shore formed when the hot lava hit the cold arctic water.

Bill by the Hexagonal Basalt Rocks on Black Sand Beach
Lava Formations on Black Sand Beach

Our first night is spent at a hotel owned by our tour operator, clean and basic, with wifi and a good breakfast. All is good.