Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Day in Reykjavik

Icelandair is generally the best deal for flying to or from Europe, if you don't mind the fact that every flight stops in Iceland en route.  Planes come in from a dozen places on one side of the Atlantic and a dozen take off for various destinations on the other side.  While you can hang out in the airport the hour and a half to two hours it takes for the planes to mix and match passengers, Icelandair allows you to stop over for up to a week at no additional airfare.  To break up the flying and get a head start on adjusting back to US time zones, we took them up on the offer and booked 2 nights, giving us one full day in town.

Reykjavik is an interesting place.  Few homes are large and none are ostentatious.  They are largely practical and plain, with color the principal adornment.  Kind of like the land, which is big on rocks and low bushes, with few flowers or trees other than ones planted in towns.  What you don't see is more fascinating, like the geothermal power that heats almost every dwelling in the city.

We were here in 2013 when we took the Holland America Eurodam home from Europe and stopped for two days, the highlight of which was the "Golden Circle" bus tour to Europe's largest waterfall, the geyser in the town of Geysir (after which geysers are named), and a valley where the tectonic plates for Europe and North America are pulling apart from each other, millimeter by millimeter.

This time we found an apartment with a kitchenette, and checked out Icelandic grocery shopping.  We visited the two largest grocery stores in the heart of town, and each one was a whole lot closer to a convenience store than a Safeway in size and food selection (but pricier than Whole Foods, since most of what's there has been imported).  Luckily an employee at one store told us how to find the fresh fish shop, which was fabulous.  An hour later, Louise was serving up a delicious filet of Arctic char (a northerly relative of the salmon).

We walked past the Halgrimskirkja, a large Lutheran church with a tower that's part church steeple, part ballistic missile.  Down at the harbor is the most exciting building in the entire nation, the concert hall and conference center named Harpa.  Not sure how a nation of 330,000 people (about the same as Honolulu alone), 200,000 of them in or near Reykjavik and the rest up to 650 km / 400 mi. away, can support such a large place, but it's great to walk around and admire, particularly its unusual honey-comb-like windows.

Our main destination, however, was Árbæjarsafn, an open air museum similar to Sturbridge Village in the U.S. or the Nederlands Openlucht Museum in Arnhem we described and pictured a few blog entries ago.

It was founded in 1957 but has continued to expand ever since, and currently has 31 buildings.  Some are farm buildings, but many more are from Reykjavik itself, moved here when progress loomed over them.  They ranged from a garage that appeared to have a mechanic still at work to a living room decorated in mid-20th century that was reminiscent of homes we both grew up with in NYC and Boston in the same period.  The desserts set out in the dining room were so realistic that Jeff started to drool.  The expandable child's bed was precious.  The mattress was easy to lengthen back then -- take out a few stitches, shove some more hay in there, and re-sew it longer.

Though it looks like a country house, the sheet metal and stone home Louise is in front of actually stood where our Reykjavik apartment now stands, on Grettisgata Street in the heart of town, and was a laborer's home.   Another building down the street had a display of traditional Icelandic dresses, and a third, a print shop, exhibited an Icelandic typewriter with the 30 letters of their alphabet.

A nearby turf structure is rural, a sheep shed that was on the property when it went from farm to museum in 1957.  As Louise walks down the street, there's the farm's smithy in front of her, and the farmhouse to her right.  The part with the turf roof was the horse stable attached to the farmhouse.  Icelandic horses are distinctive!  Here are three that live at the museum, and another that lives on in an historic photo.

The most interesting building, perhaps, is the kirkja, or church.  It was built in1842 in a small town in North Iceland, but became a sort of dormitory about 1900 before coming to the museum and resuming its ecclesiastical character.

After two visits to Reykjavik, we think we've seen pretty much all the sights of interest, so probably won't stop over again.  However, we have very much enjoyed learning more about this unusual country and its capital city.  We're now off to spend some time biking and canoeing in Maine, which will be the topic of our next two blog entries.

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