Iceland 2011: Reykjavik

Today started quite late, as I didn’t get home until 2am last night and there didn’t seem a lot of point in going into town before the sun was up.

I followed my map to the main shopping street, then got distracted by the view down a side street – blue sea, pink and white mountain and pink sky. Reykjavik has one of my favourite sea views – the bay is surrounded by real Arctic white mountains and it’s spectacular. A little further along was a sculpture of a Viking long boat and some tourists were having their photos taken with it, so I borrowed one of them to take a photo of me.

From there I made my way back into town and walked along one of the two main shopping streets, looking at the shops but not yet quite brave enough to go in. Then I got distracted again, this time by the view up the street to Hallgrimskirkja – a space shuttle shaped cathedral on top of the hill that dominates the Reykjavik skyline.

I went inside – it’s all grey sleek Gothic arches and stunning in a minimalist way. Then I went up the tower – in the lift, which is the only way except in the event of a fire while you’re up there.

At the top of the lift is a little room where the clock faces are. The bottom panels, between about 4 and 8 are clear glass so you can look out over the city. The clocks, apparently, are not necessarily accurate – the strong winds up there often blow the hands off course.

Then there are a few steps up to the viewing platform. That’s an even better view, if a windy one. I could spot a conical mountain, almost certainly a volcano which I think must be in Reykjanes direction. I could see the domestic airport right in the city centre – it was an RAF base when Iceland was occupied during the war, I think. I could see The Pond, a massive lake in the town centre and I could see my hotel, as well as a 360 degree view of white mountains.

From there I went and looked in the shops, bought some bread and chocolate and found myself in the city centre, by the IE offices, opposite the Prime Minister’s house. And Reykjavik apparently has geese wandering the streets. No one blinked an eye at them. I followed the little flocks – so many geese and they wander in the road and drivers wait for them to decide to get out of the way and I found myself at The Pond.

It was almost completely frozen and I could see people walking on it although I thought it might not be a good idea for me to try it. I was quite happy to be entertained by squillions of birds – swans with yellow beaks, brown geese, ducks and gulls of various varieties all making a racket and flocking from one end of the unfrozen patch to the other as if they were some kind of feathered hive mind. The swans were great because they make a lovely beeping noise and the geese were great because every time they scrambled out of the water, they slipped on the frozen edge which was quite hilarious to watch.

I stood there for ages, enjoying the entertainment but by then the sun was setting and because I’d been out at dawn, it felt like a really long day – this is the biggest problem with being in Iceland at this time of year. And it was still only 2.30 but my shoulders were aching, one of my boots was rubbing, I’d seen almost all the sights and I’d woken up far too early so I came back, had some food, phoned home and then having slept for the best part of two hours, woke up not knowing what day it was. Near-constant darkness is confusing in ways I hadn’t imagined.

And I got back to find IE had phoned the hotel about the caving tomorrow – they want to provide me with kit so they wanted to know my height and weight. Very organised of them. I don’t know how much I weigh and I only know my height in feet, which they don’t use here. The receptionist said she was sure IE can convert it. So the caving is on and the only question is whether or not I’m the only tourist who wants to go caving in Iceland in winter.

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