Learning to Expect the Unexpected

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 2:  Washington, DC to Reykjavik, 

Well, we did make it out of Washington yesterday since the wheels of our Boeing magic carpet left the ground of a Dulles runway at 11:54 p.m.  Though the flight was re-scheduled to depart at 11:30, the air crew, concerned that we would arrive before the four-hour airport work stoppage at our destination ended, delayed take-off by another half hour.  Other than the airline's failure to provide our requested vegetarian meals, the flight was fine.  By the time we touched down in Iceland a little after 9:30 a.m., all the strikers were back in their positions on duty.

As the plane descended in our approach to Keflavik International Airport, we were fascinated by the view outside our window—rough, rock-strewn, undulating, treeless terrain the color of tobacco.  Though the island's climate is hospitable to some green plant growth, winter's reluctance to depart (the city was blanketed in snow last week) has kept much of the scenery in the area a uniform brown.

In case our view from the window was unconvincing, the Hertz agent re-emphasized that "not in Kansas anymore" reminder when she insisted Ken acknowledge with his initials the provisions of the rental car contract that prohibited crossing "unbridged" rivers and driving off-road, though traversing the country's many miles of gravel highways is permitted.  Iceland has a land area about the size of Kentucky's.  As the car rental map depicts, almost half the island is covered by a mountainous lava desert inaccessible to all but the hardiest of vehicles.  They don't stop at 4x4s here; some 8 x 8s are around, too.

Leaving the airport in our stick shift diesel Toyota Corolla, we drove the 20 miles to nearby Reykjavik, where our apartment home for the next few days was ready for us to check in four hours early.  Since we were working with a limited amount of restless airline "sleep" while our bodies struggled to maintain a hold on Eastern time, we were delighted.  Almost next door we found Kryddlegin Hjörtu, a casual café with a buffet of delicious homemade soups and a salad bar with an abundance of fresh ingredients.  After a light but very satisfying meal, eaten at the local lunch hour (8 a.m. by the home clock), we dived into bed for a few hours of real rest before exploring a bit of central Reykjavik on foot.

North, South, East or West?
Public art was bounteous in the areas we visited today, beginning at the airport, where Directions, an eye-catching symbolic work by an Icelandic sculptor occupies a prominent place in the arrivals hall.  Perched atop four-foot basalt columns, the four life-size sculptural aluminum figures, all cast from the same mold, face toward the four cardinal points of the compass. 
Around downtown Reykjavik, many important figures in Icelandic history are commemorated with statues in public squares, from Ingolfur Arnarsson, honored as the country's first permanent resident, to national hero Jon Sigurðsson, who spearheaded Iceland's independence movement from Denmark.  In addition to historical figures, Iceland boasts a monument honoring the Unknown... Bet you thought we were going to say Soldier. 
Located in a popular square alongside a small lake in the center of Reykjavik, the Unknown Bureaucrat is a tongue-in-cheek sculptural monument to honor all those Icelanders who toil in the thankless, anonymous job of bureaucrat, which the artist depicts as a man in a suit carrying a briefcase.  Since he is never recognized, his head and shoulders remain unformed from a large slab of stone.

Tribute to all the unknown pencil pushers who keep things running smoothly
Along the way in our wanderings in the city, we popped into a small neighborhood supermarket to check out their wares. Would you consider your local grocery store a destination for tourists?  Probably not, but we love exploring food stores in other countries and cultures. 

As in so many places we travel, we saw a fair number of products familiar because they're made and/or sold in America.  A few others had enough English words for us to discern what they were (e.g., chocolate brownie).  Some products, however, just left us scratching our heads and laughing as our imaginations ran wild, trying to "translate" what the Icelandic words "sounded like they might mean."  Later, when we had wifi access at the apartment, we checked on our accuracy.  Not even close.

 Offer!  Blueberries, Blackberries and Raspberries  399 krona/pk" (about $3.50).  

Though few foods seem exotic to our American sensibilities, we later saw menu offerings quite different from your average Cracker Barrel.  We stopped into a little family owned restaurant called Le Bistro for dinner.  Like most people we encountered today, the servers in the restaurant spoke fluent English.  Even the menu was printed in both languages.  Thus we knew exactly what we were ordering here.  We had a wonderful meal, but we were not tempted by some of the dishes in the Icelandic Inspired Specialties section of the menu:

Tomorrow we'll leave the city and explore Iceland's Golden Circle, which we hear has nothing to do with gold nor with a circle.

Ken's delicious "chicken casserole" (what we would call soup) at Le Bistro
The "kitchen" in our apartment
Do you wonder, as we did, about the long pillows?  They're individual duvets, fluffy and folded.  A great idea!
Maybe not such a great idea.  Our "shower."  A bit more slope toward the drain might have kept at least part of the floor dry.