Take Your Pick? Reykjavik!

Friday, April 25, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 4:  Reykjavik, Iceland

Friday dawned early.  Though the sun failed to make an appearance until later in the day, today's official sunrise in  Iceland's capital city, Reykjavik (RAKE-ya-vik), was 5:21 a.m.; sunset was 9:33 p.m, though it was light out long after that.  That's because the city is a mere 130 miles south of the Arctic Circle, where the sun never sets on summer solstice (nor rises on winter solstice).  Today was a rather short day by Reykjavik summer standards, actually.  By June 21, sunrise here will come before 3 a.m., and the sun will not set before midnight.  (Pictured above:  Central Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja)

With all that daylight on our hands, we had plenty of time for sightseeing in the city today.  Inspired by finding a letterbox at Thingvellir yesterday, we set our sights this morning on three letterboxes hidden in the Reykjavik area.  Along the waterfront promenade west of the city, we tracked down our first box hidden among some large rocks.  Back in the city, we stopped at Hólavallagarður, the city's oldest cemetery, where we spent about half an hour searching before finding the day's second letterbox. The clue listed some helpful landmarks, but we found numerous headstones with the same name cited as closest to the box.  Nonetheless, it was a fascinating old burial ground and we enjoyed exploring it.

Hólavallagarður Cemetery
On a roll, we hoped to find a letterbox in Tjörnin Park that had been reported missing once already, but the area where the treasure had been secreted clearly had been re-landscaped based on the description of the location, and the box was nowhere to be found.  That being our last opportunity to letterbox in the capital, we headed back to our apartment for lunch.

Located in the heart of the center city, the apartment where we're staying is housed in an early 20th century house that was once the home of Iceland's prime minister.  Legend has it that the King of Denmark was once a guest here.  The national theater is next door and the national library just beyond that.  Down at the corner is the unassuming building known as Government House.

Note the absence of security at Government House.
Completed in 1771, this structure served as Iceland's first official prison.  It was designed to hold 16 felons and 54 convicted of misdemeanors.  Currently the building houses the prime minister's office and serves as the meeting place for Iceland's state council.  Not only is there no security present, there isn't even a fence.  It sits on a busy street corner.

The Pearl of Reykjavik
Later we visited another three of Reykjavik's most famous structures.  Perched on top of a hill overlooking the city, Perlan (Icelandic for the pearl) began life as a group of hot water storage tanks.  In the early 1990s, the city's mayor looked up at the hill and conceived a plan for exhibition space and performing halls.  A hemispherical dome was added, the water tanks repurposed, and the mayor had found his pearl. At the base of the dome is a fourth-floor viewing platform with panoramic vistas of the city.  The top of the dome houses a renown (and expensive) restaurant that completes a full rotation every two hours.  We opted to share a cup of ice cream in the fourth floor snack bar.

Reykjavik's most familiar landmark, Hallgrimskirkja
Down the hill from Perlan, we stopped in at one of Reykjavik's most iconic buildings, visible from anywhere in the city.  Named for a beloved Icelandic hymnist and clergyman, Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrim's Church) is elegantly simple inside and out.  The architect is said to have been inspired by the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape.  The United States presented the imposing statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front of the church to Iceland on the 1000th anniversary of its first parliament (Althing).  The observation deck at the steeple's apex offered fantastic views of the city.

Harpa Conference Center

Completed in 2011, the Harpa Conference Center and Concert Hall is located by the old harbor between the Atlantic Ocean and the city center.  Winner of numerous design awards, its exterior is formed from a steel framework clad in different shapes and colors of glass in two or three dimensions.  Whether lit from within or reflecting the colors of its environment, the facades create a striking addition to the city landscape.

Though Reykjavik is a national capital, this city of 120,000 exudes a comfortable small town ambiance.  Residents are polite, congenial and eager to make tourists feel welcome.  The city is very safe, though we have yet to see a police officer or security guard, even around government buildings  Crime is just not an issue here.  According to a local, people do not get mugged in Iceland, for example.  "You can literally leave your wallet on the ground.  Either someone will deliver it to you or the nearest police station, or it'll still be there when you return to look for it the next morning."

There's a lot to like here.  We're thinking we'd like to make a return visit some time.  It's closer to home than Hawaii.

Harpa interior
Note how Hallgrimskirkja dominates the city skyline