Thursday, 29 August 2013

A day of exploring in Reykjavik

On Friday 23rd August I was awake about 7am, breakfast is served in the Gardur Hotel between 8 & 10am, and consists of muesli, cereal, yoghurts, cold meat, cheese, rolls, jam, sweet biscuits & Icelandic cake, fruit juice, tea, coffee & hot chocolate.
After breakfast I had some time to explore the city before meeting Regina, and started by crossing the busy road outside the hotel and walked around Tjornan (The Pond), a large freshwater lake, surrounded by park land with gardens and footpaths. I also looked around the neighbouring residential district with colourful houses. At the other side of Tjornan is the City Hall, and several parks and a church with a spire called the Stofnum Frikirkja. In these parks I took several photos of the statues, including poets, angels and lovers embracing. I visited the Court garden (Hallargardurinn) and the Mother's garden (Maedrogardurinn). This lead me to Laekjargata & the harbour area (Giersgata) and went inside the Harpa theatre, a recent addition to Reykjavik. In the harbour area which contains two grey ships, there is also a small steam locomotive, which may suggest there was a narrow gauge railway here. Aegisgata is an old street with quaint houses, most of which are shops or cafes.
By the time I was exploring the harbour, it had started to rain & became heavy, so I took shelter in the tourist information office and talked with a helpful lady called Harpa, and found out bus time for tomorrow, a nice nearby cafe & a nearby bank to change money. While waiting for Regina I had a hot chocolate in the Stofan cafe, a yellow house with easy chairs, books to read & photos of Iceland on the wall.  I met Regina as planned and we went to the bank where her sister works & had a complimentary coffee. We then walked to the old harbour and while waiting for the walking tour, we met IFAW (a charity which opposes whaling) who were giving out free waffles. Fortunately while we were on the walking tour the rain eased off.
At 13.00 everyday between 15th May to 15th September, a local waits in the Old Harbour to take visitors for a free tour of Reykjavik. He is one of the representatives of the Goecco company. We were introduced to the concept of the free tour, the guide shares his knowledge with the visitors while they go around the old part of the city, and at the end of the tour, visitors tip him/her on how much they think the walking tour & information is worth. Our guide "Day" first of all told us about the history of Reykjavik, who founded it and why it is where it is. We started in the harbour, then moved to outside the main library, Reykjavik is recognised by UNESCO as a city of literature. many great works have been written here. We then walked through the "Stone" village, a residential area in the middle of the city, where we also learned about trolls, elves and Santa's "Yule boys". We saw the statue of Skuli Magnusson who found the oldest street and house (Adalstraeti 2) which is now a designer clothing shop. We moved to Parliament square and learned about the oldest parliament (allthingy), the rise & fall of the banking industry & the "pots & pans revolution" when the locals took to the parliament garden and banged pots & pans in protest against the "financial crash". We passed the Pond & City Hall, the local mayor is a former comedian (seriously). The tour finished by the oldest school (still in use) & "Day" gave us information about local eateries, bars and cafes, music & other shops.
Regina and I went to the Cafe de Paris. Here we met Ana Novac, Regina's friend from Slovenia, and living in Reykjavik. Ana is a lovely lady, who also shares interest in music. I had some lunch (mushroom soup & lamb chop with vegetables & chips) with a cup of apple & cinnamon tea.
Regina & I walked to the recently built Hallgrimmskirkja, a huge church on a top of a hill and fronted by a statue of Leif Ericson, who was the first Viking to reach America (pre-dating Christopher Columbus by 500 years). We went inside the church and heard a rehearsal of two trumpeters & an organist playing music for the Night of Culture. Here later we met Jon, and we went for a drive around the bay to Seltjarnarnes. We stopped for a photo of the Viking Ship, the "island" of Grotta, which contains a lighthouse & some houses, but no one lives there. There are certain times that the "island" can be reached by foot. If the tide is high, then the causeway is covered by water. We also visited interesting buildings including the Pump House, which pumps up hot water from many metres below the surface, and the Shark House, a wooden building which was used to prepare freshly caught sharks for the dinner-plate.
We finished the evening by spending the evening with Helga & Simbi in her flat, which is down-town Reykjavik. We had tea & biscuits.
Jon & Regina took me back to the hotel, where I had an early night.

Monday, 26 August 2013

My first trip to Iceland

In August 2013, I booked a trip to visit Iceland, the first time in this country. Last November Regina from Virtual Tourist, was travelling in London and we met up several times . As Regina was in Reykjavik during the summer she invited to come and visit her home city, to meet some friends and to see the sights of this amazing city.
I booked to fly with WOW air, a recent addition to the "budget" airlines which are plying Europe. The trip from Gatwick was made more "interesting" by the fun comments from the airline staff. Example "You'll find one of our beautiful yellow life jackets under your seat", "Put on your own oxygen mask, before assisting a child or someone who behaves like a child".
The flight arrived at Keflavik, (The international airport is in a smaller town to the west of Reykjavik) at a reasonable time of 14,40. I reached Reykjavik from Keflavik by "FlyBus" a dedicated bus-service Airport to City.  The journey time for the 44 km journey is about about an hour. The scenery around the airport is nothing like I had seen before. Fields were covered by course grass and black rock and on the horizon I was able to see active volcanoes. When I arrived the weather was drizzly and cool.
When I arrived at the Bsi bus terminal, I was met by Regina, a Virtual Tourist member and her friend Helga, who was driving. After checking into the Gurdur Hotel (part of the university of Iceland campas) Helga, Regina & I went to the Pearlan building, a circular building atop a hill, which contains the Saga Museum and a revolving restaurant. There is also a cafe and the opportunity for us to take in views of the city and bay.
We went into the city where Regina & Helga showed me some of downtown Reykjavik, before we found the Uppsalir bar and restaurant, in the older part of town. Here we met Jon (Regina's friend and a magician) and when we arrived we bought drinks (two-for-one as it was still "Happy hour"). I also had "fish & chips", and after our meal Jon, Regina and I went to a "stand up comedy" show where new comedians tried to entertain the guests (some succeeded, some didn't). We also went to a club to see some salsa dancing., before Jon drove me to the hotel, and I soon went to bed.