Northern Lights in Iceland - Day 2: Wandering Around in a Haze

November 15th, 2013

There's that moment when I land into a foreign country where I become slightly paralized.  I think of this trip non stop for weeks.  Months, even.  I have your ideas of how the trip is going to go.  How the country will feel.  How I'm going to manage.  And the reality is now on the other side of the jetway.  I always think I could stay on the flight just a little bit longer.  Those fantasies of the trip will be destroyed in an instant, replaced by reality.

The bright side of this flight was that we didn't have to worry about lost luggage.  We hoisted our carry on off of the plane and went along our merry way through the airport.  Keflavik Airport was beautiful.  We walked through the terminal into Duty Free Shopping nirvana.  Mental notes were taken and we figured out how to get out of the airport.  First stop was handing over our passport to the...not so happy guy manning the customs and immigration line.  He wasn't mean.  Just disinterested.  But whatever.  It was 6am.  I had my passport stamped. New stamp!! 

The decision on how to get to our hotel was one we decided to make on the fly.  We first found the FlyBus, a coach which stops at hotels in Reykjavik.  There was a line at the window, so we attempted the kiosk next to the line.  It seemed easy enough.  Look for the hotel.  Buy the tickets.  Go to the bus.  Unfortunately, our hotel wasn't on the list.  Boo.  We hung our head in defeat and went to the cab "stand."  Two cabs were quietly waiting, so we approached the first one.  Danielle asked the price to our hotel.  For the three of us, it would cost $110.  Good lord.  Not so much.  We returned to the FlyBus counter to talk to the guy.  Can we get to the Hotel Natura?? Sure!!  For $25.  Muuuuuch better.  We piled into the bus and moved along.

The bus was pretty comfy and included WiFi.  WiFi!!  As I logged into Facebook to share my arrival with the world, I remembered that a bus plus smart phone equals motion sickness problems and I quickly put the phone down so I didn't start off the trip with a sick day.

Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura was a 50 minute bus ride from the Keflavik Airport, but right next door to the Reykjavik Airport, a small regional airport, which freaked me out as I didn't realize there was a difference in the airports (it was early.  Leave me alone).  The majority of the people on the bus were going to the Natura, which makes sense as this hotel is part of the Icelandair holiday packages.  A gaggle of bleary eyed tourists all piled out of the bus and into the lobby of the Natura.  

The three of us checked in to our separate rooms (cost about the same as if ewe had a room for three), but our rooms weren't quite ready yet.  So we hung in the lobby for a while, trying to figure out the plan for the day.  Which was going to be interesting, since we were currently the Walking Dead.  No one knew how we would function.  As rooms finally became available, Danielle's brother came to the hotel to begin the sightseeing.  Brett was joining us on a few of our adventures.

Once we dropped off our luggage and freshened up, we bundled into our coats and hats and made our way into the world.  We walked several blocks from our hotel to the Hallgrimskirkja, a church which towers over the city.  But as we walked to the church, we came to the realization that we needed food.  Quickly.  And coffee/tea.  Quickly.  On the corner, right across the street from Hallgrimskirkja, we found Cafe Loki.  No one had read anything about Cafe Loki in their research, so we paused and wondered if this was a tourist place, as it was outside of a Reykjavik landmark.  It really wasn't.  We knew we had to go here, because food.  I also thought it was kind of fitting that I had listened to the Tom Hiddleston interview on the Nerdist podcast on the flight, so...Cafe Loki it was.

The cafe was pretty much perfect for what we needed.  Danielle and I ended up with a tea and bagel combo which hit the spot.  This was also our first moment for figuring out the pricing on items.  Our breakfast seemed to be a little on the pricey side, but it got the job done.  There were probably five tables in the cafe and other than a picture of Thor on the wall (though I should probably assume it was Loki??), there were few decorations.  

Hallgrimskirkja and Leif Eriksson
Food in our belly, we walked across the street to Hallgrimskirkja.  This Lutheran church is the tallest church in Iceland and is the sixth tallest building in the country (the rest were radio masts...as a Chicagoan I kind of feel that doesn't count).  Inside, we saw an old man playing a pipe organ.  Nicely done.  You don't normally actually see some guy playing the organ.  The church is impressive enough on the outside.  The inside was nice enough, but didn't WOW like other churches I've seen.  Maybe that's the difference between a Lutheran church and a Catholic one??  The cool part about this building is when we went up to the top of the building.  We had a complete view of the city.  Sure, it was overcast and we didn't entirely know what we were looking at, but...Iceland!!

Inside the church
Dude playing the organ.
The organ and...I don't know...maybe that's Jesus in the corner??
Hello, Reykjavik!!
One of the first places I found on TripAdvisor was a coffee shop called C is for Cookie.  To make things better, Danielle also mentioned this place for treats.  Which was perfect.  It had plenty of coffee drinks, real sandwiches/food stuff, and desserty things.  Like cookies (obviously) and an apple cake.  I happened to partake in an amazing hot chocolate.  One I kept thinking about throughout the rest of the trip and something that is KILLING me that I didn't take pictures of.  Looking back on it all, I very much forgot to take pictures of food.  So...sorry, faithful readers.

Just a random building in the city.  It doesn't relate to anything in this story.  I just liked the building.
When traveling with graphic designers, you have to be ready to visit various art places.  Which, not a big deal for me.  I love art museums.  And we were in the neighborhood for the National Gallery of Iceland.  It cost us 10 ISK ($8.20 USD) to go in and wander.  I think the lady at the front desk wanted us to check our coats and bags...especially the bags, but we claimed dumb.  As we wandered up and down the aisles, one thing occurred to me.  This was a very...vagina-centric museum.  I mean, I'm sure not every painting signified a lady garden, but it sure seemed that way.  By this time of the day, with the flight and the lack of sleep and the wandering and the lack of sleep, I wasn't doing very well. I sat for a moment on a bench in the museum and it was the worst possible decision I made in the day.  I could have done nothing more than to cozy up on the bench and sleep away the rest of the day like some kind of hobo.

We stopped for a few minutes at the Visitor's Center while we looked around for other things we wanted to accomplish and where Brett booked an excursion for tomorrow.  I wandered, trying to keep from falling asleep while standing up, and found a goldmine of an event for us to visit.  The Design and Craft Fair in Reykjavik City Hall.  Again, I'm hanging out with a bunch of graphic designers.  "Home made" goods are going to peak the interest of artsy folks.  We didn't have much time to look around, but there were a few pieces I very much wanted to take home with me.  We also saw a bunch of swans that were pretty dang mean.
Sure, this picture was taken a few days later, but I'm sure this swan was attacking someone's face on this day too.
One of the adventures I was looking forward to today was the tour of the Harpa building.  In years past, the Symphony (and maybe Opera too) of Reykjavik was housed in a small building in the University in town.  But on May 4th, 2011 (a very good date), the Harpa building was opened to great acclaim.  And for good reason.  This is an award-winning building that hosts concerts, events, conferences, or whatever the need would be.

Harpa at Dusk
I'm official!!
We took a tour of the building (1500 ISK/$12 USD) and learned about the construction and design of the building.  The stories of the design were pretty cool.  What surprised us the most was how versatile the rooms were.  If one style of musician was in a room, they could alter the walls for better acoustics.  There were four distinct rooms that could be used for any of the events.

Inside the building
The walls inside of one of the rooms.  I expected the Cell Block Tango to break out in this one.
Near the end of the tour, we went up to an observation deck of some sort to capture a different view of the city.
Looking towards the harbor.
Nature and Steel.
We had early reservations for the Fish Market.  Which was perfect.  While we weren't Dead Women Walking, we were kind of close.  So once we left Harpa, we walked to the Fish Market.  Now here's the deal.  In some places, this is listed as the Fish Market.  Others as the Fish Company.  We think this was the same thing.  Or we found the Fish Market and assumed it was the place we needed to be.  We ended up being early for our reservation, but they sat us (before the restaurant was even open) and the first discussion began.  Wine or not??

I was going to say no wine.  Then I thought, why not??  As I looked at the menu, there were only a handful of wines by the glass.  As I read the menu, I started snickering.  One of the wines by the glass...Barefoot wine.  From Kalifornia (heh).  And that's when I thought...negative on the wine tonight.  Not only did I not want to buy a glass of wine for $10+ for a bottle that only costs $5-10 at home, but I was exhausted.  I didn't need to buy a glass of wine at all.

The dinner was fine enough.  I'm not a huge fish eater, but I figured, when in Iceland.  There was a nice three course fish option, which both Brett and I tried.  The starter was amazing.  Salmon and shrimp and other flavorings.  The main course was...ok.  It was some kind of fish that was...ok.  Richelle and I talked about it later and said we think they were trying a little too hard to be special.  The dessert was a tiramisu.  Always good.  And a good end to dinner.

Once dinner was done, we all were done.  We were able to stay awake for longer than anyone expected.  But man...just...done.  We each made our way to our room.  Where I turned on the TV to...wait.  The TV didn't turn on.  Come on!!  The TV in itself didn't matter that much.  I didn't know how many channels I'd have to choose from, but I deal better with background noise.  I quickly discovered there's no stupider feeling than having to call the front desk because the TV is broken.  The TV that was probably first released in 1995.  Especially when you're amazingly too exhausted to function.  When the man came to the room to look at the TV, I may have only been wearing one sock.  No...I definitely was only wearing one sock.  I may have had the other sock in my hand.

The TV was broken.  The poor guy had no idea how to fix it.  Fine enough.  He said someone would come along tomorrow to fix it.  Fine.  Just...get out.  I'm tired.  The sock in my hand and I waved him out the door and I finally was able to collapse for the night.  One day down in Iceland and the real adventure was about to begin.
It's a moveable hand.  So...of course I'm going to move it into this position.  Cause I'm twelve.  And a jerk.
I was!!  I am!!



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