A Pretty-ish City

The other day, I said something along the lines of, “We will have lunch at noon-ish,” and managed to greatly confuse the kids, who though conversational in English, did not understand this word “noon-ish.” Explaining the definition and uses of “-ish” made me smile.

That’s a random anecdote with no relation to the rest of this post except that Reykjavik is what I would call a pretty-ish city, rather than a pretty one. It’s the same story with all the architecture in Iceland: none of it is that appealing to look at because it was made to be sturdy and practical and has usually undergone a lot of rough weather and not as much TLC. Upon returning to Reykjavik for a full day of sightseeing (and to be reunited with my repaired laptop), I was able to find some significantly more interesting parts of the town. In fact, I literally just rode the bus until I saw something interesting and then got off.

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I happened to get off a short walk from this: Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center. I was far more impressed with the architecture you see above than with that of Hallgrimskirkja Church, which made me wonder why I had never seen images of this building in all my Instagram and Google searches.

I started by circling around the outside to get a good view of the harbor next to it, where fishing and sailing boats created dots of color against the dull sky (Iceland seems to always be on the verge of rain).

Around the front doors, I skirted the dozen or so tourist groups and found a quaint gift shop on my right and an even quainter ice cream cart before me. I tried licorice ice cream despite not typically being fond of that flavor and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was (if you run across a place called Valdì’s, give it a try!). There is even a lovely café situated along the harbor side of the lobby, providing serene views of the ocean and distant mountains while you dine.

The architecture itself was amazing – sharp angles, defined color choices, and so much glass. I ended up staying here quite a while, exploring all five stories, snacking on my ice cream, taking advantage of the free wifi, and watching technicians and performers dart out of stage doors from time to time with the usual passing interest of my education.

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Having seen Solfar out an upper window of the concert hall, I headed off along the coast to take a closer look at the Viking-ship-inspired sculpture translated as “Sun Voyager.” Though this is an iconic piece of Icelandic art and an interesting sight to see, it almost always surrounded by tourists, many of whom insist on climbing on the sculpture for the best possible selfie. If you want a picture without any bright coats in it, be prepared to bide your time.

After backtracking past Harpa and continuing down that street, I found myself in the hub of tourism. A right turn leads to Bankastraeti and Laugavegur, the long and popular street of shops and tourist offices, while to the left, a series of streets housed mostly restaurants of endless variety. If you are visiting Iceland, I highly recommend trying Icelandic food (cause why not?), but should you start feeling a bit homesick, you have plenty of other options: Paris Café, Irish Pub, American Bar (yes, the names are that creative), and of course, Chuck Norris Grill. Oh, and that snow on the ground? Not snow. It’s not quite that cold right now. The streets conveniently needed to be washed with the most soap suds possible though… pretty sure that is a gimmick in place just for the tourists. Couldn’t complain – it smelled delightfully clean!

Wandering around in this general vicinity, I found houses and buildings that actually had some sort of architectural style, although still constructed out of the typical sheet metal. There are several churches in Reykjavik besides the famous tourist-filled one, and the design is usually this same classic look, reminding me of Little House on the Prairie.

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I had taken screenshots of numerous maps prior to leaving (though you can snag wifi at most coffee shops and restaurants, it’s always an iffy game), so I consulted these to find my way to Tjorin, a small lake with a lovely view of the city.

Next, I headed a bit further from the tourist region (noticeably lacking in *gasp* tourists) to hunt down this cathedral. Although well-known, I found it to be a beautiful sight, a reminder of some of the architecture in Italy.

My plans to go swimming before dinner at a fabulous restaurant called Apotek were foiled when I found the closest pool closed for renovations. I didn’t feel like taking the trek to the next closest, so instead, I made my way back to Laugavegur and did some reading and people watching for a while (a splendid pastime due to the cool weather and varied locale). Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was getting back home, as I had not checked on the bus schedule ahead of time to see that the last bus to Hvolsvollur left at 4:30 in the afternoon – not very helpful for spending a full day in the capital! I managed to jump on the last bus going to Selfoss – a halfway point to home – and arrived at midnight, with no taxis, buses, or even rental cars available until morning. Thus transpired my first ever experience hitchhiking. I was not a fan, despite the fact that someone picked me up within ten minutes and got me safely to my front door with no problems. Many people use hitchhiking as their main form of transportation around the island, but even if I ignore all the possible dangers of doing so, I am simply too independent to completely depend on the goodwill of total strangers.

Still, it was worth it this time to get home before 1:00 instead of spending six hours huddled outside in the cold night air. I don’t think I’ll be taking any more bus trips to Reykjavik without the solid promise of a car to get me home whenever I am ready.

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