Thursday, August 22, 2013

Iceland Writeup: Day #1: First Impressions of Reykjavik

Our flight was in the middle of the day, so we touched down in the late afternoon. Now, I've been to a number of European capitals - specifically: London, Paris, Prague, and Bratislava.

Of all of them, Reykjavik reminded me the most of Bratislava...except that there's an apartment block in Bratislava that could hold the population of this northern city. The name Reykjavik, incidentally, means "Smoky Bay," a reference to the hot springs that heat the city - it is, to my knowledge, the only city in the world with a municipal HOT water tank.

You arrive at Keflavik airport, which used to be a military base - the runway is designed for huge military transports and dwarfs the relatively small airliners that land there now. Which is a good thing as it's a tough airport to land at - exposed and windy. Then it's a bus ride to Reykjavik through a landscape that looks like something in the early stages of terraforming.

Downtown Reykjavik is attractive, quirky, and modern. Unfortunately for the city, the building boom here was in the 1960s - outside the downtown area there are a lot of buildings architectural taste forgot. Yawn.

Downtown, though, is dominated by one of the most gorgeous buildings I have ever seen - Hallgrimskirkja, which me and my husband were calling the CHURCH! or the "Lutheran Cathedral" for most of the trip.

Yes. That's a Lutheran church built in the tradition of the great Cathedrals of Europe, yet in a thoroughly modern style. Greg, who comes from a Lutheran background, found it a tremendous disconnect. There's a reason, however.

The Icelanders did not choose the Reformation. It was forced on them by the Danes. They clung to as much Catholicism as they could - so the modern Icelandic church is this odd combination of Lutheran low church practicality with candles and sacraments. The combination produced this gorgeous building which looks out across Reykjavik from its hill.

Reykjavik is walkable, bikable, and easy to navigate. It's a small city by anyone's standards and well laid out (especially in comparison to older European capitals). And it's worth the stay for the restaurants, the night life and the quirky street art.