Iceland greeted me with soft drizzling rain and dark huge clouds but the gloomy weather could not dampen my hardly contained excitement. Iceland is known for her unique and amazing landscape and the northern lights … yes… the reason why I chose to visit Iceland in October as sightings of the lights are as good as a sure thing.
First and foremost, I needed to get to my hostel in Reykjavik. Keflavik International Airport is situation 50 km away from Reykjavik and I decided to use the Flybus+ to get me to my hostel as it was raining and I did not fancy walking in the rain to find my hostel. Flybus+ will send me directly to the doorstep of my hostel and the fare is 2800 Icelandic kronor one way or 5000 Icelandic kronor return. It was indeed a good choice as the Flybus base was a fair distance away from my hostel. As it was already late, I decided to have an early simple dinner of instant noodles and went to the front office to check on the tours. Initially I had planned to hire a car but as the weather forecast had predicted unfavorable weather (which sadly was true) and buses to tourist attractions do not run during winter, I decided to join tours.
I woke up to the sound of the rain and it turned out to be another day of non-stop drizzling. As I didn’t schedule any tour for the day, I decided to check out Reykjavik. Armed with an umbrella courtesy of another tourist who left it behind, I braved the cold wind and stepped out into the narrow streets.
I headed towards the most obvious building and also the main landmark in Reykjavik as it stood aloft above the rest of the buildings and as it was located near my hostel, it also became my landmark – Hallgrimskirkja Church. This spaceship shaped-like building (at least to me) was designed by the late Guðjón Samuel in 1937 and construction commenced in 1945 and ended in 1986.
After shaking off the rain from my dampened jacket, I stepped into the church and was surprised by the simple yet majestic interior. Instantly, my eyes captured the gargantuan pipe organ which was designed and constructed by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. With an impressive height of 15m and astounding weight of 25 tons, this mechanical action organ is driven by four manuals and a pedal, 102 ranks, 72 stops and 5275 pipes, all designed to reproduce powerful notes capable of filling the huge and holy space with a range of tones – from the dulcet to the dramatic. Its construction was completed in December 1992 and since there, some famous organist such as Christoper Herrick had done some recordings playing this special organ.
Standing directly in front of the church, is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, who is the first European to discover America. It was recorded that in 1,000 A.D., Leifur landed on the shores of America which is 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The statue, which was designed by Alexander Stirling Calder was a gift from the United States in honour of the 1930 Alþingi Millennial Festival, commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir in 930 AD.
As Reykjavik is a small city, I walked down a few streets from the church to visit Reykjavík City Hall which is located on the northern shore of the Lake Tjörnin. I almost missed the building as it looked more like a stylish hotel with a wide expanse of water as a facade. This building was officially opened in 1992 and it houses the Mayor and other executive officials of Reykjavík. It is also used as a place for exhibitions and if your feet need some rest, have a cuppa at Cafe Ondin which has a fantastic view of the lake.
I was peeking through the window and saw an interesting map of Iceland on a table. A local told me that I could go into the City Hall building to have a closer look at it. No… you do not have to pay any entrance fees and the map is located on the ground floor. The entire map was made of thick paper and glued together on plywood. A more detailed explanation is on the photograph above. From the window of the exhibition room that housed the map, you will be able to see Lake Tjörnin.
To be in Iceland in October, I was not expecting lots of sunshine. Neither did I expect to see so many ducks, swans and geese frolicking on Lake Tjornin on a drizzling day. I could see why this lake is one of Reykjavik’s most photographed attractions. Framed by the impressive Reykjavik City Hall and some dramatically coloured old houses, it was indeed very pleasant to the eye. Due to its natural geothermal heating, it has become a home to our feathered friends even for the winter season. These birds attract families with young children as some of them came with bread to feed them. If you happened to drop by in winter, do not be surprised to see this lake frozen like a frosted mirror!
On my way back to the hostel to cook a quick lunch and also to thaw out a bit as the cold had kinda made me hungry, I walked past this beautiful park. I was soon to find out that art is everywhere in Reykjavik. On walls of houses and buildings, on the roads, statues by the walkway, unique decorative crafts in cafes and shops, etc. These colourful arts of various forms do add excitement and treats especially when the weather gets cold and gloomy.
After a light lunch and booking a couple of tours online for myself, I decided to nip out again as the rain has stopped. My hostel was situated in a very strategic location and either way I turned, it will lead to a tourist attraction. I could not miss Harpa, the Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, even if I had wanted to, as it glittered and sparkled even from a distance. No wonder this unique building won the prestigious Mies Van de Rohe award for architecture.
Upon the request of his widow, the statue of Danish cellist Erling Blondal Bengtsson, by sculptor Ólöf Pálsdóttir, was moved from the round-about near Háskólabíó cinema to Harpa Concert Hall, which indeed is a more appropriate place. Erling passed away in June 2013.
You definitely must pay Harpa a visit as it is well-known not only as Reykjavik’s distinguished landmark but a most sought-after concert and conference centre in Northern Europe. Standing outside Harpa, I spent some time feasting my eyes on the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean. So… it’s a no brainer why Harpa has become a popular tourist attraction and had so far attracted 4 million guests since its opening on 4 May 2011.
As dusk fell, so did the rain and I hurried back to the warmth of my hostel. Tucking in a hot meal of bismati rice with olives and fish, I reminisced on the places that I had visited and was glad that I had decided to visit Reykjavik. I had booked a tour the next day and had to sleep early as the tour van would be picking me up at 7 am the next day.