A June 2005 trip
to Reykjavik by MichaelJM
Quote: Iceland is a place we'd always fancied, and Reykjavik was our first stop. Read about where we ate, slept, and what we saw in the first 24 hours of our stay on the island.
Őskjuhlío offered stupendous views of Reykavik and the surrounding countryside, and it’s well worth parking your car at the summit and having a wander around. The outside sculptures provide an interesting foreground feature, a geyser intermittently erupts, and with a zoom lens, there are excellent photos to be had of the town’s churches and colourful corrugated houses. There are walks that meander through the grounds and plenty of chances to admire Iceland’s flora. If you fancy it, there’s a Viking museum on the ground floor of the water tower.
The most memorable part of our trip to Iceland was the everlasting sunlight. We saw the sun’s futile attempt to set on our first night, and people were out walking their dogs at 2am. It’s truly a weird feeling to know that we had 24-hour daylight whilst we were there. We were just left wondering how it feels in winter, when the ground is covered in snow and the sun hardly ever shines. Compromise is not something that Iceland is good at!
Our encounter with hot springs and gurgling geysers is not something we’ll forget in a hurry, and my driving experience on appalling mountain roads with extremely poor visibility is not something that I’ll seek to repeat. But the pace of life and the laid-back attitude of the Icelanders is totally memorable – if you want to rush them or tie them down to an exact time, you will be fighting a loosing battle.
And, finally, the scenery is just amazing – we saw fjords, glaciers, waterfalls, mountains, a hostile volcanic landscape, and lush, green fields. Once we left Reykavik, which houses over 70% of the population, the small communities with their colourful corrugated houses became the norm. Iceland is a country of contrast with clear water and fresh, breathable air – no congestion here!
Although eating out is expensive, the quality of the food was superb, and we decided, in advance, that we would avoid the most expensive commodity – alcohol. Water is always provided with your meal, and I don’t reckon you can beat Iceland’s cold spring water.
If you hire a car, make sure that you have a decent map and keep filled up with petrol, as not all villages have petrol stations. The roads are a nightmare, as one minute you can be on good tarmac surfaces and then a dirt track. The enforceable speed limits are there for a purpose, and often we found it felt safer to drive relatively slowly. Give yourself plenty of time, as distances will take longer to travel.
If you’re visiting the island rather than just Reykavik, I’d strongly recommend that you hire a car. Driving is dead easy in the summer months, but you would need a 4x4 if you were driving in winter. A couple who stayed in our guesthouse did all their outings by organised excursions, but that really does work out to be expensive, and we enjoyed the freedom of "doing our own thing." Make sure that you take on the additional insurance, because although all cars come with CDW, the excess is around £500. For £1 a day, we drove with no excess to pay. Some roads are without tarmac, so you need to take your time and stay alert.
The room was cluttered, with no real storage space, and its long, thin space contained a double bed, a sofa (directly facing an un-curtained window overlooking the staircase), and the remnants of a mini-office. It like the whole of the house took no account of guests and was crammed with the personal items of the owners. The stairs resembled an assault course, as books were piled high and large African tribal ornaments overlooked the stairwell.
None of the rooms were en-suite, but there were two available bathrooms, and we never experienced problems gaining access. If you stay here, however, beware of the showers, as they have no temperature control and, if water is used anywhere else in the house, the loss of power results in a rapid increase in water temperature. I was not too amused as the searing heat hit the back of my legs. Thereafter, I washed rather than showered!
Breakfast was somewhat chaotic and never on time, despite the fact that we were always asked, "What time breakfast." But when sorted, it was substantial – pancakes, cream and syrup, toast, marmalade and jam, cheese, eggs, tomatoes, and sufficient coffee to keep you buzzing all day. It was served in the basement in a room crammed with personal items, and it was a bit of a crush to get to the table. But you certainly got to know your fellow guests as you sat around the table!
You have open access to the dining room, and there are fridges that you can use if you want to store food. Some people used the small kitchenette to prepare their own food, but we only made tea and coffee.
Parking is very easy and free around the guesthouse, and it only takes about 15 minutes to walk to the town centre and 10 minutes to the harbour.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on June 25, 2005
Reykjavik Guest House
We decided, having checked out the menu, to throw caution to the wind and eat at the Perlan. The lift took us speedily to the top floor, and we were immediately greeted and escorted to our table. We were seated on comfortable chairs at a table with a crisp white tablecloth, sparkling glasses, and substantial eating irons. The setting was right, as was our view. Set out below us was the whole of Reykjavik, and above us (at 9:30 pm), the glorious Icelandic sun glinting on the countless panes of glass in the Perlan’s dome.
I had no hesitation as I chose the "gourmet menu" of Whale carpaccio with ginger- and chilli-spiced pear compote; grilled lemon sole with baby pak choi; Guillemot with sage spiced figs, vegetable terrine, and peas puree; skyr with gin jelly; and cassis ice cream. It was a veritable feast, and my mouth is watering as I relive the gastronomic experience through this journal. It was certainly not cheap (5590 KR), but my wife opted for a less-expensive alternative of a fillet of lamb in a pecan-nut crust with a rosemary sauce, glazed carrots, and garlic confiture (3980 KR).
A meal at the Perlan is a dining experience, and the waiters are extremely attentive in their smart dinner suits (don’t look at their foot ware, as this may detract a little from the image!). Our bright-blue water goblets were regularly topped off with cold spring water (at no charge), and if we’d have fancied wine (at crazily exorbitant rates), the wine list was gargantuan. As the dining area slowly revolved, 90 degrees every 15 minutes, we were able to appreciate the tapestry of the town. A sudden downpour momentarily interrupted our vision, but our reward was a superbly defined rainbow arching over whole of the area.
But back to the food! The dark red whale meat was so finely cut that it was no more than paper thin, but the combined taste was exquisite. The second course was a superb contrast, with the light and fluffy sole combining with the crunchiness of the bed of sautéed vegetables, and the full flavours of the peppers, onions, garlic, capers, and celery working well together. The piece de la resistance was the guillemont – a very rich meat virtually liver-like in appearance and not for the faint-hearted. The dessert was light and crisp to the palate, a perfect finale for a rich and flavoursome meal.
Expensive? Yes, but well worth the experience.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 27, 2005
It is housed in an extended Reykjavik dwelling on Klapparstigur, just off the main shopping street. Although it was not full of activity, this Italian bistro had a "busy feel" to it and loads of ambience. We were guided through the pub/diner area up a small set of stairs into the restaurant’s additional feature (a conservatory). Having chosen our table, we were able to watch the rain bouncing off the windows and could only speculate how pleasant it would be to watch the sun over a clear Icelandic sky. Remnants of the restaurant’s old personae could be seen through the side of the veranda in the form of the signage "La Dolce Vita." Perhaps "Pasta Basta" was seen to be more upbeat and trendy! Outside, a small fountain was working overtime in an attempt to compete with the downpour.
A compact menu was shown to us by the waiter, and I chose sesame-fried salmon, and my wife opted for a chicken dish, but within moments was told that this was no longer available. She opted for scampi taglietteli and was not to be disappointed, as when it arrived there was loads of it and any of her hunger pangs were soon satiated. The rich, creamy sauce beautifully complemented the fresh taste of the scampi – she was very happy. My salmon was equally well prepared – we’ve never thought of frying salmon in sesame seeds, and I have to say we’ll now give it a whirl. The salmon was succulent and there was plenty of it – the only downside was that it was served with a jacket potato (not a problem, but I would have preferred a choice of potato). The dish was accompanied by crispy, flavoursome fried vegetables, and the fresh parsley, sprinkled around the plate as a garnish, was aesthetically pleasing. We had intended to have a dessert, but the main course was sufficient.
Throughout the meal, our water glasses were regularly topped off, and the waiter was, unobtrusively, always aware of our needs.
Comfortable, padded chairs were contrasted against the starkness of the faux-marble, cast-iron pedestal tables with their gaudy beaded tea-light shades standing on a black-tiled floor. Silk pot plants adorned the window ledges, but somehow the restaurant "got away" with this degree of naffness. We were overlooked from the first floor by another dining area, and beyond the conservatory area was a fourth dining area – effectively an enclosed outdoor area covered by a blue-and-white awning and, I guess, not the warmest of rooms on a cold winter’s day.
A good enough meal in pleasant surrounds, it is worth a try for a cheaper Icelandic meal.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on June 28, 2005
Klapparstígur 38, 101
+354 561 3131
Attraction | "Hallgrímskirkja Church"
The modern church has a bright, crisp appearance and seems absolutely vast. The impressive stainless steel organ pipes are at the entrance to the church and these too echo the theme of modern and up to date. These pipes dominate the church and they have real interest if viewed from all angles from the body of the church. Below the organ pipes is a well-executed statue of Jesus – the detail is precise but it somehow seems to be incorrectly placed at the door to the church.
When we visited the organ was being played and we were able to appreciate the truly amazing acoustics of the church. It was a privilege to listen to this "free concert" as we explored the attributes of Reykjavik’s church. Its curvaceous arches soar heavenward and the modern glass font stands just in front of the sleek pulpit. Narrow plain-glassed windows let in shafts of light that cast strange shadows on the bright white interior of the church. And throughout our visit, the 5,000 pipes of the organ blasted out their enchanting melodies.
For a small charge, you can take the lift to the bell tower and appreciate the breathtaking views of the town from one of its best vantage points. The small lift does not rush, but it certainly beats walking up the stairs. When we were up there, the bells rang out 2pm – not quite deafening, but we were pleased we hadn’t been there two hours earlier! Upstairs is somewhat unkempt – I guess a result of the bell tower being so exposed to the harsh elements of Reykjavik.
Before you leave the church, make sure you check out the view from the back. The church takes on a much softer appearance, and Guōjón Samuelsson’s controversial architecture can be truly appreciated. Still, the church, the foundations of which were laid at the end of World War II, remains unfinished. I’m not sure what is left to do, but it is rumoured that no one in Reykjavik will even guess at a completion date!
I’m not convinced that Hallgrimskirkja represents a spiritual experience, as the church somehow seems too clinical, but it has a great presence, and we enjoyed the views and a photographic exhibition of Hallgrimskirkja throughout the seasons.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Church of Hallgrimur (Hallgrimskirkja)