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krisek Reykjavik - A travel report by Krys
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Reykjavik,  Iceland - flag Iceland -  Gullbringusysla
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krisek's travel reports

Missing an annular eclipse of the sun in Reykjavik

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I did not manage to see the eclipse or any whales, but I enjoyed Reykjavik. It was clean and organised. The Icelanders were friendly and nightlife was superb. The sun was setting only for about an hour, and then it was back up again.

Reykjavik travelogue picture
Although Iceland has always been on my list, I had been snoozing with the decision to go there. As recently as seven years ago (is that recently?), it was really expensive to fly to Iceland, as the national airline enjoyed a monopoly and charged over £200 for a return trip. Icelandair often offered package tours, which included a visit to the Blue Lagoon, but this was not for me. I wanted to be independent. As the aviation market in Europe opened up for low fares airlines, and it was easy to enter the market, Iceland Express airline was born, bringing so needed competition on the routes to Iceland. Icelandair then had to reduce their prices. I benefited from that as I booked my flight to the island to see the annular eclipse of the sun. I paid less than £150 for a three hours flight with Icelandair, which made me very happy, but I knew that certain passengers on my flight managed to grab a bargain for £99. Iceland Express now (beginning of 2009) has offers for £100 return, provided one flies in the middle of the week. Icelandair charges twice as much.

The flight was great. I took off at sunset in London at 20:30 and arrived in Keflavik, the capital's international airport, at 23:30, still in time for the sunset. The setting sun accompanied me for the duration of the flight. It was incredible. A three hour-long sunset. I have not experienced anything like that before.

The sun and a specific astronomical phenomenon were factors in me wanting to come to Iceland that weekend. But it was not the sunset. It was the annular eclipse of the sun. The difference between annular and total eclipses is that during the former, the disc of the Moon is slightly smaller that the Sun's and therefore the day does not turn into the night, and a ring of fire can be seen around the Moon. Like a wedding ring.

The eclipse was happening early morning, but it was cloudy and it was not possible to the 'wedding ring'. I was disappointed but I was in Iceland and I had plans to make most of it.

Favourite spots:
Reykjavik centre
Reykjavik centre
Reykjavík, does not look like a typical capital city. It is small and parts of it resemble a village. I did not have a definite favourite spot in town. I could not even pin-point an obvious core centre, either. It was special. I did a lot of walking in town as my accommodation was a little out of town, well let's just say 4 km from the central (and extremely friendly and helpful) tourist information office, at the capital's main pond. I liked walking along the ocean front, along Saebraut street. Particularly at the time of sunset. The ocean was north of the street, and since the sun was setting almost exactly north, the views were perfect. Low hanging clouds added plenty of interesting 'sculptures' in the sky. There was however a great sculpture of a Viking ship standing on Seabraut, too. This was my favourite spot in the capital, I think. When I browse through the photos I took in Iceland, I can see I have a good number of the ship at time for sunset (picture above).

What's really great:
Reykjavik travelogue picture
Reykjavík in the summer (I visited between 31 May and 3 June) enjoys almost 24 hours of daylight, with the sun setting only for about an hour or so. This provides more than plenty of time for exploring. Isn't that great? One can go for a several hours whale watching trip, and then half a day escapade to the geysers, waterfalls and glaciers, and still have hours and hours of daylight to explore the town the same day! There is no need for careful planing to go and see something before it gets dark, because it doesn't.

I went for a whale watching trip with Moby Dick. I found about it at the Tourist Info Office, who helped me with the booking. Weather was rubbish; cloudy, drizzle, spectacularly rough seas; and no wales could be seen. Fortunately, Moby Dick Tours guarantee whale sighting, so if on one of their tours, you did not see any, they welcome you to join any other tour for free, until you have seen the whales. Now, that is a service quality guarantee!

Reykjavik's signature sight
Reykjavik's signature sight
Reykjavík's most prominent landmark is the Hallgrimskirkja, a modernistic church, which also offers spectacular views from the top of its tower. It stand proud, much higher than any other building in the capital. It is as great as it is austere and simple in its form.

There are a few sights around the central pond of Tjornin. They include the modern Townhall, Althing - the seat of the Icelandic parliament, and the University of Iceland established in 1911.

Two other interesting spots in the capital include the Icelandic Phallological Museum containing a good number and variety of specimens of penises belonging to the mammals of Iceland. Well, used to belong to the mammals of Iceland, except one - the human, and Hofdi House. The latter was gained fame when in 1986 the presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met to discuss the end of the Cold War. The house is spectacularly unspectacular. Apparently, the house is about half way between Washington DC and Moscow.

Reykjavik travelogue picture
In Reykjavík I stayed at the City Hostel on 34 Sundlaugavegur street. It was located in the north-eastern part of the capital, some 4 km away from the harbour. The Skybus running from the international airport stopped at the front of the hostel, which could have not been more convenient.

The hostel was modern, and had male-only and female-only dorms. I stayed at at the three-bed dorm, which was clean and had a good shower cabin. Oh, and quite conveniently, the room had security lockers for valuables, which were big enough to fit my big, fat camera. The hostel had 24 hour reception and security, a swimming pool, a library, a common room with a telly and a large courtyard with a few barbecue areas. In addition it had common kitchen, but breakfast was served in the main dining room. It might have been one of the best hostels, I have ever stayed in. Complete with luggage storage, free parking, bikes parking, currency exchange and tours desks, and wheelchair access. What a standard!

Reykjavik travelogue picture
Reykjavíkers are very thirsty, but they do not realise that up until 11pm, usually. There are many bars, pubs and nightclubs in town. But some restaurants and cafes become clubs late at night - normally after 6pm, and it is not required to be staying for a meal. Although at weekends, this transformation may not happen until midnight. While on weekends, the bars and clubs stay open until 1am, on weekends, the party may continue until 5am.

Icelanders dress up for clubbing and it might be hard to get into a high profile places. Also the door policy is strict so no trainers or hiking gear allowed. Well, sometimes foreigners are allowed in but then one looks really silly around very smart dressed locals.

Some of the better bars/clubs in the capital include: 22 (22 Laugavegur) with two dancefloors; the Celtic Cross (10 Hverfisgata) with wooden atmospheric and rustic decor; the Gaukur a Stong (22 Tryggvagata), a very popular and lively with live music, open every night; and Nasa (Austurvoll).

Tjoernin Pond
Tjoernin Pond
Right behind the hostel, there is a park called Laugardalur, which has a great Botanical Garden (with a collection of 65% of the country's plants), a zoological garden (not that fascinating, actually), a naturally heated (geothermal) swimming pool, and an ice rink, plus a family park. Apart from the Tjornin in the centre and small park there, the Laugardalur is the place where the locals spend their time hanging around.

One other fact of the town is the Volcano Show. It is given at a small theatre at 6a Hellusund. The show is a collection of films spanning 40 years of volcanic eruption on the island. It is a perfect introduction for anyone, who came to Iceland to tour the country's many volcanoes.

City Hall
City Hall
After careful consideration, I decided to try Fogetinn restaurant at 10 Adalstraeti, which served traditional Icelandic dishes and in the evening also serving live music. Apparently, the building dates back to the 18th century, and was one of the weaving sheds belonging to the famous Skuli Magnusson, who lead the wool industry sponsored by the Kind of Denmark. Their menu was printed on a fancy paper with rather difficult to read font... But the food great, a little expensive, but in those times, everything was expensive in Iceland. I had fish, which was delicious.

Reykjavík has one very famous, and the most peculiarly located restaurant called Perlan (the Pearl) at the Oskjuhlid Hill. It is a glass dome, like a dish covering silver top in fancy restaurants, placed on the city's hot water cylinder tanks. It revolves to give great views of the the capital and beyond. It is very expensive. I did not eat there.

Other recommendations:
Reykjavik travelogue picture
There are three great places around Reykjavík, which should not be missed, or rather I enjoyed the most: Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Strokkur.

Thingvellir might have been the most imagination stimulating feature of our planet that I have seen so far. It is the place where Earth's two tectonic plates meet - the North American and the European (I appreciate these are not exact names of them), belonging to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This is also the seat of Iceland's ancient outdoor parliament. Actually, the prominence of the plates is so great that it leaves little to imaginations. It is actually very visible how the crust of our planet looks like.

Gullfoss is one Iceland's many waterfalls. It is famous for numerous persistent rainbows that form over it. It surely looks perfect and the amount of water running through it is mind-boggling.

Strokkur is one of Iceland's features that brought a new word to the English language - the geyser. It erupts regularly every 3-5 minutes. Recommended!

Published on Saturday December 20th, 2008

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Tue, Mar 24 2009 - 04:48 AM rating by louis

Great report. I am thinking to visit Iceland this year as it is litlle bit more cheaper than it was. But honestly I was more interesting of interior than Reykiavik. But after the report I am thinking that the city might be a good place for a few days.

Sat, Dec 20 2008 - 06:12 PM rating by mistybleu

With those cheap prices, I hope to add Iceland to my travel plans for next year. Nice report, thanks for sharing.

Sat, Dec 20 2008 - 01:07 PM rating by pesu

Yes, really great!

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