Monday, July 25, 2011

Iceland Chronicles - Part XIII (Reykjavik)

Today was dedicated to exploration of the capital city. After breakfast we debated how to best view the city. The campsite is about 2km from the main city center and the route to/from the heart of the city seemed rather dull (just neighborhoods). In the camp office we saw a brochure for a Hop On/Hop Off tour bus with explanation. We had good experience with such buses in other cities, for example London and Barcelona, and thought this was a bit expensive (20Euro /person) but could provide some explanations and show us sites we would not reach otherwise. The brochure said the ticket was good for 24hrs, which sounded promising.

Then we discovered that the bus leaves only on the hour. This meant we had to wait 50 minutes (as we just missed it), oh well. At the due time we waited at the bus station and it showed on time.

The driver was very nice and sold us tickets, we took headsets and headed to the second floor. The bus was quite empty except us and an elderly couple. After two stations, we got off at the Hallsgrimskrikja - the large cathedral of Reykjavik.

Inside the cathedral was stark in its line and lack of decoration. One whole wall was dominated by the huge organ which was playing (not sure if it was on a recorded keystroke mode or live, I suspect the former). It definitely had very impressive sound.

We bought tickets for the elevator and went up to the cathedral's tower, which is about 9 stories high (we went up 8 floors by elevators, and the last level by wooden staircase. From above we saw the whole city and the mountains around it.

From the cathedral we continued on the street leading to the old town. The street was lined with small shops and we spent time examining jewlery stores, bookstores, and even had ice cream.

Off one of the main shopping streets we found an open space that we decorated from all directions by impressive graffiti. It was unclear whether this was semi-organized somehow (choosing the artists etc).

We walked down to the waterfront. There is a nice walkway along it. We reached a sculpture that iconify Reykjavik in many pictures. It symbolizes a viking ship. We stopped here for a snack and to enjoy the view.

About a hundred meters from the sculpture stands a new conference hall/orchestra house. 

Workers were still putting on the final touches on inside details.

Inside the fractal texture of the outside was maintained in the ceiling of the inner space.

We didn't like the architecture, but it was clearly striking. Outside there were decks and pools. While they did not finish the construction, the local seagulls already use them to bath themselves.

We were now in the center of town, very close to the area we were in yesterday. We changed some cash to ISK, and saw a demonstration against whale hunting.

We walked to the 871+/-2 museum. This is a site of old viking houses that was discovered by mistake during works on the foundations of a new building. They history records (which are somewhat in doubt) state that there was a farmstead in this area at the time, but it was surprising how accurate the location was (since the site is just next door to where the original farm of the first settlers in Iceland was supposed to be located.

The name of the museum reflects the finding that one of the smaller remains was below a layer of ash that dates to a volcanic eruption in 871. This dates that building to pre-871, which means very early in the settlement of Iceland. The bigger house is from about hundred years later.

Although there was little to see in the actual remains (as most of what is left is the mark of where the wall foundation stood), the museum was very tastefully done and gave a good perspective on what the place and life looked like at that time.

We were thinking of moving on from the old town. But again we missed the hour of the bus. And so we decided to have something to eat -- pizza and fish & chips. The sun came out, and so we sat on the sidewalk and enjoyed the sun. When the hour was close, we walked to the bus station and waited for it. When it didn't arrive, we looked again, and saw that in small print it states that the bus comes on the hour between 10-16. Since it was 17;00 already, we were waiting for naught. We found it highly misleading that the brochure said that the ticket is valid for 24hrs, but the bus works only 7 hours. No wonder this service was not very popular.

We walked to the tourist information center to complain. They said they are not responsible, but talked on the phone with the responsible company (which runs all kinds of bus services), then they agreed to refund us if we show up there. And so we walked to the bus terminal (about 20 min walk).

At the bus terminal we got full refund and apology. We took a taxi to the campground, and on the way we decided that we had enough of the city. We packed ourselves and drove out to Pingvellir - the third Golden circle site we missed yesterday. Here the campground was empty, cheaper, and the view much nicer.

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