An Icelandic Fairy Tale

A layover in Iceland is always a good thing because, with my long-haul from Canada refuelling in Reykjavik, I could ask for my bags, leave the airport, and book a different flight back to the UK in a week or so – which I did. Having just completed a four month road trip with Yugyeong, it was quite peculiar being on my own again, especially in an environment as extraordinary as this. As soon as I entered the main terminal, and attempted to have a proper look outside, six feet of snow hid all but the very tops of the windows, blocking all but a slither of light from entering the dimly-lit airport. I had just come from a fairly wintry Canada, but living in the relatively temperate climate of Vancouver did not prepare me for this.

There were icicles on my nose by the time I reached the hostel, and it took a few hours of hot teas and a boiling sulphur-rich shower before I was able to open the refrigerator door once more (i.e. the hostel entrance), and head back out. The Hallgrímskirkja (try saying that with a frozen tongue) was my first stop – the largest church in Iceland. The iconic structure took a staggering forty-one years to build, and comprises a 5,275-piped organ, and a viewing deck in its central tower – which has one of the best views of the capital, and of the surrounding whiteness. From up here, I got a real sense of how small the city is, and just how close it is located to the vast expanse of the Icelandic frozen tundra – I find it quite astonishing that a city was settled here at all.

I then headed into the city centre itself, for another warm drink and a taste of what city-life is like close to the Arctic circle. Colourful buildings, roaring log-fires, snug cafes and bars, laughing and smiling people – Scandinavians (at least the Icelandic ones) appear as happy as many people say they are. Having a smidgen over four hours of daylight in December doesn’t seem to bother them anywhere near as much as it did I – only for the simple reason that there is very little time to do any ‘sightseeing’ before it gets dark again. Although the darkness does bring about the chance to witness a special phenomenon, as I will attempt later…

Reykjavik is a coastal city, situated on the southern shore of Faxa Bay, and surrounded by both mountains and unusable terrain. Therefore, city-planners have long had to build next to (or into) the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean. The latest example of which is the hugely impressive Harpa Concert Hall (see below), with its “coloured glass facade, inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland”, no less. During the global financial crisis in 2008, the hall was the only ongoing construction project in the whole of Iceland (as the government protected its funding), and I’m sure the local Reykjavikians are pretty happy about that now.

A little further along the shore, and you come across another popular symbol of the country: the Sun Voyager. Often mistaken for a Viking longship, the stainless steel ‘dreamboat’ (whatever one of those is) proudly stands next to the freezing water, reminding locals of the journey that the first Icelanders made almost a millennia ago – that must have been one heck of a trip. The sculpture is the most popular photo spot in the city, although, on one of the darkest and coldest days of the year, I didn’t have to punch anybody in the face to take mine – just try to avoid breaking a leg on the ice.

After the shortest day I have ever experienced, it was night-time once more, and a chance to search for the aforementioned elusive phenomenon: The Icelandic Phalloligical Museum! What a marvel!

I, of course, was referring to Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights), and tonight was my first attempt at trying to spot them in all their green glory. I say first because, as you may have guessed, they are substantially more elusive than I thought they might be. Two hours on a bus driving through the Icelandic countryside with nothing but perpetual darkness outside (and the sound of a very frustrated bus driver inside), was enough for our guide to call a halt to proceedings, and send us back to our warm hostels in Reykjavik. We will persist tomorrow…


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