Today I embarked on my first trip out of Canada since October 2019. I would have travelled sooner, however the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked havoc on the entire globe for the last 18 months. I’m very fortunate that Canada’s vaccination rollout program occurred as quickly as it did, and I was fully vaccinated by July 2021. Iceland was one of the few countries that I was interested in visiting, that allowed fully vaccinated people to travel there.
This marks my 2.5th time visiting Iceland. I had previously visited Iceland in Summer 2014 with my dad, and I had a brief stopover in 2018 when I completed my France trip, which you can check out here. Getting there was a bit different this time, because usually I fly from Edmonton or Vancouver with Icelandair, however those routes were temporarily paused due to the ongoing pandemic. This time I flew WestJet from Calgary to Toronto, and then Icelandair from Toronto to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. I originally paid $1420 for an economy class return ticket, however I paid an additional $230 to be upgraded from economy class to business class for both of the departure flights. Previous trips to Iceland showed the economy class prices to be about half of what I paid. This is my first time experiencing the new business class seats on Westjet, and Icelandair, since they both refreshed their aircraft during the pandemic. I must say I was very impressed by both.
At the Calgary airport they verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to check-in. The Calgary to Toronto flight was on an older Westjet Boeing 737-800. Roast beef and mashed potatoes were served for dinner, which was actually quite food. Hot meals are a new thing for Westjet since they launched their new business class, but I think they have a hit here. The flight was quite smooth, with exception to the last 45 minutes approaching Toronto, due to a storm in the area.
In Toronto they again verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to boarding. The Toronto to Reykjavik flight was on a brand new Icelandair Boeing 737-8 MAX. The new business class seats are adorned in incredibly comfortable grey leather. Their older seats were more a blue leather colour, and were not the most comfortable. An incredibly generously sized dinner was served, which included chicken kababs over couscous and vegetables, alongside some fresh meats and cheese, and a cake for desert. I skipped eating the cake, as I’m not the biggest fan of sweets.
Upon arrival in Reykjavik I grabbed my bag and went through customs, which was very easy, and almost the same as usual, except I had to hand them some paperwork that I had pre-filled online. After exiting the airport I went and picked up my rental car, which was a Kia Picanto from Blue Car Rental. The daily rate was about $200, which is about the same as pre-Covid times.
After picking up the car I started a day of exploring, before I was able to check-in to my hotel at 3pm. First stop was Snorrastofa, a cultural and medieval center named after Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson. I didn’t go inside, as I was just fascinated by the architecture style, which I would characterize as Medieval, and perhaps Art Deco (the white building).
Next stop was Hruanfosser & Barnafoss, two waterfalls located right next to each other, and about a 75 minutes drive North of Reykjavik. Hruanfosser is definitely the cooler looking of the two waterfalls, and is a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 metres out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjökull.
After taking in the gorgeous views of Hruanfosser I drove back to Reykjavik to check out the Reykjavik Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, one of three art museums run by the same company. This building was opened in 1973 and was the first building in Iceland specifically designed for hosting art exhibitions. Kjarvalsstaðir houses the works of one of Iceland’s most influential and recognized artists, Jóhannes Kjarval. The exhibitions at Kjarvalsstaðir focus primarily on modern art paintings and sculptures. Architecturally the building is considered a great example of Nordic Modernism, however I would say it closely resembles that of some Brutalism traits.
Perlan, a prominent futuristic looking building situated on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill, was the next stop. The site where the building is situated started out in 1939 as a single hot water tank to supply enough pressure to push water up to a 10 story building anywhere in Reykjavik. Over the next two decades five more tanks were built, however were later torn down and six were reconstructed in the later 1980’s. In 1991 the six hot water tanks became the base of Perlan, a building open to the public, housing a planetarium, exhibition of the role of water in Icelandic nature, a photographic exhibition, and “Wonders of Iceland”, which is an exhibition that shows Icelandic nature, glaciers, geysers, and volcanos. The tanks are still in use, and each hold 5 million litres of hot water to supply to city.
Perlan overlooks Reykjavik Airport (RKV), which only serves internal flights within Iceland and to Greenland due to its shorter runway lengths of only 4000 an 5100 feet. The first flight from the airport occurred in September 1919. Regularly scheduled flights started to occur in 1940 by Flugfélag Akureyrar (now Icelandair). The airport in its current form was built by the British Army during World War 2, and originally only had a grass surface. After the war the British Army handed the airport operation over to the Icelandic government. The airport underwent some renovations in 2000. There’s a lot of controversy over the airport as its considered noisy, takes up a lot of useful area near downtown, and poses a safety risk. There’s a few options being considered including leaving the airport as is, demolishing and building a new one close by, or demolishing and moving all flights to Keflavik International Airport.
Close to Perlan is Nautholsvik, a small neighborhood overlooking Reykjavik Airport, which includes a beach, and an artificial hot spring, where hot water is pumped into a man-made lagoon. It provides to beautiful views of airplanes landing, and boats coming and going.
Reykjavik Art Museum Asmundarsafn was the next stop. This is the second of three art museums run by the same company. The building was designed, worked in, and lived in by the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. The white dome structure, built between 1942 and 1950, is surrounded by Sveinsson’s sculptures in the garden, and houses his work all throughout on the inside.
It was time to check-in to my hotel, named Hotel Muli. This is a self-service hotel where you’re provided with an entry code to the building and lockbox, where you can obtain your key. The room was newly renovated and had a fairly comfortable bed, as well as a nice rainfall shower. One thing to note about the hot water supply in most of Reykjavik is that it’s supplied by geothermal water, so has a bit of a Sulphur smell. It doesn’t bother me, but is noteworthy to others. I took a three hour nap before continuing on with my daily adventures.
It was time for me to eat some dinner. I walked to Islenski Barinn, which is highly regarded for its well-priced quality focused food. I ordered a Reindeer Burger and a beer. The burger was delicious and reminded me of an even more tender elk burger, which makes sense as they are both from the same family, however elk are typically much heavier than reindeer.
Next door to where I had dinner is the National Theatre of Iceland, a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. The building was built in 1950, and showcases Samuelsson’s beloved basalt columns. Another building similar to this is the University of Iceland’s Main Building, also designed by Samuelsson. I explored that building on a later day, so be sure to check back on a later post.
Close by is Hotel Borg, a beautiful Art Deco hotel that was opened in 1930. The hotel was originally built by Jóhannes Jósefsson, who competed in the 1908 Olympics, travelled around America in a circus, and then after returning to Iceland in 1927 felt like building a luxury hotel.
Next to Hotel Borg is Reykjavik Cathedral, a cathedral church built in 1796, and reconsecrated in 1879 after a large restoration.
Close by is Parliament House, located on Austurvöllur Square. The building was built between 1880 and 1881. Two additions to the building occurred in 1902 and 2002. The main building was built using hewn dolerite, a subvolcanic rock similar to volcanic basalt. Today only a handful of parliamentary items take place in the Parliament House, with most taking place in adjacent buildings.
It was getting late, and I was quite tired so it was time to head back to the hotel for some sleep. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment i visit the famous Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption, hike the Krysuvik Geothermal Loop, and attempt to visit the Blue Lagoon.
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