Archive for August 10th, 2020


Picky Picky

Linda Lou Burton posting about Reykjavik, Iceland from Little Rock, Arkansas – Limited days and limited energy coupled with almost unlimited daylight, how do you divide that? Sam and Kayla only have three nights in Reykjavik – meaning two full days, plus the time they are awake today, and most of Thursday, as our flight to Washington DC doesn’t leave till 6. A list of possibilities, three people. Strategy: each person picks three things they REALLY want to do. The other items remain in the pot, to be picked at random as time allows. Eating and sleeping are givens.

The airport. About 1.5 million people a year come through, five times the population of the entire country (Iceland 364,134, Reykjavik 122,853). Keflavik International holds the “Best Airport In Europe” award; it’s modern and easy to get around. It’s also easy to get where you’re going next – every time a flight arrives, a shuttle bus is waiting to take passengers directly to their hotel downtown! By the time we finished our 45-minute ride to our rooms at the Hilton Nordica, I knew I was in for a busy day. They weren’t tired, and they both had already picked their three! The hotel. A family executive suite with access to the lounge-with-a-city-view for complimentary breakfast, and access to the spa any time; plus, windows that OPEN. Fresh air! Within walking distance of everything downtown; they can get out and go with ease.

My own agenda is simple: I want to explore the town, because it is a capital city, and I want to explore the countryside, because of the geysers. I want to see Parliament Building, and I want to take Kayla and Sam into the US Embassy, because just by stepping inside the door, you are technically “back on US soil” and I want them to experience the concept of political boundaries. When we get to Washington DC I intend to do the same with the Iceland Embassy there. Back in Iceland again!

Another must do for me, Hallgrimskirkja Church. This Lutheran church is one of the most recognizable buildings in Iceland; something you might see in Lord of the Rings. Modern art inside, an elevator to the top, awe-inspiring panoramic views of the city. Every night, lights illuminate the church and the statue of Leif Erikson (he’s credited for discovering America almost 500 years before Columbus, you know).

I also want to get a hot dog at the place every famous person who goes to Iceland eats — Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (translated best hot dogs in town); its signature hot dog called “ein með öllu” hot dog (the one with everything) is a lamb-based hot dog covered in ketchup, mustard, fried and raw onion and remoulade, a sweet mayonnaise dressing. And I want to order Hákarl somewhere; that is fermented shark – shark meat cured with a particular fermenting process, then hung outside to dry for four to five months. At least I want to poke at it with my fork.

What choices did Sam and Kayla make? These cousins are both 18; he likes sports and swimming and she is a poetry-loving mountain hiker; she is interested in astronomy and he is interested in the way things are built; he’s a meat eater and she’s a vegetarian. I think they both like music. This should be fun! Here’s the list, minus my picks; great variations in time and planning needed.

  • Adventure Tours from Reykjavik, a varied selection of adventure and sightseeing tours. Hiking, caving, diving, snorkeling, glacier hiking, whale watching, super jeep tours, volcano tours, snowmobiling.
  • Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, supplied by water used in the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station. The water is rich in salts and algae, water temperature 99-102. One of the most visited attractions in Iceland.
  • Geothermal Swimming Pools, Reykjavík is built on the top of several geothermal springs. There are 14 swimming pools in Greater Reykjavík.
  • Harpa Concert Hall, award-winning architecture; over 10 million guests since opening in 2011; chosen one of the best concert halls of the new millennium by the prestigious music magazine Gramophone magazine. Tours include a musical performance in an exclusive area with breath-taking views; the musical performance provides an overview of Icelandic musical history, from medieval to modern pop.
  • Iceland’s Famous Ice Caves, stunning man-made ice caves inside Langjökull Glacier – Europe’s 2nd largest glacier, Hraunfossar Waterfall and Deildartunguhver – Europe’s most powerful hot spring. Lunch included and travel to the cave includes a trip inside an 8-wheel monster truck.
  • Old Harbor, a stunning selection of fish and steak restaurants, cafés, and an atmosphere which resembles the city’s close relationship with the sea; all of the whale watching, fishing, puffin watching, and Northern Lights boat tours depart from here.
  • Perlan, a glass dome resting on five water tanks on a hill houses a museum and restaurant; Wonders of Iceland & Áróra – Northern Lights Planetarium Show includes the Wonders of Iceland, a real indoors ice cave, a 360° Observation deck, Water in Icelandic nature, and Áróra – Northern Lights Planetarium Show.
  • Punk Museum, Icelandic punk-rock history glued to the white tiles of a former underground public latrine; the exhibition is tiny, disorganized and overwhelming. Spend time by the record players – where the infamous Rokk í Reykjavík album is featured – or play the instruments.
  • Reykjavík Street Art, Reykjavík is famous for its vibrant street art scene. Urban graffiti and sophisticated wall poems appear on every third building downtown, hundreds of pieces scattered over the city.
  • Sun Voyager, a metal statue resembling a Viking longboat; sits on the seashore in Reykjavík, a great photo location with its view of Mount Esja on the other side of the bay; one of the most visited sights in Reykjavík.
  • Whales of Iceland Museum, 23 man-made life size models of the various whale species in Icelandic waters; an 82 ft long blue whale, a full-size sperm whale, the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and many more, all actual size.

You pick, I pick, we all pick.


Time Travel

Linda Lou Burton posting about Reykjavik, Iceland from Little Rock, Arkansas – I made it to Reykjavik before dark last night. Way before dark, in fact, as the sun doesn’t set here until 10 PM and I arrived at 7. And I only changed two time zones, so sleep patterns weren’t affected that much. Everything else was affected though; as anticipated – temperature was the first thing I noticed. Highs of 95 in Cairo, and throat-parching dry; it’s 57 here, and rainy this morning. But I like cool better than hot, and “cool with rain” is fairly normal for the kids, coming from Seattle. But their sleep-brain will surely take a hit! Iceland Air flies non-stop from Seattle to Reykjavik in 8 hours. And, Reykjavik time is 7 hours ahead of Seattle time. So do the math: if they got on their plane at 7 PM Sunday, it was 2 AM Monday in Reykjavik, and I was fast asleep. When I meet their plane at 10 this morning, their brain will likely be saying, “Leave me alone! It’s only 3 AM!”

Or maybe they’ll be excited. Kayla was taken to the Philippines when she was a baby, but has no memories of that. And for Sam, it’s his first trip beyond US soil. They were both enthusiastic about my graduation-gift invite; pleased as punch, and (until COVID-19 shut us down and turned our trip into Now Defunct Imaginary) raring to go. Maybe it was the hype I sent them. After all, most people don’t know much about Iceland. Do you?

Reykjavik: Quick & Quirky Facts

  • Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
  • Reykjavik is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.
  • Reykjavik was the first permanent settlement in Iceland in 874 AD.
  • Reykjavik means “smoky bay,” referring to the steam rising from the hot springs and geothermal vents.
  • Reykjavik is the only Western European capital without a Starbucks or a McDonald’s.
  • Reykjavik is the only capital city in the world that is home to a puffin colony.
  • Reykjavik is mostly a cat city, as dogs were banned from 1924 to 1984.
  • Reykjavik has a penis museum called the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

Quirky indeed! And after just leaving one of the most dangerous capital cities in the world, I must say I feel relaxed about bringing my grandkids to one of the safest. Iceland has been near the top of the list of safest countries in the world for decades and Reykjavik has topped the list of safest cities. The crime rate here is unbelievably low; scams, racism, homophobia, violence, and sexual harassment are almost nonexistent. Still, when most folks hear the word “Iceland” they imagine a cold, unfriendly place. Nothing could be further from the truth! It may lie almost within the Arctic Circle, but the North Atlantic Current warmed by Gulf Stream waters makes the climate of Iceland more temperate than most places with similar latitudes. And the easy-to-access scenery is stunning — waterfalls, glaciers, ice caves, volcanic peaks, geysers, geothermal pools, and the sea, so close.

Things That May Surprise You On An August Visit

  • Does the sun set in Iceland in August? From mid-May to mid-August the sun only sets for only a few hours per day, and it is effectively light for the whole 24-hour period.
  • What does Iceland feel like in August? August is one of the warmest months of the year in Iceland. The average daily temperature hovers around 50-59°F, but it can leap up to 77°F.
  • Is it worth going to Iceland in August? Absolutely! August is the perfect time to be visiting Iceland, especially if you like adventures, local events and outdoor activities.
  • Can you see the northern lights in Reykjavik in August? The northern lights are visible in August, but since it never gets properly dark it’s the wrong time for good viewing.
  • Do you need insect repellent in Iceland? Iceland is completely free of mosquitoes, and ants, though small midges thrive in the summertime, especially by lakes and streams.
  • Are there any dangerous animals in Iceland? No, and there are no snakes in Iceland. Don’t bother the eggs in bird nests though, you may get pecked.
  • What is a typical breakfast in Iceland? Yogurt, berries, fruit, eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, pancakes, sourdough bread, and Icelandic butter. Juice, coffee, tea.
  • Do you need cash in Iceland? The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). Many places take US dollars, but Icelanders usually pay for everything by credit or debit card.
  • Is tipping in Iceland an insult? Tipping is not customary in Iceland. The server’s wages are sufficient and they don’t expect it. If you want to give someone a tip, by all means do.

Tipping an insult! The server’s wages are sufficient! What a country! Well, it’s time to go to the airport to meet Kayla and Sam and see if they’re awake enough to have some fun. I’ve already sent them a list of 15 things to choose from. I expect food may be their first concern though. Since FISH takes up the most space on restaurant menus (and neither of them care for fish), they will be surprised to learn that the humble HOT DOG is so popular in Iceland it is the unofficial national food. Bill Clinton tried one when he was here!