Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fjórir dagar í Reykjavík - Four days in Reykjavik

Hey guys!

So I'm in Iceland now, more specifically in the Westfjords, where I'm already two days deep into my Icelandic language and culture immersion program.

But this post will focus on my first four days in this incredibly beautiful country, which I spent in and around Reykjavik, the capital.
Here we go!

July 28, 2016:
After an unexpected three-hour delay in the Chicago O'Hare Airport, where I managed to make the most of the delay by having a surprise Google Hangout with Salma and Ruth, I boarded my Icelandair flight to Keflavík and was off on my way.
Though, as I mentioned in my last post, the jet lag threw me for a bit of a loop and was worse than expected, I weathered the trip just fine for the most part. I watched an Icelandic movie, a couple episodes of Friends, a touristic video about the Westfjords, which got me quite pumped, listened to some Icelandic music, and tried (and failed) to get a little bit of sleep, just in time to witness the intense descent over the North Atlantic into Keflavík.
I putzed around the airport for a while, trying to figure out how to go, and then finally caught a bus into the city.
Walking down the quiet residential neighborhoods that defined the walk to the city intercity bus terminal, I could already feel myself beginning to fall in love with this country and the city in which I found myself.
I left my stuff at my hostel, and, with several hours before I could even check in, walked the ten minutes over to Hallgrímskirkja, a cathedral which is one of the most well-known and characteristic monuments of the city. After checking out the pleasing symmetry and quirky organ that align the interior, I bought a ticket to go up to the top of the tower, all in Icelandic, no less (my first successful all-Icelandic interaction!). The view of the city was beautiful from all sides, with immaculately beautiful and intense vistas of the city's colorful roofs and buildings, the mountains and fjords in the distance, and the low-lying green plains I had passed on the way in from Keflavik. I cannot recommend going to the top of Hallgrimskírkja enough to anyone traveling to Iceland.
However, by this point, my jet lag was really starting to get to me. Seeing as I was shaking by the time I got back down, I decided that I would be legitimately endangering myself if I tried to stay out much longer. So I headed back to my hostel, buying a map of Iceland in a bookstore along the way, and took a much-needed four hour power nap. When I woke up around 9 pm, I forced myself to stay up until around midnight, so that I could sleep through solidly til morning. And though I initially struggled a bit to do so, seeing as my hostel was right next to a nightclub, sleep through till morning I did indeed.
After takeoff from Chicago.

Landing at Keflavik.

Literary quotes dotted the airport. 

View from my hostel.

Outside Hallgrimskírkja.

The geometrically pleasing interior and quirky organ.

The view from the top. 

July 29, 2016
This was my day of intense, all-encompassing solo Reykjavik sightseeing.
I started off in the morning with a walk up to Tjörnin, a pretty pond located in the center of town with really pretty reflective up-close views of the lovely, colorful roofed houses I'd seen from the tower of Hallgrimskirkja the day before. The pond is also home to a surprising number of birds - multiple types of ducks, geese, and swans, seagulls, and the world-traveling Arctic terns.
After waling around Tjörnin, I peeked inside Radhus, the city hall, where I admired the architecture and a large 3D map of Iceland inside.
From Radhus I headed on to the National Museum of Iceland, which has an incredible quantity of priceless testaments to all eras of Iceland's past, from the Settlement Era and sagas to the more recent independence movement, and everything in between (Iceland, surprisingly, as I found out, only gained its full independence from the Danish crown in 1944).
From there I moved next to the Reykjavik 871 +/-2, a technologically interactive museum which has been built over a Viking settlement built in or a few years before or after 871. Finally, I ended the sightseeing portion of my day by taking a peek inside Harpa, a beautiful concert hall built on the beach.

Afterwards, as I mentioned in my last post, I met up with Allison, a friend of mine from my AFS Returnee Leadership Summit, who was an exchange student in Sandgerði several years ago, and was back for an Icelandic language program of her own this summer. We had just enough overlap in our stays in Reykjavik to be able to squeeze in a quick meet up. First we got ice cream at a famous and well-loved place by the Reykjavik Harbor called Valdís with a group of people from her program, and then took it to some nearby rocks on the water to gaze out over the sea as we chatted.
After dispersing for a moment to go back to our respective hostels, houses, or places we were staying to layer up, we met up again at 10 to go for a long walk to a lighthouse right outside of the city.
This was one of the best nights I've had in a while. Here I was walking down the seaside road in Reykjavik through a beautifully vibrant sunset, catching up with a friend who was instrumentally helpful in making sure I pushed to fulfill my dream to come to Iceland, and meeting other amazing international folk, from having a great conversation about life and languages in Spanish with a fun and easygoing Colombian, and trading favorite dairy alternatives and recipes with a vegan Canadian. And right the eff out of nowhere, suddenly it was 1 AM.
I had to part ways with the group to make my way back to my hostel and get some sleep before my 9 AM tour of the Golden Circle the next morning. But my, what an evening that was. I remember thinking on my way back to the hostel, still doing a double take since, in spite of the fact that it was fast approaching 2, the sky still glowed with the appearance of a gentle pinkish twilight, and I thought to myself about the evening, this is why I travel. 

Duck family!

Lots of birds live in the pond itself.

Ráðhús, the city hall. 


Beautiful stained glass at the National Museum.

Harpa Concert Hall.

The amazingly aesthetic interior.


Colorful balconies.

Me and Allison!

July 30, 2016
Successfully waking up in time to venture out on my Golden Circle tour, I was treated to three of the most beautiful, breathtaking, and well-known attractions in Iceland - Þingvellir (thing-vetlir) National Park, Gullfoss, and Geysir. We also made a few additional stops at a beautiful waterfall called Faxi, which was a surprise stop from the driver, at a horse farm, and a church.
Þingvellir is the meeting place of one of the world's first parliaments, the Alþing, established in 930 CE, and the European and North American tectonic plates alike, a stunningly beautiful expanse of lush grasslands and a wide, cobalt lake.
Gullfoss was absolutely spectacular - I've come to call it my Icelandic Aya Sofya, as it's a place that, albeit in very different ways, mesmerized and captivated me utterly and completely, saddening me when it was time to leave even with plentiful time to explore it. Suffice it to say that it was a breathtaking spectacle of nature's majesty, all rolled into one magnificent waterfall of gray and fluffy white.
Geysir was a bit less impressive than the other two, but it had a hard act to live up to, for sure. It was definitely stunning as well in its own way though, seeing how the explosion of boiling hot water came no more than ten minutes apart, like clockwork.
Faxi was a lovely surprise, a true treat. It was a beautiful and majestic waterfall, but in a bit of a different way than Gullfoss. It was much smaller and very differently colored, a vibrant sapphire shade to contrast Gullfoss' more tame gray. But flowing into a swiftly flowing river of the same shade, it made no less strong of an impression. It was named after "fax," which is the word for a horse's mane, a reference, I believe, to the way the water whitens and drifts down the falls in a way resembling, not surprisingly, a horse's mane. A true treat that I feel lucky to be able to have seen.
I remember little of the church and horse farm, because we were not at the horse farm for very long and were not able to go inside the church due to a scheduling conflict with a concert.

Our very first stop, a geothermal field. 

Þingvellavatn, the lake of Þingvellir.

Meeting place of tectonic plates and ancient Viking parliaments alike.

The unbelievable, breathtaking beauty of Gullfoss.

Geysir erupting. 

Faxifoss, a much smaller but also lovely waterfall that we actually stopped at as a surprise from our driver. 

The church we didn't get to go in.

From the Icelandic horse farm we stopped at. 

From an evening walk I took after getting back into the town center and resting a bit.

July 31, 2016
On my last full day in Reykjavik, having seen pretty well near everything I wanted to in the Reykjavik area, I allowed myself a calm day of chill relaxation and wandering around the city. I wandered onto the campus of the University of Iceland, spent a bit more time inside Harpa, and had dinner at a raw and vegetarian-focused restaurant. Not much else to tell about this day, really.

I immensely enjoyed my time in Reykjavik, but admittedly by the time I left I was feeling ready to, only because I was yearning to get to know a more authentic side of the country and its culture, which was difficult to see in Reykjavik due to the fact that I was experiencing it from the most touristic of places and situations, and was looking forward to my program starting.
The Cathedral interior. 

The Cathedral outside.

The Alþingi. 

Wandered back to Tjörnin.

Wandered back on to the University of Iceland campus.

Little pond right outside the Nordic House. 

Took a walk up Sæbraut.

A sunset reflecting on Harpa. 

Hallgrímskirkja is just so aesthetic.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my intense, but very rewarding and fun time in Reykjavik. I will be back soon to tell you about my program and experience here in the immensely beautiful Westfjords.


More Icelandic Disney. #sorrynotsorry

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