Archive for September 8, 2014

Reykjavik, Iceland (Day 2)

     August 7 was our second day in Reykjavik and we had nothing scheduled beyond a walk around the town. Reykjavik has two docks, one right downtown and the other two miles away.  Guess which one we were at? Normally we would have walked the two miles to and from town but both of us were still under the weather and we had to be back early because the ship was scheduled to leave at 5:00, so we decided to take the shuttle bus into town. Unfortunately, it was a local bus rather than a Holland America shuttle so we had to pay.  We had been told the price would be a steep $5.00 each way per person. But when we purchased our tickets it turned out that it had gone up 50%!  Have I mentioned that Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world?  We paid up & went into town.

     Our first objective was the library, so we stopped into the tourist information office for directions.  It turned out that the city library was just a block away. We spent a long time in confusion looking for it, then finally realized it was inside a building and couldn’t be seen from the street. It really wasn’t worth all that trouble; very pedestrian & disappointing.

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     Fortunately there is another library in town, the National Library. Getting there involved a fairly long walk, mostly uphill, through a nice residential neighborhood with lots of flowers.  Since Iceland is short on trees many of the houses have metal rather than wood siding & even metal roofs.  They come in bright colors, though. We have seen that in Greenland & Norway too, which makes me wonder if the long winter with little sunlight makes people yearn for bright colors to dispel the gloom. We also walked past a cemetery, called Holavallagardur, that dates back to 1838.  I understand it is the largest cemetery in Iceland. Notably, it is full of various kinds of trees, which is a rarity in Iceland, but we noticed that Reykjavik seems to have a lot more trees than anywhere else we visited here. Presumably, most if not all of these trees were cultivated rather than growing wild.

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     We found the National Library (after stopping in the National Museum for directions) & it was worth the trouble. It is a large red & white building on a corner across the street from the university.  The national library was founded in 1818 and it was combined in 1994 with the university library when this building opened.  So here is some Icelandic: the building is called  Þjóðarbókhlaðan and the combined library is called Landsbókasafn Íslands — Háskólabókasafn  (island means Iceland & Haskola seems to mean university, while bokasafn means book collection).

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Inside the library are several interesting works of art, including a stained glass window of three heads looking to the sky, a wooden sculpture of a guy we were told was (I think) an important professor, and a chess table just waiting for some players.

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     We walked past Tjörnin (The Pond), a large lake in the middle of town.  It was decorated by sculptures and a lot of colorful flowers and there was a fountain in the middle. The sun was out at this point so it was a very pleasant walk.

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     This is a good place to show flowers, since many of them were in this park. But really Reykjavik seems to have a lot of flowers, particularly in the residential neighborhoods.

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     After a long uphill walk through a residential neighborhood, with the help of a map we finally reached the Hallgrimskirkja.  You may remember that I suggested this tall church could be seen from everywhere in town, but it seems I was wrong since we had trouble finding it when we were actually trying to reach it. In yesterday’s episode you saw this church in bright sunlight, but by the time we reached it on this day the weather had turned threatening, which added to the atmosphere.

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You will notice at the left of this picture a large statue.  That is Leif Eriksson, the first European to reach America more than 500 years before Columbus. This statue was given to the Icelandic people by the United States in 1930 on the 1,000th anniversary of the first Althing (see yesterday’s episode for an explanation of this). Interestingly, that was about 15 years before this church was built, so I wonder where it was kept until then. Leif is holding a battle axe in his right hand and a cross in his left. It makes him look like a Crusader, which he wasn’t.  I wonder how the U.S. government erecting a statue of a heroic figure carrying a cross squares with the First Amendment.

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     There is supposed to be a great view from the tower of the church but there was a long line waiting to go up so we skipped it. We walked down the street from the church toward the harbor.  It is a well known shopping and restaurant district & we spent some time perusing some of the pretty but very expensive things in the stores. There is a lot about Iceland that is unusual, and that includes some very eclectic museums.

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     It was getting late (& rainy again) so we headed back to the bus stop, which was in front of Reykjavik’s modern concert hall, just opened in 2011, called Harpa. It is a pretty impressive glass & steel building right on the water. You can see right through it in some places. Inside, among other things, was a sculpture of a reindeer that caught our eye(s).

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     Before catching our bus we walked down the waterside a ways to see The Sun Voyager, a metal ship sculpture by the bay. It was erected in 1986 & apparently its sculptor thought of it as a dream ship and not a Viking ship.  Be that as it may, it sure looks like an abstract rendering of a Viking ship & really that’s one of the things that makes it so cool. Walking back from the sculpture we passed the interesting looking National Theater building, which stood out among a lot of nondescript buildings in this area.

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     So we made it back to the ship on time, but because of swells from a weather front coming in from the west Veendam was unable to pull away from the dock. Two tugboats were brought alongside & they finally managed to pull us out into the water so we could begin our voyage back to Greenland. As we pulled away we got a last glimpse of the Videyjarstofa on Videy Island. Now a restaurant, this house was built in 1755 and was the first stone building in Iceland. It was right across the harbor and could be seen from our window throughout our stay.

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The weather doesn’t look all that bad in these pictures, but it was foggy and the water was pretty choppy all the next day on our way to Greenland. There is a substantial history of having to forego at least part of Greenland on the Voyage of the Vikings because of weather and ice blockage so there was a lot of suspense about what we would encounter once we got to Greenland.  You will have to tune in to the next two episodes to find out!