Our entrance back to the United States this time would be through Iceland via Iceland Air, an airline that by allowing free layovers of up to seven days in Reikyavic, promotes the tourism industry in its intriguing country, a Volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean located in the Atlantic ridge. It is the youngest geological mass on Earth from 8 million years ago when it surfaced from the ocean.
Because of our short stop and childproof circumstances, our first taste of Iceland was more urban. Nonetheless we still got to be amazed by the hipster-minismalist life and glanced at its nature. I was suprised to see so many small purple flowers which reminded me of the Texas Bluebonnet, but after doing some research I learned it is actually a Lupin (or Lupinus) which are relatives in the plant kingdom, but the Bluebonnet only grows in Texas.
From our airbnb and with a tiny umbrella we walked a few blocks to meet the landmark of Hallgrímskirkja (the church of Hallgrimur) where 8 floors and 33 steps was the vertical path that took us to see 360 degrees of Iceland, a powerful view of Reykjavik which started with a light-rain that opened to a perfect all-day sunshine. This church, unlike the Catholic churches I grew-up with during the Sunday mass traditions, is characterized by light and simplicity lacking the presence of extravagant iconic decorations and colourful stained windows. In 1929 there was a design initiative for a competition to create a church on the hilltop of Skólavörouholt to honor the memory of Iceland’s great poet Rev. Hallgrímur Pétursson. In 1937 the architect Guollón Samúelsson was commissioned to this cultural and religious task. Construction commenced in 1945 and concluded in 1986.
Iceland is the only country in Europe where Christianity developed parallel to their first settlement (9th century). Most settlers were of Nordic origin, thus, worshipping several Norse gods. However, they were of Christian faith. When the settlers arrived they found Christian anchorites who had travelled from Ireland in search for solitude for a life of prayer. In the year 1000 AD the nation forced a serious rift over faith and the future of the nation. This could have split the nation into Christian and pagans, nonetheless fortunately pagan magnate and Law Speaker at parliament said, “It is true that if we divide the law, we shall also break the peace”. And with this mindful statement he ruled that the Icelanders should all be baptized into the Christian faith, however, respecting their love for Norse Mythology as part of their culture. In a peaceful agreement, the adoption of a new religion for this nation is unique in the history of the world. Iceland’s national church is evangelical-Lutheran, and enjoys special status under the constitution.
The church not only holds religious ceremonies but also varied cultural activities related to visual arts, music, and theatre. This parish is served by two pastors and an organist. A stoic, quiet and methodical man possibly in his 60’s who is the key master to what in my eyes, was the highlight of this temple: a magnificent German organ. Its system consists of four manuals and pedals, 72 voices and 5,275 pipes.
The tender Icelandic coolness got us ready for a meal. Cafe Loki was our recommendation from tripadvisor and lonely planet. This two-story building has the perfect minimalist decor of the Scandinavian countries which I absolutely love, because it is so practical, clean, yet cozy. I usually do not like to write much about food because I do not eat meat, wheat or dairy, so I could come off a bit biased. All I can say is that most dishes are served over a sweet and tender bread (Rúgbrauð) which traditionally is baked in a pot or steamed in special wooden casks. The traditional way consists of burying it in the ground under 30 cms near a hot spring for about 24 hours. Here is a BBC great visual explanation of this traditional process. In Iceland this important base of all meals is called Thunder Bread, [apparently from the flatulence it causes if eaten in excess]. All in all, it is a dark rye bread leavened with baking powder and sweetened with molasses which gives it the darker color. Here is a link to the menu.
We went up to the second floor so we could get a view of Hallgrímskirkja… but then all of a sudden I was immediately taken away by a colourful mural of rainbows, volcanoes and vikings. The wall painting illustrated the life of Loki Laufeyjarson, the son of the giant Farbauti, a god of the Norse Mythology, a shape shifter who often helps the gods but sometimes can act in malicious ways.
After our unique Icelandic meal we walked down the famous Skólavöroughstígur street, enjoyed morning coffee at the eccentric Babalú Cafe [which reminded us of hipster ATX], while a fluffy puffin made it into our travel budget.
Looking at the harbor made us daydream of coming back and showing the girls the versatile landscape that makes our planet one of a kind. Bert got to eat not 1 but 2 famous hotdogs; early dessert happened when we ran into THE most delicious dip ones, and proceeded to an improv stop of a live music show from a band of teenagers- Karma Brigade. These kids have a good groove going on. Her voice reminds me of the sublime Hope Sandoval and the smoothness of course, of Björk. Our day ended with delicious mussels and lobster pizza at Gamla Vínhusíd (or old wine house).
Walking the streets of Reikyavic and the two Bs [baby and budget] was full of “kodak moments” as we glanced through the storefront displays at the beautiful art work of viking memorabilia, fashion design clothes made of wool, as we discussed where to eat, hoping to spend less than $20 a plate.
We culminated this walk sitting on the harbor and daydreamed of the day we would come back to spend a week or so with older girls and a less tight budget, hoping to take part in the many adventures across nature that this special country offers.
While Bert and Gaia snuggled in a white room with white furniture and almost transparent blinds which Bert covered with towels, I went to sleep in the living room on a sofa bed next to Eelan, and for the first time, glanced at the midnight sun. Farewell Iceland, we will be back. You are indeed one of a kind! And while we had just one day to get a glimpse, I can say walking around your capital was exquisitely surprising, minimalistic, simple yet creative within a scheme of blues and soft terracotta colors. Your hipster vibe with a twist of grunge, and the calmness and sweetness of your people made us feel at home.