After Kliefarvatn, we merged from the mountainous terrain and soon saw the first bits of the fringes of the greater Reykjavik area; no longer on a two-lane dirt highway, we were now on a proper expressway with overpasses, and soon we started to see taller buildings, suburban neighborhoods, and traffic (we had seen very little traffic on the roads up to this point).
Before doing any sort of sightseeing, we had to get some logistics out of the way: a food and fuel stop. For this, we chose a downtown mall called Kringlan. It had both a grocery store and a sports store, allowing us to get food and camp supplies at the same time. And to start spending our funny-smelling currency, too.
With the logistics stop out of the way, we made our way over to one of Reykjavik's most prominent monuments: the Hallgrimskirkja church, a striking display of modern architecture. Standing 73 metres tall (about 250 feet), the church has an otherwordly look about it - a bit like a cross between a spaceship and Superman's arctic lair. Its dominent feature is the steeple, flanked and capped with ever-higher hexagonal columns. The columns evoke the spirit of the columnar basalt that is so prevalent in many of Iceland's lava flows.
The Hallgrimskirkja church, unlike most 'modern' churches, took quite a long time to build. Started in 1937, it was only finally finished nearly fifty years later, in 1986.
In addition to seeing the interior (which has a nice clean interpretation on the gothic style of church interiors, and a fabulous huge pipe organ), we wanted to take the elevator up to the top of the 70+ meter steeple. It offered the best vantage point in Reykjavik, and would be a good way to orient ourselves.
Visiting the main part of the church was free, but going to the top of the steeple required the purchase of a 600 Kr ticket.
As expected, the view from the top of Hallgrimskirkja provided good views of the city below. The look of the city was overall one of tidyness along with a moderate dash of color - not too drab, but not too brilliant, either. Pitched roofs seemed to be quite common, even with larger buildings. Compared to the surrounding countryside, there were actually a fair number of large trees scattered between the houses and buildings. There seemed to be no really big skyscraper-type buildings, even in the center of the city.
View down Skólavörðustigur
Elegant homes, Tjörnin lake
After spending time looking out (and taking pictures) in all directions, we headed back down to ground level to start a walk of the city. Our objectives were twofold: one, get the feel of downtown Reykjavik, and two, find a tasty place to eat dinner.
After admiring the Liefur Eiríksson statue (given by the U.S. to Iceland in 1930), we started down the street that is directly in line with the main steeple. It led gradually downhill towards the heart of the city.
As probably one would expect from a northern European capital, everything had a tidy, vaguely IKEA-like feel to it. Most of the buildings, we noticed, were faced in corrugated metal, which was then painted. We came to notice that this was a common design trait throughout most of Iceland.
Ewart's Architectural Appraisal
We kept descending down several principle streets to the waterfront, where several large very modern-type buildings are more dominant. We ended up stopping at a small restaurant that Chris had taken note of during our lead-up research - a place called Icelandic Fish and Chips. They were reportedly all about providing both a gourmet and a healthier take on the tried and true fish-and-chips dish.
A light take on fish and chips
Icelandic Fish and Chips turned out to be quite good, actually. The 'chips' part of the equation weren't actually french fries, but were instead roasted potato chunks seasoned with olive oil and various herbs. The batter on the fish, too, was very light. Along with some very tasty dipping sauces (of which the traditional tarter sauce was only one), we thoroughly enjoyed our meal here. And, it wasn't all that expensive.
Icelandic Parliament House
After dinner, we took a slightly alternate route back to the van, passing through some of Reykjavik's most central landmarks - the main Austurvöllur Square, lined with important buildings, including the Icelandic Parliament house, and the Ingólfstorg square, where there are geothermal steam vents - urban style (the vents are capped with 2-meter high concrete pipe/chimney constructions).
Austurvöllur Square Hotel
Once back at the van, it was time for the 45-minute drive south-west back to the vicinity of the International Airport and our campsite. Although it was only 8:30pm by the time we got back to our campsite, we all needed a little extra sleep time to catch up on lost sleep from the day before. And, I needed to get up before midnight to pick up Roland from the airport, so an extra few hours' worth of shut-eye before needing to get up would be extra useful.
Roland's flight arrives
Roland's flight arrived at 11:40pm. I awoke about twenty minutes before, noting right away that it wasn't at all dark. It was dimmer, to be sure, but even under grey, drizzly skies, it was more than light enough to see. Our first taste of Iceland's near-midnight sun. Strange.
It took about 5 minutes to drive over to the airport, where I managed to take a snap of Roland's plane landing (how many International airports are there where you can take 11:40pm pictures of planes landing, hmm?) . The meet-up went very smoothly, with me pulling up to the arrivals area just minutes after Roland exited the terminal. Most efficient.
With that, it was back to the campsite and into our tents (we had packed Roland's tent with our group, and we had already set it up for him).
Interactive Trackmap with photo points, Day 1 - click to expand
Above is an interactive trackmap outlining our journeys for the trip's first day. You can clearly see how we traced the edge of most of the Reykjanes Peninsula, before heading off to Reykjavik. Click on the map to see a bigger version with all of the pictures pin-pointed on it.