Destinations, Iceland

Red-eyed in Reykjavik

June 6, 2010

The land of Bjork

After: sinus troubles, a two-hour trip to JFK on the subway from the upper west side, a one-hour mechanical delay, seats that didn’t recline, one meal service on a five-hour flight, a 2am NYC time arrival into Keflavik airport, a haphazard, protracted and unnecessary security screening and a perfunctory entry stamp by a customs official who barely looked at me or my passport and didn’t speak at all, I wasn’t really feeling the Iceland vibe despite having landed volcanic ash-free in the land of Bjork, Sigur Ros and Emiliana Torrini.

Frazzled, I of course realized that I couldn’t check in to the hostel until 2pm, and it was only just after 9. The girl on reception assured me that everything in town would open at 10am, and I could get some breakfast and a coffee at one of the many cafes.

Reykjavik without a clue

I’d like to say that I’m an ultra-cool traveler and never use a guidebook, frequently finding myself off the beaten path on the wrong side of town, but after traveling around Europe for two months in my early twenties without so much as even a map, I’m an unashamed Lonely Planet devotee. But because I was only in Reykjavik for a day, I hadn’t bothered doing much more than checking out the city’s WikiTravel entry, and picked up a map at the airport.

I made the long trek into the city from the hostel by foot along the waterfront. There was an edge to the air and it was a lonely pathway despite the map announcing it as the ‘main recreation area’. At least the sun was shining.

Sleepy Sunday

For the record, the only people wandering around Reykjavik at 10am on a Sunday morning were girls in heels and smudged mascara, still on their Saturday night out, and fellow tourists I recognized from my flight.

I eventually did, however, manage to have some breakfast, and see a couple of sights before trudging back to the hostel.

National Museum of Iceland

On the drive from the airport into the city I was struck, as I suppose most were, by the barrenness of the landscape. Why anyone would choose to settle there I couldn’t comprehend, and I was hoping Iceland’s history museum would give me some answers.

In my jet-lagged state, I came away none the wiser and hungry again. I think maybe it has something to do with fish?

At only 1,000ISK (9AUD, 7USD) to enter, it’s a bargain and well worth a visit if you’re not a jet-lagged zombie.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

Before I admitted defeat and trudged back to the hostel, I was determined to get some of the classic Reykjavik cityscape – coloured roofs leading down to the water’s edge. I got my chance at Hallgrímskirkja Church. I arrived just as Sunday morning services were ending, and the leaving parishioners greeted me as I entered.

It cost 500ISK to take the lift eight floors to the tower, where a small flight of stairs reached the top. I watched a plane land, took my pictures, and left. The following morning, I was up by 4am for my transfer to the airport and my short flight to London.

So why did I go to Iceland for less than 24 hours?

Because it was the cheapest and most interesting route to London from New York City (flying Icelandair). My other option was Germany with AirBerlin, or a long transit, but why stopover in Germany when you can stopover in Iceland?

From JFK, it’s slightly more than five hours to Keflavik Airport (and then 2.5 hours to London), and from the airport it’s about 50kms to the city on the airport bus.

A substantial stopover

A lesson learned: if you’re planning on including a stopover in your trip, make it a substantial one. Just one more day in Iceland would have been enough for me to de-zombie-fy, get out of the city and see some of the country’s natural wonders and feel refreshed for my flight to London.

But hey. I have an Icelandic stamp in my passport!

For more photos from Iceland, visit my RTW Travel Photography site.

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