Roughly translated, Reykjavik means “Bay of Mist”. The city is heated by geothermal wells that generate so much heat that when the citizens need to cool down a bit they leave the radiators full on and open a window. The national dishes center on fish and lamb. Out in the countryside the sheep spend the summer in the highlands eating grass and various herbs; in the words of our guide, they are marinating themselves.
If Bernstein, Comden and Green had written On The Town about Reykjavik, it would have gone:
Reykjavik, it’s a helluva town.
The sheep are up and the harbor is down.
Steam comes out of a hole in the groun’.
Oh Reykjavik, it’s a hell-uv-a town!
And 24 hours should just about do it. The countryside is something else, but that’s for tomorrow. We signed up for a “free” (donations accepted) guided walking tour with a tall, handsome history graduate (the girls in our group got lucky). Reykjavik is not an overwhelmingly beautiful city, as Stockholm might be, and the modern hotels are the largest structures, but the houses are well-kept and functional.
Two things: trees are uncommon. The saying goes, if you are lost in an Icelandic forest, stand up. This tree won the Tree of the Year contest in 2016. Other thing: the houses can be divided into three groups. The one with the blue dormers is in the most modern group, built of concrete. Wood is expensive and after a great fire in 1915 the laws forbid any larger buildings to be made of wood.
The gray house on the left is in the middle-aged group, built until 1915. It has a wooden inner structure but an exterior of corrugated iron. The iron was cheaper than wood. This one has heritage value and cannot be modified without city approval.
This house, which is just across the street from the other two, is the oldest, dating to 1850. It is built entirely of wood and rumor has it that the original was built from driftwood. Obviously some improvements have been made, but it’s still all wood.
Our guide told us this neighborhood was the richest in the city, with a small home recently sold for $1 million. The economy has recovered from the bank collapse I guess.
This is the large cathedral, built between 1945 and 1986, but since no organ concerts or mid-day demonstrations are scheduled while we’re here, this is probably as close as we’ll come.
This rather attractive building is part of the high school out of the photo to the left. School is mandatory from age 6-16 and high school follows. It is optional, but 88% of the population graduates – very impressive. College fees are quite reasonable – I think a week of dining out would cover them for a year.
There is a large lake about half a mile from the harbor and the homes alongside are to be envied. We had skies like this all day, except for when it hailed. Really!
As you can see from the background, this statue is by the lake. No connection though. It is the statue of the Unknown Bureaucrat. Whether it is criticism or merely commentary I do not know.
Alice is standing next to the only full-size sculpture of a woman in the whole city. She is the first woman to be elected to the Parliament. Today 30 of the 63 members are women and Iceland ranks almost at the top in terms of gender equality.
Now we must discuss food. Our lunch was at the old harbor in a restaurant recommended by a friend of my sister Nancy. We have to say, think again, friend. We had what they called lobster soup, but except for some pretty flavorless lobster in it, we would not have known. Plus, it was expensive. Two soups and two soft drinks: $44. The price was not out of line for Reykjavik.
Our guide told us that the most popular restaurant in the city was a hot dog stand we were walking by. He said Bill Clinton had a hot dog there and said it was the best one he ever had. Oh yeah, sure.
And yet, I found this photo. We are going to have to try one.
Checking out Tripadvisor we found Old Iceland Restaurant a short walk from our hotel.
On the left, Cream of Shellfish soup: chunks of fish, white wine, dill oil. The dill oil has given us thoughts about future cooking. The soup was delicious. In the middle: filet of lamb and slow-cooked shoulder, carrots, beetroot, potatoes and demi-glace. Also delicious. On the right: the Fish of the Day, and since it was not on the menu, I forget the description. It was called Redfish, which does not illuminate, but it was very delicate and flaky. The sauce was impressively good.
Alice had a local beer, Viking Lager on tap, $13. Liquor taxes are high too. The whole bill was, as I said, about 1/7 the annual tuition for the public university. We’re only here for two days so we can afford it. I think.