Friday, 29 December 2006

xmas in iceland

hallo!

s and i spent our first xmas together in the winter wonderland of iceland. well, it could have been more wintery, actually. we were prepared for cold, dark days; we hadn't counted on temperatures hovering just above the freezing point which turned all the snow into rain. more on that below.


saturday, 23 december

reykjavik is located at 64ºN. london is 51ºN. san francisco is 37ºN. i could keep going on, but i'll leave it to you to google the latitude where you live. the point is that it makes a big impact on the number of daylight hours in winter. in london, the sun is out when i leave the flat for work at 8:15 AM and sets around 4 PM. in reykjavik, the sun rose around 11 AM and started setting by 3:30 PM.

this photo was taken from our hotel room at 10:30 AM.
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just an excuse for sleeping in, really...!


we walked around reykjavik on our first day. the downtown area is quite compact and the two main streets lead up to hallgrímskirkja, the lutheran church that can be seen from almost anywhere in town. we went inside in time to hear the organist rehearsing for service later in the day - impressive pipes!

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icelandic design sense is very modern and simple, so it seemed appropriate that the most outstanding building in reykjavik was far less ornate than the cathedrals in say, paris or rome.

they do, however, decorate everything with lights in celebration of winter solstice and christmas. you'll notice that some of the photos below are out of focus, but don't blame me. it's hard taking pictures in low light. in fact, i took two versions of most of them: one with flash on (auto mode) and one where i remembered to turn the flash off.

flash off:
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by the afternoon, the sun was shining bright and the harbor looked strangely peaceful considering all the heavy industry and possible whaling activity that goes on there.

we weren't sure, but we thought this might be the entire armada of the icelandic navy, ducks included.
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while walking through downtown to find a restaurant for dinner, we came upon this candlelight parade.

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this santa was taking his responsibilities very seriously.
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the restaurants were full of festive families enjoying their last night out before several days at home. we enjoyed having more than three options for dinner, too - but more on that below!


sunday, 24 december

knowing that icelanders celebrate xmas starting on the 24th, and knowing further that most of the shops and restaurants would be closed, we booked ourselves on a day tour. our guide was cheerful and knowledgeable. for the first few hours, he kept saying helpful things like, "on the left hand side of the coach, you'll see - well, nothing - but you would see a mountain in the distance if it weren't so dark..."

we stopped at geysir to watch hot water shoot out of the ground while the rain pounded on us from above.

flash on: soggy s
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flash off: you can see the steam rising from the geothermal water below
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look deep inside the parka... we're smiling!
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next on the tour was gulfoss, the "golden waterfall." many years ago, i visited niagara falls in the middle of a downpour. at the time, i thought it was the most water i had ever seen. gullfoss in the rain was definitely a close second!

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finally, we went through the national park of thingvellir. read s's blog for more information about it.

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(my personal favorite of all the pics i took)
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volcanic lava
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as our tour guide kept saying, iceland was "formed by vulcan eruption under ice."


back in reykjavik, we left our wet clothes on the radiator and warmed up over dinner at the hotel saga, one of only three places (including our hotel) serving dinner on the 24th and 25th. as hotel buffets go, it was perfectly fine - even with more herring than we could shake a breadstick at. hurrah for turkey and potatoes!

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monday, 25 december

white xmas! we woke up to a light dusting of snow that dazzled once the sun came out. perfect! we spent the day at the blue lagoon geothermal spa.

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the snow on the lava rocks looked like icing sugar on a chocolate cake.
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we had xmas dinner at the hotel.

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tuesday, 26 december

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we spent a calm boxing day walking off our xmas meal in reykjavik.

s was patient while i dragged him to every shop, not once (on the 23rd, when i wasn't prepared to buy anything the first time around), not twice (on the 26th when everything was still shut), but thrice (on the 27th, when i finally bought an icelandic wool jacket and lava rock necklace).

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we didn't expect to see palm trees in iceland
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or bicycles hanging above the street
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we went up to öskjuhlíd, home of the perlan restaurant. naturally, it was closed for the holiday.
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there were lovely views of the city
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requisite art shot
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beneath all that fleece and gore-tex is s, still smiling
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wednesday, 27 december

for our last full day, we decided to strike out on our own instead of signing up for another coach tour. we found out that we could take the local bus about an hour north of reykjavik to akranes for only 500 krone each (just under five pounds - bargain!) all we knew about akranes was that it was a charming town with a nice beach front and a nearby mountain.

our first impression was slightly more desolate than charming...
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we started questioning the wisdom of our decision when we saw the tractor coming down the road
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and fearing that we would end up like the last tourist in akranes, suddenly 500 ISK seemed like a lot to pay!
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the mountain was beautiful, however.
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and the beach front had a certain je ne sais quoi
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but we still didn't really know what we were supposed to be looking at, or where to go
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this sign didn't help much
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just then, a lovely couple pulled up in a warm mercedes SUV and asked in perfect english if we were tourists. they welcomed us into their car and drove us around akranes, showing us all the sights along the way: new building developments, the museums (which were closed, it turns out), a lighthouse.

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then they took us into their warm home and gave us coffee and cake. they had lived in england and have traveled around the world. s helped fix their computer, and we had a nice chat. what sweet people! they are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary on new year's day. i hope s and i make it that far together, and that we have the chance to repay their generosity somewhere, somehow. i'm looking forward to our next adventure!

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3 comments:

acechick said...

WOW - looks like you had a ball!
And what a sweet couple.

Happy new year!

mamasita said...

great trip, great narrative, great folks, great pictures, great view of landscape, buildings, design, scenery, local flavor, and things to do. how many more greats can I add? great that you two are related to me, yerpa, a and d.

Martina said...

I love the Bear-Penguin nativity scene :)