If you didn’t know this before, be forewarned. If something smells of rotten eggs whilst taking a shower, it is not the bathroom, soap or shampoo. And don’t try washing it off either as you can’t. Because believe it or not, it is the hot water!! Yes, the hot water smells of sulphur. And it is absolutely normal here in Reykjavik due to its geothermal origins. In fact, more than 85% of Iceland’s energy come from renewable sources. So complaining about the smell is unfortunately not going to get you anything else around here.
Having said that, the cold water comes from a different source and smells nothing like its hotter counterpart. It is good enough so you can drink it straight from the tap! Icelanders are quite proud of their water. 97% of the population surveyed reckon their water quality is pretty good. So imagine crystal clear waters from Iceland’s pristine springs fill my mind as I reach for the faucet to fill my water bottle. Only to be shattered when the waft of rotten eggs pierces my nostrils. I soon realise that it is best to let the cold water run through first before filling your bottle. You certainly do not want any of the hot water mixed in.
This morning we woke up to find that it was snowing. I guess we should not be surprised. But what we did learn was that Rekjavik was experiencing some of the most consistent snowfall it has ever had in years. It is not usually like this especially at the end of March. Even the some of the locals have had quite enough of it. Having travelled halfway around the world, we of course weren’t going to let this slow us down. Not when everyone tells us that if you don’t like the weather here, just wait ten minutes because it will change. (Like we say in Melbourne, you can have four seasons in one day)
Rugging up, we set off and walked down just five minutes to Reykjavik’s waterfront where the ‘Solfar‘ or ‘Sun Voyager‘ is located. Created by Jon Gunnar Arnason (1931 – 1989) to be a dream ship with links to the sun through its use of the mythological trident symbol, this steel sculpture is fast becoming a landmark of Iceland. We would have loved to see it gleaming in the sun’s rays but as you can tell, we got the other extreme instead. It was snowing heavily and just taking photos were a challenge.
After hanging around for 10-15 minutes, the wind started to pick up so the -5°C starting feeling a LOT COLDER. We quickly voted to move one. Thankfully the winds were to our back as we made quick work of our walk down the waterfront to the Harpa Concert Hall. Home to Iceland’s symphony orchestra and also the Icelandic Opera, Harpa is a striking building with its glass facade. Awarded the EU prize for contemporary architecture, there are 10,000 windows made from more than 1,100 different types of glass panes. Depending on the light of the day, the facade with its different panes “changes colours” to reflect its surroundings.
When it gets dark, each pane can be lit up individually to produce different lit patterns on its facade. We wondered how they did this. By just looking at the panels, we could not quite work out where the light source came from.
Then on the interior, it is stylishly black with lots of black concrete in the open spaces which remind us of solidified lava which is so much of Iceland. Combined with the cubes of glass and skeletal frame, the whole place feels modern and futuristic. It was a dimension of Iceland we were beginning to observe and appreciate. There’s also a very well decked out gift shop (for those of us so inclined) which we naturally spent most of our time in. Enough so that we could defrost a bit from the cold outside.
And like the locals predicted, fifteen minutes later, the weather changed. Just like that, it stopped snowing, the wind died down and the skies turned into a typical cloudy winters day in Melbourne. Reinvigorated, off we went again, walking along Lækjargata until we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a street stall – the Lobster Hut. Local street food! And with lobster soup and lobster roll on the menu, we simply could not resist. So, we stopped and tried it out. We were pretty pleased because it was downright delicious. The soup was a traditional lobster soup, Humarsupa, with roasted lobster tails and whipped cream on top whilst the lobster sub, Humarloka, was filled with roasted lobster tails, lettuce, garlic sauce and lemon. It was yummy! (We liked the lobster hut so much that we came back here again on another day for round two!)
With a taste of street food, we decided to walk the short distance down to the Kolaportid flea market. This is the only flea market in all of Iceland and is located within quite a plain building with not a very noteworthy entrance. There is not even a proper sign! Located within the old harbour and open only on weekends, this market sells vintage clothing, used books, CD’s, DVD’s and all sorts of “stuff’. Some stalls looked very much like a garage sale. But you know what they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. So, mixed in amongst tourists, there were plenty of locals looking for a steal.
And of course what’s a market without food. Whilst some of us were haggling over a sheep skin jacket, the other half of us strolled over to the food section and received another education in Icelandic delicacies. There were plenty on offer including more dried fish than you could poke a stick at. Settling on one stall, the friendly shop owner had tasting platters on just about everything she had on sale. And she insisted on us trying almost everything on offer (including fermented shark again). She was really nice and we did like some of the smoked fish she had. At the end of it, we ended up walking away with traditional smoked salmon and smoked lumpsucker fish. (This fish has a face that only a mother could love)
( Side note: There’s an Icelandic folk tale on the origins of the lumpsucker fish and it goes like this – One day, Jesus and St Peter was walking along the beach. Jesus spat in the sea and out of that came a Halibut. St Peter did the same and from that came the lumpsucker fish. Both fish are considered good eating but of course the Halibut is superior. The Devil was sneaking behind them and saw what had happened. He wanted to be just as good and so he spat into the sea. But from his spittle, came the jellyfish, which was no good at all. )
We were now ready to head towards possibly the most iconic building in all of Reykjavik. The face on numerous postcards, it can be seen from almost any point in the city. Looking like a jet plane, one can scarcely believe Hallgrimskirkja, is actually a church. It as got to be one of the most modern looking churches I have ever seen. Buzzfeed has it on its list of “11 Unusual Churches You have to See Before You go to Heaven.” – It is number 3.
Standing right at the front of it is the statue of Viking Leif Eiriksson. It is a gift from the United States for he was the first European to land on the North American continent in 1,000AD. And of course he was from Iceland. Then when you get closer, you come under the towering shadow of the spire and on both sides, the “wings” span outwards in both directions. Meant to represent the basalt lava flows by Guðjón Samúelsson (the state architect), he has certainly created something truly unique.
Unfortunately, he did not live to see his creation come to life. Commissioned in 1937, it was not completed till 36 years after his death. The inside however pales in comparison with its minimalist interior and we did not spend long there. We opted to buy the 800 ISK ticket instead and take the lift up the 73 metres (240 feet) to the top where panoramic all round views of Reykjavik made it worth our ticket. (We also got the bonus when the bells in the tower started to ring whilst we were at the top!)
After leaving Hallgrimskirkja, we were ready for lunch. The sun was shining now and what a contrast it was to this morning when we left. It seemed to be turning out to be a beautiful day. We walked back the way we came along Skólavörðustigur and stopped by this delightful fish restaurant called . . . Fish. It looked warm and inviting and we were interested in the different ways they prepared fish. Besides they had their menu on their front window in both Icelandic and English so that worked really well for us. We all piled in and took up a long table. It was simple good food.
I ordered the fish stew which for some reason had (fishpie) in brackets. I wondered which it was. Then when my dish came, it was nothing I expected looking at the menu. Seemingly, it looked neither like stew or pie but it was actually quite delicious.
Returning back to our hotel, we were once again reminded about the fickle weather as the sun disappeared and it started hailing! We were gobsmacked. The hail got heavier and we couldn’t wait to get away from the pelting pebbles. Luckily, our hotel was only ten minutes walk away and you don’t get really wet in a hailstorm. And you can guess what happened when five minutes after we arrived back at our hotel. It all stopped and the sun peeked out again from amongst the clouds! It really is true. If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait ten minutes!