Monday, August 25, 2008

Reykjavik - Day One

One day down in Reykjavik.

After about four hours' sleep, the roar of traffic outside my window was too much to fight, so I got up, stumbled out of my room and got some breakfast, compliments of the guesthouse at which I'm staying. The availability of breakfast was a key piece to my decision, because I know from traveling that "free" meals, or at least ones where you can eat as much as you want, are invaluable. That goes double when you haven't eaten since the afternoon before.

It was a typical continental breakfast: coffee, juice, bread and jam, cereal. However, the spread did include cold cuts, cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes. So, I made myself a sandwich and liked it so much I made another. Some cereal and a couple of coffee cups later, I was ready to greet the day.

Most of what I did on this first day was walk around. Mostly, it was through neighborhoods that loosely ring the city center, which itself kind of curves around a long spit of land that blesses Reykjavik with a natural shelter from the North Atlantic. No wonder the Vikings chose it as a natural harbor, naming the capital "smoky bay."

I imagine the nickname comes from the armada of clouds that sweep the sky. Today was no different. As you can see in this picture, the cloud cover was heavy and did not diminish.

Still, the view looking out from the city toward the ocean is beautiful. Imagine how it would look on a sunny day. One can only hope for the chance.

Reykjavik is a small city, and very compact, with skinny streets and small houses crammed together. It's charming, but I would imagine the close proximity, while providing physical warmth from ocean-borne winds, could get unnerving. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was a Monday, but the people here weren't terribly friendly. They are not rude; they will help you if asked and will answer a question if you have one. But they won't offer anything more than exactly what you asked. Maybe that's just being efficient. In any event, they don't seem terribly happy to me.

I will say everything is terrifically expensive here. Manhattan's got nothing on Reykjavik. Postcards are a $1 a pop, a hot dog I bought at a great, and popular, stand was $3 (see picture), and my sandwich at a great cafe on the main shopping street was $7 (OK, not bad there). The latte was about $4, which is about what I'd pay stateside. I took a gander at the beer prices, and it appeared a pint started at $10. Ouch.

I read in the in-flight magazine that Icelanders make $55,000 yearly per capita. I was surprised, but having seen the prices, that salary more than evens out when compared to per capita wages in America vs. the cost of goods (and probably services, too).

After lounging around at the cafe, I returned to the guesthouse and changed for a run. The receptionist looked at me kind of funny as I emerged with shorts and a black stitch cap and asked her to hold my keys. I asked her where I should run; she looked at me with a blank expression. I started pumping my arms and mimicking a running motion. She murmured jogging, and then pointed me toward the ocean.

Now, I had seen a path that curved alongside the inlet, and it did look inviting, so I took off. After a few minutes, the path veered to where it ran right next to the highway. I still had the hills and the sea to my left, but the racing lanes of cars and trucks made it difficult to appreciate the view. And the view disappeared shortly thereafter as soon as I left the city proper. I was sucked into outskirt hell, rows of drab apartment blocks on my right that would rival the crummy Socialist living complexes I have tried to forget seeing in Eastern Europe and an endless row of low-slung office buildings and gas stations on my left. The path had veered from the bay's curve, and so I slogged on, seeing that most of Reykjavik looks about like the outskirts of any other European city. Except in Reykjavik there is much less of that sprawl, because there are simply fewer people.

I turned around and headed back toward the main part of the city. A blustery northwest wind slapped me around as if I were a bad child. I bent forward and retraced my steps, passed where I had gotten on the path and followed the ring as the rest of the city opened to my left. Unfortunately, most of Reykjavik with water views is occupied by high-rise commercial and residential buildings that add little to the aesthetics and indeed, mask the subtle beauty of the city center off the water. Too bad. Construction along other areas of the waterfront is going on in earnest, and I had to cross the highway a few times to reconnect with the path, or at least what I think was the path. I ran over cobblestone entrances to buildings, over gravel roadways and mostly on what passed as a sidewalk. Cars and trucks whizzed right by me. It was not scenic, and I must say I'm surprised nothing has bee done about what should be a beautiful area to exercise.

I'll look for another route on Wednesday.

Well, one half of the geology team arrives tomorrow, and I imagine we'll begin preparing for our trip to the interior. We've got two all-purpose vehicles to rent and food to buy. 

I'd go for another one of those hot dogs. Bill Clinton did!


Leeann said...

It is so interesting to read about your impressions of the city and of Iceland. I am enjoying taking your trip with you. BTW, loved the description of the wind slapping you like a bad child....very good!


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