Iceland: land of volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls, glaciers, and trolls. And constant daylight in mid-summer. Having left London in pitch dark of midnight, I arrived at Keflavik Airport in blazing sunshine around 3 am. I took a bus to Reykjavik, the capital and largest city. Actually, the only city in this land of just over 300,000 people. It was 5 am but it looked like midday, and the streets were deserted. I felt like I had walked onto the set of an apocalyptic film, in which some superbug had wiped the entire population.
As I walked from the bus station through an elegant park graced by a lake I was relieved to hear sounds of life: ducks quacking. Ahead of me, I spied a well-dressed man sitting on a bench. When I got closer, he turned out to be a statue of some local worthy. I'd read that sunlight in Iceland turns trolls into stone, so maybe this was my first troll. He did look as if he had been there awhile, though.
I continued on, looking for my hotel. I had prided myself in having reserved a room at one of the cheapest hotels in Reykjavik. I found it and it fit the price. Shabby, sans the genteel. Well, this is Iceland, I thought. Cockroaches surely don't flourish here as in Charleston, South Carolina, where I had lived for many years. In Charleston, roaches have been known to grow as large as small dogs. I went inside. No one was at the desk. At 5:30 am I shouldn't have been surprised. I decided to continue my walk through the town until something opened up. I strolled down toward the harbor and discovered, among other things, one of Reykjavik's most famous landmarks, the World's Best Hot Dog Stand.
Vowing to try one when they opened, I walked on and soon came to the Gray Line coach terminal. That's it! I thought. Take a tour, and see something of the place, rest, relax, and go to my hotel at a normal time. Unfortunately, the coach office was not open yet. I decided to get some breakfast. I walked up and down the main streets, but found nothing open. Oh, yeh, I reminded myself, it's not quite 6 am. Too early for cafes, too late for bars.
At one intersection, I spied a large, unusual, pyramidal building, that dwarfed everything around it. Curious, I walked up to it, and discovered that it was Hallsgrimmelskirkja (Hallsgrimmels Church), the tallest building in in Reykjavik at 75 meters. It was unlike any sacred building I'd ever seen. Its designed to look like a volcano, which Iceland has quite a few of. A warning of divine anger, or merely something inspired by the landscape? Disappointingly, there is no smoke, fire, or lava, spewing from the top. Standing there, doing nothing in particular, it looks like a cross between a moth-balled rocket ship and Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Yet it does make a statement and gets your attention.
In front of the church I spotted a large statue of a Vikingy-looking guy. It turned out be one of the most famous Vikings of all, Leif Ericson, who discovered America some 500 years before Columbus, but failed to get the credit -- or the blame. The statue was a gift from the USA to Iceland's people, for letting the US Air Force use the island as a giant aircraft carrier during the Cold War.
I retraced my steps to the Gray Line office, and found it had opened. I entered and went up to the reception desk, where a woman who reminded me of Britt Eklund asked how she could help, in flawless Americanese. I said I'd like to take a tour that would last several hours, at least until I could get into my hotel.
"The Golden Circle Tour is perfect for you," she said. "it runs from 8:30 to 5."
"Great, I'll take it." I'd read about the Golden Circle and was sure it would be interesting. Waterfalls, glaciers, geysers, fault lines, that sort of thing. I had some time before the coach left to get some breakfast. The receptionist directed me to a nearby cafe-bakery, where I snarfed down a couple of delicious pastries and coffee before boarding the coach. I now knew that I would survive my first day in Iceland. And thrive.
More to come.