22 March 2010


Eyjafjallajokull volcano slept peacefully for 190 years, and woke up, quite inconvenently, while we were four hours into our flight. Somewhere over Hudson Bay, our pilot took a three hour detour to Boston. Nobody knew when it would be safe to reopen Keflavik, so we all waited. And waited. We waited fifteen hours, and learned that Icelanders are a cheerful, patient bunch. They form orderly lines without supervision, they smile a lot, they lovingly scratch each other's scalps, and they're exceptionally enthusiastic to hear that their home is your destination and not your layover. If you have to be stranded at an airport with hundreds of strangers, Icelanders are the lot you want.

Mother Nature and the Fosshotel Baron took pity on us: the former gave us perfect weather, and the latter gave us an upgrade. We got in at 4AM Monday morning, and slept like babies for six hours. We stared out our window at the picture-perfect landscape for a few minutes, and then set out on foot to explore the city. Our first stop was the Sun Voyager-- a modernist steel sculpture in the shape of an ancient Viking ship. From there we explored the length of Laugavegur, Reykjavik's main shopping street, lined with boutiques, quirky restaurants, and galleries. Laugavegur leads toward the historic center of town, where we stopped for croissants and coffee. The old town is composed almost entirely of two story wooden framed buildings, often sheathed in corrugated iron and painted bright primary colors - it's a rustic contrast to the formal architecture of more traditional European capitals and reminds us that although this is culturally part of Europe, it's a very different place indeed. On our way back to the hotel, we took a different route and wandered up a small hill to the site of Hallgrimskirkja, a striking Church with a steeple so tall that we could see it from almost everywhere in the city.

At street level, Reykjavik has generic Scandinavian charm: stark buildings, clean sidewalks, and unprounouncable street names laden with diacritical marks. Look up, and there's nothing generic about Reykjavik. Each of the city's brightly colored roofs forms a pointilist blob on a technicolor skyline framed on all sides by blue water and icy volcanic mountains. Unless you peek through an alley, the low rise buildings on a typical street are high enough to camouflage the fact that this city, so tidy and civilized, is surrounded on all sides by wilderness.

Tomorrow, wilderness.

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