Sunday August 19th, 2001


We finally made it out of town: Hurray. Flew British Air business class SF to London and then Icelandic Air (or was it Air Icelandic?) London to Reykjavik. The flights were a nice gradual introduction to our trip, since there were no hassles or delays, and all that we had to do was sit and eat. We all felt rather out of place in the business class lounge, a first time experience for our family (this stuff is free? do we just take it?).  The flight was great and you can really sleep in those fancy sleeper chairs, but they keep trying to cram food in you. The food was very good and at first I started trying to keep up with the flight attendants, but the faster I swallowed, the faster they brought it. The novelty wore off as the seatbelt grew tighter, and I switched from eating and drinking to watching another passenger who seemed to have amazing gastronomic stamina. I was making mental wagers with myself- like how many glasses of wine and pieces of chocolate he would consume in the next 30 minutes, but the thrill of this exciting pastime eventually wore off and my attentions switched to sleeping. This was not the easiest transition, since not only did I have to rid my seat of dishes and wrappers, and sort through an elaborate personal hygiene kit for eyeshades and earplugs, but I had to help Thomas with the same thing.  It was a little difficult since although he was sitting next to me, the chairs were arranged head-to-foot, and he had been given about 2 pounds of entertainment accessories. He seemed to be buried under a mountain of happy meal prizes, all of which he desperately wanted to save, somewhere under which was his immediately desired eyeshades, earplugs, pillow, blanket, and soft fuzzy socks.


We eventually sorted things out, with a little help from the flight attendants, and Tom and I settled down for 4 or 5 hours of sleep. After negotiating the monstrous Heathrow airport in London, the cozy little terminal in Reykjavik seemed like Grandma's house, and after the luggage collection, the locals quickly dispersed and the tourists were collected by bus drivers from a few different agencies. In spite of the few hours of good sleeping I still was doing a pretty good impersonation of a zombie when we finally got to our guesthouse in Reykjavik. I had read that tipping was not the norm nor was it expected, but I wasn't yet ready to break that habit and suffer a few pangs of  feeling cheap, so I decided to give the bus driver a small tip in exchange for his diligent luggage schlepping in the cold drizzly weather. Jet-lag symptoms became apparent as I tried to perform the mental math of currency conversion on the wad of kroner in my pocket. I'm still not sure whether I tipped the bus driver about 50 cents or about 50 dollars, but judging from his seemingly genuine enthusiasm, I fear it was the latter.


Last night was THE big night of the year in Reykjavik, "National Night". It is the Icelandic 4th of July, commemorating about half a century of political independence and a completely unique national identity. We had no idea that our travel plans were to deposit us in Reykjavik just in time for the party. To celebrate National Night, everything stays open late and everyone goes out and walks around the city. We were both obliged and fortunate to participate.  The walking around part becomes more and more challenging for the not-so-subtle drinkers as the night wears on. I wonder what Geoff thought of all the young teen (and some pre-teen) boys stumbling around with large beer bottles in hand. Many businesses were open, all of the bars and clubs were packed, and the candy and music stores were doing a brisk business.  The primary street activity seemed to be milling around, watching the other people and looking for people you knew, but we didn't run into any friends or relatives to socialize with. At least we could enjoy the entertainment provided by several groups of street musicians, some playing from balconies, and there were a few "event tents" set up in the town square. Human congestion made it difficult to navigate close enough to fully participate in the activities under the tents. We knew that there would eventually be fireworks, but we grew tired of the increasing crush of people around the center of the downtown plaza, presumably the prime fireworks viewing location, and left to go back to the guesthouse a little after 10pm. We were exhausted from all of that sitting and eating, and now our legs were aching from standing around, and at 10 o'clock, the sun was just setting v-e-e-e-r-y slowly. There was no telling how long the extended Arctic twilight would last, and we weren't sure how long it would be before it got dark enough for fireworks to have the desired impact.


This morning Lynn started teaching school and I think everyone is starting to feel almost recovered from jet lag. With a fresh brain I was able to commit the USD equivalent of each denomination of Icelandic Kroner note in my wallet to memory so that we had some concept of economics.  The guesthouse serves breakfast, but we were motivated to hit the streets for an afternoon of sightseeing by hunger pangs around noon. The weather outlook was decent, but "partly cloudy" soon turned into a solidly gray sky threatening to spit a  little rain. It took us a little while to locate a place to eat lunch, since on Sunday not only were most of the shops closed, but many of the restaurants and cafes as well. We did find a bakery & sandwich shop open shortly before we expired from famine.  It is very impressive how quickly and thoroughly the streets around the downtown area had been cleaned up after last night's party. Today we got a little better look at Reykjavik under normal operating circumstances. There are no really tall buildings, and most of the main avenues are lined with a solid wall of 2-3 story shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, and cafes. The old downtown still maintains the look and character of an old seaport, aided by the brightly painted and wooden facades of a fair number of the shops. Office buildings and other sorts of businesses tend to be placed along the side streets where the rent is presumably cheaper. Once you have left the old downtown, the composition of the city is a random mixture of architecturally pleasing older buildings and plain but economical (and weather resistant) newer construction.  Our guest house is in a residential area just on the outskirts of the downtown district, in a neighborhood of tree-lined streets dominated by old and closely spaced large wooden homes, most of which have been subdivided into apartments. 


A fortunate aspect of easing into the international travel scene in Iceland is the issue of language. Iceland shares the characteristic of common English usage along with other small northern European countries like Denmark, Netherlands, and some parts of England. Icelanders can't expect to go anywhere and expect the people to know a little Icelandic, and conversely they can't really expect visiting tourists to arrive knowing much Icelandic. They all learn English in school, and it is the primary language used by all tourists. This is good news for us, but things aren't so easy for some of the Italian and French tourists that we've rubbed elbows with. Most are quite proficient with English, but some struggle. I heard an Italian woman asking someone if there was a "parking box" nearby.  


After lunch we hunted down the home of a man who has been making video documentaries of Iceland's volcano eruptions for something like 40 years after he learned the trade from his father. He shows hour-long documentary films to groups of about 60 visitors several times each day. This provides his income and gives him something to do while waiting for the next big eruption and filming opportunity. While waiting for our show time, we walked a few blocks over to the downtown lake, which is surrounded on one side by a busy avenue, on the other by a hillside of luxury homes, and overlooked by a museum housed in a modern glass and metal building. The kids chased the ducks and seagulls along the shore who were expecting handouts.


Many other movie customers had shown up while we were teasing ducks and the volcano show was filled to capacity. The host spent a frantic 10-15 minutes trying to organize different language speakers into groups, preferably with a translator in the vicinity. The video footage was amazing; spectacular scenes of lava slowly engulfing buildings and raging floodwaters ripping up bridges, but although the narration was interesting, it was slow, monotonous, and devoid of much humor.  After the lava stopped oozing and the lights were turned up, we were all turned out blinking into the comparatively bright (but still gray) afternoon. The museum by the lake provided an excuse to walk by the birds and torment them some more, and the natural history exhibits inside held our attention for at least an hour or so. We were starting to tire of volcanoes and geology when left, and the slight incline on the avenue leading back to the guesthouse left us physically worn out as well.  


The guesthouse manager is a young man who lives in Egypt during the Icelandic winter and comes to live in Iceland and help his father (presumably the owner) run the guesthouse in the summer. He is very friendly and was excited to hear that we were planning on visiting Egypt on our trip, but  his face dropped when I told him that I didn't think we would make it to Alexandria ("it is the most beautiful part of Egypt!").  It is obvious why Roushi helps out his father. He is outgoing and comfortable chatting in several different European languages. This morning Roushi recommended the public pool and spa located near our guesthouse. Iceland has more thermally heated water than they know what to do with. So bathing in it is one of the more popular options since 300,000 or so people can't really ingest all that large a quantity of hot beverages. Hunger dominated our desire to bathe when we returned from our walkabout in the late afternoon, so we'll save that adventure for another day. Lynn had read about a fancy circular spinning restaurant located atop a big building on a hill overlooking the city. It sounded good. It also sounded expensive. I half-heartedly called for reservations and Roushi called us a cab shortly before our designated eating appointment. 


The spinning restaurant was a wonderful place with fantastic views, set inside the glass dome of the outstanding feature of the Reykjavik skyline. The Perlan building is primarily some sort of public facility designed for conferences and exhibits. It is located atop a small hill and centered inside a collection of large glistening hot water tanks, which hold over 5 million gallons of naturally heated water and supply more than half of the usage of the overall Reykjavik area. To enhance the entertainment value of the slowly spinning dining floor of the 5th floor restaurant, the center space of all 5 stories was open and sometimes filled with spray from an intermittently surging large fountain. I later read that this was a "man-made geyser". Oh! I get it! 


One of my favorite moments of the evening came when the waiter informed us, after several minutes of looking at expensive menu items, that the children could have roast chicken and French fries for about $5 a piece. This meant that even after they totaled up the bill which included 2 fancy adult meals and a bottle of wine, the whole thing cost barely more than our mediocre meal at a funky Icelandic/Thai restaurant the night before. Luxury can be affordable! The kids were totally thrilled with the fountain, the food, the spinning, and the gorgeous views of the twinkling city lights. We told the waiter about our intended travel around the world plans, he asked some eager questions about the trip, and then asked us to adopt him. Then he told us all about his visit to the US to attend a Rock concert a few years back. It was a wonderful end to our first full day on foreign soil.


Walking around Downtown Reykjavik beloved downtown "pond" Tjörnin  (we'd call that a lake in most major US cities!)   

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Waiting for the Volcano Show to start

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Oh No!  We find out 20 years later that it's permanently closed.



Geoff, Lynn, and Anna in the Spinning Restaurant  (a proper noun alias in our family) atop the Perlan Building

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                                                            - Rolf     8/19/01