Day 1 (Thursday, June 20, 2019): Reykjanes Peninsula and Reykjavik
Our flight took us over the Northern Atlantic. Our first encounter with the icy north was actually over the southern tip of Greenland, another glacier-covered island. During the brief fly-over, we could see the massive ice sheet, the glacier flow and icebergs in the glacier bay. You would have to pay a handsome price to take a helicopter tour to get this view (granted, more up-close) in those places, but we had it from the seat window with no extra cost. This is why we picked the window seat -- to me, the view is well worth the inconvenience and discomfort of sitting on the inside.
(Click on each image to see the high-resolution version)
After arrival and picking up our rental car, we took a quick trip to the Reykjanes Peninsula. This small peninsula where Reykjavík–Keflavík International Airport sits has plenty to offer. We first drove to Gardskagi at the northern tip of the western end of the peninsula, where two lighthouses dominate the landscape.
Old Lighthouse of Gardskagi
Lighthouses of Gardskagi
Lighthouses of Gardskagi
I found some interesting birds in the tidal marsh and the field around the lighthouses: the Whimbrel which is a bird I had seen in North America, and an European Golden Plover, a new bird for me. I also saw two other new birds here: Arctic Tern and Eurasian Oystercatcher (not shown here). So three new birds in one place, not bad for a first stop!
European Golden Plover
We made a stop at the Bridge between Continents, a bridge crossing the rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
Bridge between continents
We then drove to the southern tip of the eastern end of the peninsula to the Reykjanes Lighthouse. It was here that we discovered that we had low pressure in one of the tires of our rental car. Rather distressed, but fortunately we weren't far from the airport, we did not stop for long but drove back to the rental car office. Blue Car Rental exchanged a vehicle for us without hassle.
Many Arctic Terns were nesting in the field around the lighthouse, I managed to take a few pictures of them during our brief stop. The Arctic Tern is the undisputed long-distance migrant of all animals: each year they migrate between the two polar regions of the earth. They essentially live in perpetual daylight. They make the planet look small, and us insignificant. Prior to this trip, I had not seen an Arctic Tern; on this trip, I saw them every day. Whenever I think of Iceland, I will always think of these elegant, agile and excitable ghosts of the polar regions.
After swapping the rental car we headed to the capital city of Reykjavik. After checking into the hotel, we went to Hallgrimskirkja, which is essentially Iceland's national church. It is a very uniquely shaped church which looks like a pipe organ.
Speaking of which, the church does house a very large pipe organ inside.
The observation deck offers panoramic view of the city and its harbor.
We walked up and down the streets of Reykjavik.
Reykjavik street scene
Painting of advertisement outside Cafe Babalu
A bicycle-shaped road gate
Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world (99%). Icelanders' fondness of sharing stories is evident in these logbooks we found on a bench.
We walked toward, but did not quite reach, the harbor. We saw Harpa, or Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, at a distance.
Of course, we saw a hot dog stand. The hot dog is Iceland's unofficial national food, and was the staple for our trip. In fact, I personally ate more hot dogs on this trip than I normally would eat in a whole year!
Hot dog stand
As the Arctic sun sank low (finally), we walked back to Hallgrimskirkja. The church and the Leif Erikson Statue glowed in the golden light.
Leif Erikson Statue
I think the streets of Reykjavik were aligned with the path of sunset on solstices -- this would be the last sunset before Summer Solstice and we watched the lingering sun sank low at the end of the street facing the Hallgrimskirkja.
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