Posted by: nmancini04 | August 26, 2011

Day 9: Back in Town

Today we left Borgarnes at 8:15 am and at 9:30 our road trip officially ended when we returned our rental car at the harbor in Reykjavík. Now we are settled into the apartment which will be our home for the next four nights, a very cute one-room garret at the top of a house just outside of central Reykjavík. It’s in a nice location, a five minute walk to the harbor and a ten minute walk to the heart of downtown and the apartment itself is great — huge bed, cozy feel and homey furniture, sunken floor in the bathroom and even a small deck.

The house we're staying in on Unnarstígur in Reyjavík

Inside our apartment

The deck of our apartment

Looking out from our apartment

But…there are weird things as well:

1) There’s nowhere to put our clothes. No closet, no wardrobe, no dresser, nothing.
2) We’re not allowed to wear shoes in the apartment even though it’s all hardwood floors.
3) The radiator is in the center of the room.
4) Every window has a window shade, except for the one that looks directly into a set of neighboring windows.
5) There is a bag of incense sticks on the dining table.
6) The garbage can…just makes no sense.


7) There are three framed, historical maps of Iceland, two of which are exactly the same.
8 ) It took us 10 minutes to lock the door the first time we left. And we are reasonably intelligent people.
9) For much of the day, there were two extremely young kittens and a chubby brown bunny rabbit running around the front yard. We’re still considering the possibility that these are the landlord’s pets, but we have no evidence to support this.
10) There is a framed, tiny diorama of a living room hanging on the wall.

The bunny in the yard

The diorama

So that’s that’s where we are. Overall we’re very happy with the place, although a little disappointed that we’ll still have to live out of our bags for the next few days, even though there is ample space for a dresser.

Quiet time
Today’s post will be a little light on activities because, well, for the first time we didn’t do much today. After turning in our faithful Suzuki 2, we dropped off our bags at the apartment while we were waiting for it to get cleaned and went for a walk. We visited the National Gallery, a surprisingly small art museum that had two open exhibitions. The first was an exhibit of Louise Bourgeois sculptures, paintings and drawings that only had about 25 total objects yet was stretched out over three galleries. The second was a somewhat larger collection of paintings by the Icelandic artist Jóhannes Kjarval. Photography was not allowed, so no visuals, sorry. Both exhibitions left me lukewarm, anyway.

Maggie during our walk today

A street in Reykjavík

A strange contrast of house styles

A pretty house in our neighborhood

Then after lunch we decided to spend a quiet afternoon in our apartment. With so much going on while we were on the road, we felt we’d earned a small rest. This evening we had lobster soup in a shack right on the harbor and now we’re spending the night in.

A ship in the harbor

A ship on dry dock

Hard at work...or looking up baseball scores. One or the other.

So without much to report, Maggie and I thought we’d address, together, some of the questions you all have been posting in the comments (we’ve been too busy to answer everything along the way) and post some general observations about the country that I haven’t managed to squeeze in. And maybe, if the files aren’t too big, I’ll post some of Maggie’s best panoramic photos from our road trip at the end. So, here, in no particular order, is a series of facts, opinions and observations about Iceland:

-The weather has been at once consistent and inconsistent, if that makes sense. It has been pretty steadily in the mid-50s every day until the last two days during which it has been noticeably colder. We’ve had mostly cloudy days, with stretches of sun and the occasional shower, but only two large rains. The crazy thing is how quickly the weather can change. In less than an hour it can go from sunny and gorgeous to raining to sunny again but windy to completely overcast. It’s completely unpredictable. There are places, especially when you’re up high or on the coast, when the wind can be phenomenal, like on the tall, rocky island over Stykkishólmur yesterday or on the drive along the southern coast of Snæfellsnes, when we felt like we were getting blown off the road.

-The people, by and large, have been reserved, but polite and helpful, which is exactly how our guidebook suggested they would be. Most Icelanders don’t seem very quick to smile, at least not with strangers, but they can be friendly enough when engaged.

-The water, while potable, smells of sulfur. Sometimes it’s just a hint of it, sometimes it’s full blown rotten eggs. And if you shower in the rotten eggs version, you probably will smell worse after the shower than you did before. And for a while.

-Food and lodging in the country are quite expensive. We have stayed at both hotels and guesthouses, the latter ranging from rooms in people’s houses to mini-hotels without the trimmings, some with bathrooms, some with shared facilities. The guesthouses tend to be a little cheaper, but everywhere we’ve stayed has been between 15,000 to 20,000 kronur a night (except our guesthouse in Akureyri which was 12,000 and not worth a kronur more). That works out to about $130-175 per night. The rooms, even in the full hotels, also tend to be spare and very small and the beds are made up weirdly. The beds usually lack a top sheet and instead are made up with a combination top sheet and comforter that is too small for the bed. I’m not a huge guy, but my feet regularly find their way into the cold air by morning.

Food also isn’t cheap. A cheap meal still will run about 2,500 kronur (about $22) per person without drinks and a decent dinner is usually more. A cheap beer is about 850 kronur ($7.50). The tradeoff is that tipping is not customary and is worked into the price of food.

The silver lining here is that almost all of the other activities are cheap or free. The museums we’ve visited have been between 700-1,000 kronur (approx. $6-9) and the national parks, waterfalls and hiking sites are completely free. So really, we haven’t spent too much money on anything other than room and board. If we had gone whale watching, of course, that would have set us back.

-Considering that Tedo’s question from a couple days ago (about the turfed houses being so small) is right up Maggie’s alley, she’s going to handle this one solo: “The turf-roofed houses are quite small. People were smaller 150 years ago but the houses feel pint-sized beyond that. In a climate like Iceland’s, there’s a clear benefit to small spaces. It is a lot easier to keep a few small rooms warm than to try to heat high-ceilinged great rooms (something current home builders would do well to learn). An interesting side note to this subject is that the furniture was adapted to make more floorspace. The beds in the turfed homestead we visited could be collapsed during the day and then pulled out again at night, almost prototype Murphy beds. There was even one bed that folded up into a table during the day.”

-Something we’ve been talking about in our time here is the seemingly disproportionate number of artists and musicians that such a small country has produced. Seeing the country up close, it makes complete sense now. It’s an inspirational place. And beyond that, it’s inspirational in a weirdly magical way. Sigur Ros’ music seems almost obvious now. A place like Iceland would have to produce a band like this.

-We heard about the earthquake in New York. And the hurricane. We may not come back.

Now (here goes nothing) a few of Maggie’s panoramas. We’re posting small versions here, so click on them to see the larger image and get the full effect (you can also zoom in for amazing detail):

Þingvellir (Day 2)

Vík (Day 3)

Vatnajökull glacier tongues (Day 3)

Looking down on Egilsstaðir and Lagarfljót (Day 4)

Selfoss (Day 5)
The Mývatn region, as seen from the Hjerfjall volcano (Day 6)

Stykkishólmur (Day 8)

See you all tomorrow.


  1. fantastic panoramas! thanks for answering my question.

    enjoy your weather – it’s bound to be better than ours…

  2. the radiator in the middle of the room is actually much more sensible in terms of heating, radiating out in all directions. When the heating source is placed at the perimeter, the heat is partially sucked out through the walls/windows. I am guessing that heat is more of an issue for the average Icelander (both in $$ & in # of days that it is cold) than for New Yorkers. Is it a circulating hot water system? Steam? May we get a photo? And the toilets?

  3. […] Yesterday I mentioned the bunny and the kittens who hang out in the front yard outside of our apartment in Reykjavík, but it turns out the yard is a living melodrama of feline-leporine relations. Here is a brief list of the cast of animal characters who have been enacting said melodrama in and around the yard — our bunny friend and several cats — and some of their observed behavior over the last 24 hours: […]

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