Day 22: seeing all the pretty buildings

I did a lot of walking today: about a dozen miles, roughly three times what I intended.  You know how these things are … sometimes one step forward just demands another, and then before you know it, you’ve gone a lot further than you expected.  And then you walk back.

In the morning I took care of some local errands in Kópavogur: nothing momentous, I just finally got a haircut that I’ve needed for at least a week.  The price turned out to be not so bad; more than in the US but less than I’d been led to fear, and the cut is much nicer than my head deserves.

It was a pleasant walk, two or three miles there and back, but the wind started to pick up so I headed home to get a sweatshirt.  The university was next on my agenda, to pick up my ID card and check on a couple of items ahead of the start of classes.  I was mistaken for a professor – see, a nice haircut makes you look distinguished!  Plus I’m probably older than any student they’re used to seeing …

I planned to hike back through Fossvogsdalur to get home, but it was still light out … and it was a nice day … and I could see downtown Reykjavík in the distance, so …

What the heck.  It was only a few more miles.

It's not that far, right?
It’s not that far, right?

Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland and its largest and oldest city.  It’s not a terribly crowded place, but Iceland isn’t a terribly crowded country: its population density is comparable to Australia or to Idaho.

Rush hour, 6:30 pm
Rush hour, 6:30 pm

About 120,000 Icelanders live in Reykjavík, and most of the rest live nearby.

If you want to find an Icelander, the odds are in you favor if you look here
If you want to find an Icelander, the odds are in your favor if you look inside the circle

The most striking landmark in the city is Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church named for Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson.  It stands atop the highest hill in the city, Skólavörðuholt, believed to be an extinct volcano.

Hallgrímur's church
Hallgrímur’s church

You actually can see the church from pretty much anywhere in Reykjavík, even when there are other hills in the way.

Not hard to spot
Not hard to spot

I’ve always been impressed by the elegant, uncluttered look of Hallgrímskirkja’s interior.

Austere without being severe
Austere without being severe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The bell tower affords also some of the best views of the city, including this vista looking toward the waterfront from the statue of Leif Erickson below.

Downtown Reykjavík seen from the bell tower
Downtown Reykjavík seen from the bell tower

One of the first things you notice about buildings in downtown Reykjavík is that many are painted in very bright colors.  You also notice the common use of corrugated metal.  As I understand it, the two are related. Colorful houses 2 Iceland doesn’t have an abundance of woodlands.  It used to; but the forests here when Iceland was first settled over twelve hundred years ago were extensively harvested for boat-building.  Iceland has no game animals to provide food and has traditionally relied on fishing; and Icelanders’ other main source of protein, sheep, tend to munch on saplings.  So the forests came down and they stayed down.  Wooden building materials became scarce. Colorful houses 1 With lumber being neither cheap nor easy to replace, Icelanders looked for ways to protect their wooden buildings against the elements.  Corrugated iron, imported from Britain starting in the mid-19th Century, caught on because it was relatively light, easy to work with, and very durable – provided the steel was painted and the paint kept up.  I’m told that the buildings were originally painted with the same heavy paints used on boats, but that over time people used brighter and more vivid colors.  Whatever the truth, the buildings certainly are distinctive.

Cafe Babalú - Lonely Planet says it
Cafe Babalú – Lonely Planet says it “feels like the den of one of your eccentric friends,” which sounds about right

Café Babalu (above), is highly recommended by Auður, the proprietor of who also happens to be one of the best tour guides Lisa and I have ever met.  We didn’t get to go there on our visit together, but I stopped off to have a bowl of lamb soup.  Just the thing before the hike back home.

Lambakjöt súpa
Lambakjöt súpa

And that was my day walking in Reykjavík – a bit farther than expected, but a lot more fun, too.

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