Monday, January 17, 2011

Reykjavik Day 3-4

Perfect winter light

My third day in Reyjavik (January 15th) started out to be the most beautiful in terms of weather. In the morning, I made an appointment to get an Icelandic Stone Massage at the Mecca Spa inside of the Radisson Blue Saga Hotel. As I made my way past the post in the direction of Hagatorg turnaround, I was welcomed by the most perfect winter light for taking photographs. Unfortunately, when I arrived for my appointment, the spa manager regretfully informed me that there was an error in the booking calendar and there was actually nobody to perform the treatment. Disappointed but intent to make the most of the day, I made my way to the Kolaportið weekend market and bought a few small gifts. 

Right across the street from the market I enjoyed "the best hot dog in town" at Bæjarins beztu pylsur. The crispy fried onion at the bottom delivered an extraordinary textural element that I had never tasted before in a hot dog and the remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish was absolutely delicious. 

Bæjarins beztu pylsur, in business since 1937

My hot dog with "the works"
After lunch I attempted to make good use of my Rekjavik 48 Hour Welcome Card and board a ferry bound for Videy Island.  However, I made a mistake reading the bus timetable and missed my connection to bus 5 at Hlemmer bus terminal. Thinking that I could do the remaining distance by foot, I briskly walked along the costal road for 45+ minutes. I never ended up finding the ferry terminal, and after the departure time passed I lost incentive to find it. Although winter brings a drop in accommodation costs and less numbers of tourists, it also results in more limited transportation options. The 3:15PM ferry to Videy Island was the last of three departures on this day. I waited in the cold for 20 minutes for a return bus, walked up Laugavegur, the main shopping street, had a late lunch, and then returned to the hotel to rest. In the evening, I had dinner at a cozy pub around the corner and enjoyed Icelandic meat stew in a bread bowl, a steal at just 1,050 ISK ($9).
Afterwards, I went on a Northern Lights tour with Reyjavik Excursions. Despite the moderate forecast, nothing was seen. The guide was apologetic (it's not his fault after all!), but I couldn't believe that they were able to pull in six coaches filled with 73 people a coach at 4,900 ISK ($42). The tour was written down as "unsuccessful," which entitled us to another "free" tour. However, who wants to be stuck in a crowded bus for 3-4 hours in the slim hopes that one might see some Northern Light activity?! What made me upset is this: When one passenger asked, "When was the last successful Northern Lights tour?," the guide's answer was evasive. We pulled into the downtown area not earlier than 1:00AM, dropping off 73 people enroute (my hotel was the last one!). I laid down and was out like a rock in less then 10 minutes.

On my fourth day (January 16th) it was drizzling nearly all day, so I decided to do mainly indoor activities. In the morning, I learned a bit about Icelandic history at the National Museum of Iceland and afterwards caught a bus to the Kringlan shopping mall. However, the highlight by far of this day was visiting the Laugar geo-thermal pool. Visiting geo-thermal pools is the one activity that is better done in winter than in summer, and there are over 20 of them in the Reykjavik area. There was no better way to see first-hand how the local people enjoy spending their free time. In contrast to a Japanese hot spring, visitors all wear bathing suits and the facilities are shared between the sexes. In general, in terms of a "hot-spring" experience, I couldn't help but feel that I was simply bathing in a heated swimming pool, and so it pales in comparison to Japan's hot spring. Never the less, I left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated and feeling that the citizens of Reyjavik are quite lucky to have these facilities at their doorstep!

Laugar geo-thermal pool

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