exploring reykjavík: hallgrímskirkja & old reykjavík

Monday, August 15:  We wake up to a rather gloomy day in Reykjavík, but at least it doesn’t seem to be raining. We’ve slept rather late, as we’re existing now in parallel universe with a four-hour time difference from home.  My friend Beatrice had earlier recommended potassium and magnesium to help us sleep, and, after taking it last night, I slept like a dormant volcano (snoring away of course, as Mike complains).  The fog I’m in and my resistance to get up could be from  jet leg, exhaustion from walking nearly 7 miles yesterday, or just being in a comfortable bed under a cozy comforter.🙂

We find, to our surprise, that there is food in the common breakfast room.  We didn’t know that breakfast came with our Airbnb reservation. Quite a spread is laid out: ham, cheese, bread, butter, jelly, yogurt.  There is a carton of eggs, an egg steamer, and stainless steel egg cups.  It takes us some fumbling to figure out how to prepare and eat the eggs using these contraptions, which are not a normal part of our lives.  A cappuccino machine also proves to be a bit of a challenge, but we finally figure it all out.

Our Airbnb hosts, Páll And Gunna Palsson, are welcoming and friendly.  Looking out at the gray skies outside, I ask Gunna if she knows the forecast for today.  She replies cheerily: “I don’t know. I don’t keep track of the weather.  Whatever I get, I get. I just live with it.”  That’s a good attitude to take, especially when you only have a limited time for a holiday.  It doesn’t do any good to wish for blue skies and perfect weather, because whatever it is, it is.  You have to go out and enjoy your holiday no matter what.  Later, we hear a radio announcer say, “If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes.”  We find that is also good advice, as the weather here is utterly changeable.🙂

Freyja Guesthouse with Hallgrímskirkja in the background
Freyja Guesthouse with Hallgrímskirkja in the background

Finally, after breakfast and showers, we head down Freyjugata, with Hallgrímskirkja as our destination.  Purely by accident, we stumble into The Einar Jónsson Sculpture park, the garden of the Einar Jónsson Museum, home and studio of Iceland’s first sculptor (1874-1954).  According to the museum’s website, Jónsson drew inspiration from Icelandic folklore heritage, but he also used mythological and religious motifs.

We can actually see Hallgrímskirkja from the Freyja Guesthouse and from the sculpture garden, as we’re only one road over from the immense white concrete church that dominates Reykjavík’s skyline.  When we get up close, the Lutheran church stands before us; a sculpture outline of the building before us.  I take pictures from different angles, but it doesn’t really matter, it’s still dark and gray.  I’ve seen postcards and pictures with blue skies, and it looks so much more beautiful against a blue backdrop.  No worry though, I’ll have one more chance on our last day, August 24.

First glimpse of Hallgrímskirkja
First glimpse of Hallgrímskirkja

The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Reverend Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), who wrote Iceland’s most popular hymn book: Passion Hymns.

sculpture superimposed on Hallgrímskirkja
sculpture superimposed on Hallgrímskirkja

It took 41 years to build the church. Construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986; the landmark tower was completed long before the church’s actual completion. Apparently its size and unique design were controversial.

Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja

The columns on either side of the church were designed by the state architect of Iceland, Guðjón Samúelsson (1887-1950), to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. It wasn’t completed in his lifetime.

Standing proudly in front of the church is a statue of Viking explorer Leifur Eriksson (c.970 – c.1020), the first known European to discover North America before Christopher Columbus; the sculpture was done by Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945) and was a gift from the United States in honor of the 1930 Alþingi Millennial Festival, commemorating the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir in 930 AD.

Sadly, it’s hard to get a decent photo of it on this light-challenged day.

Hallgrímskirkja
Hallgrímskirkja

We pay for an elevator trip up the 74.5m tower.  We have to wait in a short line, but eventually, we enter the elevator with its odd sign: “Have you done your push ups?”  At the top, we see fantastic views of Reykjavík.  Even though it’s cloudy and gray, the colorful rooftops and buildings add a bit of cheer to the landscape.

view from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja
view from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja
view from Hallgrímskirkja
view from Hallgrímskirkja

One view shows Tjörnin, the lake , or pond, at the center of the city, with its pretty reflections of the lakeside homes.

view of Tjörnin
view of Tjörnin

Hallgrímskirkja is fairly plain inside.

stairway in the tower
stairway in the tower

The most interesting feature of the interior of the church is the 5275-pipe organ at the back of the church, completed in December, 1992.

the 5275-pipe organ
the 5275-pipe organ
candles in Hallgrímskirkja
candles in Hallgrímskirkja
fish relief sculpture
fish relief sculpture

We head down the central street leading away from the church, Skólavörðustígur, with Old Reykjavík in our sights.  I keep jumping into the middle of the busy street between cars, hoping against all odds that I’ll get a decent parting shot of Hallgrímskirkja.  It’s simply not meant to be today.

leaving Hallgrímskirkja - the dark view from Skólavörðustígur
leaving Hallgrímskirkja – the dark view from Skólavörðustígur

As we head to Old Reykjavík, we come across colorful houses that catch my eye in the gray atmosphere.  I find it interesting that, though many houses are made of timber or have a small stone or shell sand finish, many houses are covered with corrugated iron.  Maybe the iron holds up best under Iceland’s harsh weather.

some color on a dreary day
some color on a dreary day
villa
villa

There is plenty of great street art to be found in the city.  I like the artistic fence below, made of stone and timber, that depicts an Icelandic village.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

We continue our stroll through Old Reykjavík, charmed by the cute houses, some in stone, others in the corrugated iron that’s so common.

house in Reykjavik
house in Reykjavik
colorful door in Reykjavik
colorful door in Reykjavik

We also come across a number of bicycles that have seen better days.

abandoned bicycle
abandoned bicycle

One place, with its red domes, looks like it was plucked from a Russian city and planted here.

house of domes
house of domes
Reykjavik homes
Reykjavik homes
Reykjavik abandoned building
Reykjavik abandoned building
Reykjavik homes
Reykjavik homes

Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík, The Free Church in Reykjavík, sits along the lake, Tjörnin. Established in the autumn of 1899 with 600 members, it didn’t spring from any doctrinal dispute with the national Lutheran church, but arose from objections to certain aspects of the national church’s organizations. The Free church wished to bring the church closer to the people, much like churches in Norway and North America (Wikipedia: Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík).

church near Tjörnin
church near Tjörnin

The postmodern City Hall, Ráðhús Reykjavíkur, stands in the northwest corner on the edge of the lake. It houses the offices of the mayor of Reykjavík.

City Hall on Tjörnin
City Hall on Tjörnin
Tjörnin reflections
Tjörnin reflections
IMG_0828
Tjörnin reflections
IMG_0830
Tjörnin
a burst of color
a burst of color

Near City Hall is a sculpture honoring the anonymous job of the bureaucrat: Óþekkti Embættismaðurinn, The Unknown Bureaucrat, 1993. The 1994 sculpture by Magnús Tómasson depicts a man in a crumpled suit holding a briefcase, with his head and shoulders subsumed in a slab of unsculpted stone.  Oh the thankless burden of being a bureaucrat!

burdened office worker
burdened office worker
City Hall on Tjörnin
City Hall on Tjörnin

We pass by a cute cafe with outdoor seating that beckons, but I think I’d rather go inside on such a chilly day.

cafe that would beckon if warmer
cafe that would beckon if warmer

Austurvöllur is a public square in which stands a sculpture of Jón Sigurðsson (1811 – 1879), the leader of the 19th century Icelandic movement for Independence from Denmark.

statue
sculpture of Jón Sigurðsson

Domkirkjan, a church bordering Austurvöllur, played an important part in Icelandic history.  Here independence was first officially endorsed by the Lutheran Church of Iceland.  Though a church has been on this site since around 1200 AD, the current church was built from 1788-1796.

church
church

At around 12:30, we decide it’s time to stop for lunch.  We hunker down in Hraðlestin  Indian Restaurant, which is quite a festive place with its posters of Bollywood movies on its walls.

Inside Hraðlestin
Inside Hraðlestin

We enjoy a delicious lunch of vegetable thali and lamb samosas.  I love the poster of “An Ideal Boy – Good Habits” I find in the decorative bathroom.

After lunch we walk down Lækjargata toward the Harpa Concert Hall, situated on the edge of the Old Harbor.

Continuing on our way after lunch
Continuing on our way after lunch

6 thoughts on “exploring reykjavík: hallgrímskirkja & old reykjavík

  1. I had not expected Reykjavik to be so colourful. And some lovely buildings there too – maybe the grey light was a good thing otherwise the colour would be washed out.

  2. I had to laugh at that sculpture. Someone had a great sense of humor.🙂 Your abandoned bicycle photo is really quite sad.😦 The weather looks quite dreary, but there are lovely bursts of colour everywhere to make up for it.🙂

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